Guest blog post: Read-alouds in sixth grade

June 28th, 2010

Sarah Mulhern is a sixth-grade language arts teacher and the blogger behind The Reading Zone. In this guest blog post she talks about how she uses “Mock Newbery Awards” to get her tweens excited about reading and she explains why read-alouds are not just for younger students.

When I tell people that I read aloud to my sixth grade students daily I get some strange looks.  I also get a lot of questions, mostly along the lines of, “How do you know they are even listening?  Kids that age don’t care about hearing a book read out loud.  They think that’s for babies!”

I usually react by biting my tongue for a moment, to ensure that I don’t lash out at the offending party.  After taking a few deep breaths I calmly explain that my students may feel the same way at the beginning of the year but the evaluations they complete at the end of the year rate read-alouds as one of the top three experiences of their sixth grade year. It’s the number one way I turn my students on to reading! Inevitably, this conversation leads to how I get my students to buy into read-alouds when they are “too old” to be read to.  Well, that’s simple:  Mock Newbery.

I begin each school year with a Mock Newbery.  I explain to my students in the first week of school that we will be reading and enjoying a variety of novels as part of our daily read aloud.  I tell them that while these novels will be very different- various genres, authors, and topics- they will all have one thing in common.  Each book we share as a class from September to January will be eligible for the Newbery Medal that is awarded by the American Library Association in January. Tween and teens love competition and the Mock Newbery builds community while letting students work towards a common goal- predicting Newbery Medal and Honor winners for the current year.

I spend most of the summer scouring the blogosphere for books that are receiving a lot of Newbery buzz. I look at starred reviews in School Library Journal, Kirkus, and other industry magazines. I look for books that bloggers are talking about and praising.  I read these books myself and decide on the first book we will share as a class.  I continue reading books through the fall, looking for the books we will share in October, November, and December.  I don’t always read the same books with all four classes and will sometimes choose books based on class needs and class personalities.  But no matter what, we chart the books we read on our Mock Newbery bulletin board.

Our bulletin board is a focal point in our classroom.  I post the cover of each book we read together. When different classes read different books this serves as an advertisement for a variety of new books, above and beyond any book talks I do in class.  Throughout the school year we refer to the books we have read together and the bulletin board serves as a visual reminder of our shared reading for my visual learners.

After winter break my classes do a brief unit on the history of the Newbery Award and the criteria for awarding the medal.  After studying the criteria for a few days each student writes a short essay supporting the book they think deserves the Newbery, according to the criteria.  It’s a great exercise in critical thinking and writing about reading and the students get really into it.  We have heated debates about the merits of each book we read and students get very heated when supporting their personal favorite!

But the best part of our Mock Newbery read aloud time is when we sit down together in January and watch the live webcast of the awards.  Last year my students were on the edge of the seats and some even jumped for joy when their favorites won the medal or an honor.   But I’m fairly certain nothing will beat a class full of students turning to me after cheering for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and exclaiming, “We knew it would be eligible! We knew it!”  This was a class of once-dormant readers who were now experts on the Newbery criteria and were prepared to defend to their death that The Graveyard Book was eligible for a Newbery despite the fact that the fourth chapter was previously published as a short story.

That is the reason I share read-alouds with my tweens. That moment alone makes it worth the time and energy I spend on choosing books and sharing them with my students.

Entry Filed under: Reading

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mrs. V  |  June 28th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    When I saw the title of this post on my blog roll I predicted that Sarah would be the one who wrote the guest post! She is a great advocate for reading aloud to older students. I had heard her mention her mock Newbery before, but it was nice to hear even more details from this post.

  • 2. Elsa Perales  |  June 28th, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Building awareness of reading possible award winning books is a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

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