Spooky Activities for the Middle School ELA Classroom

There is something very fun and exciting about using seasonal reading and writing activities with middle school students. Even if they won’t admit it, many students enjoy reading creepy, spooky, and scary works because of the suspense.

Today, I want to share some festive resources that can be used in the middle school ELA classroom. Whether you choose to do an entire horror unit or you’re wanting a small activity for a day or two, there is something for every ELA teacher.

Spooky Read-Alouds

Read-alouds are my favorite activity to do with students. They are a great way to expose students to different types of novels and provide learners an opportunity to enjoy a book. Below are some popular spooky read-aloud novels:

Spooky read-aloud books for middle school.

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (there is also a graphic novel version!)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

The Witches by Roald Dahl (there is also a really great graphic novel version!)

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine

Tales of Mystery and Terror adapted by Marjorie P. Katz. These Edgar Allan Poe stories have been turned into a Great Illustrated Classics book.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by Mitsu Yamamoto. This Great Illustrated Classics version does a wonderful job making this story easy to read for students.

I strongly suggest reading for about 10 minutes a day and then have students answer a question based on the reading for 2-3 minutes. Students can respond verbally, in a journal, on a Padlet, etc.

Spooky Short Stories

This age group is not into the “kiddie” scary stuff, but not quite ready for the adult world of horror. When choosing which short stories you use with your class, keep in mind the maturity level along with the reading level. Below are some of my favorite spooky short stories to use with middle schoolers.

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. Resources are available here.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. Resources are available here.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe.

“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl. Resources are available here.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Resources are available here.

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

When using short stories, I usually have a main focus for each story. For instance, with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” I focus on direct and indirect characterization. Instead of trying to focus on many different aspects of a work, by choosing just one I can dive deeper into the text with students.

Spooky Short Story Activities

Once you know what texts you’ll be using, it’s time to determine what learning activities to provide for your kiddos. This will vary based on your grade level, class time, etc., so feel free to make adjustments based on your classroom.

Dramatic Reading

Many students dislike taking turns reading aloud in class, so using dramatic readings with spooky short stories is a great way to read a text. A really great one is from G.M. Danielson and his reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The laugh in the very beginning is chilling!

Using Goosebumps in an online tutoring session with an 8th grade student.

Film and Text Comparisons

I always use film versions of works with my students. I find that it helps with reading comprehension and higher order thinking skills, such as evaluating. This would be the perfect activity to do on celebratory days when kids are excited about outside festivities. A few of my favorite ones for the spooky season include:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Disney. This can also be found on Disney+. Here is a constructed response resource.

“The Lamb to the Slaughter” from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Here is a constructed response resource.

The Tell-Tale Heart from 1953. This is a great non-violent adaptation.

The Witches from 1990 with Angelica Huston. There is a more modern version from 2020 also available with Anne Hathaway. I haven’t had a chance to watch the new one yet.

Goosebumps “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes” from the popular book by R.L. Stine. Here is an analysis activity focusing on the elements of horror.

Writing Spooky Narratives

Students can work independently, in partners or small groups to create their own spooky stories. Depending on your class, you may want to provide some scaffolding such as setting locations (grave yard, dark and story night, etc. When students are done, spend a day or two having students share their stories. If they don’t like to read aloud, encourage kids to act out their stories. Here is an example of a spooky narrative assignment.

Other Spooky Activities

While short stories are great resources, there are also various activities that can be quick and easy.

Descriptive Paragraphs

Halloween and costumes seem to go hand in hand for middle school students. Before students wear their costumes, have them write a paragraph describing their costume using figurative language. Allow some to read theirs to classmates and see if the audience can guess the costume.

Research Local Legends

Growing up in Long Valley, NJ, there are local legends about the Hooker Man and the mysteries of Shades of Death. I can still remember my dad sharing his version of the Hooker Man around a campfire when I was in elementary school. Encourage students to research local legends/myths (or to read about one’s from my childhood) to read about “real” spooky stories.

Create a Class Story

Whether students sit at their desks or everyone sits on the floor, this activity can be very engaging for young writers. I suggest typing the story as it’s being told and projecting it to make it easier for students to contribute.

There are so many short stories, movies, and books to help students celebrate the spooky season and still progress with their reading and writing skills in a fun way.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

3.23.22 Used Book Haul

A few months ago I made an ah-mazing discovery. I found a Barnes and Nobles with a HUGE used book section.

During my first book haul, I was able to snag the following titles for incredible prices:

My first used book stack from Barnes and Nobles.

Element Encyclopedia Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Woods by R.L. Toalson

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Quidditch Through the Ages by J.K. Rowling and Kennilworthy Whisp

On Wednesday night, I took a trip back to my favorite Barnes and Nobles, and let me tell you I was super excited with my finds!

The used Children’s section has such an array of choices. I tend to feel overwhelmed digging through shelves of picture books, so I focus more on the chapter books. There is a good mixture of older and newer titles in a variety of genres. There’s literally something for every reader.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

The first book I grabbed was On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer. I read this book in fifth grade, and re-read it once about ten years ago. This book always stuck with me because it has such a unique plot about friendship. It’s an older book, from 1986, but it’s a quick read with a memorable story. Without giving too much away, two young boys decide to play in the dangerous river.

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau.

