I’m always looking for reading activities to help my students engage with middle school reading strategies in unexpected ways. This helps me to stay engaged, and it helps my students to stay engaged, as well!
Station reading activities offer the opportunity for flexible use and differentiation in the English language arts classroom. They can be used over and over again in different ways. Most importantly, they incorporate the opportunity for movement and conversation about middle school reading strategies in the classroom.
What Makes a Middle School Reading Activity “Good”?
As teachers, how do we know that a middle school reading activity is “good”?
- Does it help students meet and master learning objectives?
- Does it “fit” with the content?
- Does it hold students to high expectations for their learning?
- Does it allow students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways?
- Does it allow for multiple modalities?
- Does it allow for movement? Differentiation?
- Does it engage students?
Looking at this quick brainstorm, I think that the sign of a “good” activity targeting middle school reading strategies is variety. Variety in terms of content, skills, modalities, activity, and application.
A good middle school reading activity is kind of like the ultimate vacation package, you know, the one where you feel elated because you’ve received a lot of value in return for your investment.
Middle School Reading Strategies: Station activities are da bomb.com
Station activities, like vacation packages, hold a lot of value for teachers and students when it comes to practicing middle school reading strategies.
With the average student attention span ranging from 10-15 minutes before “re-set” is necessary, I plan my reading and writing activities in segments. There has to be a change in one of three variables at the end of every segment: task, thinking, movement.
BEST Reading Activities for Middle School or High School
Hosting a “Progressive Dinner” is my favorite reading activity for middle school and high school students, hands-down. Let me tell you why…
First of all, my students love the creative “packaging” and opportunity for “punny” references to play-up the dining metaphor: host/guest, dining experience, menu, fill your plate, 1st course, 2nd course (etc.), utensils, dinner table conversation…the list goes on. Students write on real or photocopied dinner plates. You can “dress-up” the activity with cheap tablecloths, pencil/highlighter centerpieces, music, etc.
Overall, it’s great fun to do a “classroom transformation,” and it totally helps with student engagement. Lots of times, though, teachers can get so caught-up in making an activity “pretty” or “engaging” that rigor and learning might move to the back-burner.
So, let’s talk rigor and learning for a sec, okay?
Using Menus for Learning
The focus of a progressive dining experience is on one or several texts that students “digest” and discuss with each other (the fact that there are SO many different options for use makes this activity much more than a one-hit wonder). Sometimes, I use pre-made menus for fiction, nonfiction, or poetry; these menus have middle school reading strategies as focus points, discussion questions, and extension activities.
Students move from independent work to small group discussion, and eventually to extension (time-allowing). If I’m looking for something more customized, I’ll make a new and very specific menu to facilitate student learning.
With built-in rotation and discussion opportunities, students are engaged the entire time even while they’re practicing middle school reading strategies. What’s more, I’m helping students to move toward deeper understanding and use of reading, writing, and discussion skills.
- Sometimes, I set-up this reading activity to explore different excerpts from the same text, perhaps from a middle school reading list (and synthesize at the end as a ticket-out-the-door).
- I might also choose to have students explore different text excerpts, perhaps in relation to a common theme.
- Another option is to have students explore different poems by the same author or from the same time period.
- There are SO many different ways to set-up this fun reading activity that I use it over and over and over again!
Even though the set-up for the middle school reading activity might change, rules remain the same. I want students to be persistent in their reading, to be focused on the tasks, to be applying as many middle school reading strategies as possible, and for their voices to be heard in the discussion about the text(s).
Progressive Reading: an Example
How about an example?! After reading our whole-class text during third quarter, students are asked to choose a piece of criticism and write an analytical/argumentative essay in which they agree and disagree with points the critic is making.
This is a complex task, right? Students first have to read and comprehend the novel. Then, they have to read and comprehend a complex piece of criticism (in all of its twisted, dense glory). They have to understand the critic’s points accurately and defend/refute them through analysis of evidence from the novel.
I use the progressive dinner to introduce students to their options for literary criticism, providing an excerpt from seven different criticism texts at each station. The goal is to make critical reading less intimidating.
Students engage with the ideas and apply middle school reading strategies to a short section of the text, take notes on their plates, process with other students at the same station, and “rate” the text from 1-4. By the end of class, they’ve read something from multiple pieces of criticism and can reflect on which one they would like to fully digest. This is how they choose the piece they’ll focus on for their paper. Every year, students come to this activity unsure about reading criticism. And every year, students leave saying “I can do this.” Yasssss!
Resources You Won’t Want to Miss:
I hope that this post has you thinking about how you might use progressive reading stations in your classroom.
There are a lot of possibilities that come with this reading station rotation model. I’ve customized this activity to fit essay revision and critical lenses. Students rotate and use “menus” to engage in focused revision of their writing or reading the same text through different lenses (or different text excerpts through the same lens). Writing stations are fantastic for a guided revision lesson, in lieu of peer review, or as a final process step before submitting a written assessment.
With all of these activities, your classroom is set-up to be completely student-led. This frees you to engage with individual students and/or groups as needed.
If you’re ready to use something like this in your classroom, I have made these activities available as a bundle and individually, knowing how much time they took me to make and wanting to give teachers a high-quality, flexible tool to use and reuse in their classrooms.
Speaking of differentiated learning, I hope you take the opportunity to grab a FREE guide that discusses more strategies you can use to give students choice and voice in your classroom.
I hope that you’ll take the time to check these popular resources out. At the very least, I hope that you’ve been inspired to revamp one of your own reading activities or think about how your activities can meet as many of the “good” criteria as possible!