Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

How to Engage Striving Readers in Middle School, Part 2

By Susan Weaver Jones, Reading Specialist, Guest Blogger

This is the second part of a two-part blog post series written for you to help striving readers in middle school foster a love of reading and improve comprehension. If you missed the first part about the qualities of leveled books that will spark curiosity among your students, you can read How to Engage Striving Readers in Middle School, Part 1. In today's post, I'll explain how you can help students practice important literacy strategies as they read an engaging level T mystery chapter book.

                                                                                                                    During the book introduction, the title of Killer Robot will likely prompt a lively discussion in which students can share their prior knowledge of robots. You can say: The title of this book is Killer Robot. Some people would prefer a helpful robot. Why would someone create a dangerous robot? (Spoiler alert: The robot in the book has the potential to cause great bodily harm, but it does not actually kill anyone.)

Supporting Opinions with Evidence from the Text and Illustrations

In the first chapter, students are introduced to Junior FBI Agents Laura Turnbull and Robert Parker; these are the main characters of The Extraordinary Files. After students read the chapter, ask students: What have you learned about Agent Turnbull? What have you learned about Agent Parker? How are they alike? How are they different?

Their responses might include the agents' appearance, their jobs, their attitudes, and their reactions. Students can support their opinions by identifying the page numbers where evidence for their answers appears in the text or illustrations. Have students identify the unexpected event at the end of the chapter by asking the following: What happens to the robot inventor, Scott Brown, during the party? What are the reactions of Agents Turnbull and Parker? Why do they react differently?



As students read each chapter, have them work with a partner to reread dialogue between characters to allow them to work on reading fluency while revisiting important information. For instance, because the dialogue on pages 4–7 of the first chapter involves a back-and-forth exchange between Agents Turnbull and Parker, students can assume the roles of the agents and reread portions of their conversation. In subsequent chapters, similar give-and-take dialogue takes place between other pairs of characters.

Compare and Contrast Key Details About Character Traits

The second chapter reveals more key details about Agent Turnbull and Agent Parker's personalities through their interactions in various locations: Scott Brown's office, the underground garage at the hotel, and Melanie Richard's apartment. Students also learn more about Melanie as she talks about her partnership with Scott Brown. In that conversation with Agent Parker, she discloses how the Series Two robot can change its appearance.

Students can add to what they have learned in the first chapter about the agents. You can ask students the following questions: How do the agents react to the events in different settings in the second chapter? Why? After the discussion, you can have students record the agents' similarities and differences from the first two chapters in a Venn diagram.                                                                                           For a different way to help kids compare and contrast character traits of the two agents, you can have students draw the outlines of two human head profiles facing each other. The female profile should be labeled Agent Turnbull, and the male profile should be labeled Agent Parker. The differences that are unique to each agent could be drawn as symbols or briefly described with words or phrases inside a dialogue bubble designated for each character. You can also use the downloadable worksheet at the end of today's post as a template.

Asking Questions to Prompt Making Inferences

By the third chapter, students learn the secret of stopping the killer robot. Then they read about how Agent Parker uses that information to save his life. As students finish the chapter, have them consider what Agent Parker might have in mind when he reminds himself to "Remember the plan" by asking the following questions: Why doesn't Agent Parker try to stop Melanie Richards from leaving with the money? What is the plan he needs to remember when he sees the two Turnbulls?

Before students read the fourth chapter, have students infer what Agent Parker thinks will happen during the celebration dinner Agent Turnbull plans with Scott Brown. You can use the following questions to help kids make predictions: Why does Agent Parker smile to himself when he thinks about the special dinner that Laura Turnbull will have with Scott Brown? What does he think is true? Then have students read to find out what happens at the dinner and why.

By the end of the fourth chapter, students learn that Melanie Richards lies about her partnership with Scott Brown. You can have students compare and contrast the account she told Agent Parker versus her actual involvement in the events throughout the book by asking the following: Does Melanie Richards tell the truth about her partnership with Scott Brown? Explain. Why does she lie about her relationship with Scott Brown? Why does she tell the truth about how to stop the Series Two robot? Figuring out how Melanie Richards is responsible for all of the robot encounters is key to comprehending why events happen.

Sequencing and Retelling Main Events in a Narrative Text

After students finish reading and discussing the book, have them review the settings in each chapter: the party at the University of Robotics (chapter 1), police headquarters (chapter 1), Scott Brown's apartment (chapter 2), the underground garage of the City Hotel (chapter 2), Melanie Richard's apartment (chapter 2), a dry cleaning factory (chapter 3), and a trendy restaurant (chapter 4). Have students retell the story, using the locations as anchors to sequence the events in order.

After students refer to the book to put the settings in order, have them identify which characters are in each setting and why. If you want students to work individually on sequencing, you can use the downloadable activity at the end of today's blog post. If you want students to work with partners, you can have them label and arrange index cards sequentially.

Here are some instructions you can give for the sequencing activity with index cards:

Look in the text and the illustrations for the locations used as settings in each chapter. Then write each setting on an index card. Every time you record a setting, add the characters present in that setting on the back of the card. Be sure to include key details about the event in each setting with the characters who were present.

Retelling the story sequentially by identifying the characters in each setting and describing what happens will help prepare the students for the quiz at the end of the book. Allowing students to work together with partners for the review will give them purposeful opportunities to interact with others while sharing, confirming, and reinforcing story details.

After students finish reading and discussing Killer Robot, they might enjoy watching YouTube (or TeacherTube) videos of robotics contests that show other students working with current trends and applications in robotic technology. Encouraging formerly reluctant readers to become genuinely interested in a narrative chapter book, such as Killer Robot, is a major first step toward reading for pleasure and strengthening reading skills.

Click on the worksheet below for a free and downloadable worksheet that students can use while they read the mystery chapter book mentioned in today's blog post. Be sure to visit our blog soon for more ideas to help striving readers with leveled books in your classroom!


Susan is an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works as an ESL teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in kindergarten through eighth grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of several leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Susan on our blog.