Summer Reading Ideas: NCTE Session C41
These ideas have been recorded using first person. Although no names are used, all ideas
come from attendees at the session.
Suggested summer reading books
For AP English, I assigned Pride and Prejudice and King Lear (Lear was a
terrible choice!) Another attendee who teaches AP English uses three summer
books to create a scaffold for the work of the course: How to Read Literature
Like a Professor, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and Sophie’s World: A Novel
about the History of Philosophy.
Non-fiction: Stiff, Don’t Know Much about U.S. History, Chew on This, Sickened
(female version of David Pelzer), Blink and The Tipping Point by Gladwell
(books like these that address discrete topics allow students to dip in and out of
book and read some of it—without all of it. Although some might view this as a
disadvantage, it can also be seen as an advantage in that most students can still
participate in some capacity, without “gotcha” assessment. Another non-fiction
recommendation is The Day the World Came to Town (about the little town in
Nova Scotia that took in 7000 stranded airline passengers on 9-11—a great book
for students who “hate to read”!) Also recommended was the memoir by Rick
Bragg, All Over but the Shoutin’ (especially appealing for its depiction of the
South) and the memoir All Over
Choose contemporary novels (to forestall the use of internet and Cliff notes)
Cold Mountain (others noted that books with movie tie-ins can cause problems in
We’ve tried the “one school, one book” approach. Books we love include
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Highest Tide, Persepolis (a
graphic memoir), Looking for Alaska, Fieldnotes from a Catastrophe, and Speak.
Another who tried the “one school, one book” approach used Speak, and Curious
Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (some seniors were “insulted” by Speak,
perceiving it as “too YA.”). Another attendee from a middle school said that her
school has used the “one school, two-or three common book” approach—and
recommended using The Giver (by Lowry) and Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury. To
assess the reading, students must attend a small book discussion on one of the
three books (led by a middle school teacher).
Lesson before Dying, Grant Wiggins and the Radio, Jefferson and Tante Lou,
Vivian and Bayonne, The Book Thief
Have different courses suggest a book that would enhance students’ experiences
in the course. Students then choose one (or more) books that accompany their
new fall class schedule. (Downside: students may not share common readings
Suggested supporting materials
How to Read Literature Like a Professor (advanced students could read this and
lead discussions with younger students in a “one school, one book” program)
How to Mark a Book by Mortimer Adler is a good essay (and short) to prepare
students for reading (see first recommended activity that asks students to annotate
their summer reading books)
See the web site quicktopic.com (an on-line discussion board that can be used for
posting book discussions)
Recommended summer reading activities and assessments
Have students annotate the books with highlighting, questions, comments.
Rubrics are used to evaluate the annotations. Downside: some districts must
reuse books—this necessitates that students own their books (or that titles are
constantly changed for this assignment).
Have students keep a reading log as they read. Downside: from personal
experience, my son (who loves to read) resented continually starting and stopping
to write. The logs took hours of work—and takes a long time to evaluate/grade.
Have a party when school begins! That is, host book clubs led by a variety of
adults at school—and make it an enjoyable discussion, not a test.
Tie the summer reading books into a theme that was studied that year. (For
example, if the previous year’s literary theme was “The Journey,” students would
have read The Odyssey, etc.—and books could be recommended and listed
throughout the year. For the summer, the book would be a “student’s choice”—
using lists and ideas during the year, or choosing on own.
Ask students to prepare to participate in Socratic seminar discussions
Ask students to write an essay that ties together two books from summer reading
Ask students to connect the book with their own lives (works well with The
House on Mango Street)
Ask students to write a diary from the perspective of a character (did this with To
Kill a Mockingbird)—assign a certain number of entries at assigned times in the
novel. Downside: can get a lot of plot summary in journals
Have a student choose a character and create a resume for the character, then
search the classified ads and identify a job suited to the character. The student
then must also prepare a cover letter for the job application. (Reinforces resume
and cover letter writing!) Added bonus: these are lots more fun to read and
grade than traditional resumes we ask students to write (how many times can you
read about the job at Pizza Hut??!)
Ask students to discuss or write an essay regarding characters, places, things in
the book, and how they relate to each other.
Ask students to write an essay in which they identify which summer reading
character they are most or least like (this assignment also allows teachers to get to
know their students at the start of the year)
Ask AP students (or more advanced readers) to “teach” a book to younger
students (maybe use young adult fiction)
Ask students to compare and contrast the summer book selection with a film
Give students five scenes from the book and ask them in groups to make a
soundtrack for the scenes (use details from the book and the music to justify their
Have students write a letter to the author of the book, explaining what the book
meant to them and why. Have them explain connections they made to characters
or situations or theme—this assessment is hard to fake.
Use postcards—that is, using 4x6 cards (or PowerPoint slides), ask students to
write several postcards to a pen pal, using the perspective of a main character of a
summer reading book (the cards could detail the setting, conflict, characters of the
book). Works especially well for multicultural books, and students can share
postcards the first week of school (or PowerPoints can be posted to a web site).
Use blogs! I have a book review blog where I ask students to review their books
as if they are talking to a friend and recommending it. Then they respond to one
another with questions and comments.
Use a blog! Teacher creates and posts on a blog to give students ideas for reading
response journals (and students could then turn in completed journals at start of
Extending the session idea of one-school, one book, use student advisors
(orientation helpers) who are trained to facilitate discussion groups.
Extending the session idea of IM transcripts, have students review their transcripts
and either as partners or individuals, identify a “nugget” to polish and revise into
a short statement of some kind. These could go on a bulletin board in speech
bubbles….it could be titled “People are talking about The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-time.”
Extending the session idea of IM transcripts, ask students to identify a “nugget”
from the IM transcript and develop it into an essay.
Create a summer reading listserv for the sharing of ideas! (anyone want to work
Motivate reading throughout the school year with after-school book clubs (no
Does anyone have suggestions for how to address the challenges presented by 4 x
4 block scheduling (when many students have very different 1st vs. 2nd semester
Does anyone have ideas for solving the problems of getting high-interest books on