Looking for inspiration for teaching middle school reading skills? You’ve come to the right place! Read on to see how I teach the essential elements of each major genre in fun & engaging ways in my 6th-grade ELA classroom.

Do you know what I miss most about being a student-teacher? I miss being able to observe amazing teachers on a regular basis. I miss being able to get an up-close and personal look at how someone else interprets a scope and sequence and builds their lesson plans. I miss being able to constantly ask questions and dig into someone else’s thought process. Isn’t that season of teaching so inspiring?

In the spirit of finding inspiration in one another, I’m going to take you “behind the scenes” of my sixth grade ELA classroom and show you how I map out my year of teaching middle school reading skills. Feel free to grab my free Elements of Literature Guide below, it’s my ELA bible that guides all of my lesson planning.

I hope you find inspiring ideas here and there that spark new ideas that you can use in your classroom! Ready? Let’s go!

Where The Journey Begins

Before we set off on this journey, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room. A purposeful journey begins with a road map – and our roadmap just so happens to be the standards. I like to know exactly where my journey is going, or in other words, the skills I am responsible for helping my students master. Everyone should start their journey here because once you have a solid grasp of your learning objectives, you can be crazy creative with how you teach and help students understand them!

teaching middle school reading with the end in mind

Lucky for us Language Arts teachers, there are plenty of them.

For each reading destination (standard), I wanted to get as well-rounded of a view as possible of the following:

  • What will students need to know or be able to do?
  • What did students need to know or be able to do last year?
  • What will students need to know or be able to do next year?

By taking a peek at 5th grade standards and 7th grade standards, I can better understand how in-depth I can expect to go and begin where my students left off.

Once I’ve looked at the learning progression for each skill, I zoom in and note:

  • What background knowledge will students need to have to be successful?
  • What prerequisite skills will students need to have to be successful?

It’s even MORE helpful if I can translate what I’ve interpreted into student-friendly language – meaning essential questions and I can statements!

If you are a sixth-grade ELA teacher responsible for the common core derived standards, you can check out my standards guide here.

The 30,000 Foot View

Once I knew my standards inside and out, I looked at my timeline. I wanted to know how long I had to teach it all to make sure I blocked off the right amount of time for each unit/set of skills. My teaching partner and I decided that it made the most sense for us to start with this framework:

  • Quarter 1: Fictional Literature/Narratives
  • Quarter 2: Informational Text
  • Quarter 3: Arguments
  • Quarter 4: Poetry & Drama

We knew we could accomplish a lot (of fun ?) in 9-weeks, but we would also have some flexibility in that timeline should something come along that we couldn’t resist. In my school, we are responsible for teaching both reading and writing, so 9-weeks gives us time to teach both the reading and writing portion of each genre.

Now our framework started to look more like this:

  • Quarter 1 (Weeks 1-4): Reading Fiction/Narratives
  • Quarter 1 (Weeks 5-9): Writing Fiction/Narratives
  • Quarter 2 (Weeks 10-14): Reading Informational Texts
  • Quarter 2 (Weeks 15-19): Writing Informational Texts
  • Quarter 3 (Weeks 20-24): Reading Argumentative Texts
  • Quarter 3 (Weeks 25-29): Writing Argumentative Texts
  • Quarter 4 (Weeks 30-34): Reading Poetry (& Dramas ONLY if time allowed)
  • Quarter 4 (Weeks 35-39): Writing Poetry (& Performing Dramas ONLY if time permitted)

All of this to say – 4 weeks to teach and practice reading skills for each genre with engaging texts goes by really fast. But you know what they say – time flies when you’re having fun!

Middle School Reading Skill Set #1: Fictional Literature/Narratives

Get ready for some fun! Stop #1 of the journey through a year of reading in my ELA classroom is all about fiction. There are so.many.ways. to make this unit memorable. The secret in the sauce is selecting short stories that your students will LOVE. Everything else is gravy!

In teaching this unit, I try my best to merge the skills outlined by the standards with the genre’s characteristics. Technically speaking, the elements of fiction are setting, conflict, characters, plot, and theme. Students have to understand these five elements thoroughly to achieve the various objectives in the literature standards, so we start here.

I spend a good two weeks covering the elements of fiction in various fun ways to make sure students understand it. In my 6th grade classroom, this includes:

  • Setting (Time, Place, & Mood)
  • Characters (Static/Dynamic, Flat/Round, How they are developed/grow/change)
  • Conflict (Man vs Man/Self/Society/Nature/Technology/Supernatural)
  • Plot (Plot Diagram)
  • Theme
  • Point of View & Perspective

You can read more about the activities I use to teach the elements of fiction by reading this blog post

Then we spend the next two weeks putting it all together by diving deeper into short stories! I LOVE to engage kids with spooky stories, so they often combine their knowledge of the elements of fiction with short stories like The Landlady and The Monkey’s Paw. 

