An advisory program is a key element for any middle school. Advisory provides that sense of belonging that 10- to 15-year-olds crave. It also offers teachers a chance to discuss with students issues that simply don't arise in the course of a regular class.
Sometimes teachers are looking for new ways to address difficult topics without putting students on the defensive. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to read to students. Middle schoolers might believe that they are too old to have storybooks read to them, but they love it anyway. I have quite a collection of books that are great to read to students, but recently I have been introduced to a few more. The first couple of books are from celebrities. Whoopi's Big Book of Manners (Whoopi Goldberg, illustrated by Olo). Heaven knows middle grades students need to be reminded about manners, and Whoopi's book gets right to the point while entertaining readers and listeners. Cell phone manners, rudeness at movies, and even insights into manners in foreign countries are among the many cautions that get the comedy treatment while still letting the reader know what behavior is expected. Reading this aloud to students is sure to spark interesting conversations about manners and behaviors that young adolescents (and adults) ought to consider.
Mr. Peabody's Apples (Madonna, illustrated by Loren Long). This is a much more serious picture book that addresses the issue of rumors—another everyday occurence among young adolescents. Reading this delightful and simple book aloud will definitely get students thinking and talking about a topic they all know about but don't want to approach.
The Golden Rule (Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska). It's quite likely that many of your students, like the boy in this book, have never heard of the "Golden Rule." The boy's grandfather presents the "Do unto others … " phrase as it appears in Islam, Hinduism, and several other faith traditions. This offers you the chance to discuss this essential concept while honoring students' varying backgrounds. Most 10- to 15-year-olds are naturally inclined to do good to others on a broad scale but not so much in their own peer group. Reading and discussing this book might help them make the leap.
The Honest-to-Goodness Truth (Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Giselle Potter). Young adolescents are fairly adept at telling half-truths, fibs, and lies. In this story a young girl who has trouble being truthful also struggles to tell the truth in a way that doesn't offend others. Reading this book to your advisory group would prompt days of discussion about honesty.
These and many other wonderful books are available in your district's elementary school libraries, at your public library, or online. Reading a storybook each month or so adds spice and surprise to your advisory and gets students talking. Since your advisees are commenting on the characters in the story and not on themselves or their peers, they often find it easier to be open.
Originally published January 2009
Judith Baenen, a former classroom teacher, speaks and writes about middle grades students and the issues that affect them. She is author of the Association for Middle Level Education resources HELP, More HELP, and HELP for Teachers.