5 Ways to Get Your Middle School Students Excited About Reading

By Presto Plans 

For some of your students, the love of reading might come naturally.  They are the ones in your class squirreling away novels under their desk and reading them during class or the ones who always have a book tucked under their arm in the hallway. But, not all your students feel this way.

One of my middle school students once informed me, “I don’t really do books.”  So, how do we get our middle school students who do not really “do” books excited about reading? 

The first place to look when you want to solve student reading apathy is your independent reading program.  Student book choice is crucial to create good reading habits in students. 

Here are five ways I was able to provide a more engaging, responsive, and fun culture of reading to create excited readers. 


  1. Increase your book inventory.

The first place to start is providing enough selection, diversity, and reading interest in a class library.  I know that this can be a challenge, especially when you are a new teacher. My school library often didn’t stock stories geared toward grade 7/8 and funds were short. How did I boost my library? Some of my favorite places to shop were thrift stores and online marketplaces. In thrift stores, books are often multiples for one price, no matter hardcover or softcover. My local store also had certain days when all books were reduced. In the warm months, I stacked my arms full of yard sales on people’s lawns. Often, when speaking to an individual, rather than a store, you can get a great price when you are using them for a classroom. I’ve had many people selling online offer me entire boxes of young adult reading material. I love sorting through the piles to see what gems are in there! 

Sometimes, the used selection may not have the hot new middle school read. When you really want a shiny, new copy to wow your students, fundraising can be a great help. Certain book companies, like Scholastic, will give teachers back a certain percentage of book sales. This is a wonderful way to get new books in your room, as well as more books in the hands of your students. 


  1. Survey your class interests.

Once you’ve added new books, now what? I like to survey what I have in my class library to ensure I’m providing books my students want to read. This could change year to year. I’m always looking to see if the titles 1) match what my students are interested in 2) show the diversity represented inside and outside my classroom 3) are appropriate reading levels. I always encourage students to choose books for themselves, so by presenting books they will be drawn to, I increase the chances they will enjoy it and finish!  Use this free student interest survey to get to know your students better, so you can choose reading material that they will be drawn to: 


  1. Create excitement with gamification

One way I’ve “gamified” my independent reading program is to have the class work toward reading goals. After reading each day, students report the number of pages they’ve read (this can be done with any level of text) and add it to the class tally. Once the class hits their page goal, it’s a party! This has helped my students be accountable each day, and more likely to pick up their book when the bell rings.  It's also great that it is a collaborative effort rather than a competitive one.  Students are working together towards a common goal.  The challenge helps keeps them motivated, as does the party at the end! 


  1. Develop opportunities for low-stakes reading.

Often, finishing a novel requires some sort of assessment or follow up activity. Students can come to dread the work that will follow the reading, and soon reading for pleasure is a thing of the past. It’s important to build in time to read for enjoyment, but also to develop an enjoyment of talking about books. I do this by creating opportunities for low-stakes reading. These are activities that come with very little strings attached, and the students are told this from the very beginning! I have often forgone reading logs and quizzes, and added in activities that are lower pressure, such as book clubs (without assignments) where students simply have to talk about their book. I sometimes will use general discussion questions that can be used for any novel that really get students talking about literature in a low-stakes way.  Things such as a peer book recommendation board also create a classroom that values reading for fun, and puts the power into the student reader’s hands! 

  1. Give options for post-reading tasks

To continue low-stakes, low pressure reading, I needed to adjust my assessments. Often, students are dreading the traditional book report or test when a novel wraps up. I have found one way to do this is to create more open-ended culminating tasks. Giving students a choice of how they present what they took from the book or what they enjoyed about a character, relieves some of the stress of doing an assignment they have no interest in. 

I have over 100 options for reading responses that students can choose from on hand that work for any novel.  This way,  I can quickly provide my students with lots of options and they can easily see which one speaks to them. My artistic students loved the art based options, such as “Character Tattoos” which blends both art and comprehension. Activities like “Litflix” and “Character Selfies” got kids excited as the world of entertainment and social media is what they already were talking about! This really helps to break the read-book report- repeat cycle and helps make leisure reading much more fun!


Click the links below to start using these assignments in your classroom: 

50 Assignments for ANY Novel or Short Story:  Volume 1 Print / Volume 1 Digital

50 Assignments for ANY Novel or Short Story:  Volume 2 Print / Volume 2 Digital

All these things have helped me encourage young readers to dive deep into a story and find enjoyment in their books. A few small steps can transform attitudes about reading for fun, and help boost an independent reading program in your middle school classroom. 

