I don't know about you, but I love teaching literature that not only challenges students to become better readers, but also to become better people. There's nothing quite like a beautiful piece of literature that nurtures students' minds and souls. That's why this round-up of my very favorite pieces of literature to teach in the middle school classroom includes literature that teaches lessons about kindness, community, gratitude and hope. I'm sure some of your own favorites have made the list, but I hope you'll discover something new to share with your students!
My favorite short story to teach is "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes. As you may know, "Thank You, M'am" is the story of a boy who tries to steal a woman's purse. What the woman does next surprises the boy and sheds light on the idea that it "takes a village to raise a child." Students learn about the power of community and gratitude in this sweet story.
When teaching this unit, you might have students build an interactive file folder as they read. Be sure to include information about the Harlem Renaissance to help students learn about Hughes. Then, have students fill their folders with information about the story's setting, characters, plot, and theme. You might want to have students complete a reflection after reading the story. Give students a chance to "walk" in the main character's shoes. I promise, their responses will be touching and powerful. Check out all of my lessons for this unit here. I can't express enough how much I love this speech! It's "What is Your Life's Blueprint?" by Martin Luther King Jr.. King gave this speech to a group of middle school students. In the speech he outlines three steps for students to follow to have a meaningful life. He includes statements like, "Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth." His words are so inspirational and empowering! This speech is wonderful to teach in honor of MLK Day, but truly, it's perfect any time of the year. You might want to include background information on King before beginning a close reading of the speech. Through multiple readings of the speech, students will not only develop their reading skills, but they'll also be able to thoroughly process King's message. You might even have students write about their own life's blueprint when they finish analyzing the speech. Find all of my lessons for this speech here. You knew that this book would make the list, right? Palacio's story of about a boy named Auggie born with genetic abnormalities is both tender and heart wrenching at times. As Auggie tries to fit in at a new school, he ultimately discovers that it is often more important to stand out. Wonder introduces characters that transform and grow right along with the reader. The book's ultimate message is one of kindness, and that's why it's one of my very favorites! I think this book works great with literature circles or as a read aloud. When students finish the book (whether after reading or listening), I love the idea of giving students task cards with targeted questions about the novel. If your students are up for it, you could always throw in some doodle pages. My collection of task cards and doodle pages can be found here.
In Virginia Hamilton's version of the folktale, "The People Could Fly," students will discover perseverance and hope. This folktale tells the story of slaves who rebel against their cruel owners and fly away. When the characters in the story discover they can fly away from the violence of their world, there is a sense of hope and inspiration. This folktale highlights the power of the human spirit in a moving way.
If you teach this folktale, you might include background information on Virginia Hamilton, slavery, and the folktale genre. Then, give students a chance to investigate the folktale's setting, characters, plot, and theme. You might want to have students reflect on what the folktale made them think about and how the folktale made them feel. All of my favorite lessons for this folktale are here.This classic tale just had to make the list! In my classroom, we always read the play version of "A Christmas Carol." The story of Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation from a grouchy miser to a generous gentleman never gets old. I love how this play teaches about forgiveness, community, reflection, and kindness.
Teaching "A Christmas Carol" as a play is a great way to get lots of students reading in class. Just assign new parts for each scene and you'll be able to involve all of your students. I even have a student read the stage directions. After finishing the play, you might have students write a letter to Marley as if they are Ebenezer Scrooge. Have them recount the events of the night and then share what he's learned. Students love the chance to take on Scrooge's persona. You can find this activity and more right here.I'm a big fan of Maya Angelou, so it's no surprise that her poem, "Life Doesn't Frighten Me," made the list. The poem encourages students to recognize the courage that is inside of them. Angelou celebrates conquering one's fears and taking on the world. What's more exciting than that?
This is a great poem to teach because its structure and vocabulary are truly accessible for students. It also lends itself to fun writing prompts about fears and courage. You might have students write a new stanza to add to the poem, complete an analysis flip book, or even have students doodle in response to their learning. The options are endless with this inspiring poem. You can find my favorite Doodle and Do lessons for this poem here.
I hope you found a few new pieces of literature to share with your students. As a review, here are my favorites:
--- Story - "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes--- Speech - "What is Your Life's Blueprint?" by Martin Luther King Jr.--- Book - Wonder by R.J. Palacio--- Play - "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens and dramatized by Frederick Gaines--- Folktale - "The People Could Fly" by Virginia Hamilton--- Poem - "Life Doesn't Frighten Me" by Maya Angelou
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