Nerdy Book Club Post: Middle School Readers are Rock Stars for Young Readers

This past week I wrote a blog post for one of my favorite blogs, The Nerdy Book Club. This fantastic blog is a community of bloggers who share book reviews, reading projects, and support reading culture. Below is a copy of the post that I wrote for The Nerdy Book Club. If you would like to see the actual post or read other awesome posts from their blog, click here.

Each spring my middle school students and I visit our local elementary school to read aloud our favorite children’s picture books to kindergarten, first, and second grade students. When my middle school students enter the elementary school and see their teachers from years past, they are giddy with excitement. They coo over how small and cute the kindergarteners and first graders are, and they are enamored by the size of the furniture as if they have taken the same potion that Alice in Wonderland did to grow bigger. They are excited for circle time and the opportunity to read their favorite children’s books aloud to the younger students.

My students take this journey as part of an authentic assessment in my Speech and Debate class, an elective available to seventh and eighth grade students. The first few weeks of class address the question, “What makes an effective speaking voice?” We cover all aspects of voice: volume, tone, pitch, pace, body language, eye contact, pause, and articulation. Students examine a dozen models from Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy to Randy Pausch and President Obama. Before my students launch into writing and presenting informative or persuasive speeches, they must showcase their awareness and control of the workings of their own voice. This is where our trip to the elementary school fits in.

If I asked my students to read aloud a speech or a children’s book within the confines of our classroom, it wouldn’t be the same. Asking students to present for a real audience is more meaningful. Their read aloud must be dramatic and enthusiastic to maintain the interests of their young audience and convey an important message. Here, the early elementary school students are the real audience. Before my students even begin reading, they are seen by the younger children as rock stars. This perception gives my students an advantage in confidence and undivided attention.

Everyone sits “criss cross applesauce” with their mouths open to gobble up a good book. I have taught my students that punctuation offers guided directions for the reader. Periods and commas tell them to pause, while exclamation points and question marks direct their tone. The way the words lay on the page can also guide the rate of their read aloud. Eye contact helps them gauge their audience and their listeners’ interest and attention. If the young children laugh in all the right places, my students know they are successful in their read aloud. I know the project is successful when my students ask me if we can return each week to read to the elementary students. Not a bad idea, I think, too.

As much as we are sharing books, we are sharing smiles, laughter, and time together. When we read aloud a story, especially one that we have picked out, or one that is filled with childhood memories, there is a deeper connection between the book, the reader, and the audience. Unspoken between the students young and old is that books are still fun to read and bring people together. Even in this digital age, a good book is priceless.

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