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10 Picture Books to Read in the Middle School Classroom

We are thrilled to welcome Christina from The Hanson Hallway as our guest blogger today! Christina is an expert in all things books, and she's going to share her experiences using picture books in middle school. Last year, her classes read a book a day! Wow! Read on to find out Christina's tips & resources for getting started with picture books.

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop

You read picture books to middle schoolers?  Aren't picture books for little kids?  Aren't middle schoolers too old to be read to?  Whether you are three, thirteen, or seventy-three, picture books are for everyone!

I started reading picture books to my middle school students after attending a session last summer at nErDcampMI called "Picture Books at Every Grade, Every Day" presented by Jillian Heise and Angie Huesgen.  They explained their rationale for #ClassroomBookaDay, reactions from teachers and students, and shared examples of books they read.  Jillian even read an F&G copy of They All Saw a Cat by Brenden Wenzel, and the group came up with great discussion ideas to have with students about the book.  After that session, I was seriously considering doing this, but I was a little nervous about reading picture books to middle schoolers.  I often asked myself: What books am I going to choose?  What if the students think picture books are babyish?  Where do I have time in my already busy classroom schedule to read a picture book?  But a few weeks later, I took a leap of faith and decided we would try #ClassroomBookaDay.

With the help of my local librarian and friends on social media, I was able to find some engaging picture books that hooked students on to picture books at the beginning of the year.  After that, I searched for picture books centered around specific classroom topics, like figurative language and grammar; common themes like kindness, courage, and perseverance; and events or holidays, like September 11 and Halloween.  Sometimes, I would even pick picture books that were just fun and humorous to read aloud!

Our picture book read aloud was always at the beginning of class because it usually tied in to our lesson for the day.  Students got into the routine of entering class, putting their supplies at their spot, and gathering around in the front of the classroom for me to read that day's picture book.  If I missed a day of reading a picture book due to an absence or something else coming up in the classroom, the students were always good about reminding me to read two picture books the next day.  We even created a #ClassroomBookaDay bulletin board outside of our classroom to not only keep track of all the picture books we read each day, but to also share the books with students, teachers, and other school guests passing by.

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop
Beginning of the school year

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop
Halfway point of the school year - 90 picture books!

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop
End of the school year - 180 picture books!

By the end of the school year, we read 180 picture books!  You read that right: 180 picture books, one for each day of the school year!  On the last day of school, the students and I sat outside of our classroom and reflected on all the books we read. We talked about some of our favorite titles, characters, and illustrators.  It was still mind-blowing to all of us that we read that many books within the school year.

Every so often, maybe once or twice a month, I like to check in with students to see what they think of a picture book we read, so I will give them a picture book exit slip to fill out.  This exit slip helps me check their comprehension of a book, what they think are possible themes in it, and their personal rating of the book.  These slips do not get graded either!  I use the information from these slips to help decide future books and as discussion starters when I conference with students. You can grab the FREE exit slip here!

Picture Books in Middle School | Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop

If you are a little leery to jump into reading a picture book-a-day, I have come up with a list of ten picture books that you can use in your middle school classroom throughout the upcoming school year.  

School’s First Day of School 
Written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

This picture book would be a great one to kick off the school year! School’s First Day of School tells the story of a brand new school. The story is told from the school’s perspective which is nervous on the first day of school. Things don’t start off so well for the school after overhearing students say they don’t like school, the fire alarm goes off, and being filled trash after lunch. But the school also notices that there are others who are nervous about the first day. As the day goes on, the school is listening and learning, and cannot wait to do it all over again tomorrow. Award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson brings this story to life with his signature simple and colorful illustrations.

They All Saw a Cat 

Written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

 “The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws…” They All Saw a Cat, a 2017 Caldecott Honor book is another story about perspective. Upon first glance, we see the expression of the cat when a child, a dog and a fox each see the cat. But then, we see how certain animals view the cat like a bird, a snake, and a mouse. The illustrations are spot-on in this book! Brendan Wenzel nails the perspectives of each animal perfectly. Students could practice point of view by choosing an animal from this book and writing their own story to go along with the illustration.