The next book that I added to my pile was The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau. I’m a big The City of Ember fan, and the second book in the series was calling my name. I read it once about six years ago after I used the first book as a read-aloud with my sixth graders. For some reason I didn’t finish the series, but since this sequel popped up out of nowhere I’m taking it as a sign to read all of the books.

Three Black Swans by Caroline B. Cooney

I was definitely having some throwback moments to my childhood reading choices, because along with On My Honor I found Three Black Swans by Caroline B. Cooney, the woman behind The Face on the Milk Carton Series. In middle school, I read the series, along with some of her other works, so I just had to add this one to my book collection.

I did see some other titles that caught my attention, including an Anne Frank book and another about British royalty, so if those are still on the shelves next time I will probably scoop them up.

Next, I hit the used Young Adult section. I will say this is a very small section compared to the others and it’s super random. There can be a whole series on the shelf, but the first book is missing. I tend to stay away from those because I NEED to read a series in order.

The Red Scrolls of Magic and The Lost Book of the White by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

This time I got lucky. If you’ve been a reading my blog over the last five years, you know YA is my fave and that Mortal Instrument is one of my favorite series. I don’t know how I didn’t realize this, but there are more Shadow Hunter novels.

I noticed Clare and Chu on the binding of a hardcover, and in looking at the inside flap noticed Alec’s and Magnus’ names and got excited. The Red Scrolls of Magic and The Lost Book of White (books 1 and 2) were just sitting there waiting for me to take them home :). Now I’m debating if I should re-read/re-listen to the series again before I dive into these two additions.

I can say that this was a very exciting book haul :).

I may have also had a total book nerd moment in the Harry Potter section.

I’m a Gryffindor :). And this super comfy sweatshirt is from Amazon.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Moneytopia: Earning Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I love when I come across books I can use in a real-life situation. As Molly gets older, it’s time for me to start teaching her about money. Today’s book is the perfect way for me to introduce Molly to financial literacy.

Moneytopia: Earning: A Bear, Bunny and Fox Book about Money, by Dr. Shanshan Peer and illustrated by Marta Maszkiewicz, is a picture book that introduces young readers to earning money.

For homework, Bear, Bunny and Fox need to earn money. Each animal approaches the task differently, which was the point of the assignment that the teacher points out.

Right away I was drawn to the name of the town, Moneytopia, and the animal characters. Having three different main characters allows readers to see three different situations, making it more likely that a reader will connect with one of the animals. The illustrations are charming and do a lovely job helping children comprehend the text.

Theme

The theme of this book, the secret of earning money, is broken down into kid-friendly terms. You’ll have to read the book to find out the secret :). Teachers and parents can use this to springboard discussions about earning money.

This is the first book in a series to help young ones learn about money, which is super exciting!

I would recommend this book for readers in preschool- second grade.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

The Magical Envelope Book Review

I love reading picture books because authors are able to convey powerful themes in simple ways to readers of all ages. I know I’ve read a good one when I walk away with all the feels. Today, I’m excited to share a book that gave me the warm and fuzzy feeling.

The Magical Envelope, written and illustrated by Nathenial and Delilah Adams, is a touching picture book about the importance of kindness and thinking of others.

I was scrolling through Facebook the other night, when I saw a post in a local moms group about two children who just published their first picture book. Being the book nerd that I am, I instantly messaged the mom and let her know I would be reviewing this new book. These two young authors are incredibly talented, and truly have bright futures ahead of them.

The book shares with readers the story of two twins, Nathenial and Delilah, who believe in helping others. Their Daddy is a soldier and is away, so the children send him cards with pictures and drawings. The twins decide to make cards for all of their Daddy’s friends and send them off with the mailman, only to discover that the card for their Daddy was still at their house! With a little bit of magic, the envelope goes on a journey to make sure Daddy gets a card.

First, I LOVE that this book has a little dash of magic. I felt this went along wonderfully with the plot because it truly embodies the hope and positivity that kindness can give others. The magic does not change the message or detract from the overall feel of the text.

The illustrations are engaging and highlight the important ideas in the story. I found myself looking at each one after I read a page. The magical envelope is whimsical and friendly, and reminds me of a character from Blue’s Clues.

The Characters

Nathenial and Delilah are so kind-hearted and thoughtful. They show children little acts of kindness go a long way. From helping to carry groceries, to making cards for our troops, no act is too small.

Kindness

The theme of kindness is seen throughout this children’s book in the actions of the characters. Helping others and spreading positivity are expressed constantly, showing readers how impactful our actions can be to others.

This book also offers a craft for readers! Kids can make their own magical envelope by folding a picture included in the back. I can’t wait to do this craft with Miss Molly.

Just like the characters in the book, the authors themselves have hearts of gold. They are donating 10% of all book sales to MSAWI Organization in honor of their brave fallen hero, Major Stuart Adam Wolfer.

I recommend this book for all families.

To purchase this book click here.

To read more about these amazing young authors, check out this article.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

AfterMath Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I remember being in fourth grade when Columbine happened. I was in my second year of teaching when Sandy Hook happened. School shootings are true tragedies that affect those involved the rest of their lives.

AfterMath, by Emily Barth Isler, gives readers an inside look at grief, loss and devastation surrounding family, friends and gun violence.

