How can we get middle graders to read? How can we get them to like reading? How can we get them downright excited about books and reading? Those questions are exactly what language arts teachers are asking themselves, experts on reading, and other teachers. “What works in your classroom”? is often heard in middle school among conversations in the faculty lounge.

More and more schools, literacy organizations like Imprint in Houston have begun to arrange author-events, book signings, book fairs with decorations, life-sized cardboard characters to take selfies with, and “take-offs” on adult book signings (but a lot more fun). In Brazoria County ComicCon gets the whole family involved in a family night at the local junior high. It is sponsored by the Brazoria County Library System, held in a local school, and a good time is guaranteed for all. Tie Ins with current family-approved movies (like Wonder) are promoted and encouraged by teachers and book clubs alike. Because films are made with “something for everyone,” films made from popular YA books are most often successful with middle schoolers, sometimes viewed after reading the book at school.

Often authors will greet fans and sign and sell their books, which builds an author-reader relationship only equalled by the child- book (or more often book series) relationship–a win-win for all involved. Students and their families begin to “think of reading as a cherished part of their lives, not just homework.” (Samuels, Bobbie “Houston’s Tweens Should Read For Fun” The Houston Chronicle) In the same article, Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith (authors) are quoted as saying, “Reading for pleasure is better for developing minds than assigned books.”

It has been my experience over the past fifty years that students identify with characters in age appropriate books, often reading about characters slightly above the age they currently are, perhaps to get a sneak peak at what lies ahead. Books that deal with family and social issues (putting up with embarrassing parents, problems with older and younger siblings, troubles with demanding or even unreasonable teachers, bullying, students with “differences” etc.) often have a way of equipping a student to deal with the life issues he/she faces.

According to the NEA report ,”To Read or Not to Read, quoted in Samuels’ article in the Chronicle,” Independent readers are more likely to be good citizens–to volunteer, vote, exercise, attend sporting events and support local arts.” These traits are what we should be promoting in our schools, and it can be done through promoting literacy.



Tweens are a whole new group of readers according to those trying to market books and authors in their direction. We are talking here about middle graders: not still children, not yet teenagers, but in-between the two categories. If we had to attach a “years” label on them, it might be eight to twelve year olds. These years also coincide with first phones and a great deal of video distractions.

Here in Texas, we rank “38th nationally in reading test scores for 4th graders and in HISD (Houston Independent School District) only 23 percent of 4th graders tested at or above grade level proficiency in 2015.” ( Bobbie Samuels, retired educator in The Houston Chronicle, “Houston Tweens Should Read for Fun,”) Embarrassing to say the least! I agree with the article, for as she states, “The importance of the love of reading–separate and apart from school–cannot be overestimated.” I found that statement true in the hundreds of 6th-8th graders I taught from 1968-1984 in the Alvin Independent School District. A student who reads separate and apart from what is assigned in junior high is a good student in most subjects in high school. A non-reader or even a struggling one is a poor student in almost everything.  Good readers develop…”growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and increased general information.” (Berniece E. Cullinan of New York University as quoted in Samuels)

Samuels points out that The National Endowment for the Arts, in its article, “To Read or Not to Read, ” states there is a correlation between the amount of time students spend reading for pleasure and scores on national and standardized tests in both reading comprehension and writing. Samuels continues to describe The British Cohort Study, which followed the lives of 17,000 individuals over decades, which “has found that reading for pleasure outside of school has a significant impact on young people’s educational attainment and social mobility…” The study also found that “recreational reading has more than triple the impact on student achievement than their parents’ level of education, previously thought to be a leading factor in student success.”

What all this tells us is that if we wait until junior high or middle school to “hook” students on reading for pleasure, it may be too late.  Further still, I have experienced many students who loved reading, and learning in general, only to be “turned off” in later elementary grades or middle school/junior high, somewhat because of the following: teaching to the test,  no time for free reading,  teachers’ insistence that a student read at grade level whether he/she is “up to it” or not,  listing unrelated vocabulary words to be memorized when they will only be “learned for the test, never used after that–all horror stories heard from students in high school, junior college, and the university levels.

In my fifty years of teaching from grades four through graduate students at university, I have almost “seen and heard it all.” Reading for pleasure and developing a love of reading are necessary at every level. From what I have seen, our K-4 teachers often instill these qualities, only to have them “stomped on” later. This is an outrage, one I probably have been responsible for committing myself. I challenge myself and all teachers everywhere to love books, words, reading with their whole hearts and share these feelings with their students.