The Tuesday 12: 12 Fantastic Middle School Novels that will Captivate Even Your Most Reluctant Readers!

In this week’s addition of The Tuesday 12, we’ll be looking at 12 novels to use with your middle school students.  The novels that I’ve chosen are those that would captivate and motivate even the most reluctant readers in your class.

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”  Each year my students and I study this book and each year I look forward to it.  The conflict, turmoil, and tragedy experienced by the Greasers and Socs is still relevant today, as it was when this novel was first published in 1967.  How do I know?  The boys in my class hide the book between the pages of their math textbooks so that they can keep reading during math lessons.  Is it wrong that I think that’s great?

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Classic dystopian novel depicting a “perfect” world—no pain, war, hunger, or disease.  So everyone must be happy, right?  Not quite.  We learn about the community through Jonas’ eyes and what he experiences/learns cannot be forgotten or taken back.  Excellent discussions will result.

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A modern dystopian novel where each year, twenty-four adolescents are selected to participate in a reality TV death match known as the Hunger Games. Katniss must make difficult choices if she is to survive the games.  A great discussion with students is how they think Panem became the way that it is…how did this come to be?

4. Shakespeare’s Secret by Eloise Broach

Hero is a girl stuck with a name from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  When she moves (yet again) to a new town, she learns that she now lives in the Murphy diamond house and this revelation will have her questioning the real identity of Shakespeare and the scandal surrounding Anne Boleyn.  A great way to introduce students to Shakespeare!

5. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

During the Great Depression, Bud leaves his foster home in the hopes of finding the man he believes is his father, bass player Herman E. Calloway.   Bud’s adventure is told with humor and hope, as Bud gives readers a set of “life rules” along the way!

6. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

When fellow high school students meet Stargirl, they don’t really know what to make of her.  She was homeschooled and is just so different from them.  Will she be accepted?  Does she want to be accepted?  Does she need to be accepted?

7. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Brian is the sole survivor of a small plane crash in the Canadian wilderness.  Can this thirteen year old boy survive on his own?  A dramatic story of survival as Brian learns to trust his own instincts and his trusty hatchet to understand and survive the wild and dangerous new world around him.  A great read especially for Canadian students, as lessons about the area where Brian is stranded can be linked to Geography and Science lessons.

8. Holes by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats is found guilty of a crime that he did not commit and is sentenced to a boys’ work camp.  The inter-connectedness of the various stories within Stanley’s experience at Camp Green Lake is a great way to teach students that

9. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) by Rick Riordan

In this first installment, Percy learns that he is a demi-god and he’s been accused of stealing Zeus’ lightning bold!  An interesting read that weaves mythology, adventure, mystery, and teenage drama into one compelling story.

10. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s diary has become a world-known classic, but it always surprises me when some students are not aware of her story.  Anne’s diary recounts the two years that she and her family went into hiding from the Nazis.  Although she is only 13 when she begins to keep her journal, Anne’s views on the world around her are both hopeful and profound.  A must-read for adolescents.

11. Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker

Julilly and Liza are two young girls who have been slaves their whole lives.  They hear of freedom in Canada and begin a harrowing journey towards freedom by way of the Underground Railroad.  Another excellent choice for Canadian students, as lessons from this novel can be connected to History/Social Studies and Geography.

12. The City of Ember: The First Book of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

In this post-Apocalyptic society, humans live in a world that is always dark, as there is no sun, moon, or stars and the only light comes from flood lamps.  Can Doon and Lina save their city and its inhabitants?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, but all opinions are the author’s own

The Tuesday 12: 12 Green Initiatives for Your Classroom and School!

One of the best things about a new school year is the ability to begin with a fresh start and now is the perfect time to explore some green initiatives for your classroom and school.

Simple steps

1. Take your class outside! My kids love to have Phys Ed outside, but how about taking them outside for other subjects? Oil pastel drawings of the fall foliage, reading in the warm September breeze, or nature-based science activities are all great options! Here are some great websites that have outdoor activities for students of all grade levels:

2. Make an Eco Pledge! On the first day of school, my students and I come up with our code of conduct for the year, so why not add in a promise about respecting the environment and becoming green? If students see this commitment as part of their pledge for the year, then they may begin to make more environmentally conscious choices.

3. Lights off! Appoint a different student each week to turn off all lights and computer screens before recess, after lunch and at the end of the day.

4. Recycle! Make sure that your classroom has an appropriate recycling bin and that students actively use it. Have a discussion with your students regarding the types of materials that are recyclable in your area.

5. Waste-Free Wednesdays! Students are to bring their lunch and snacks to school in a reusable container. Any organic waste can be composted at school (if a program is available) or brought back home for composting or green bin.

Got a bit more time?

6. Start an Environmental Club! Students love to be part of clubs and many kids already have tons of eco-friendly ideas for their class and school.

7. Ban the bottle! Explain to students that plastic water bottles are no longer acceptable in your classroom; instead, encourage them to purchase a reusable water bottle that they can refill throughout the day. A great video to watch with your class is “The Story of Bottled Water.” It makes an awesome media literacy lesson (I love cross-curricular lessons!) and really helps students understand how marketing by companies has drastically altered our perception of drinking water sources.