Lucy is a seventh-grade girl who is moving to a new town after her little brother, Theo, dies from a heart condition. She moves to Queensland, Virginia, a town who experienced a school shooting in the elementary school a few years ago. She is the only student in her grade who was not part of that horrific day, but she is also grieving.

First, I must mention that I really loved the concept of this text. Typically, we read writings of the actual events that happen, but in this case, we see the ‘after’. We see how families, students, teachers, and the community grapple with tragic events that can never be forgotten.

I enjoyed the writing style of this book. I read it in two sittings and was thoroughly engaged. I love that there are little math questions and jokes, which emphasize Lucy’s need for definitive, black and white answers at this time. The point of view of Lucy is extremely effective. Readers of all ages can connect to being the new kid, experiencing loss, dealing with parents, and making friends.

Throughout the book, the theme of grief is seen in multiple ways.

Lucy’s grief. Lucy internalizes her feelings. She keeps her thoughts and emotions hidden not only from her new classmates, but also her parents. She doesn’t tell anyone at school about Theo because the teachers and students are already dealing with their own losses, and she doesn’t want it to seem as though she is competing with that. She doesn’t tell her parents because she has always had to be the ‘easy’ child. She gets good grades and does what is expected of her to make life easier for her parents. Also, her parents don’t communicate their feelings and memories of Theo, so the three of them constantly have an elephant in the room.

School’s grief. Lucy’s classmates react to their grief and loss differently than she does. They discuss the events and their feelings openly and matter of factly. They frequently bring up the shooting, their therapy sessions, injuries and emotions to one another to cope. The bond the school community has is supportive and loving.

The comparisons between the two situations shows readers that coping comes in many forms, depending on the individual and situation. Regardless of how someone grieves, we need to be supportive and understanding. Communication and honesty are also important aspects of the grieving process.

The theme of friendship is also seen in the story when Lucy befriends Avery, the girl no one notices. I don’t want to give away parts of the plot, but the author demonstrates to readers that kindness, standing up for one another, forgiveness and trust are all vital parts in a true friendship. Sometimes doing the right thing can be uncomfortable, but we must listen to our hearts and guts.

I would recommend this book for readers in sixth grade and up because of the mature topics. I can see this being used in a classroom as a whole class novel, especially since the author included some thoughtful discussions questions that highlight the themes in the text.

I would also like to add that this is the author’s first novel, which surprised me. Her writing is poignant, honest, supportive and loving. I could feel her warmth towards families affected by school shootings throughout my reading. I can’t wait to see what this talented writer does next.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Avoid the Summer Slide: Tips for Parents

There’s just a special kind of vibe during the summer. The laid-back atmosphere allows our minds and bodies to relax and take a break. Kids of all ages take this opportunity to go swimming, hang out with friends, and not worry about the pressures of school.

However, while it’s important to take advantage of this time to rest and re-set, it’s just as important to keep kids academically engaged to some capacity.

The summer slide is a term used to explain learning loss that takes place over the summer.

Each family and child is different, so luckily there is no one way to avoid the summer slide. When choosing learning activities for your child, there are a few ideas to keep in mind.

  1. What are some areas of weakness that my child has?
  2. What is my child interested in doing?
  3. How much time do I want my child to spend doing “school work”?
  4. Do I want a specific schedule?
  5. Do I want to do activities with my child?
  6. Do I want my child to do activities independently?
  7. Do I want to invest in workbooks, books, camps, tutors, etc.?
  8. Are there local learning opportunities near me?

Some parents choose to do “school” in the mornings Monday-Friday, while others choose to do weekly tutoring sessions (for more information on tutoring check out Virtual Tutoring Services). Kids of all ages should spend 20 minutes each day engaged in learning activities.

Once you get a better idea of what you want for your child, it’s time to pick some activities!

Assignments.

Activity Books. These are fantastic go-to products for parents because there is no prep work involved and there are answer keys :). There are TONS of options for parents to choose from so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. I always recommend that parents get workbooks for the grade their child was just in. Why? To ensure there are no learning gaps and to prepare for the upcoming year. Of all the different workbooks out there, the following three are my personal recommendations.

  1. Spectrum. I’ve been using these books with my students for the last decade. They are easy enough for kids to work independently and cover all the skills required for each grade level.
  2. Flash Kids Editors. I’ve seen this series for years, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really took a close look at these workbooks. I really like that these activities are more application based, so students are using a variety of skills on each activity, especially for writing. They are also available as individual subjects, whole curriculums and test prep, so there are options for P-8 students.
  3. Summer Bridge Activities. These workbooks are geared towards helping students make the transition to the next grade during the summer. The activities are meant to be 15 minutes long so the tasks don’t feel overwhelming.

Summer Reading Assignments. For older students, there are usually school assigned activities that need to be completed before the first day of school. Many times this includes reading a book, taking notes, writing an essay, etc. Summer assignment information can usually be found on the school’s website. My best piece of advice with summer assignments is don’t wait until the last minute! Sometimes the book choices can be challenging, so it’s important that students have enough time to read and complete any tasks. Reading the SparkNotes versions of the texts aren’t usually enough to complete assignments.

