Lately our blog topics have been targeting parents and there’s a reason for it: Summer is only a few weeks away. Like most teachers, we’re looking forward to the warm weather and a new schedule, but our students—particularly our struggling readers—are never far from our minds. Will the progress these students made over the last year stagnate in the next three months when we’re not there to coach and encourage them? Did we successfully develop their intrinsic motivation to read? Will parents pick up where we left off? Since you can’t be there over the summer, we’re passing along 10 summer reading activities for struggling readers.
10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers
- If you’re going on a trip this summer, read about your destination. While you’re on the trip, keep a record of the things you saw.
- Compile a checklist of things you want to do over the summer. Do you want to build something? See something? Go somewhere? Find books or documentary films related to your list.
- Sign up for a summer activity—this could be an art class, a sports team, a dance class, guitar lessons, whatever. Now find books and magazines related to it.
- Get a library card. Parents: Treat this as an honorable occasion and a rite of passage.
- Write a letter to your favorite author. Don’t be surprised when they write you back.
- Start a summer blog and keep your friends and teachers updated on what you are doing. There are dozens of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Here are a few free blogging platforms you might check out: Blogger, WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.
- Write a digital story using a free website called Storybird. Struggling readers and writers are often intimidated by blank screens. Digital storytelling allows users to choose their images first; then they write, tailoring their story to fit the images.
- Watch foreign films and read our blog to find out why you should.
- Subscribe to an online blog that writes about topics that interest you. Get involved in the conversation by commenting on the posts.
- Make a deal with your parents: If they buy something on Amazon.com, you get to write a product review for it.
If you’re looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, check out two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents and Teaching Reading Means Teaching Students to LOVE Reading.
Photo credit: KOMU news.
When we truly love something, it becomes a visceral experience: we laugh and smile, we feel energetic, optimistic, and time seems to go by quickly. And more often than not, we are compelled to return to the source, hoping to repeat these feelings again. While many of us have had visceral experiences reading books, a good number of our struggling readers haven’t even come close. One way to help students experience this is by creating what Esmé Raji Codell, author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, calls positive and collaborative reading experiences.
Below we’ve given you 10 prompts that you can use to initiate conversations and share your enthusiasm for books with struggling readers. While teachers will find these reading prompts useful, many of them have been created specifically with parents in mind.
10 things parents can say to struggling readers
- “You can stay up as late as you want tonight, as long as you are reading.”
- “I remember you telling me that you just finished reading Charlotte’s Web in class, so I rented the movie. I thought it would be fun to see how the movie and book were different from one another.”
- “Here’s a flashlight and some snacks. I’ve set up a reading fort for you in the closet so you’ll have a private spot to read.”
- “I’ve been saving this present for a rainy day. Here’s a new book; it was my favorite when I was your age.”
- “I know waiting in the doctor’s office is boring. I brought this for you; it’ll make the time fly by.”
- “I get bored when I’m folding laundry. Would you keep me company by reading me something interesting?”
- “Tell me about that book I saw you reading. The cover looked interesting.”
- “This is an interesting book cover. Why do you think that the illustrator chose these colors? Would you have illustrated the main character differently? Can you think of another scene that would have made a great book cover? What made you choose that scene?”
- “I’m really glad you’re reading Big Frank’s Fire Truck. I noticed that the firefighters at the station down the street wash their truck every Thursday morning. Would you be interested in walking there sometime so that we could meet them?
- “I saw you reading Meet George Washington last night. Did you know that one of his wife’s favorite desserts was Shrewsbury cake? I found a recipe in a book at the library and thought we could make it tonight after dinner.”
If you are looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, you might be interested in two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents, and Reading Teachers: Book Wink has heard your students’ cries for help.
We’ve all had to struggle through books we didn’t like—maybe even books we deplored. When it comes to our students, we don’t worry too much about the strong readers. Sure, the text may not resonate with them; they may even use that forbidden “B-word” (boring, of course) to describe it. Nonetheless, they’ll still muster up the strength to press on. Struggling readers are another story: They tend to become discouraged and often give up before they’ve truly even started a book.
We’re always looking for reading strategies for struggling readers, so we were happy to come across a video made by author Jim Trelease called How to Read a Book You Don’t Want to Read.
Trelease’s video was inspired by, of all things, watching tree surgeons cut down a leaning, 80-foot pine tree that threatened his house. The process used by the tree “surgeons,” in a strange way, reminded him of having to read books we don’t want to read. The end result was not only one less leaning pine tree, but also a nine-minute video that may help your reluctant readers. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Strategies for Struggling Readers: Conquering a book you don’t like
We’ve mentioned it before, but when we were kids, we devoured Choose Your Own Adventure books—especially those released by Bantam Books. Bantam ended the series in the late 90s and we’re not embarrassed to admit that we shed a few tears over it.
Thankfully, Choice of Games has picked up where Bantam left off and thrown in a few perks: First, all of their titles (or what they are calling “text-based games”) are free on the web. They’ve also produced mobile versions that can be played on iPhones, Android phones, and other smartphones.
But there’s more.
Choice of Games has developed a simple scripting language for writing text-based games, ChoiceScript, which they make available for others to use. Readers are encouraged to use this technology to write their own text-based game; the company will then host submissions on their website.
Currently they have 12 text-based games, but there are also 18 other user-created books to choose from.
