Pay It Forward: Middle School Readers are Rock Stars for Younger Kids by Michele L. Haiken

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.


Here are some of favorite read alouds:


Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann

The Mysterious Tadpole by  Steven Kellogg

Gloria and Officer Buckle by Peggy Rathmann

Too Many Toys by David Shannon

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan

Dogzilla by Dav Pilky

Michele L. Haiken, Ed.D. is a middle school English teacher at Rye Middle School in Rye, New York, and an adjunct professor in the Literacy Department at Manhattanville College. You can learn more about the projects and highlights in her classroom at The Teaching Factor and follow her on Twitter @teachingfactor.