Travel

Vacations. One of the amazing aspects about literacy is that it’s everywhere! You just have to know where to look for it. Instead of using GPS, spend some time showing your child how to read a map and help he/she plan your route. If you’re going to a place like Gettysburg, do some research as a family about the area before you get there. During road trips, playing the Alphabet Game is fun ways to practice letter recognition skills.

Day Trips. Taking the time to go to different places helps build a child’s background knowledge that will be used the rest of his or her life when it comes to reading. Local towns have historical landmarks, festivals, and events throughout the summer that kids of all ages can learn from. There are also destination locations that can be fun and educational. For instance, growing up we went on a day trip to Crystal Cave and learned about stalagmites and caves. On these outings, read any information you come across (plaques, brochures, etc.) and listen to the tour guides.

Read

Independent reading. This is the easiest go-to avoid the summer slide activity. Kids can read anywhere, so always make sure to pack them a book. When choosing a great summer reading book for kids, take advantage of lists provided by local libraries or ones created by teachers. I’m currently LOVING book lists by Imagination Soup because of the different search options and book descriptions. Libraries and companies like Scholastic have summer reading challenges that add an extra layer of fun.

Read-aloud. I’ve always been a fan of read-alouds, in my classroom and home. With the flexibility of summer, reading aloud can happen anywhere and any time. Take a blanket into the yard and have a picnic while reading a chapter or two. While waiting in traffic, have your child read to you from the read-aloud book. Audiobooks are fantastic for family road trips.The reading possibilities are literally endless. For read-aloud ideas check out Reading Aloud Resources for Parents.

Whatever activities or learning opportunities you and your family participate in, remember to still use summer to have fun and relax.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Admissions Book Review

Like many, I was very intrigued by the college scandal a few years ago. From an educator’s perspective, I was curious how they were able to get away with all that they did. Of course, I was not surprised that lots of money was involved, but I was shocked that celebrities, including Lori Loughlin, were guilty. So when I saw there was a fictional book about the scandal, I knew I had to read it.

Admission, by Julie Buxbaum, is a dramatic and eye-opening story about privilege and social issues in America.

Summary

Chloe’s mom is a famous TV star and her dad is in finance. She’s living a very glamorous life in LA, attending an elite private school, preparing to go to prom with her crush and getting excited to attend her dream college. That is, until the FBI shows up at her house and arrests her mom in the college admission bribery scandal.

Analysis

The structure of the story alternates between past tense and present day, which took me a little while to get used to (I prefer the sequence of events to go in chronological order). Readers are literally thrown right into the story, creating an immediate sense of engagement.

The setting is modern day Los Angeles. I am a fan of the Housewives franchise and other reality shows, so I really enjoyed the descriptions of Chloe’s luxurious life.

I like how well-developed the characters were, and how authentic they all seemed. They each served a very specific purpose and helped move the plot along.

Chloe

I have to admit that as a reader I was going into this story with some bias based on my background knowledge of the scandal. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I sympathized with Chloe in the beginning of the text. She comes across as very innocent about the scandal events, and readers instantly believe and support her. However, throughout the story, she gets these little flashback memories relating to the scandal, and like any other teenager, she dismisses these thoughts.

One of my favorite aspects of Chloe is that the reader is reflecting and accepting right along with her. When I first meet Chloe, I felt for her. I wanted to give her a hug when her best friend stopped talking to her and her life spiraled out of control. However, as the truth slowly unravels, and Chloe accepts responsibility for her actions, I didn’t feel as bad for her. I was proud of her for how she handled her situation in the end (I can’t give too much away, but I personally feel made the right decisions). I gained a lot of respect for her as a character.

Chloe is defintely a relatable character. She sees herself as a plain girl, “nothing special”, that doesn’t really know what she wants to do in her next chapter. Chloe loves spending time with Cesar, a little boy, reading Harry Potter after school. She states multiple times that she is “not smart enough” to get into ivy league colleges and universities, and she has a hard time with the SATs. She doesn’t even know what to include in her college essay because nothing has ever really happened to her. Buxbaum truly captures the essence of a teenage girl with Chloe, the insecurities, avoiding grown up responsibilities and the inner dialogue of a girl with a crush.

Themes

This novel highlights a few specific themes that all relate around current social issues: privilege, family and expectations

Growing up, I would hear the word privilege and just knew it meant someone had money. In recent years, this term has evolved to mean so much more than that and this book tackles the concept in a way that speaks to young adults.

Shola, Chloe’s best friend, is Nigerian American and attends the elite private school on a scholarship. She works her butt off for her grades and hopes to go to a top college on a scholarship. Throughout the text, we see Shola ground Chloe and give her “reality checks” in a way that is respectful but eye-opening. She tries to help Chloe see outside her “bubble”.

While the book doesn’t use “privilege” a lot, it’s very easy to see the hints left by Buxbaum to alert readers. I feel this was tastefully done and encourages readers to reflect on what they see in their own lives.

Family is also another concept that is explored in this work. However, I believe that this theme can be broken up into two different thoughts: doing what’s best and supporting one another.

In truth, I can’t think of another book that includes one theme used in two different ways.

Chloe’s parents defend their actions by saying they “did what they thought was best”. They wanted to help their child. In typical situations, we would applaud parents for this belief, however, bribery and fraud are not to be commended. But, it does bring up the idea that parents usually want to do anything and everything to help their children.

