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How to Inspire Your Students to Read this Summer

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting 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."

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Comments (33) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Callie Lackey's picture

I like the summer reading challenge idea. This got my own kids excited about reading when school was out of session (even more so than having a parent in education could have on its own!)... I haven't seen the list for this year but a little competition can do wonders.

Callie Lackey

Heidi Ann Lee's picture
Heidi Ann Lee
elementary teacher

Our library allows students to check out books for the summer. Each student is allowed up to 10 books. It's great that you are willing to allow kids to check out books from your personal library. I liked the site that you recommended. I'm going to see if my son would be interested in reading for prizes. It sounds like a fun incentive. Thanks for the advice.

Luke Peterson's picture

Great post rebecca. There are also really good reading programs at most public libraries. However I like the link to the scholastic website. With reading programs there is somewhat of a competition and can really be a motivator when students are feeling stuck in the rut of summer and unmotivated to do anything "school-like." I also like the idea of the facebook page, it is easy to set up and allows for a place for students to share the books they are reading, discuss them online, and you can easily monitor it with minimal effort.

Carol Olson's picture
Carol Olson
Special Education Teacher ND

It is always difficult to get my students to read over the summer and they need the practice. Thanks for the good ideas. I will keep these in mind for next summer to encourage my students as well as my own children to read more over the summer.

Laurie Kroll's picture

I will benefit from all of your reading tips but I especially love the Read and Tease! I cannot wait to try it tomorrow!
Thank you...

Lisa's picture

Thanks for the terrific ideas on encouraging kids to be reading over the summer. I own/operate a tutoring center and am constantly looking for ways to get students to pick up books when they're not in session with me. I will definitely use the Read and Tease and the blurb about using the library and bookstores in my monthly newsletters to families. If I'm feeling really brave, I may take a stab at the Facebook page.
Thank you so much for sharing!!!

Laura Schulkind's picture

I taught my fourth graders how to download free reader apps such as Kindle, or for the ipad, ibook. Since they love anything computer related, many are downloading books to read over the summer!

Elissa's picture
MG Writing Teacher in FL

I loved this. Tackling reluctant readers was one of my pet projects this past year, and for this I especially loved the approach of employing classmates for recommendations. At the end of last year, I inherited a ziploc bag filled with 92 parrot cut-outs, which spurred the "92 Parrot Project" in my classroom reading corner this year. I left tiny forms for students to review the favorite books they'd read. If they left one hung on the magnet board next to the book case, classroom "elves" magically affixed it to a parrot and hung it on the wall overnight. By the end of the year, those parrots fanned out across the wall around the bookcase -- and, better yet, five of my 7 reluctant readers (a sampling from one smallish class) had been converted to like reading!

Tsasser's picture

My 9 year-old likes to read but it's sometimes hard to keep him reading during the summer when there's so many other things to do and he doesn't have a set schedule. This summer, in addition to participating in our local library's summer reading program, I also asked him to come up with a topic he's interested in learning about over the summer. He came up with a topic (shipwrecks) and then brainstormed a list of related topics (the Bermuda Triangle, the H.L. Hunley, Pearl Harbor, what kind of fish inhabit shipwrecks, etc.). Each week we go to the library and find books on different topics on his list and look online to find resources to supplement the books. As he's reading about each topic, I locate apps and games related to the topic to download to the family iPad. He also maps the locations he's reading about on the Scribble Maps apps. So this week he's learning about the Burmuda Triangle by reading books on it, locating and marking it on Scribble Maps, and playing a puzzle game that requires him to navigate through the Triangle and locate clues to find missing ships and planes. The apps and games help the books come to life for him and makes reading more interactive. We've even promised to take him to see the USS Alabama battleship and visit the beach if he can learn something about all of the topics on his list.

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