Voyaging to other planets, investigating unsolved crimes, exploring the lives of favorite people and celebrities, entering new worlds—all of these wonders, and so many more, are found on the pages of books. Why, then, does it take so much effort to convince kids that summer reading is worthwhile? As summer approaches, students are walking away from their classrooms determined to say goodbye to the rigors of daily education. Though well earned, this separation leads to the phenomenon known as the summer slide, or the loss of reading gains made during the year. And while all students are susceptible to the summer slide, students from low-income backgrounds, in particular, often experience a more dramatic loss of ability over the summer.
School leaders and teachers can combat these losses by encouraging students to read more during the summer. Here are some ideas your staff can use to make summer reading more appealing.
1. Encourage teachers to choose books that will appeal to their specific students.
Establish a theme you know your students will care about. Have literature choices that center on common issues and themes, such as peer pressure, grief, bullying, or home issues. Many students are dealing with these issues, and popular series like Girl in Pieces, It Happened to Nancy, or Turtles All the Way Down address them. Encourage books that deal with relatable topics.
2. Choose books with provocative openings that will capture students’ attention.
When teachers are assigning summer reading, their window for attracting and engaging students is limited. Teachers can be deliberate about assigning books that hook students from the very beginning. For example, consider these first lines:
“I accidentally vaporize my pre-algebra teacher.” —The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
“Ironically, since the attacks, the sunsets have been glorious.”
—Angelfall by Susan Ee
“We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” —Tracks by Louise Erdrich
The best stories hook students from the very beginning. And the best hope for students to opt to read when they could be doing something else is for their teachers to give them those kinds of stories.
3. Partner with your local library.
You can call your local library and set up a special section or day of the week when readers can gather to discuss what they’ve read. Teachers can choose to attend these sessions or assign students as discussion leaders. Some kids will cherish this leadership responsibility, and an offer of extra credit might coax less enthusiastic students into handling the responsibility.
4. Build an online community of readers.
Set up a blog for students to post their reading choices and reactions. Many students will welcome the opportunity to blog with others and stay connected to their peers throughout the summer.
5. Encourage parents to join their kids in summer reading.
Administrators and teachers can encourage parents to build a reading culture this summer. Remind parents that, even at a young age, students can respond to questions about the plot of a story, which characters they liked the best and why, what they learned from the book, etc. Share research with parents. Let them know about the value of summer reading and how they can play a huge role in making sure their child reads over break.
6. Introduce students to audiobooks.
Encourage teachers to let students know that listening to a book is another way of reading it. Share with them information about services like Audible or Overdrive. Audiobooks are also available at libraries and can be checked out for free. They are a great way to kill time on long family road trips and engage those students who might not be fans of traditional reading yet.
7. Have students create a favorites list.
Ask students to list their favorite books and explain why they’re so attracted to them. Compile their lists into one large one and share it with the entire class. Make this list available to every student and give them the freedom to choose what they read over the summer. The combination of choice and peer recommendations might be enough to get them to dive into that first novel.
Obviously, educators share the common task of helping their students develop a lifelong love of reading. So much of that development happens throughout the school year and, with encouragement and some strategy, that can continue in the summer.