How to Prepare Middle School Students for the Reading, Thinking, and Problem-Solving Demands of Their Future

Improving students' reading skills can be challenging. However, I truly believe doing this can develop the reading expertise needed for becoming productive, contributing members of their community and the world. Students' success in reading and learning will show them the value of setting reasonable goals and meeting them through hard work, as well as give them the incentive to strive and achieve for the rest of their lives.

In Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking, I provide ways to support all students in your language arts and English classes, improving their reading so they develop the expertise needed to meet the reading demands in all subjects.

Below are 4 primary suggestions that can help you support all students’ reading progress:

  1. Teach students at their instructional reading levels. Organize strategic reading groups so you can meet students where they are and move them forward by offering them experiences that build self-confidence and self-efficacy.
  2. Provide students with reading and vocabulary strategies. The purpose of the reading strategy curriculum is to give students problem-solving tools that enable them to recall content, construct meaning from diverse texts, synthesize ideas across texts, and create new understandings.
  3. Give independent reading a prominent place in your curriculum. Becoming an independent reader, like improving in football or in playing the piano, requires practice. Encourage students to choose books they’re interested in reading—books that are easy and enjoyable, just like the materials you read for pleasure, on vacation, and in your spare time. This practice can build stamina and the ability to focus and concentrate, as well as enlarge students’ vocabularies and background knowledge.
  4. Use the read-aloud as a common text to model reading. Think aloud with an anchor text to make visible how you use prior knowledge and apply reading strategies to comprehend and create new understandings. In addition, students will observe you thinking about issues and exploring essential questions they’ve helped you develop to deepen their comprehension and recall of information.

By meeting middle school students where they are, offering them mental models of what good readers do, and giving them the tools for making meaning, you can support their reading progress and prepare them for an unknown future by creating reading experiences that offer them practice with: collaboration, written and oral communication, critical thinking, and tapping into their creativity. Then, students will have the ability to be the analytical thinkers and problem solvers the global world needs.

To learn more about Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking, you can purchase the book here.

About the author:

Laura Robb is a master teacher, consultant, and sought-after speaker. She taught grades 4–8 for 43 years and currently coaches grades K–10 teachers in Virginia and New York. The author of many best-selling books for teachers, she has also developed several classroom libraries for Scholastic. Learn more about Laura Robb and her work at lrobb.com.

How to Embrace Thinking Aloud to Boost Reading Comprehension in Middle School

Thinking aloud to make visible to students what’s happening in your mind during a read-aloud provides students with a mental model of what engaged readers do. Sharing your thought process shows students how you figure out an unfamiliar word, why you change your feelings about a character’s motivation, or how you apply a reading strategy to deepen your understanding of a dialogue.

In Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking, I explain how to show students what you think, feel, and question as you read aloud and construct meaning. In addition, when you think aloud, you can invite students to do the same with a partner or with themselves to improve comprehension.  

To teach with think-aloudsuse a section from a text you are reading aloud. Begin thinking aloud in your classroom by following these 7 steps:

1. Tell the students the strategy you’ll be modeling for them.

Today, I will show you how I infer.

2. Explain the strategy, how it helps readers, and what readers do to apply it.

An inference is an unstated or implied meaning. It is not right there in the text. You have to use specific details in the text to find unstated meanings. Inferring enables you to find deeper meanings in the text.

3. Read a short part of the text and model by thinking aloud, how you apply the strategy.

Today, I will read and think-aloud using a small part of The Great Fire by Jim Murphy, (Scholastic 1996).

“Chicago in 1871 was a city ready to burn. The city boasted having 59,500 buildings, many of them—such as the Courthouse and the Tribune Building—large and ornately decorated. The trouble was that about two-thirds of all these structures were made entirely of wood.“ 

Think-aloud: I can infer that wood was cheap and accessible because 2/3 of the 59,500 buildings were made of wood. I can also infer that these buildings are in downtown Chicago because the Courthouse is almost always in the downtown part of a city. Notice I supported the first inference with the detail that most buildings were made of wood. For the second inference, I used the Courthouse

4. Read aloud another short section and involve the children. Have them pair-share, then volunteer to share their inference and offer text support.

5. Continue reading one or two more short sections and invite students to pair-share, infer, and offer text support.

6. If students have difficulty with the inferring process, return to you thinking aloud and clearly showing the inference and text support.

7. Wrap up the lesson by noticing out loud what you and students did. Repeat the strategy’s name and how to apply it.

Wrap-up: Notice how I made an inference and then referred to the details that help me infer. I noticed that partners were able to infer and offer text support. I also noticed an understanding of an inference as an unstated meaning.

Engage Students in Thinking Aloud

1. Have pairs of students practice thinking aloud to each other using a common book, story, magazine, or newspaper article. Invite partners to comment and question one another. Use prompts such as: Does this passage make sense? Can I restate it in my own words? Can I say what part or parts were hard? What part or parts do I understand? Can I infer and find text evidence?

2. Post these self-monitoring questions on chart paper so students can refer to them as they read and think aloud.

3. Circulate and make sure you listen to all pairs over two or three days.

4. Continue presenting think alouds to students and having partners practice with the strategies or prompts you introduce.

5. Explain to students that your goal is to have them do in-the-head think alouds independently while they read.

Teacher think-alouds demonstrate that even the most experienced readers encounter stumbling blocks while reading. Your continued modeling using think-alouds can show students how thinking aloud can improve their self-monitoring abilities and comprehension.

Find out more strategies and ideas to boost student comprehension with Teaching Reading in Middle School: A Strategic Approach to Teaching Reading That Improves Comprehension and Thinking.