Choosing High-Interest, Relevant Summer Reading That You - And Your Students - Will Love
For teachers (and students), the words "summer reading" can be a delight and a drain. Many schools require summer reading for college prep, honors, and Advanced Placement English classes, which can present valuable learning experiences over the summer, but additionally offer some challenges.
Here is how to leverage summer reading to complement your courses and effectively prepare students for your classes (at any grade level).
Offer High-Interest Materials
Summer is a great time to give students a book to keep the pages turning and the eyelids open. Pick something that will appeal to the teenagers at your particular age and level. This strategy combats my biggest struggle, which is the lack of motivation for some students.
Now is the perfect time to introduce students to authors not traditionally taught in school. Especially valuable and relevant are books that explore the stories of marginalized communities or by authors of color. These can be either fiction or nonfiction. *Be sure to screen these titles for age and subject matter appropriateness; some include very mature themes*
Here are some highly acclaimed (and award-winning) new titles:
- The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
- Other Words for Home, written by Jasmine Warga
- Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams
- New Kid, written by Jerry Craft
- Free Lunch, written by Rex Ogle
- Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, written by Teresa Robeson
- They Called Us Enemy, written by George Takei
- White Bird: A Wonder Story, by R. J. Palacio
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard
- Indian No More, written by Charlene Willing McManis
- Hearts Unbroken, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- Merci Suárez Changes Gears, written by Meg Medina
- A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, by Claire Hartfield
- The Poet X, written by Elizabeth Acevedo
- The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, written by Joyce Sidman
- Julián Is a Mermaid, written by Jessica Love
- Darius the Great Is Not Okay, written by Adib Khorram
- The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, written and illustrated by Don Brown
Also popular (and always relevant) are books for pre-teens and teens to read about others like themselves - quirky, awkward, coming of age, overall "angst-y." *Be sure to screen these titles for age and subject matter appropriateness; some include very mature themes*
Some popular titles that my students have enjoyed include:
- Looking for Alaska
- An Abundance of Katherines
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Thirteen Reasons Why
- It's Kind of a Funny Story
- American Panda
- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
- Finding Audrey
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
- The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things
Offer Reasonable Choices
Offer lots of options, in case some students have read some of the books on the list and to honor the interests of a wide range of students.
Books should be of reasonable length for students, and teachers, since ideally, the teacher should have read all of the books on the list to engage in discussion and, if appropriate, assessment.
Keep Assignments Simple
Keep handouts, questions, essays, logs, quizzes, or anything else with the book simple. Summer reading should be about enjoying some quality literature and not getting bogged down.
Make it Count
First, make the book choice meaningful to the rest of the semester, term, or school year. Choose something that you can bring each unit back to. Don't just make it random busywork. Instead, work with your department to choose books with themes that students will be revisiting with other texts (or discussions) in the regular school year.
If you must assess them in some way, make the assessment or discussion worth a substantial point value. Make it count, both in the grade book and in the class as a whole. There is a reason you chose this as an assignment, so give it a point value to show students its worth. Here are some guided discussion and reflections!
Take the Conversation Online
If you are working with a manageable-sized group, using a platform like Google Classroom could be a great way to check in with students throughout the summer. Have online Zoom discussions if you're so inclined, or have students go into discussion groups to hold each other accountable. Literature Circles also work online in this way, and the different "jobs" can help mix things up as they read.
Be Flexible (and have a backup plan)
I've never had a year without transfer students or the I-didn't-get-the-summer-reading situation.
When this happens, be flexible, and work out something that is a win-win for you and the student.
What summer books do you assign for your class?
What have you learned about summer reading assignments?
Sound off! We'd love to hear from you to help other teachers improve their pedagogy and practice!