Each Kindness 
Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

“Each kindness makes the whole world a little bit better.” Being the new student is never easy. Trying to fit in and making new friends can be a challenge. In Each Kindness, a new girl, Maya, arrives in Chloe’s class, and she notices right away Maya’s raggedy clothes and broken shoes. When Maya wants to play with Chloe and her friends, they say no. Maya does not show up for school the next day when the class is talking about kindness. Chloe’s teacher demonstrates what kindness can do for others. Once Chloe realizes the importance of being kind, it is too late to apologize to Maya because she never returns to school. After reading this book to my students, I remember you could hear a pin drop in our classroom. This was a powerful book about kindness, and one that stuck with my students for a while after reading it.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors 
Written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex

Rock, paper, scissors has been a schoolyard game for many years. But do you know the tale of how it came to be? In Drew Daywalt’s latest book, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, he uncovers the journey of each item and how they finally came together for one, epic battle. Coming from different kingdoms and realms, Rock, Paper, and Scissors defeat a variety of things along the way: Rock versus Apricot; Paper versus Half-Eaten Bag of Trail Mix; and Scissors versus Dinosaur-Shaped Chicken Nuggets. Because they are all looking for a greater challenge, they call converge in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage, and the rest is history. Students will not only love the illustrations, but they will be laughing at the story from the very beginning. Try reading this book by making up voices for each item, and it will really bring the characters to life!

Pink is for Blobfish 
Written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David DeGrand

The cover of this nonfiction picture book should grab students attention right away with the photograph of a blobfish. Pink is for Blobfish is a book full of information and pictures about animals in the world that are pink! Did you know that the blobfish was voted as the ugliest animal in the world? Did you know naked mole rats are talented architects? Did you know male pygmy seahorses become pregnant and carry the eggs in a pouch? Find these weird animals, facts, and more in this book. As an extension or in collaboration with a science teacher, students could choose one of these animals to research, or they could create their own book of animals that are a certain color (Example - Blue is for Poison Dart Frog or Yellow is for Banana Slug).

Illustrated by Aaron Becker 

Journey is a unique picture book because it does not have any words! It is the story of a young girl with a red marker who draws a door on her bedroom wall which then opens into a magical world. By drawing things like a boat, balloon, and magic carpet, she is taken on an adventure, but is uncertain where or how it will end. You may be asking yourself: How do I read a wordless picture book? Show the pictures to the students and have them write their own story! If your student enjoy Journey, share with them the rest of the trilogy, Quest and Return.

The Book With No Pictures 
Written by B.J. Novak

From a wordless picture book to a pictureless picture book, The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (most notably known as Ryan from the television show The Office) is just what it is. The book has no pictures! It probably does not seem that a book like this would be very fun to read, but you would be wrong. You have to read the words on the page, even if there are words that make silly sounds or make you talk in a monkey voice. I mean, doesn’t everyone have a friend who is a hippo and named Boo Boo Butt? I’m guessing you just laughed out loud at that! And I can guarantee your students will too. After reading this book, it would even be fun for students to make up their own silly words!

The Invisible Boy 

Written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton

In The Invisible Boy, Brian is never really “seen” by his classmates and teacher. His classmates don’t pick him to play in kickball games or invite him to birthday parties, and his teacher always seems to be dealing with other students to notice Brian. But there is one thing Brian loves to do: draw! One day, a new student, Justin, joins their class. As Justin is trying to find his place in the class, Brian is the one who steps up to make him feel welcome by drawing a picture for him. When the time comes for a group project, Justin invites Brian into his group and the rest is history. This is wonderful story to use with your students about the importance of including others. Pay close attention to the illustrations as these tell the story just as much as the words. Don’t forget to check out the endpapers too!