That’s it for stop #1! Once those first four weeks fly by, we dig into the craft of narrative writing before jumping into Reading Skill #2: Informational Text.

middle school reading fiction

Middle School Reading Skill Set #2: Informational Text

After spending nine weeks developing our reading skills with fiction, it’s time to shift gears into the nonfiction world. I approach this unit in the same way I approach fiction: by covering all the essential elements and then expanding. There are also so many things you can do with this unit to pack a punch. I’ve combined all of the reading skills with the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainability and done a project around that. I’ve combined it with a passion-driven research project. The sky is the limit here!

Just like with fiction, we take two weeks immersed in the elements of nonfiction. We review:

  • Central Idea & Key Details
  • Text Structures
  • Text Features
  • Author’s Purpose & Point of View

You can read more about the activities I use to teach nonfiction elements by reading this blog post.

After we’ve practiced the basics, we spend a couple of weeks putting it all together through ideas like those listed above or through themes that align with other content areas. This informational skills unit is followed by an informative writing unit, just like narratives.

middle school reading nonfiction

Middle School Reading Skill Set #3: Arguments

Teaching informational texts is not always a student favorite. I do everything I possibly can to make it engaging by choosing interesting texts and incorporating engaging activities. Needless to say, by the time those nine weeks are up, students are ready to move on. That’s part of what makes our argumentative unit so much fun! I do everything I possibly can to make it engaging by choosing interesting texts and incorporating engaging activities.

The first two weeks of the unit are spent covering the elements of an argument. For my 6th graders, that means thoroughly understanding:

  • Claims
  • Reasoning
  • Evidence

And being able to evaluate an author’s argument and determine if the reasoning and evidence are sufficient to support the claim. This last piece is really tricky. You can read more about how I teach this unit here, but I’ll summarize it by saying students get plenty of practice using their highlighters – and they also realize how often authors make claims without supporting them! (Especially in the news!) And being able to evaluate an author’s argument and determine if the reasoning and evidence are sufficient to support the claim.

Once we feel confident reading arguments written by others, we try to craft arguments of our own. Over the next four weeks, we practice writing various arguments (often infusing some form of research once again).

middle school reading arguments

Middle School Reading Skill Set #4: Poetry & Dramas

Last but not least, our final middle school reading skill we tackle has to do with poetry! Now, the common core standards don’t explicitly mention being able to read poetry as a requirement. However, my state (Colorado) has specified it; it’s a legitimate genre students need to know how to read and understand, and what the standards do mention has to do with structure (stanzas) and language (figurative language, sensory language, etc.). As if those aren’t reasons enough, I could also mention that it is almost always on standardized tests… but I won’t. ?

Poetry, at one point in time, was my least favorite genre to teach. It was old. I felt underprepared. I had a hard time engaging kids with it because it just wasn’t my jam. However, I finally hit my groove with teaching poetry when I decided to throw out the book and teach it my way.

I tackled the poetry unit by – you guessed it – covering the essential elements first. I wanted sixth graders to feel confident understanding:

  • Poetry Structure (Stanzas, Forms, Techniques, etc.)
  • Sound Devices (Rhythm, Meter, Rhyme, Assonance, Consonance, Alliteration, etc.)
  • Imagery (Sensory Language)
  • Figurative Language
  • Voice (Poet, Speaker, Tone, Point of View)
  • & Themes

If you want to look at how I taught all of those elements, you can see my activities here

For the first time in FOREVER (cue Onna singing), I didn’t hate teaching poetry. 

With this final unit of the year, I don’t pressure students to write poetry if they don’t want to. We try using various poetry techniques in our daily quick writes, but students don’t have to produce a poem for a grade. 

The last four weeks of the school year get eaten up so quickly. Testing season is usually over and done with, so the pressure to keep instructional rigor at certain levels is alleviated. I’ve used the last four weeks to teach the elements of drama, and I’ve also finished the year with a novel study. 

middle school reading poetry

And That’s A Wrap

There are a million different directions you can take your middle school reading units of study in ELA. The key is weaving the necessary reading skills throughout your themes, novels, or big ideas.

Don’t forget to grab my free Elements of Literature guide. It lays out the elements of fiction, nonfiction, arguments, poetry, and dramas in a simple way, plus includes question stems for each element!

I’d love to hear from fellow middle school ELA teachers. How similar or different is my year-at-a-glance from yours? Drop a line in the comments below, share your thoughts, or continue the conversation and find me on FB or IG!

All the best, Natayle