Summer vacation is a much-needed break for staff and students, but encouraging students to continue to read over the break can help their minds stay mentally active. They will also be better prepared when school is back in session.
Here are some activities that don’t take too much time but still promote summer reading and lifelong literacy. They can be modified to fit your students’ ages and needs, and each one encourages meaningful conversations that can help them become lifelong readers.
1. Assign groups to create a ‘must read’ Top 10 booklist
Ask students in groups to create their own booklist that nominates their Top 10 books for students their age. This “must read” list can empower students to collaborate and persuade their peers as to why their favorite books are so great. It also draws on knowledge acquired throughout the school year, possibly touching on topics like persuasive language, word choice, literary analysis, conflict and suspense. Try these steps:
- Assign groups of three or four students.
- Give them an example of a Top 10 list of books for their grade level that adults recommend for them.
- Tell them they are now the experts and must collaborate to come up with their own list as a group — but they can’t include any of the Top 10 on the grownups’ list.
- Ask them to include the title, author, genre and a captivating, concise summary that gives readers an idea of what each book is about and why it’s a “must read.”
- Have one group share with another group, or have groups take turns presenting to the whole class.
- If you have more time, have groups turn their list into a poster with eye-catching images next to each recommendation.
For students who are opinionated and prefer to work alone, let them create their own list, but have them join forces with another student or with a group to at least be part of the discussion while lists are being made, and have them participate in the sharing portion after lists are completed. That way, everyone is connected and has meaningful conversations about their favorite books, and they all come away with ideas on what to read this summer.
2. Create literary bookmarks
A fun, creative way to wrap up all of the great reading done during the school year is to have students create literary bookmarks. This activity doesn’t take much time, but it gets students thinking about what they’ve read (books, poems, short stories) and what they want to read this summer. They get to take home an artistic keepsake they can use while reading.
- Give the students blank bookmarks. These can be easily made by cutting strips of construction paper or cardstock.
- Ask students to creatively fill every inch of space on one side of the bookmark with words or images from the books, poems and short stories they’ve read during the school year.
- On the other side, ask them to fill the space with the names of literary works they want to read this summer. They can also add images or symbols relating to those titles so that both sides are visually appealing.
- Post a few lists of recommended books around the room in case students haven’t thought about what they might want to read this summer.
For reluctant readers, encourage them to list any type of reading they would be interested in doing over the summer: short nonfiction books about their favorite hobbies; a memoir by a favorite celebrity; comics or graphic novels; or a favorite blog they often check out.
To add a bit of a challenge to this assignment, require students to include a couple of quotations from works they’ve read this year. Another idea: Have them create thematic bookmarks where all the works and imagery included are part of a theme such as friendship, romance, courage or determination.
3. Throw a book party
Celebrate the end of the year with a book party that will get students excited to read something a classmate enjoyed. Bring snacks and generate enthusiasm for reading that they’ve done during the year, and that they get to do this summer.
- Ask students to wrap one of their favorite used books in wrapping paper, newspaper or a deconstructed brown paper bag.
- Tell them to bring it to class the day before the book party. (That way, there’s an extra day in case students forget. Then you’ll know how many extras to bring so everyone gets a book.)
- Each student gets to pick a book to unwrap and enjoy.
- Have students partner with the person whose book they chose so that their partner can tell them why they love that book. Be sure to ask students not to tell their partner the ending so everyone remains eager to read the book they received.
If some students don’t own one of their favorite books, suggest that they check the local library. Many libraries sell used books for a couple of dollars. Another option is to provide some books from your own collection of used children’s books. Students in need can choose from those so that everyone gives and gets a book.
If a student gets a book that they’ve already read or the book isn’t the best fit for him or her, you can have a few extra used books on hand. At the end of the book party, invite them to stay after and trade their book with one of yours, possibly suggesting something that might be a better fit for them right now.
For students who are highly engaged in this activity, pull the group aside and suggest that they make their own book party with their friends once a month, or even a book club where they get together and talk about a book they all read while eating their favorite treats.
Sometimes students simply need to be exposed to ideas like this and pushed in the right direction to see that reading can be personal and fun.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and an MEd from University of California-Santa Barbara. She has worked with adolescents for a decade as a middle school and high school English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, and a curriculum designer for high school and college courses. She works with 13- to 19-year-old students as a project manager of a nonprofit organization.