Looking for more resources  and ideas to help your students get excited about reading?  Click the link below!

Reading Workshop: Where Do I Begin?  by Room 213

Digital activities that are keepers for in-school learning

 Technology that enhances learning

by Jackie from Room 213

Ok, at the risk of jinxing it, it looks like many of us will be back to a close-to-normal school life in the fall. However, we will go back having learned a lot of things from our time with distance learning. While I hope to never have another class over Google Meets again, I realized that there are many digital activities that are keepers for in-school learning.

Using Jamboards for Formative Assessment

I was so excited when I discovered Jamboard, Google's online digital whiteboard. At first, I used it to create bell ringers that served as a way for me to take attendance for my remote learners. The students had to answer a short question on one of the built in sticky notes; then I did a quick scan to see who showed up and who was missing.

They worked so well that I made ones to use for formative assessment, entrance and exit tickets I could use to check for understanding. It is these that I continue to use in the classroom.

Why? I know I could do the same thing with actual sticky notes, and I have in the past. Students would write a response on a sticky note and put it on the wall. However, this electronic version is paperless and provides a level of anonymity for the students that allows them to be more honest - so Jamboards are a keeper for in-school learning.

👉🏻 You can grab my free Formative Assessment Jams here. And, if you'd like some fun digital bellringers, check these out

Interactive Slideshows for Skill Building

Going online required me to be creative in how I presented my lessons and in how I had kids show me their work. While doing this in class is always better, there were some activities that I still use now that we are face-to-face, because of how well they worked online.

One of these was my use of interactive slideshows. I have always used them in my own mini-lessons, using color and images to help the students "see" things more clearly. However, online learning made me realize just how helpful it was for students to use slideshows to review and practice skills.

For example, the slideshows I made for Distance Macbeth became invaluable when we were in school. Students liked being able to see the highlighted quotes on the screen and many asked me to post the slideshows on classroom, so they could review it at home. 

I also made use of interactive slides when my seniors were writing rhetorical speeches last December. They were working from home at the time, so I sent them this slideshow to practice their delivery (you can grab it and make a copy for yourself).

DIgital activities worth keeping

They had to write a few sentences that included repetition and parallelism, and then record them as though they were delivering a speech using Vocaroo. It's a very simple tool they can use to record their voice and it gave them an easy way to practice speaking. Some of my students had so much fun with it that they sent me multiple versions!

practicing speaking assignments

So, this semester, even though we were in school, I assigned the same activity for homework - and had the same success with it. My students also practiced delivering their speeches to a partner in person, and the combo of these activities lead to some of the best speeches I've listened to in my whole career!

Offering more freedom and choice

During distance learning, we gave ourselves permission to loosen the reigns a bit, giving our students more freedom and choice in the hopes that they would engage with our classes. For me, this opened up so many possibilities and lead to more creativity - and learning.

We were studying Animal Farm when we were sent home last December, and I decided to give one-sliders a try. I put students in small groups and assigned each one a character and a chapter. I wasn't sure what to expect, but most of them blew me away with their creativity. When I asked them about it, they said it was way more fun than a written assignment.

I'd have to agree. And, they still had to do the critical thinking that they would have to do with an analytical paragraph. The best part, though, was it was a lot more enjoyable to grade! For that reason alone, one-sliders are keepers for in-school learning. (You can read more about this process here).

New ways to write an essay

The success of the one-sliders lead me to try something new with research writing. I decided to allow my students more choice and freedom with the research process too, and let them choose a magazine format if they wanted to, even though we were back in school. Some of them still went with the traditional route, but the ones who did the digital versions created some amazing work.

The research magazine

The research magazine has all of components of the traditional paper, but it can include images, graphs, and videos to enhance the writer's points. They are visually appealing and the students find them a lot more fun to create. For that reason, the magazine option will definitely find a permanent spot in my classroom. You can read more about the research magazine here.

So, those are just a few of the digital activities that will be keepers for in-school learning for me. What about you? Let us know in the comments.

My friends here at the Coffee Shop have some digital favorites too:

The Daring English Teacher: The Graphic Essay

Nouvelle ELA: Terminus - Digital Escape Room Series

Presto Plans: Grammar Escape Challenges

Thanks so much for reading!

Using Task Cards in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Using Task Cards in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Task cards might just be one of the most underrated and undervalued assets for middle school ELA and high school English teachers. Task cards are not only versatile and engaging, but they are also a great way to shake things up in the secondary ELA classroom.

