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How to Inspire Your Students to Read this Summer

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
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Some teachers like to get back all their classroom library books before the school year ends. I was not that teacher. Check 'em out, read 'em, and share 'em. A dog-eared, weathered book returned in fall (or not) is an ideal book in my book.

And we all know this: when kids independently read during June, July and August, it works wonderfully against what's known as Summer Slide.

And here's another reason why I didn't mind checking out books over the summer, and even not getting some returned: I've had the opportunity over the last two years to ask about a hundred students at an urban middle school (many who are English learners) how many books they have in their homes. "Oh, lots!" some will answer. When I ask these students how many books exactly, they will answer at most 10, maybe 15. Sometimes they answer less, or they tell me "none." Often times these are books they've already read or are books for small children.

This is a problem.

For many underserved children in our poorest communities, advanced reading skills, and literacy in general, will help free them from the limits placed on them by poverty. So when it comes to education, and equity and access, it's not just the great digital divide we are at war with -- illiteracy is also a worthy and very real enemy.

And many of us find ourselves at our schools advocating to principals and those in charge to continue purchasing new popular fiction and non-fiction books for the school and classroom libraries. They do their best, but we've got to convince students to also seek books off campus as well. Here's some suggestions how:

1) Invite students to give Book Talks to the entire class. Who influences kids the most? Their peers, of course, so providing children opportunities to pitch books to classmates can be incredibly effective and powerful.

2) Introduce kids (and especially those reluctant readers!) to a book series. This will inspire them to seek out the next book, and the next, and the next.

3) Provide your students and their families with the "Latest and Greatest" in fiction and non-fiction for the grade level you teach. I've had students come back to me the next year, and there are x's by several book titles (they used the reading list I gave them as a check list!)

4) If teaching older kids, set up a Facebook page all about books. Students will then be able to share with their classmates (and you!) updates on what they are reading and post their book reviews.

5) Start or end class with a Read and Tease. This means you read a few enticing lines from a book (it can be the opening words, or midway through). For my students, I'd give a dramatic reading of the opening paragraph and then place the book on the rim of the whiteboard. At the end of class, at least 2 or 3 students would ask to check it out.

6) Advise families to take children to the library and bookstores on a regular basis. Send a letter home or an email with a list of neighborhood libraries and bookstores. Possibly include some inspiring quotes or a bit of research, giving some evidence to why reading is so very important.

7) Encourage your students to register for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. You can even make it a homework assignment. Scholastic also offers creative suggestions for classroom lessons using the Summer Challenge. Once a student does register, she will be able to enter a contest with prizes by simply logging in her reading minutes. Consider sending the Scholastic link to parents where they can download reading lists and get some tips for supporting their child's summer reading.

Kids need to become lifelong readers early on. Be an advocate, guide and a reason for a child discovering the book that hooks him, inspires him to keep reading, and to continue seeking more and more enriching text. Developing strategic, savvy, critical readers is one of our great charges (and challenges) as teachers. It's also one of our greatest rewards.

I've shared the following quote with many students. It's from a guy we all know of, and in fact, if it weren't for him, who knows, the laptop I'm using to write this might not exist: "I really had a lot of dreams when I was a kid, and I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had a chance to read a lot."

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

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Janice W's picture

Hi Rebecca,
I agree about dog-eared books. I work with children that do not have the resources and getting them to read is hard. I say give me a well worn book any day. You have given me room for thought on how I can help those readers get the books to take them to places they otherwise wouldn't go.

Monica Coles's picture
Monica Coles
5th grade teacher from Raleigh, NC

You have opened my eyes to a different perspective on reading. I, personally, love to read and encourage my fifth graders to read all the time. I read aloud many books during the year and have a classroom library full of books for students to read. But right now, we are winding down the year and I am urging my students to return all books they borrowed. I never considered allowing them to keep the books over the summer because they don't come back to our school. However, I am very fortunate to teach at a school with an extremely supportive PTA. They provide each classroom teacher with funds at the beginning of the year and families financially sponsor classrooms for the year. If a student keeps a book, what's the worst that could happen? They could actually become lovers of books! I can't wait to set up a Facebook page about books so my students can share their reading experiences. Thank you very much for the insight and suggestions!

Mindi St. Peter's picture
Mindi St. Peter
private school teacher from Bloomington, Indiana

Wow! I love your take on classroom libraries. In the past, I had always gone to the "enth" degree to try to get my books back. My thoughts were always on keeping the books so kids could check them out the next year. I had never even considered letting the kids keep them to read over the summer - and what a great way to combat summer slide! You have given me a new viewpoint on this and I plan to give it a whirl next year. Other favorite ideas: the read and tease and the facebook page! I only wish I had found this posting before the end of the school year - but I will be sure to use it next year!

