Creating an engaging summer reading list to combat learning loss
June 16, 2021
Assigned reading lists are one solution to get students reading over the summer, but they don’t guarantee that any reading takes place. Although summer reading is a well-established way to prevent learning loss, according to the Scholastic Kid & Family Reading Report, children are reading less every summer. In fact, a full 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 did not read any books over the summer of 2018, up from 15% in 2016.
Effectively encouraging students to read over the summer involves more than simply creating a list of books for them to read. Like all other aspects of teaching, creating the list itself is an opportunity to collaborate with students, parents, and the community to build excitement, engagement, and interest in reading.
Here are 12 creative ways to develop a summer reading list that encourages your students to read this summer:
Let the kids choose the books
Maximizing engagement and success involves students reading books that are voluntarily chosen and aligned with their interests.
A great way to engage students in summer reading is to use classroom time to allow students to create their own individual and classroom summer reading lists. That self-generated list can serve as a baseline summer reading list. The teacher—and other stakeholders—can add to that baseline list.
Once the list is complete, leave a generous number of blank spaces for student, parents, and librarians to fill in with self-selected or community-recommended books throughout the summer. The more collaborative the list, the more opportunities are created to promote it and help a child read over the summer.
As with all other learning activities, parent participation is a key predictor of success.
Before making a list of books to read over the summer, ask parents to provide a list of books they would recommend for the list. Encourage them to include books that were their favorites when they were kids or books that align with family interests or summer activities, like sports. Including grade-appropriate parent-selected books ensures that at least one or more books on the list could involve some at-home discussion and feedback.
Bringing parents into the process gives teachers a valuable opportunity to teach parents about summer learning loss and strategies they can use to promote reading and learning at home over the summer.
Involve the community
Community summer reading activities and literacy programs substantially contribute to summer reading and learning gains.
The problem is that many parents are unaware of literacy events in their community, even though two in three say they would be interested in attending such events with their children.
Research summer literacy events and book clubs in your local communities, libraries, and bookstores. Find out what books they will be reading, their schedule of activities, and any read-aloud programs. Use these activities to help build the summer reading list. Make sure these activities are included in any description of a book on the list.
To help parents and students alike, an engaging summer reading list will include a program of library and community literacy events and activities. And once the summer reading list is finalized, share it with libraries, local bookstores, and children’s book clubs. These community groups can actively participate in helping children succeed with their summer reading, increasing collaboration even further.
Promote the books
Give children reasons to read, not a list of what to read.
A bare-bones list of just book titles is not particularly motivating or even comprehensible for many student. As in other aspects of teaching and learning, teachers can craft a reading list that engages and interests students simply by including more than the titles alone. No summer reading list is complete without enthusiastic book descriptions and even, if possible, reviews from other students.
If resources permit, include covers in the list rather than titles alone. Publishers understand that, although you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can certainly sell it that way. At least half of the people who buy books base their decision on the cover. Children are no different. A cover picture may be just enough motivation for a student to pick the book up and read.
Finally, schedule a class period devoted to going over the list and enthusiastically promoting each book. Students who have already read books on the list can make recommendations. You could also schedule a “mentor” day where kids from the next grade come in to talk about the books they read over the previous summer.
Include a variety of genres
Make sure the list has enough variety in genres and subject matter to interest different types of students.
The mix should include both fiction and nonfiction books. Make sure to include enough books in each genre to provide weeks of reading if their interest is piqued.
Stop thinking in genres
When grouping books, think less about content and more about the experience of the book. Organize books under headings like “Discover new worlds,” “Read the movie,” “School is crazy,” or “Too weird for words.” Each topic can combine fiction and nonfiction titles as well as a variety of genres.
Don’t be a critic
Let children own their reading activities.
There is no need to focus on classic books, “good-for-you” books, or Newberry winners. The list should include an ample amount of grade-appropriate options with a large and devoted audience of readers. If the books get a student reading over the summer, the reading list is a success. As with other parts of the list-creation process, let students guide their selection.
Include book series
Book series create strong, engaged, attentive, and loyal readers invested in the characters, plot lines, and backstories.
A good summer reading list will generously include some initial books in popular series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, or Ramona Quimby. That one book may be enough to ignite a summer’s worth of reading through the remaining books in the series.
Include books appropriate for struggling readers
Struggling readers may not succeed with a grade-appropriate summer reading list. Summer is not the time to advance the reading skills of struggling readers but to prevent the loss of any gains achieved through the year. Struggling readers will require an individualized list of high-interest, age-appropriate books with easier vocabulary, simpler sentence structure, and straightforward plots. Keep in mind that these books may need more illustrations than other books.
Make sure some of the individualized books on a struggling reader’s list are included in the class’s reading list. The student should feel like they are part of the class summer reading project, not an outlier.
Include challenging books
Some children are genuinely motivated by a challenge.
Reading challenging books contributes to the acquisition of reading skills. Make sure to include a special “challenge” list at the end that includes books that raise difficult issues (like Darkness at Noon), are difficult to interpret (like Things Fall Apart), have complex plots, or have a higher-than-normal Lexile value.
Organize a book drive or book share
To read over the summer, children need books.
Often the biggest obstacle for children’s summer reading is a lack of books, particularly for disadvantaged or struggling students. Any good summer reading list should start with organizing a year-long book drive and a summer-long book-sharing program. These are not hard for schools to organize, and they can steadily build a resource of free books and a network of book-sharing.
The last week of school could include a school-wide, parents-invited “Take a Book Home” event. A “Friends Share” summer book share program not only helps with book availability, it also allows kids an informal opportunity to talk with their friends about the books they’ve read, increasing their motivation to read and engage with the text.
Use online resources for books, resources, and interactivity.
When building a book list, don’t forget to include books and resources that are available at no cost or low cost online. The free Overdrive app allows kids to access digital books from their local library using their library card. Scribd, offering unlimited reading for a monthly subscription of $8.99, has a wealth of children’s books, literary classics, teaching and learning guides for individual books, and a large collection of Newberry winners.
There are many online resources that can help children read books, from YouTube videos to online discussion groups. Some teachers and schools have used remote learning technologies such as Google Classroom and Zoom to set up virtual book clubs for interactive discussions. Particularly for middle school and high school, these online resources can be valuable adjuncts to build engagement with their summer reading and should be included with the summer reading list.
Students read better when they read more
In Stephen Krashen’s meta-analysis of sustained silent reading (SSR), or free voluntary reading, 51 out of 54 studies showed that students who engaged in sustained silent reading do as well or better at reading comprehension than students who don’t. They are also better at writing, spelling, vocabulary, and grammar. Supplemental activities, like book reports, aren’t needed. Recreational, unstructured reading over the summer is as beneficial for reading and language as structured reading. So what makes a summer reading list engaging and successful? Give them a chance to read what they want to read.
LanSchool has features that can help teachers and their students work together on generating a summer reading list and any other collaborative activity. Discover 5 LanSchool features you can’t miss.