A task card is essentially its namesake - it is a card, usually about the size of a quarter sheet of paper, with some sort of task or question on it. Task cards come in sets that focus on a particular skill or standard. Using task cards in the middle school ELA or high school English classroom is an excellent way to practice new content and review before an assessment. For example, my parts of speech task cards resource includes two sets of 40 task cards for 80 task cards total. Since these task cards are all about the parts of speech, each task card contains a task that requires students to identify a part of speech.

Task cards can be a secondary ELA teacher’s best friend because of their ease of use and versatility.

Task Cards Ease of Use

Most task cards come as complete sets with multiple cards per pack. Each set includes numerous tasks for students to complete. Once you complete a little bit of prep work before the first use, task cards are very simple to implement in the classroom. One of the best ways to prep task cards for their initial use is to print the card on bright white cardstock and then laminate the cards for longevity. I have several sets of task cards in my classroom that I’ve used for several years in a row now. I keep them all stored together so that there is very little prep required when it is time to use them next year.

On task card days, there are two ways I facilitate my class. One way is to place my students into groups of four to five students and provide each group with an entire task card set. Using this method, students work collaboratively in the group as they complete each task, and they do not move around the classroom. Another way I like to organize task card day in my classroom is to have set stations placed throughout my classroom. When I use the station approach, I place several cards at each station. Student groups then rotate from station to station as they complete the tasks.

However you plan to include task cards in your instruction, once you prep them, they are good to go for years to come.
Using Task Cards in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Task Card Versatility

Task cards also offer a lot of versatility in the classroom because of all of the different kinds of task cards and how many different ways you can incorporate them into the classroom.

One way to use task cards in the classroom is to use them as one station in a stations activity. For example, one of my favorite ways to introduce a new novel to my students is by including the pre-reading set of task cards from my Response to Literature Task Cards set as part of a station activity. I use the pre-reading task cards for one of the stations and have several copies of the book displayed. For another station, I provide students with some brief contextual information and instruct my students to do some quick research to become acquainted with the historical and social context. For a final station, I have my students respond to some book-specific reflection questions, kind of like an elaborated anticipatory guide.

Another way to use task cards in the classroom is to use them as a class warm-up or bell-ringer exercise. Rather than provide students with the entire set of task cards, simply provide table groups or rows with a few cards from the set. Again, this is a great way to focus on a particular skill throughout the week. For example, if you are working on pronoun-antecedent agreement, spending a week using these pronoun task cards as a bell-ringer activity is a great way to sprinkle in some grammar work into your lesson plans.

Benefits of Using Task Cards

Using task cards in the classroom has a few benefits. First, task cards offer a break from the standard practice worksheet. So just because it is something new, students will be more engaged. Also, students benefit from the repetition of completing multiple related tasks in a brief amount of time. The increased engagement and repeated practice of the skills will help students with retention.

Free Task Card Download

To help you get started using task cards in your classroom, I've created this sentence combining task card starter kit as a free download. To use these sentence combining task cards in your classroom, print them out, cut them into four cards, and have your students begin working on them! These sentence combining task cards also work well with my sentence combining bell ringers

Types of Task Cards

There are so many different types of task cards that teachers can use in their classrooms. From analysis to skill-specific, there are task cards for all sorts of ELA-related activities. I mainly use three types of task cards in my classroom: generic analysis task cards, skill-specific task cards, and literature-based task cards.

Generic Analysis Task Cards

Some of my favorite task cards are the text analysis task cards: literary analysis, rhetorical analysis, and poetry analysis. I love these task cards because they can be used with any text, and they are a simple addition to the curriculum that helps students practice and build critical-thinking skills.

Skill-Specific Task Cards

Another type of task cards is more skill-specific task cards. These skill-specific cards provide students with the practice they need to master a new skill. Some of my favorite skill-specific task cards are my parts of speech task cards and my coordinating conjunction task cards.

Literature-Based Task Cards

Finally, there are literature-based task cards. These literature task cards are ideal as an and-of-novel review and analysis type of activity. Each literature-based task card set includes six essay-level questions that will require students to reflect on the novel and use critical-thinking skills. Some of my literature task card sets include Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, and Animal Farm.

Like task cards? Check out these links!
Poetry Task Cards by Tracee Orman
Poetry Task Cards by Addie Williams

Using Task Cards in the Secondary ELA Classroom

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