As readers, we know that Hollywood is all smoke and mirrors, so when Chloe’s family came together during the scandal, it showed us that at the core of a family there is love. Regardless of how much someone can mess up, family is there to still love and support that individual. This is such an important message for teenagers to remember, because notoriously the teen years are a time when many mistakes are made.

Finally, as a teacher who has worked in affluent districts, there is absolutely an expectation put on students today. Every single grade matters because a student has to get into the best schools. This is clearly displayed in Admissions because it directly impacts a family’s social standing. This is not only seen in California, but across the country. There is real pressure put on students, as we see with the characters in the book, but there is also a pressure on parents. College has become a status symbol for many, and these expectations can be extremely heavy burdens on all involved.

I would recommend this book to parents of high school students and young adult readers.

To purchase this book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Bridging the Gap: 3 Virtual Ways to Help Students in Grades 5-12

Growing up, I was that kid who LOVED the summer read-a-thon my school hosted. I remember constantly going to the library and reading anywhere and everywhere. I probably should have also done some math work (I teach reading for a reason), but back in the day this was how students continued to improve their skills.

25 years later the world is a different place. Kids spend the summer playing video games, texting with their friends and getting involved in activities. Life is no where as simple as it used to be.

The expectations today are higher. The pressure to get good grades to get into good schools is real. The anxiety that kids have is real. During the school year, there just isn’t enough time.

Which is why summer is a great opportunity for students to practice and improve their skills. Over the years I have helped teens complete summer reading assignments, go through the writing process with a research paper, and complete college essays. I’ve also worked with students who need additional skills support by reading, discussing and analyzing novels and responding to writing prompts in preparation of the next school year.

The past year has been challenging for so many students and families. We can’t get time back, but we can take advantage of the summer months to fill in any gaps in reading and writing.

Below are three virtual options Little Reading Coach is offering to help students in grades 5-12 for summer 2021.

​Virtual Tutoring for Grades 6-12

Provides tutoring for:
*Reading (comprehension, vocabulary, intervention, summer reading, etc.)
*Writing (paragraphs, essays, research papers, college essays)
*Note-taking, study and organizational skills
*Distance/home-based learning support
(managing & organizing tasks, help with completing assignments)

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Tutor notes emailed within 24 hours

Enroll in Virtual Tutoring

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp Course

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

Use code SUMMER2021 to save $50

Are you concerned about learning loss?
Does your child need time to brush up on reading and writing skills?
Want to make sure your child is prepared for high school?

Developed by a certified English teacher and Reading Specialist, this 6-week virtual self-paced course covers all major reading and writing skills taught in middle school English Language Arts.

Grammar
* Parts of speech
* Sentence structure

Writing
*Paragraph Writing
*Essay Writing
*Persuasive Writing
*Research Paper
*Personal Narrative

Nonfiction
*Main Ideas and Details
*Author’s Purpose
*Cause and Effect
*Retelling and Summarizing
*Note-Taking Skills
*Lego Nonfiction Activity

Literature
*Reading Comprehension Strategies
*Plot
*Sequence of Events
*Point of View
*Figurative Language
*Symbolism
*Theme
*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Lessons include:
– PowerPoint presentations
-Teacher created guided notes
-Quizzes
-Online games/activities
-Practice activities (with answer keys)
– Essay writing
-Teacher led read aloud of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

When you purchase this class, you get….
*Access to the LRC Academy VIP Facebook group to get advice, literacy tips and more!
*Teacher feedback on writing assignments. Students will participate in a variety of writing activities that can be emailed to the teacher for feedback
*Printable notes and presentations that can be utilized for future English classes
*Skill based lessons to help your student become confident in his/her reading and writing abilities

Enroll in Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

*Free* Weekly Read-Aloud

For students who love reading and may need some additional support, the weekly read aloud includes a teacher analysis and notes of the text covering:

 Reading comprehension
 Characterization
 Making inferences/drawing conclusions
Quote analysis
Theme 

5th & 6th graders will read The City of Ember
7th & 8th graders will read The Giver


Each week a new video recording will be released from 7/5-8/9. Students will have access to their text until 9/1.

Enroll in *Free* Weekly Read-Aloud 

Taking advantage of this summer to help students gain confidence in their reading and writing skills will provide a great transition into the ’21-’22 school year.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

My Name is Layla Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

As I mentioned in my last post, “10 Reading Comprehension Tips“, middle and high school students are living in a text heavy world. They need to have strong reading skills to navigate reading textbooks, emails, writing lab reports, etc. But, what happens when a student is a struggling reader?

My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, is a realistic depiction of a dyslexic middle school student.

Layla, or ‘munk to her mom and older brother, is an eighth grade student who struggles with reading and writing assignments. Her best friend Liza and her neighbor Sammy, help Layla through the ups and downs of middle school life.

Layla

Like all middle school students, Layla wants to fit in. She worries about what she wears on the first day of school, what the popular girl thinks, and she worries that her teachers think she lacks intelligence. She envies Sammy, whose family sits down for dinner together every night, since Layla’s mom is a nurse who works the night shift and her dad has been out of the picture for 12 years.

