When you tell a group of 8th graders that they will be required to…actually, I tell them that they “get to” but they read between the lines…read a book, an ENTIRE book, for health class, the moans and groans are quite abundant. Then come “This isn’t English class,” and “I hate reading.” The occasional, “YES!” pops out, usually quite quietly though. I don’t let those negative comments thwart my goals though and I capitalize on the excited kids. Using novels in Health class is a great marriage; here’s the why and the how.
Why? Reading is good for our mental health and not just the intellectual aspect. We are well versed in the academic / cognitive benefits of reading. But did you know…? Reading reduces stress. Reading improves creativity. Reading enhances empathy. Small caveat: these benefits are most readily enjoyed when reading is for pleasure and when students get to choose what they’re reading!
Also, reading a book about a teenager who has a parent with alcoholism or a story about a teenager who is rocking the teenage life even with a life-altering physical disability is a great way for students to learn health concepts (read: National Health Education Standard #1). There are novels on literally EVERY adolescent health issue.
Oh and…your colleagues (and administrators) will love you for integrating reading into your content area even though you’re not an ELA teacher.
How? I worked with my Library Media Specialist to create a collection of 300+ young adult / middle grade novels which contain health topics: depression, steroid use, sports team dynamics, abuse, mental illness, relationships, identity…the list goes on and on and on. There are so many options and the students get to choose. We spend two whole class periods in the Library, working with the book collection, to ensure that everyone ends up with a book that they’ll enjoy.
And then..we read. And I mean WE. I choose one too, a different book each semester. I want those benefits for myself and I want to model healthy behaviors for my students. For about 10 minutes every day in class, we read (and we occasionally jot down what health topics we’re reading about); about a month later, everyone has finished their books and we talk about the stories and the health issues. We just talk. We also write letters to the books’ authors (and they sometimes write back!!). But really, we talk about health issues (which helps students achieve National Health Education Standard 4). It’s amazing to hear the students connect their stories to those of their classmates; to hear their connections to real life, to learn with and from each other because of the books that they moaned and groaned about reading less than 30 days before. Most every single student ends up loving their book and because of that I get a huge rush of “teacher success” — my kids read about, talked about, learned about health issues important to them and they liked doing it. WIN!
Suggested books / authors for middle schoolers
- Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson
- Restart by Gordon Korman
- Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz
- Kwame Alexander, Carl Deuker, Mike Lupica, Tim Green, Sharon Draper, & Gayle Forman
(and for more mature audiences: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo or anything by Eric Devine)
For specifics about this project or other ways to integrate literature (novels, non-fiction, short stories, picture books), please contact me! I am happy to share our book list for 8th graders; I also have a list for high schoolers.
Lindsay Armbruster (firstname.lastname@example.org)
NYS Certified and practicing Health Teacher since 2004
Health Teacher at O’Rourke Middle School in Burnt Hills, New York
Adjunct Instructor in Health Education at Sage Colleges in Troy, New York
Pedagogy Developer for Goodheart-Willcox Publishing Company
Avid reader of fiction and nerdy teacher books
Mama of two kids, 10 & 6 years old
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