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What Should Eighth-Graders Be Reading?

By Kimberly Stezala, Consulting Educator


I am a librarian in a middle school struggling with both teachers and eighth-grade students about reading. The students are not required to write any book reports, and Accelerated Reader (AR) software is available to them, but not required. What is the minimum they should be reading at this grade level so that they are prepared for what will be expected of them in high school and beyond?


Your concern for the well-being of these students is admirable. If they are not prepared upon entry into high school, it makes their journey much more difficult and jeopardizes their chance at post-secondary success. At minimum, students should be reading with grade-level proficiency and at best, challenging themselves with advanced reading and comprehension work. The reality is that this doesn't happen for all students.

Building a school culture that invests directly and heavily in reading appreciation, improvement and comprehension requires more than a software program, more than DEAR (drop everything and read), more than Accelerated Reader (AR), and as you know, more than a committed librarian or teacher. If students are not required to complete book reports, this may seem alarming to you but it is not uncommon.

A direct appeal to parents might be the spark you need. I strongly encourage you to begin seeing your role as a catalyst and facilitator to address the school-wide issues that could positively impact your students' reading readiness for high school and to serve as a resource for parents.

Students headed for high school with the intention of going on to college will be ill-prepared if they have not read the materials that their college-bound competition has read. Another benefit of preparing for high school level reading and beyond is that students will undoubtedly build their vocabulary which will better prepare them for placement tests and college aptitude tests like the ACT or SAT.

So what should they be reading? Students should begin with a list of traditional and contemporary classics from the 19th and 20th centuries and choose a few titles that interest them. Instead of providing students with a general list of authors and titles, you might try to write an intriguing description that describes the drama, mystery, romance, fun or danger in each book. To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, A Tale of Two Cities, Robinson Crusoe, The Chocolate War, The Color Purple and hundreds more titles can be described in glorious detail to motivate reluctant readers.

Of course, the word "classic" conjures up the notion of "old" for many students. To avoid this connotation, you should also suggest that students read newer world literature, current nonfiction titles and young adult books that interest them. Teenreads has an Ultimate Reading List that balances the traditional classics, contemporary classics and books that are new and appealing to youth. The list is created with reader input from adult and student perspectives, which makes it more credible to young people.

Students who build their literary foundation in the middle school years are better prepared to meet high school and college expectations.

Kimberly Stezala has extensive experience in the college prep field and is a consultant to education, nonprofit and partnership groups. She is also the author of Scholarships 101: The Real-World Guide to Getting Cash for College and founder of

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"As a school librarian, you should be talking to teachers and administrators. The advice to talk to parents might be valid, but they do not set curriculum or reading lists. Often, parents are not listened to by either teachers or administrators. Do you not have meetings with teachers to discuss reading materials? Talk to your principal. Reading should be a priority, but sadly it is not."
"To the parents who take the easy road and say, they don't really get involved with their children's homework, this is the wrong approach. As a dedicated parent who wants the success of your child, you need to take part in homework, even if you just check through it to make sure things are correct. For your middle schoolers, perhaps you can quiz them for an upcoming test or quiz. Yes, we want our kids to become independent, but kids also need to witness our involvement throughout their entire school years, so that it will impact their performance in college."