On top of all this, she has a secret that she doesn’t share with anyone. It takes her a long time to read. “The words hop around like any good bunny should, refusing to stay still so I can get a grip on what they mean.” (15). The pressure to read quickly in class and get through homework each night is a lot for this thirteen-year-old, and she is used to low grades. For writing assignments, she struggles to get ideas from her head, through her fingertips on a keyboard and in an email to her English teacher, Mr. McCarthy. Through her frustrations, she has learned how to cope by watching movie versions of books to assist her in getting through assignments.

As a middle school English teacher, I can honestly say that the depiction of Layla is incredibly accurate. She avoids reading aloud in class or participating so she doesn’t bring attention to herself. She will submit gibberish writing out of pure frustration and she relies on her best friend to help her navigate projects. Layla’s emotions of anger, confusion, fear, and self-doubt resonate with readers on multiple levels as the school year progresses.

Plot

I really enjoyed the multiple layers happening in this book. The main conflict is Layla’s reading difference, but there is also a fair share of minor conflicts as well. As with any teenager, there are internal conflicts about her mom working and her dad not being present (until later in the book), problems with friends that involve trust, and the innocent buds of a potential first romantic relationship with a boy. Teenagers take everything to heart and can be very sensitive to change, as readers see when Nick suffers an injury in basketball. This book touches on all of the important themes in a young adult’s life: family, friends, relationships, and self-image.

Theme of Family

Today, families come in all shapes, sizes and forms and I really like that Marder Gentin chose to focus on a non-traditional family structure. Readers see Layla’s mom work overnight shifts, catching some sleep during the day to just repeat the routine again. She takes on extra shifts whenever she can in order to provide for her children, yet she will show up to basketball games and the first day of school when her children need her support. While Layla and her brother do have freedom after school, neither one of them takes advantage of this and continue to do homework, go to basketball practice and socialize with friends without getting into trouble. This maturity and self-reliance teach readers that being independent is important in life.

While no family is perfect, readers can empathize with Layla’s desire to have more family around for holidays, like Sammy’s. Or to have a mom that is very actively involved in her school life, like Liza’s mom. However, through her interactions with her friends, readers are reminded that each family has their own problems even if the outside world does not see them. For many teens, this nugget of wisdom is important because they don’t realize others may feel the same way they do.

Theme of Friendship

Friends are without a doubt the most important aspect of a teenager’s life, according to them. Establishing and maintaining true friendships takes time and effort on all parts, along with honesty. Typically, in YA books I find that there is often a backstabbing or betrayal between friends that causes a conflict. That doesn’t happen in My Name is Layla. In fact, Liza is an incredibly kind young lady (I hope my daughter has a Liza for a best friend in middle school). Liza knows that Layla struggles, but instead of ignoring this, Liza offers assistance to her friend wherever and however she can. From reminding her what class they have, or being partners for an in-class assignment, Liza takes Layla under her wing and supports her friend. There is never any negative comment made and Layla always feels comfortable.

Sammy. Ah, if there was ever a character I wanted to hug for being a good kid, it’s Sammy. His obvious crush on Layla isn’t the normal teenage kind. He truly likes Layla for who she is and wants to help her in his own way. I LOVE that he has the courage to ask Layla on a date to the basketball game and doesn’t leave her side when Nick gets injured. He mentions the Learning Center at school in the hopes of giving Lyla support in English. Through it all, Sammy is right there to help his neighbor (and girlfriend!).

Learning Differences and Dyslexia

Every single child learns differently. Some students show their struggles more than others, which is why there are always those that manage to “get by” in elementary school and part of middle school, but at some point someone notices.

Mr. McCarthy was Layla’s someone. He saw past her coping mechanisms and reached out to his school’s administration and helped create a plan for Layla (after a MAJOR plot twist that I refuse to mention). There were clues along the way that McCarthy was onto Layla, but she continued to plug along just “getting by”.

As I said before, teenagers worry about what others think of them. They never want to be “different”, especially at this stage. Layla is no exception to this because she cringes at the thought of going to see Mrs. Hirsch in the Learning Center.

What I LOVE about this book is the realistic way Marder Gentin has captured a teenager’s feelings when dealing with a learning difference. Readers experience the incredible emotions and thoughts that students cope with on a daily basis. As adults, we are reminded that these feelings need to be addressed when offering help to students. Anxiety and fear are incredibly consuming at this age, yet we need to provide the proper support.

Teachers like Mr. McCarthy and Mrs. Hirsch literally change lives.

Free Curriculum Guide

As always, my teacher heart gets insanely excited when there are resources to extend themes and learning in books. I will admit, I’m very picky with curriculum guides for my middle school learners, but this one is absolutely perfect! Not only is it aligned to the Common Core, it hits on all major teaching points for middle school English. There are plenty of discussion questions that can be used in small groups or whole class, it includes a few different activities for students (even some writing ones), a character chart with adjectives and practice with textual evidence and making inferences and drawing conclusions! AND, it’s also *FREE* on the author’s website! Pure perfection!

Never have I read a young adult book that hits on so many real-life issues for teens with so much accuracy. I highly recommend this book for parents and students in middle and high school, especially those with learning differences. Students will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

To purchase this book head over to Amazon.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

10 Reading Comprehension Tips

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is understanding what is being read. The reader is able to grasp information from any kind of text (fiction or nonfiction) and demonstrate knowledge of the piece by answering questions, discussing aspects or completing an activity.

Why is reading comprehension important?