Meagan's picture

I remember when I was younger teachers were very protective over their classroom books. We were never allowed to take them out of the classroom for any reason. I also have teachers in my school today that are just like that. I have even watched teachers get upset over a small rip in a page. As a prospective teacher I have a large library of books that I plan on offering to my students, while allowing them to take them home. I go to book sales, rummage sales, etc and get many,many books at a very low cost. I also have copies and copies of books, so am not worried about running out of them. Even if I do, I enjoy buying books for students! I loved your idea of introducing a book series to students. This is a great idea and would work wonderfully with my set of students. I also think that you give some great resources for parents so that they can encourage their children to read to. Great Ideas! Thanks!

Mackie's picture

Rebecca, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your suggestions for preventing "Summer Slide." The suggestion I found most innovative and attractive to students is creating a Facebook page to encourage reading and book talks over the summer. As soon as I read that particular suggestion, I started developing a whole plan of possibilities for continued growth over the summer. In order for my plan to work, certain skills and strategies (including many of your suggestions) will have to be taught and practiced throughout the year, but the results will be well worth the effort.

During the school year, I often organize my reading instruction through Literature Circles. In doing so, students are exposed to literature on their reading level and are given the opportunity to respond to the readings in a variety of ways. By the end of the book, students are organizing a culminating project to share in the form of a book talk with the other members of the class. Thus, introducing new books to their peers and giving honest reviews on the text.

In an effort to continue this love of reading over the summer, I could develop a Facebook page that would include several elements you discussed: book talks, book series, lists of fiction and non-fiction books, and even "Read and Tease." Since many students, even in elementary school, already have Facebook profiles, this could be an interactive way of communicating over the summer while fostering a love of books. I could begin each week by posting a "Read and Tease" from a few captivating selections (as videos on our class page) in an attempt to hook the students into selecting one of those books to read with me for the next couple of weeks. I may select books from series the students enjoyed during the school year or introduce new series that may capture their interest. During the course of the next two weeks, I could post discussion questions about the books, and the students could post their reviews when they have completed the books. There could also be a section for students to post suggestions for their peers if they have read other books over the summer that they have enjoyed. In addition, there could be a parent section in which I could post suggestions of fiction and nonfiction age-appropriate books, upcoming events at local libraries, and ideas for developing a love of reading as a family. In a world where both parents and students have Facebook pages, why not use this social network to the students' benefit? Not only do we, as teachers, continue to guide our students over the summer, but we build a stronger rapport with the students and their parents by showing that caring does not end on the last day of school.

Carrie's picture

Thank you for your wonderful ideas! As a first year teacher, I felt very nervous about loaning out my books to my kindergarten students. Your article reminded me that this is why I went into teaching. This year my class took a field trip to the library and only about a fourth had gone to a library before. As educators, it is so important to give students the opportunity for learning. By lending books to the students, maybe they will develop extra practice in the summer!
I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful literacy teacher in my building! She sent home two leveled books with the students this summer and also a list of books at their reading level. Next year along with this, I plan on sending home a book from my library, and also a list of all the favorite books we read in kindergarten! Thanks again for your ideas!

Coach Burrell's picture

Summer reading is extremely important. Striving readers should read books they enjoy. Parents should also support teachers by encouraging their children to read during the summer. Summer reading should also be fun!

Thank you for the suggestions! My colleagues designed a sizzling summer reading project. Students are required to read four books and complete a project. In addition, students will participate in book chats. This is an excellent way to start the school year!

lisamarietl's picture

Thanks for the great ideas! I really encourage my first graders to set "Summer Reading Goals" before school gets out. It's informal, but they really get into it and set great goals. Sometimes their goal is a certain number of books ("I'm going to read 50 books!") and sometimes it's more specific ("I"m going to read all the Junie B. Jones books.") We spend some time talking about what is a realistic goal and how to keep track. I send home a summer book log and often kids come back in the fall to show me what they've read and tell me if they met their goal or not. Of course, there are always the kids you mentioned, who don't have access to many books. I encourage them to ask their parents to take them to the public library. This year, one of my girls told me that she doesn't think that her mom knows where the public library is! I assured her that her mom does know (our town is NOT that big) and to try asking her!

Thanks again for the new ideas!

Susie's picture

I really enjoyed reading your post! I have an extensive classroom library and students check books out throughout the school year, but I never thought about letting them keep the books over the summer! That is something I will have to try. I will also look into the Scholastic Summer Reading program. Thanks for the ideas!

World Scholar's picture
World Scholar
International nonprofit linking students & mentors around the world

Reading over the summer is a great activity, and I was so pleased to read this article via Twitter. In addition to encouraging summer reading, you might consider another "at-your-own-pace" activity: the development of an academic essay based on summer or earlier readings.

As of May 2011, youth (19 and under) may enrol in World Scholar - a non-profit educational foundation offering a Mentorship program. Students are taken from the very first steps - brainstorming and deciding on a topic, and thesis sentence development- right on through to proper formatting and how to present a research essay to an audience.

Students have the opportunity to win one of three $5,000 scholarships for best Journal Entry (essays may be published in the World Youth Scholar Review), or the $25,000 scholarship for Best Mentorship study. All these scholarship will be presented September 2011 and January 2012, respectively.

Please feel free to contact us at communications(at), or visit us at

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