Did you have any teachers in high school that read a book to your class simply for the enjoyment of listening to a good book? I didn’t. I really don’t remember any of my middle school teachers doing this either. A few of my elementary school teachers read to us, but it was less frequent after 3rd grade. I’m thankful my parents read to my brother and me on a regular basis since this didn’t happen all that much at school. When I was working towards my bachelor’s degree the idea of reading aloud to my future high school classes never occurred to me.
The summer I took Dr. Steffel’s YA Lit class at CMU my plans changed. I’ve mentioned Dr. Steffel many times before, and it’s because she’s been such a positive influence on my teaching career. On the first day of our class, we sat in a circle and she read Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos. She used different voices and everything. I was astounded! I couldn’t believe we were being read to in a college course, but I loved it. Even though Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is young for a high school classroom, I really enjoyed the story. Everything we did in class and everything Dr. Steffel did in class served a purpose; she wanted us to follow her lead and bring these lessons, strategies, ideas, etc. into our classrooms.
I tried my first read aloud while student teaching. I had a few sophomore English classes, so I decided on Shattering Glass by Gail Giles. It’s an edgy book, and there’s some bad language and mature situations, but it’s an excellent pick for reluctant readers. I was nervous about reading this during student teaching, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I had a rationale prepared and everything. My students loved it and often asked me to read “just one more chapter.” Since then I’m much more comfortable reading books where characters swear, but I make sure to choose books that aren’t over the top in that category. It sometimes shocks my students to hear me read those parts, but we have a conversation about why that language is in the book and how we won’t be using that language in class.
So let’s get to my favorites already! 🙂 I like these books for a number of reasons, but one of the most important qualities I look for in a potential read aloud is the amount of dialogue. Too much dialogue can get confusing when reading it aloud, especially since the kids don’t have the book in front of them to follow along. I also try to pick books that I know will be entertaining and have a nice moral. Shorter chapters are always a plus too. And I need to really like the book too, because otherwise I’m not going to enjoy reading it out loud over and over again.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads)–I’ve read Speak out loud so many times! It’s such a powerful story and so easy for my students to relate to. Plus, since Melinda isn’t speaking to anyone all that much, most of the book is made up of her thoughts and opinions which is easy for the kids to follow. The characters are well developed, and well, it’s Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Do I need more reasons? 😉
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Goodreads)–Last trimester is the first time I’ve read this out loud. My freshmen were really interested in it because of the upcoming movie (Ahh!! This Friday!!), so I decided to give it a shot as a read aloud. Some of my students weren’t sure at first because the beginning of the book is a bit slow as the world develops and we get to the training center and the actual games. Once we reached that point, they were begging for more chapters. It helps that many of the chapters end with cliffhangers. My only complaint is that the chapters are so long.
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Goodreads) (My Review)–I don’t remember what prompted me to choose Hex Hall as a read aloud, but I did for the first time last year. I read it to my freshmen and the majority of them LOVED it. In one class, we even went on to read the sequel Demonglass. Oh my gosh did we race through that book! It ran right into the very end of the school year, but we finished it. Sophie is very clumsy, sarcastic, and easy to like. She reminds me of a female Ron Weasley. There’s some foul language in Hex Hall, but nothing that was overly shocking or made me pause. I should note that in general, I’m on the liberal side of things when it comes to YA and what I put in my classroom. Many of my students prefer realistic fiction, but besides one or two in each class, even my die-hard contemps fans liked Hex Hall. The guys even laughed and wanted me to read more 🙂 I read it again this year to a new group of freshmen and had the same enthusiastic response.
Boy21 by Matthew Quick (Goodreads) (My Review)–I’m actually in the middle of reading Boy21 aloud for the first time. I’m reading it to my freshmen classes, but I wasn’t sure what they would think. After reading Hex Hall and The Hunger Games this year, I didn’t know how my kids would react to a sudden switch to something realistic. We voted on Friday, and the majority of all my classes chose to keep reading it. Boy21 is a powerful read with a fantastic message without being preachy. It’s diverse, has guy appeal without alienating the girls, and it’s humorous. The chapters are short so I have more flexibility in how much I choose to read each day. Finley doesn’t like to talk that much, so the dialogue is balanced with Finley’s thoughts and observations. Right now my kids are really curious about Russ, aka Boy21, and what’s going to happen between him and Finley as the story progresses.
Here are a few more titles I’ve had success with reading aloud:
- My Brother’s Keeper by Patricia McCormick (Goodreads)
- Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen (Goodreads)
- Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads)
Here are some titles that I’ve recently read and plan to read aloud in the future:
- Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick (Goodreads) (My Review)–I just finished reading this book, and I just know my students would love it as a read aloud. It has a wonderful balance of narration and dialogue. It’s really funny and full of heart. It’s a clean book in regards to sex and language, but there is a minor scene that involves drinking. I think it’d work for middle school classrooms as well as high school classrooms.
- Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin (Goodreads) (My Review)–We read so many serious stories in high school that I like to mix it up and read something funny out loud when I get the chance. Kelsey is hilarious and just a fun character to read. This is a pretty clean book as well which I always appreciate. There are a couple scenes with drinking, but I they’re definitely not glorifying it! I think we’re going to finish Boy21 with enough time to read another book, and if that happens I’ll be reading this one to my freshmen next 🙂 I love this book and would read it to more than just my freshmen.