Henry’s Freedom Box 
Written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

“Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.” Henry’s Freedom Box is the dramatic, true story of Henry Brown. When Henry’s slave master falls ill, he is sent away from his family to work for his master’s son in a tobacco factory. Henry is lonely in this new place until he meets Nancy. Eventually, he and Nancy get married and have three children. But Nancy’s master lost a lot of money, and one day, she and her children are sold at a slave market. Henry is heartbroken as his whole family is taken from him in an instant. He knew right then that he wanted to be free. Enlisting help from some friends, Henry decides he wants to be mailed in a crate to a place where there are no slaves. Despite a rocky journey, Henry eventually makes it to freedom in Philadelphia. This would be a great book to use when studying the Underground Railroad or when learning about themes like courage and perseverance.

Be Quiet! 
Written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins 

Fans of Mother Bruce will love Ryan Higgins’s newest picture book, Be Quiet! Rupert the Mouse wants to create a wordless picture book. But his two talkative friends, Nibbs and Thistle, want to help out. The pair tries to give Rupert suggestions on what he should include in his picture book, and Rupert is not having it. He just wants them to STOP TALKING! The “vishery strigulating” illustrations reflect the emotions of each of the characters perfectly from the facial expressions to the large, bold print words. There is even a cameo appearance by Bruce the bear from Mother Bruce! Read this book with lots of expression, and your students will laugh out loud at the subtle jokes and situations these mice get into. Be sure to show your students what is under the book jacket and the endpapers too.

This list will definitely get you started, and feel free to reach out to Christina and the Secondary English Coffee Shop if you have any questions. Pin this post for later:

Picture Books in Middle School | Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop

As always, thanks for visiting The Coffee Shop!

Christina Hanson is a sixth and seventh grade language arts teacher in north central Illinois. When she isn’t sharing books with her students or reading books from her never-ending TBR pile, she loves to spend time with her teacher/coach husband and very energetic kids. She also has a love for photography, especially taking pictures of books! Christina is a member of the #BookJourney crew, a group of nine educators from across the United States, who “Read, Post-it, Tweet, Repeat.” You can find Christina on Twitter and Instagram @hansonhallway or on her blog The Hanson Hallway.

Espresso Shot: What We Wish Our Students Knew

Hello fellow ELA teachers! The coffee shop gals would like to discuss what we, as teachers, wish our students knew.  Whether it's about personal matters or academic matters, teachers know a lot about life.  Check out what these English Language Arts teachers have to say: 