8. Celebrate Earth Day every day! Although Earth Day festivities usually take place during the week of April 22, why not incorporate small activities on a daily or weekly basis? Assemblies with an environmental focus, eco-conscious tips on the morning announcements, and picking up litter in the school yard are some possible suggestions.

9. Calculate (and then reduce) your EcoFootprint! There are many websites available that guide you through a series of questions to calculate your ecological footprint, while also providing suggestions to reduce your impact on the environment. It is best to visit these sites to ensure choosing a quiz that is appropriate to the grade level you teach. (includes teacher resources!) (includes a teacher’s guide!)

Bigger projects

10. Waste-Free Wednesdays school challenge! We created a month long challenge among our grade 1-8 classes. Each Wednesday after lunch, members of the EcoClub went around weighing the amount of waste produced by each class. The results were recorded and tallied over the course of a month. The class with the lowest total amount of post-lunch waste won a prize!

11. Green schools are Healthy schools! Join up with your school’s health action team to take on greater initiatives to promote diet, exercise, recreation, and green choices related to healthy living.  Check into resources in your city/town/province/state to see what programs are available.  For example,  the Toronto and Region Conservation Schools Programs has a variety of programs, including Sustainable Schools, Watershed on Wheels, field centres, the 20/20 Clean Air partnership, and stewardship programs available. Research programs that are available in your area and sign up early as some programs may have limited spacing!

12. Green your school yard! Some students are lucky to attend schools set on beautifully green landscapes and surrounded by towering trees, but not all students are so lucky! Although school yard greening may seem like an expensive task, there are many organizations that provide grants for school yard greening projects once an application has been submitted.  Over the last few years, we have planted several trees and shrubs around our school yard. We received six trees to plant from Environmental Earth Angels ( after we submitted an online application, while a local nursery provided some more trees and shrubs at a discounted price. Our students had a great time digging, planting, and caring for the trees!

The Tuesday 12: 12 Inspirational YouTube Videos to Share with Your Class

So, what is “The Tuesday 12”? We will be gathering 12 resources, ideas, lessons, and activities for teachers on a variety of topics.  In this inaugural edition of The Tuesday 12, we decided to go with 12 inspirational YouTube videos for you and your students.

1. Severn Cullis-Suzuki at the 1992 UN Earth Summit

At only 12 years old, Severn addresses the UN regarding environmental concerns and the fear she has for her future and the future of other children.  It is very powerful and my students have always commented that she is so confident and intelligent, and her message still resonates today.

2. Dr. Randy Pausch “The Last Lecture”

University professor Randy Pausch gave a lecture on the topic, “What wisdom would you try to impart on the world if you knew it was your last chance?”  But for him it was especially poignant as he had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.  His speech (an abridge version of it taped for Oprah) is both inspirational and emotional.

3. Dalton Sherman addressing 20 000 educators in Dallas

This is a bit of a longer video and even though Dalton is addressing teachers, not only is his message inspiring for educators, but it helps our students understand that we believe in them and want them to reach their full potential.

4. Iqbal Masih

This particular video is inspiring for two different reasons. First, it tells the story of Iqbal Masih, a child laborer in Pakistan, who was sold into slavery at a young age.  He gained international attention when he spoke out against child labor and was murdered at the age of 12.  Not only is Iqbal inspiring, but the students at Broad Meadows Middle school in Quincy, Mass (where he visited) raised money to build a school in Pakistan in his honor.  Not only did the students raise enough money for one school, but they were able to build 8 schools in Pakistan.

5. Craig Kielburger

When Craig Kielburger read about the death of Iqbal Masih, the young Canadian boy wanted to do something about it.  He turned to his friends and together founded a group that would eventually evolve into “Free the Children.”  This clip shows his travels to Asia to see child labor for himself.

6. Free the Children

Founded by Craig Kielburger, Free the Children “believes in a world where all young people are free to achieve their fullest potential as agents of change. We are a charity and educational partner that empowers youth to remove barriers that prevent them from being active local and global citizens” (  Young people throughout the world have the power to change the world.

7. Redefine Possible…Spencer West

8. Spencer West and Mount Kilimanjaro

Videos 7 and 8 go together.  In the first, we are introduced to Spencer West, who lost his legs at 5 years old due to a genetic condition, but that doesn’t stop him from leading a full and active life.  On June 18, 2012, he reached his goal of hiking to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for clean drinking water through Free the Children.

9. Marianne Williamson “Our Greatest Fear”

Although this quote has been attributed to Nelson Mandela, it was actually written by Marianne Williamson.  I chose the clip from “Akeelah and the Bee” because it is an inspiring movie that can be shared with your students as well.

10. Running for My Existence (Roger Wright)

In these 5 minutes, we literally see a man transform himself from someone who could only run 10 yards to being ready to run the Boston Marathon in just ten months.  He did it to raise money and awareness for his niece Julia, who has Cystic Fibrosis, and to change his own life for the better.

11. Lost Generation

When I first viewed this video, it really made me sad…but then I got to the second half and I realized what an amazing concept it was!  This video would also make an excellent resource for a media literacy lesson.

12. Derek Redmond

Sometimes no matter how much we try to prepare ourselves for a challenge, we will not be able to overcome the obstacles in our path…unless we receive help from those that care about us.

If you have any other suggestions, please list them in the comments below!

Don’t forget to check back next Tuesday for the next installment of “The Tuesday 12”!