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Middle and High School Reading: Tips From the Pros

Teachers and literacy coaches give timely advice on preparing your child for higher level reading.

By GreatSchools Staff

Who knows better than teachers and literacy coaches what students need to succeed in middle and high school reading? These valuable tips are sure to help your student moving up to middle and high school.

Advice for Parents From Teachers and Literacy Coaches

High school teacher Lance Balla suggests the following:

1. Understand what kind of learner your child is.

Does he need silence to concentrate? Then make sure the TV is not on when he is studying. Provide an appropriate learning environment at home.

2. Stay engaged with your child and her teachers.

Be proactive. Don't wait until the first report card. Make sure you know what is expected of your child and that he is meeting the teacher's expectations. If you wait for the report card, it may be too late. If your school has an online grading system that you can access, make sure you log on frequently to see how your child is doing.

3. Create a college-going culture at home.

Emphasize that you expect your child will go to college.

4. Model good reading habits.

If your child sees you reading, then he will be more likely to become a reader, too.

Suzanne Owen, English teacher, literacy coach and mother of four in Antioch, CA suggests these tips:

1. Subscribe to a newspaper and encourage your children to read it.

This is so important for students, especially now with so much information only available in sound bites and on the web. Newspapers provide more detail and background, and help make connections between what appear to be disparate bits of info. Also, reading the paper enhances comprehension in several expository genres.

2. Visit places where books and learning are important - libraries, used and new bookstores.

(Visit them on vacations, too.)

3. Talk to your kids about what they are learning.

You don't need to them about about grades, just actual content.

4. Encourage reading everywhere.

Bring along books in the car, at the doctor's office, etc.

5. Get them reading the classics.

If the middle school novels they read in class are weak choices (as they often are), get them classics and read with them, especially older books with more complex sentence structure. Try A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, or Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe.

Alice O'Grady, a California high school English teacher and former school librarian, recommends teaching your child library and research skills:

"One way to prepare middle-schoolers for reading is to teach them how to use the library. Parents can arrange to do this at their local public library since so many schools have done away with professional librarians at the schools. (Just ask the librarian or another staff member to show you how; they are usually happy to do it.) Students should know how to find books that they enjoy, and they can independently search for subjects, keywords or authors they have read before. Empowering them to learn to do simple research will help them when it comes to do research in college. Several times I have heard or read from college librarians that students come to the university without research or library skills. Middle school is a great time to start, if they haven't already learned."

Laura Hendrick, a literacy coach in Santa Rosa, CA advises:

"Kids may try to push you away in middle school but they still need you. Be firm; establish accountability measures. I haven't seen a case where a student didn't need parental support in middle school both academically and emotionally."

Comments from readers

"This is a great article! One of the best ways to get up to speed for high school students is to read a national newspaper. It will bring familiarity to SAT prep and help with AP English papers. The New York Times or Wall Street Journal are heavily discounted online (i.e. see if you buy from 3rd party distributors vs. direct from the publisher. But another way to get interested in reading extracurricular materials besides newspapers which tend to be dry or uninteresting to the student crowd -- is to have the student choose some subscriptions to magazines they are interested in. With tons of different niche magazines being published, it's almost impossible to find an age appropriate and engaging topical magazine for any student. C'mon, if there's a even magazine that's focused 100% to water (yes, H20), then there's a magazine focused on something your student at home is interested in."
"This is so funny. To wait until your child is in middle school, to teach him how to use the library is stupid. I showed my son how to do this at around 5 years old! And, we visit the library at least once a week. He loves going to the library, because we've been going on a regular basis since he was very small. I can't believe people wait until middle school, and think they can suddenly get their hormonal teens interested in the library. Please!"
"I think all these tips are great! I would also include...reading togeather! Find a book or even better a book series to read to geather. I enjoyed ready The Narina,and Percy Jackson series with my middle school son. It fun and a great bonding moment to have with a growing preteen! With my Teen I use older books like Stephanie Myer books,or Mark Twain. Buy the Cliff notes and have open discussions with your teen. Pre teens and teens need more time to open up about their feelings. Many times we'll be talking about a book and they will open up about other personal things on their mind."
"Thank you for your article! Do most libraries have a summer reading program? Our local library has one each year for pre-K through high school children. They win decent prizes donated by local companies - even bikes, laser tag, & amusement park passes! My middle school son can't wait to read the books and enter the drawings! During the school year, we have a study group at the library. Moms take turns being the library mom that day. We give the kids a light snack after school, so they can wind down a little from the school day and focus better. They enjoy working side-by-side on homework - encouraging and quizzing each other. Each picks out a fun book or two for the 10 minute breaks between work periods. One day when they didn't have much homework, a couple of them created a treasure hunt with clues. The hunters had to find the treasure by finding certain books, getting information from the librarians, etc. They were having a blast learning library skills, and our friendly librarians enjoyed it too! If you have pockets behind your front seat, or just hang a cloth bag there, you can stash new books and interesting reading clips in it. During elementary grades, I'd print my son's spelling list really large and place it back there! He looked at it all week, and didn't even realize he was studying!"
"Nice reminder of what is important. I work in the public elementary school system and I see so many kids at a disadvantage from the youngest of ages because parents don't seem to slow down and care about what emotional needs and support they might need in school. Sometimes parents might feel inferior about a subject but parents just asking for help and it is amazing what help can be found for a child."
"I'm goingto use the library tip.We visit the library regularly, but I have not allowed my child to experience a thorough tour of how to find things on her own."
"My child use to love to read, but over the past couple years, all he wants to do is play video games. Thank you for the tips!!"
"Thank you this was helpful. I have a very smart, honors female student, yet she enjoys her computer and games over reading. I will try many of these tips. "
"I love your articles. My son is about to enter Middle School so every little bit of help is appreciated. By chance is there a recommended list of books for a 6th grader to read. Thank you and I look forward to your articles."
"Great article! My only thought is there is no mention of the influence of fathers. Statistics show that girls are typically more interested in reading but I think this could change if our husbands/grandfathers/big brothers read to the kids, too. My husband always reads to the kids and both my boys (along with my daughter) are all avid readers. My kids are now in their early teens and we still read articles to them from the paper and usually have a 'family book' we read together at night. We also get books on tape from the library and listen to those in the car when we travel as a familiy. My husband is very positive about reading and I believe his attitude is what has helped inspire my boys to be passionate readers."
"GREAT ARTICLE!!! I wish some other parents would take the time with their children's all too important educational needs. Great Schools has some GREAT ARTICLE'S that NEED more attention. "
"Boy I needed this! Its the first year of middle school and he has just become so much more independent and way too cool for mom. I find I have to find new ways to communicate and new ways to discipline. Reading has been one of the issues as there is no 'required' reading at home. But I still make him and it causes a lot of arguments! This article reminds me how important it is to keep at it with him! Weirdly enough he talks about going to college all the time. I have never once said he HAD to go (i thought it was too early to start that) but I think because I went and most of my family went he just assumes he has to go! Works for me!"
"This was a terrific article. As a family, we have done the recommendations above since our son was 2 years old. He loves the library and reading. We also read aloud together every night as a family, just before bedtime. A couple weeks ago there was a 'readathon' to support the local county literacy council. It was to raise awareness that more than 20% of the adults in our country do not read above a 5th grade level. Our son is in 5th grade at this time and reads at a 12th grade level. He and I partipated in the readathon. He was hesitant at first, but he warmed up and eventually wouldn't leave the stage! It was a good way for him to learn how to speak in front of a group of people. Keep sending us good information! Thanks!"