Teaching Middle School Reading

Though the primary teacher is charged with the difficult and essential task of teaching phonetic associations, word recognition, and the requisite abilities actually associated with reading, middle school English or language arts teachers are often referred to as “reading teachers.” So, if these “reading teachers” don’t actually teach students how to read, what do/should they teach?  Well, the answer to this question is open to debate, but I would answer it as such: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade reading teachers provide students with intermediate reading skills that prepare students to better function at the next educational level.  As a 7th and 8th grade reading teacher in a challenging elementary school in the West side of Chicago, my classroom functions quite differently from the ideal,  “Dead Poet’s Society” type classroom, but I like to believe (and at times am fully convinced) that I am preparing my students to function in such a classroom.  This blog post will discuss the reading skills that I believe are essential for high school and college bound 6th, 7th, or 8th grade students to possess.  If you are a middle school reading teacher, or just interested in giving yourself or someone else more practice with reading skills, download reading worksheets, lessons, and activities teaching and reinforcing all of these following skills at ereadingworksheets.com.

Identifying Figurative Language:  middle school reading students should be able to recognize and identify figurative language techniques with consistency.   Commonly used figurative language techniques include simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, and understatement.  State test makers often lump these skills together with poetic devices such as alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia, rhythm, rhyme, and repetition; therefore, it is good practice for students to learn to identify poetic devices.

Recognizing Literary Techniques: alongside the study of figurative language, students should learn to identify literary techniques, such as foreshadowing, flashback, irony, and symbolism.  Not only are these terms tossed around on state reading exams, but the high school student who uses these terms correctly in a literary discussion will earn recognition.  Because I am trying to bring honor and a good name to our school, I want my students to be literary experts among their classes at whatever high school that they attend.

Perceiving Story Structure and Elements of the Story: also known as Freytag’s Pyramid, familiarity with the structure of a narrative will serve a dual purpose.  First, students will better engage in discussions about the structure of the  story; second, by knowing basic story structure students should be able to compose better narrative essays.  The story structure terms with which students should be familiar include: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, moment of final suspense, and the resolution or denouement. Students should also be familiar with the group of terms known as the elements of a story: plot, conflict, antagonist, protagonist, setting, mood, and tone.

Understanding Text Structure: students also need to be able to determine how information is organized within a passage, known as the structure of the text or the pattern of organization.  Not every passage will follow these cookie cutter passages but many, perhaps most, will.  Middle school reading students should be familiar with the following patterns of organization: cause and effect, compare and contrast, chronological, order of importance, problem and solution, spatial or descriptive writing, and sequence or process writing.

Determining the Narrator’s View Point: students should also be able to determine from which perspective the narrator is telling the story.  This entails distinguishing the dialogue from narration and figuring out whether the story is narrated from first-person, second-person, third-person objective, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient perspective.   The various view points are differentiated by pronoun case and the scope of the narration.

Genre and Subgenre: in their academic careers, students will be exposed to a wide variety of texts.  From nonfiction to drama, students will have everything in the book thrown at them, so to speak.  Students need to recognize and identify the details that distinguish one genre and subgenre from the next.  Students generally require a lot of time working on this skill because their are so many subgenres.  To compound the problem, many of the subgenres are differentiated by mere nuances.  For example, it’s not too difficult to define the terms legend and folk tale– but the determination as to whether a story is a legend or a folk tale is based on opinion and relatively arbitrary.  Nonetheless, students should be familiar with the characteristics that define genre.

Extracting Theme: as students approach high school, they need to become more familiar with the inferential / higher order thinking skill side of Bloom’s taxonomy rather than on the more basic recollection / comprehension.  Having students recognize and explain the themes of stories is another important skill that should be taught to middle school students.

These are seven basic reading skills that should be taught to middle grade students by their reading teachers. Stay tuned for more, and may the best results await you and your students.  Remember, free printable reading worksheets await you at ereadingworksheets.com


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