Reading comprehension is important because everything is text-based in education. Students are expected to read articles, novels, directions, discussion responses, essay prompts, lab reports, and more. Once they read these works, students are then expected to do something with the information- participate in discussions, complete a homework assignment, fill out note sheets, etc.

Whether we realize it or not, reading comprehension is the crux of what students need to be successful in education.

There’s typically a shift in English/Language Arts classes when a student enters middle school. They not only have five different teachers, but they are expected to read and interact with texts in all of these classes. There is no Reading class where students practice decoding or have phonics lessons. These are some HUGE adjustments for young readers, and the need for strong reading comprehension is crucial.

So, what do we do if a student is having difficulty with reading comprehension?

Over the last ten years I’ve worked with thousands of middle and high school students and have figured out some really awesome tips for improving reading comprehension.

Tip #1- Activate prior knowledge.

When introducing a new text, tap into a student’s knowledge on an aspect of the text. It can be historical knowledge, a connection (text to self, text to world, text to text, text to media) or an experience.

Last month I had my students read an article about the history of education in the United States. To activate prior knowledge, I had students talk to their parents about what high school was like for them. What clothes did they wear? What did they eat for lunch? What did they do for fun? How was your parents’ school life different from your school life today?

The purpose of activating prior knowledge is to prepare student for what’s ahead. I like to think of it as giving my kiddos a “heads up”. They are able to focus on a specific concept and will be on the lookout for this idea while reading the text.

Tip #2- Provide necessary background information.

This is honestly one of my favorite pre-reading activity, that totally lends itself to reading comprehension. Author’s always use some sort of inspiration in their personal lives in their writing and this can typically influence the author’s purpose. Some teachers LOVE to give pre-reading information about the author, which is never a bad idea, but I personally prefer to dive into the historical aspects of a new text.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is legit one of my favorite novels to read with students. Before I start this classic piece of children’s literature, I spend time going over the timeline of events during the 1960s, since this is when the book was written. The Space Race and Communism are underlying themes and concepts in the novel, so it’s important the students are familiar with these ideas before we read.

I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde with 8th-10th graders. Before we even opened the text, we spent about a week learning about the Victorian era and watching parts of Oliver! to help students visualize the setting. For the record, this musical has superb costumes and sets that really capture London during this time period.

Providing background information helps students become familiar with time periods, historical events, the author, or concepts they will be reading about. It can also help with visualizing (one of the reasons I showed Oliver!).

Tip #3- Introduce new vocabulary

So many times students glaze over an unknown word and continue reading. Why? Because it takes extra time to try and figure out how to pronounce a new word, let alone try and figure out the definition. This typical strategy tends to cause some problems with reading comprehension because one word can change an entire sentence, paragraph or part of the plot.

Listing new vocabulary words for students before they start reading, will remind them that these are new words they will encounter in the reading. These words can be right from the textbook or hand-picked by the teacher. Some teachers also go ahead and give students the definition of the vocabulary words to make it even easier for them. As an English teacher, I usually have my students define the words on their own.

Tip #4- Provide a summary

SparkNotes are amazing. I can honestly say that as a student AND as a teacher. In college, to help with my understanding of various Shakespeare plays, I would read the SparkNotes after I finished reading a play. This worked really well for me because I would often miss concepts since Old English always threw me off.

As teachers, we usually think to summarize a text after we read it to fill in any gaps with reading comprehension. Whether it’s a teacher summary, SparkNotes or a video, there are plenty of options for providing students with a condensed version. My kids are really loving chapter summary videos from Course Hero on YouTube.

It’s okay to give students a summary of the text before or after they read.

Recently, I started giving a summary of the chapter before I read it with my classes, and it’s been an awesome game changer for my special education students. I’ve read the SparkNotes for the chapter to highlight the important plot points for my kiddos and it has been quite helpful. I will also point out key information while we’re reading and at the end, but adding that extra at the beginning is a new favorite technique of mine.

Along with SparkNotes, other websites like CliffNotes and Shmoop are also great resources to use for summaries. Personally, I like the sense of humor with Shmoop, especially for high school students.

Tip #5- Listen to the audio version

I will admit that I was never an audio books fan until about two years ago when I came across Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. (Which, for the record, is AMAZING and I’m totally addicted to listening to it).

Currently enjoying book 5 of Harry Potter…again :).

So, how exactly do audiobooks help with reading comprehension? When a student listens to the audiobook version of a story, it helps relieve the pressure of decoding. He or she can just focus on what is happening in the story without stressing about how to pronounce a word.

While I LOVE my Audible app, when I want to post the audio version for my class of students I generally use YouTube. Teachers have been so kind to post themselves reading full novels aloud for free and there are also some professional readers on there as well.

Bonus tip: one audio version for Dr. Jekyll and Hyde was too slow for my kiddos, so to keep them engaged I sped up the video. In YouTube, simply click on the gear (settings), go to Playback speed and change it up.

Tip #6- Read the eBook version

Nowadays, kids are used to reading from screens whether it be tablets and Chromebooks, so why not take advantage of this technology? While some students prefer to read a hard copy of a text (as do I once in awhile) there are quite a few perks to reading an eBook.

Students can change the font. Whether you’re reading on a phone or tablet, iBooks and the Kindle app offer this feature, which is great for students who are visually impaired.