My students, I wish you knew how to cite, write, read, and speak, and these are the things I hope to teach you. Cite your sources when you support a claim (and for goodness sake, Google is NOT a source!). Write your name on your paper and write in your journal every day. When you are thirty (fifty, sixty), you won't remember that awesome joke your 9th grade BFF told. Read the chapter I assigned, and then read read read for fun - hide under your covers with a flashlight and read your favorite novel until 2 AM. Speak up in class, and take a few deep breaths before you give a speech. Stretch your fingers and do some yoga for the brain. Speak out for those who need your voice and stretch your legs in marches for those who need your strength. Be brave, be kind, and be wise. This, I hope you learn. -Nouvelle ELA
 My students, I wish you knew that everything is not always as it seems and that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. While it may look as if your friends or other students have it easy or all put together, that is not always the case. In a world filled with smokescreens and social media highlight reels, you might not ever truly know what people are going through, and for that reason, it is essential to always be kind and to treat one another with dignity and respect, whether you think they deserve it or not. Years after you graduate, you won’t ever regret taking the high road, though while in high school it might be one of the most difficult paths to take. -The Daring English Teacher
I wish that you knew how much you hurt yourself when you let internet sites do the thinking for you. When I ask you to read or analyze a book, I want to know what YOU think. I want to know because what you think matters, but also because you give yourself such a gift when you stretch your brain and let yourself dig just a little deeper to figure something out. It's a gift that you can use forever. I'd much rather you come to class with a less than amazing answer that you came up with yourself, than one that you got from someone else. Trust yourself. Build your skills. And read the book!!! -Room 213
Students, I wish I could prove that detail and preparation matter. The reason we take time for proofreading, revision, practice, and rereading are all because the world will hold you to a high bar in life; I want you to be ready to succeed no matter what a boss, leader, or opposing viewpoint asks of you. These reasons are why you need to PREPARE for a speech, and not just wing it; why you need to reread your writing before pushing submit; why you need to take the time to research before giving an opinion; and why the "little" things like grammar, formatting, and design all stack up. Don't be afraid to be great, and don't avoid the habits that create greatness. -Secondary Sara
To my students (past and future): There are so many things I wish you knew.  1. I wish you knew how much I truly, deeply care about each and every one of you and that I would do anything to ensure that you succeed at life in school and after graduation. 2. Perseverance, courage, and hard work PAY OFF! Literally.  If you want to live a life free of worries, you need to focus on your future and dedicate time and effort in school right now. 3. I wish you knew that, as a teacher, I know and understand how challenging middle and high school can be.  My door is always open and you can use my classroom as a safe haven at any time. 4. Lastly, I wish you knew why I became a teacher in the first place-- to change lives.  I didn't become a teacher to bore you with grammar skills.  I became a educator because my high school ELA teacher changed my life, and I want to have that same impact on you.  Love, The SuperHERO Teacher
Students, I wish for you to find the joy and passion for reading and writing that you had as a child before the practice became a requirement with instructions and restrictions. I want you to explore different texts to find ones that incite joy, curiosity, reflection, and connection. I hope that you will find the book that turns you into a reader, the book that reflects your experience, makes a personal connection, or relates to your passion and urges you to find others like it. I wish you could write without fear of judgement. When you put your pen to paper (or hands to your keyboard), I wish that you did so without hesitation as a means of expressing yourself, delving deeper into a topic, or creating your own world. -Presto Plans
Students, I wish you knew that school is a stepping stone for life. Take advantage of the opportunities given to you: sports, school groups, volunteer opportunities, etc. Now is the time to get involved and try something new! These skills are not only great for you to learn, but also for your resume! Your teachers are helping to prepare you for life outside of school, so show up on time, bring your supplies, be respectful and do your best. These simple rules are expectations in a work environment, so take the positive feedback to heart that your teachers have been giving you! -The Classroom Sparrow
I want my students to know - that please and thank you are worth their weight in gold, it's more fun to think outside the box, and that it's okay to make mistakes as long as you take the time to learn from them. To question, to wonder, to delve deeper.. To be proud of themselves, their struggles, and their accomplishments. I want them to know they're beautiful, no matter what the media says and that they deserved to be loved for who they are. Lastly, I want them to know that I care about them beyond their time in my classroom... and that they can come to me for help for anything. -Addie Williams

When my students step into my classroom, I want them to know, really know, that education is a gift; that there truly is power in it, and that if they embrace all that there is to offer in their learning, they will be better poised to enter the global world in which they are living. Moreover, when it comes to learning English, I want them to know that no matter which field of study they wish to pursue, no matter which career they hope to embark on, the work we are doing in our course will serve them well. Whether it be the public speaking which prepares them for everything from a wedding speech to a job interview, or the writing which equips them to write both that cover letter and an academic report - I am trying to prepare them to be eloquent, critical thinkers who can express themselves fluently. - Stacey Lloyd

What do YOU wish your students knew?  Comment below! 

Setting the Scene for Inspiration

I have a confession: It may be summer but I’m not the best at switching off and relaxing. 

In my defense, I know I’m not the only one. I firmly believe it’s the way we teachers are wired. We’re passionate about our jobs. We care about our students. Sometimes to our own detriment… That’s why, when I ended up in hospital with a giant kidney stone just one week before final exams and report deadlines, I knew I needed to approach this summer vacation differently.

Hospitals aren’t exactly the cheeriest of places but I lucked out; I had the presidential suite of hospital rooms. As I stared out at the cotton candy sunset sprinkling rose gold favors over the city skyline, I experienced a sense of clarity and wonder that until then I’d been too busy to even realize I was missing.

(I’m almost certain it had nothing to do with the morphine.)

Now that I’m home, instead of rushing straight into lesson planning for September, I’m planning to spend my days refreshing my mind and recharging my soul. Or at least refreshing my G&T and recharging my kindle. 

Vacation vs Vocation (see what I did there?)  

