Road Trip Wednesday

Road Trip Wednesday: Books & School

In high school, teens are made to read the classics – Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens – but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

As someone who will probably end up teaching middle school language arts at some point (because it tends to be taught in a block with social studies in a lot of middle schools), I’m hoping to be able to teach a mix of classics and YA. Obviously, I’ll still have students read some of the classics (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Outsiders were two books I read in middle school that I actually liked), but I’m also going to make sure I teach as much YA as I can, because I think it’s important that students learn that reading isn’t boring – and unfortunately, a lot of students at the moment are learning to hate reading in their English classes. (I realize this question asks about high school. But…I think middle school needs some more love, so I’m going to take that liberty with this question and talk about middle school, instead.)*

So, if it was entirely up to me, and I didn’t have to worry about things like getting in trouble or having parents yell at me, these are books that I would love to teach if I can get away with it:
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: When I took my YA lit class over the summer, I actually did my final project, a reading activities packet, on The Hunger Games. So, I actually already have a whole bunch of activities up my sleeve dealing with issues like media literacy, how violence is portrayed in American culture, propaganda, etc. I would probably also show clips from reality TV shows, and if I was teaching this in a humanities block with 8th graders (in which case their social studies class would probably be U.S. history), I would probably have them look at examples of propaganda in their social studies curriculum.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: This would actually be especially relevant around here, since I’m from Washington State. So, actually, I could even use this book in a social studies classroom, since Washington State History is usually taught in either 7th grade or 9th grade. If I were teaching this in a language arts classroom, I would talk about things like irony and comic relief.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: Um…can you think of a single reason why to not teach this book? I saw a ton of my 7th graders last winter reading this book. I think it’s a book everyone should read at least one, really.
  • When my 7th graders last winter went off to do their reading groups, I saw that one of the groups was actually reading Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Which totally wouldn’t even come to mind immediately, but I think it could be an interesting way to teach about setting. Plus, what kid wouldn’t want to read about zombies?
  • I think I would want to throw in some Tamora Pierce, too. I mean, at that age, girls are so susceptible to all the messages being marketed toward them that they have to look a certain way, or act a certain way – they have to be a certain way in order to be worth anything. So I’m hoping I can be the sort of teacher who can offset this by showing them there are other ways they can be – they don’t have to fit into a certain little box that’s impossible to fit into, anyway – and still be worth something. I feel like Tamora Pierce’s books would be perfect for this. I know they helped me out a lot at this age.
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli was another one of those books that, although I only read it once, really stuck with me at this age. It’s really relevant to what kids go through at this age, so I would want to bring this one in, too.
Anyway, so there’s my list…I sort of tried to limit it to what I would do in a middle school, since that’s my focus – otherwise this list would be way, way longer.

And…it’s 7:20 now, which means I only have a half hour left to get ready for class. Today we’re talking about how to teach public speaking! (I hated public speaking when I was in school. And now I’m planning to basically be public speaking for the rest of my life. Funny how that turns out…)

*Actually, I just didn’t read the question. But middle school is cooler, anyway.**
**Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority on this.

12 thoughts on “Road Trip Wednesday: Books & School”

  1. Okay, I wish you had been my middle school social studies/English teacher! These ideas are FAB. The Hunger Games is of course something I think begs to be taught in classrooms (it was on my list too!) and though I have yet to read Tamora Pierce, I hear nothing but amazing things about it from girls that read it at that age—and really benefitted from it.I hope you get the chance to teach some of these things!

  2. Tamora Pierce! Great choice! I adore her books. I have the Lioness series on audiobook and I listen to it every once in a while. Awesome books. She writes great female characters with real weaknesses but also palpable strengths. THE HUNGER GAMES is also another good choice. I want to teach those as well.

  3. Great picks! Alexie and Anderson are on my list, too. I still haven't read STARGIRL or THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, even though they're both sitting on my shelf. I really need to!

  4. That's a pretty exhaustive list, with plenty of great titles. I read a lot of books in MG that would now be considered YA or even crossover, and they really helped me form my identity by raising the important questions.

  5. I think your students will be quite lucky, this is a great list! MG and YA can learn so much through literature being from classics or others. I still remember how one teacher really brought the story close to us no matter from what time period it was. Loved it!

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