Students can look up unknown words. Ebooks have this amazing quality where with just a few finger taps a reader can look up an unknown word. As we discussed with Tip #3 , defining new words plays a huge role in reading comprehension, and these nifty pieces of technology make this task super simple for readers.

Students can highlight and record notes. One of the drawbacks about having a class set of novels/texts, is that students aren’t allowed to write in the books. Many teachers, including myself, rely on the Post-it method for notes. However, eBooks allow students to highlight and make notes right on the text. Students can truly make notes their own, while interacting with the information.

Students can read anywhere at any time. I LOVE the portability of eBooks. I have the Kindle app on all of my devices and rely on iCloud to save my place as I switch back and forth. It’s no big deal if I forget to bring a book because I have a whole library in my pocket. In addition to Kindle, apps like Vooks, Epic!, Raz-Kids and ABC Mouse offer incredible eBooks (many with audio versions) for readers of all ages. For more information on ABC Mouse, check out my review on this online learning program.

Bonus tip: For my auditory learners and special education kiddos, I always recommend listening to the audio version and following along with the text of the story. Many prefer to use their phones or tablets so everything is in the palm of their hands.

Tip #7- Covering the basics

This is the go-to for every teacher, regardless of what grade or subject we teach. Guided notes or just straight reading comprehension questions require students to DO SOMETHING with their new knowledge.

In my early years of teaching, I tried to get away from this “traditional” method of teaching. During literature circle discussions, I found that I had some students missing key plot points. Now, learning from this, I ask some of the basic questions (describe this character, discuss the main conflict, etc.) but I will also throw in higher order thinking questions focusing on quote analysis. This allows me to touch on those basic points while also hitting making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Other than using reading comprehension questions, there are other ways to cover the basics:

Students can bullet point important key information from the text. To differentiate this, the teacher can provide a template with headings to help students navigate the text and note sheet

Students can complete Cornell Notes. This website offers a bunch of different templates students can use.

Students can draw a picture with captions. I really like this idea for breaking down chapter events, even for older students. Students can either physically draw or they can create a Google doc and copy and paste pictures from the web.

For more note-taking suggestions, check out my post: 6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips.

Tip #8- Always share thoughts

Along the lines of having students do something with the new information they read, it’s just as important to talk about what is read.

Whether I’m tutoring one-on-one or teaching an English class, at the end of every chapter we read, I ask students to share their thoughts, comments or questions. This encourages students to reflect on the reading and evaluate their knowledge of the chapter. When kids ask questions, I’m able to determine if I need to re-teach or summarize the chapter. If a student says the almighty, “I don’t know.”, I often ask what the purpose of the chapter is. Is it a fluff chapter that is just there to connect the plot events? Does it move the plot along? Why?

When in a class, I tend to use Think-Pair-Share (turn and talk) with kids for this part. I then take volunteers at the end so every student can hear other thoughts, comments and questions. Why? You never know what a kid misses during a reading. They may go to the bathroom, day dream, or get distracted, etc. This is a quick strategy that allows all students to get filled in.

Tip #9- Encourage connections

The first few weeks of sixth grade are always the most challenging as a teacher because we are helping kiddos transition from elementary school to middle school. For those that have taught this age group, we all have stories where we mention a dog as a character and we get hands waving frantically for kids to tell us all about their dog. Kids love to talk and make connections to things we say all the time.

So, why not encourage students to make connections with the various texts they read?

This not only increases student engagement, but it also helps kids interact with a text. Connections (text to text, text to self, text to world, text to media) will not happen with every reading, but suggest for kids to make connections whenever possible. Also, make sure you take a few minutes here and there for students to share their connections.

Tip #10- Keep communication open

It’s very rare that a kid will approach me and say they don’t understand something. A student will sit in silence, skip quiz questions and not complete homework because they are struggling.

As teachers, we need to create a system of communication that works for our classrooms.

When I taught in brick and mortar schools, I created Communication Cards. I took red, yellow and green index cards, fastened them together and had kids “show me your color” during lessons. Sometimes I had kids hold up their cards, but mostly I had them lay the card down on their desk. Red cards meant a student needed help ASAP, yellow meant they wanted to chat and green meant they were good to go. I would approach red cards first to see what they needed from me before moving onto the yellow cards. It’s amazing how honest kids were when they knew they didn’t have to ask questions in front of the whole class.

In my virtual classrooms today, I encourage kids to private chat me in Zoom or send me an email. This year more than ever I have had kids ask me specific questions about assignments and advocate for themselves. I also text my students A LOT because I know they hate talking on the phone. Many of them will send me a quick text with a question and then they are able to get right back to work. Keeping that chain of communication open is incredibly important.

Involving parents in supporting reading comprehension.

Every year I have parents reach out to me asking about how they can support their learner at home, especially in middle and high school. My usual suggestion is to read our class novel together at home while we are reading it in school so parents can talk about it with their student.

Head over to my TpT store to snag this FREE resource

In addition, I also recommend doing family read-alouds a few times a week and asking some reading questions. I developed this FREE list of reading questions for parents to use in this exact situation.

For more specific tips and tricks for parents, check out my post on Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do.

Reading comprehension is necessary for all classes, not just English. It is never too late to introduce students to new tips and strategies for improving reading comprehension.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.