You shouldn’t be thinking about marking or report writing or lesson plans… but I have a sneaking suspicion, if you are anything like me, you will anyway. So how about you give your practical brain a holiday and let your creative brain run wild instead? (To reaffirm, I teach English. Not Science. I may not know how brains actually work.)

We humans learn best when we engage all our senses. That’s why I always put so much thought into my classroom environment. And because I’ve already spent so much time on this topic, you don’t have to! 

So, here are my FIVE free tips for easily generating a creative and engaging classroom environment...

      1.     Turn your classroom into a gallery
Make a feature of your students’ own work. This tip is a triple whammy. You don’t have to dredge up any of your own creativity. You already possess everything you need. Best of all, your kids will feel a sense of pride at having their efforts displayed.

      2.     Press play to set the right tone
The way you set the scene for learning in your classroom might be overt, it might be covert. A sneaky tool to counteract any less-than-positive mindsets your students bring into the classroom is music. You can theme your soundtrack to your lesson or simply to the mood you choose to create.

3.     Get the conversation started
There’s nothing worse than a closemouthed classroom. Coaxing responses from quiet or disinterested kids can sometime feel like pulling teeth. Bypass the awkward silence every day by writing a new question or quote at the top of your board. The more provocative or challenging it is, the more debate and discussion it’s bound to prompt.

4.     Build a ‘Wonder-Wall’
If thinking of a new question every day feels a bit daunting, turn the tables and get your kids to do it instead! Get them involved; give them a space on your bulletin board to pin their own thoughts. It can be questions about the content you’re studying, or just general teenage musings on life…

5.     Bring your classroom to life
OK, so filling your classroom with plants isn’t technically ‘free’ but the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual benefits are invaluable. And it really doesn’t have to cost the Earth — you can even grow your own from cuttings. Simply having plants in our workspace improves our concentration, memory, mood, and creativity. What better way to bring life to your classes?!

If you are looking to invest in some incredible resources this summer, my fellow coffee-shop teachers are an endless source of inspiration — and they’re absolute lifesavers when my own creativity is running low. Check out some of their most beautiful and time-saving designs.
from Presto Plans
With twenty posters, each explaining a common question stem, this hardworking package is the perfect way to decorate your bulletin board AND prepare your students for standardized tests. It even comes with a long bulletin board title poster!

from Addie Williams
Set the tone for the new school year with these cute and concise mini-posters. Think of them as daily reminders of the kind of positive and productive space you want your classroom to be.

by The Classroom Sparrow
Encourage a dynamic learning environment by placing these mini-books around the room. If your students get stuck on a reading or writing task let them get up, reference the notes inside, and find the answer for themselves.

by the SuperHERO Teacher
Transform your classroom three ways with this all-inclusive triple bundle of bold and bright bulletin board decorations, posters, and organizers. You don’t need to choose between the Neon Decor, Novel Suggestions, or Student-Teacher Conference themes… because you get them all!  

by Room 213
Let’s be honest, the language of Shakespeare is not always the simplest to follow or understand. But these eye-catching posters break down all the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and translate them in a fun and memorable way.

by Nouvelle ELA
Getting your students to design their very own posters is a clever way to help them understand and remember the literary terms, dramatic vocabulary, and poetic devices you’re covering. You might be surprised at how creative they can be, given the opportunity.

by The Daring English Teacher
This bulletin board ‘quilt’ will not only look as pretty as your students can possibly make it, but it’s also a powerful tool to help shift their perception of their own growth — and come to view their learning positively.

by Secondary Sara
Classroom decor needs to be meaningful. Secondary Sara totally gets that, and her resource for getting students involved in selecting quotes from literature, finding the meaning in them and creating beautiful classroom displays is simply stunning.


I just love having versatile, always relevant art on the walls to point to, whether I’m teaching literature, poetry, or writing skills. So if you want to brighten up your classroom walls with easily accessible reminders of figurative language techniques, why not download my FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE POSTERS: 17 colorful printables, specially designed for Middle/High School classrooms.

So, now that we have that sorted, let’s just all get back to our G&Ts and Kindles, shall we?

Enjoy your Summer!

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