Back to School: Reading to Big Kids


Walking into my classroom as a fifth-grade teacher was a bit nerve-wracking. I'd never taught fifth grade, swore I'd never teach fifth grade, and did everything I could to avoid getting moved to fifth grade. And yet, here I was... teaching fifth grade. 😏

I knew how to get little people excited about books. I knew all about building them up and helping them bridge the gaps in their learning so that they could fall in love with reading. But big kids? That was unknown territory.

Here's the thing about fifth grade readers. If they aren't a reader, this is one of the last chances an adult has to turn them into one. And middle grades fiction?? That was a whole new universe for me. (ALL THE 😍😍😍, by the way! My absolute favorite thing to read.) I knew every book had to be intentional. Every read aloud needed to pull at one of my non-readers and bring them over to the "dark side." 😂 When I looked back on my year, I realized there were three ideas I kept practicing with my choices. It's certainly not foolproof, but it worked for us!

(side note: There are affiliate links throughout this post. That means I get a small commission when you make a purchase through those links. It helps keep the lights on over here! 😉)


When in doubt, pull out something funny. Do the voices. Make the faces. Get into it!

And when you're reading something for the first time, try to look at it through the lens of a ten-year-old. Would they giggle? Break out into a guffaw? If your inner ten-year-old would burst out laughing chances are they will too.

My first-week-favorite-funnies are If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! by Elise Parsley and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos.

Joey Pigza is a hysterical and all too real character that my students find themselves rooting for. It's a short and easy read aloud that lends itself to LOTS of good discussions about behavior expectations, how we treat others, and an awareness that you don't always know everything that's going on with your classmates.

Magnolia in If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator... is my favorite first day read-aloud because she always helps me break the tension. We can't help but laugh at the alligator's antics. It's like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie met Animal from the Muppets. 😂😂😂 I'm not a teacher who subscribes to the idea that "you can't let them see you smile until October." If we aren't laughing on Day 1 in my room, I'm worried!


The next two books are in new places on my "must read aloud" list. Because of Mr. Terupt usually follows Joey Pigza. However, in a time where more and more of my students are on social media, I feel like Posted needs to move into that slot. Posted explores what happens when cell phones are banned at a middle school. The kids come up with a new way to communicate, and just because it's on paper doesn't mean it's any easier.

I'll probably save Because of Mr. Terupt for my third novel of the year. It's an awesome look at an entire year in a fifth-grade classroom, with tragedy right in the middle of it. Rob Buyea explores friendships, stereotypes, family crisis, and the importance of a good teacher.

Both of those books are pretty lengthy, so we should be set until just before Christmas break. 😉 But I've got one more tip for you!


Do you remember sniffling with your teacher while she read Where the Red Fern Grows? Or Charlotte's Web? Or laughing over Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with your fourth grade teacher? All of those experiences are vividly locked away in my reader's memory. I remember every word. If we want big kids to fall in love with books, we have to find those life-changing texts for them as well!

I cannot remember the last time I read a book like this and grieved for days afterwards. Ethan's story is gut-wrenching and wonderful all at the same time. As a class, we listened to the first two chapters when I was modeling how to use some online resources. We were all enthralled.

One of my kids even asked, "Mrs. Spann - why do I feel so sad after hearing that? Nothing even really happened yet!" I smiled at her and said, "That's how you know it's going to be a book that sticks with us. We are twenty pages in and already experiencing big feelings. That's not easy for an author to do!" And it has! I'm still talking about The Ethan I Was Before and recommending it to anyone who will listen. This will probably be the book we start after Christmas break.

I don't have a set-in-stone plan for anything after this, and that's ok. I want to get to know my next bunch and figure out what they need as readers. Which brings me to my last book recommendation.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) is another text for the first week of school, and I always bring it into my Reader's Workshop lesson on finding good fit books. (Yes, big kids need that lesson too!!) Barbara Bottner is another one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. There are kids who walk into our classrooms every year who HATE reading. Man, it hurts my heart just to type that.

It's our job to help them find their "gateway book" --- whatever genre or author they need, it's up to us to help them find it. And when they do?? It's the BEST FEELING EVER.

To find all of these books in one place (and a whole lot more), I'd love for you to visit my Amazon Influencer page!

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Have a great year, bookworms! I'll see you soon! 

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