It’s unfortunate, but every year we encounter struggling readers who have been lost in the shuffle or flown under the “reading radar” for years. So you can imagine how pleased we were to come across Spark it, a free reading assessment tool that not only evaluates readers’ skill level, but also offers recommendations for improvement and activities to develop their skills.
What impressed us about Spark It was its “user-friendliness.” As parents facilitate the four parts of the assessment, they’re guided by pop-up icons that tell them exactly what to do, when to do it and what they should say. Should parents experience any issues during the assessment, they can refer to the “tips” icon.
SparkIt assesses students’ proficiency in four areas:
- Vocabulary (Picture Identification): Looking at pictures of objects and correctly naming the objects
- Fluency (Rapid Naming): Quickly naming a string of familiar items—a series of numbers, letters or colors
- Phonemic Awareness: Understanding how individual letter sounds combine to make a word and saying them
- Letter and Word Calling: Pronouncing letters and words correctly, either by sight (just knowing it) or by sounding them out
Once the reading assessment is finished, you’ll receive instant results (see above picture) along with a personalized plan to help the reader improve his or her skills.
Slavoj Žižek is one of our favorite philosophers and cultural critics for a variety of reasons. For one, he’ll talk about anything—the Kardashians, Batman, toilets, the painting hanging behind the President during a television broadcast, whatever—so long as he can use that cultural artifact to help readers understand nearly impenetrable Lacanian theories. For another, he’s brilliant.
We’re not here to talk about Lacan or Žižek , but what we’d like to share does have something to do with a ubiquitous cultural artifact: The Kardashians. We just came across a blog post by Christopher Lehman called “What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction.” Like Žižek , Lehman uses an amusing analogy (or cultural artifact) to illustrate something substantive and intellectual.
What do the Kardashians have to do with reading instruction? Lehman’s explanation is simple and makes sense:
Branding yourself as a reading role model
“Kim Kardashian is on television, social media, billboards, magazines, ads on sides of buses, even Oprah. Love her or hate her, she is everywhere. And everywhere she shows up she is styled to be glamorous, branded to be the very fashionable friend you maybe, just maybe could have in your life if you shopped at the same places and bought the same things. We [teachers] need to take a lesson from Ms. K and brand ourselves as readers just as carefully so our students have that vision to aspire to.”
Here are a few tips for branding yourself as a reader:
- Have a predictable opening line
My friend Audra, for example, quite regularly begins conversations by asking, "What are you reading?" She has done that so often with me that I have started doing the same thing with others. It's as catchy as a catch phrase.
- Any press is good press, as long as it's press
Don't think you can only talk about reading when you've just finished a great book. Even talking about how hard you are finding it to make time to read, or how you just can't find a good book, is still a book conversation: "I have four half-read books on my Kindle that I just can't seem to find the time to read. I'm particularly feeling bad about Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, because Melody, the main character just shocked her entire class and I'm nervous to find out what will happen next..." Ta-da, you're talking about reading. Even if you feel ashamed.
- Post your reading life anywhere you can
Place an "I'm currently reading..." white-board on your classroom/office/bedroom door. Post reviews on Twitter or Goodreads or Nerdy Book Club or anywhere you can think to. Wallpaper your room with book covers from books you have read or want to read next. Be as annoying-mazing with your branding as a Kardashian SlimFast ad followed by a Kardashian perfume ad followed by a preview of their next super new episode. Be everywhere.
This is only a brief excerpt of the article; to read the rest of Lehman’s post, stop by The Book Whisperer.
Reviewers have called it gimmicky, but we’re confident that even your most reluctant readers will stand by Patrick Carman’s multi-media Skeleton Creek series.
Engaging reluctant readers with a multi-media reading experience
Strange things have happened on an old dredge in the woods and best friends Ryan and Sarah are determined to unearth what people in town are hiding. Forbidden to see one another after Ryan is injured during an earlier misadventure, the duo continues to communicate through email.
The “book” portion of Skeleton Creek, a Mead-style, handwritten journal, is Ryan’s contribution to the story. Here we find his musings along with a series of links and passwords taking us to Sarah’s field videos. Following in the footsteps of films like the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, readers accompany Sarah as she’s forced to confront several unsettling truths: That those closest to her may be linked to murder; that Ryan’s “accident” might not have been an accident; and that there’s a specter of a ghost haunting a wreck in the woods.
Do the prose and filmmaking merit high accolades? They’re certainly not Joycean or Langean, but to your reluctant readers—they just might be.
If you’re looking for a few more tips for engaging your reluctant readers, check out one of our recent blogs, Teaching Reading Means Teaching Students to LOVE Reading or download our free Reading Comprehension Best Practices guide.
At school, our students are faced with—let’s be honest now—agonizingly dull reading comprehension passages. Then, when they are done, students are asked comprehension questions (equally dull) about that passage. While we can’t control the content in these tests or the fact that students have to take them, you can find a way to help struggling readers relax, learn to love reading, and stop associating reading with the tests they face at school. Teachers can do a lot to make this happen, but we certainly can’t do it all, so we thought we were overdue to offer a few reading strategies to share with your students’ parents.
5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents
Use a hands-off approach
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who had a habit of interrupting, correcting or attempting to finish sentences for you? You didn’t appreciate it very much, did you? If it bothers you, chances are that beginning readers aren’t going to appreciate it either. Instead of interrupting or correcting, give this a try:
When the reader comes across a tricky word, don’t force them to stumble through it; instead, s/he should just say “blank” and continue on with the passage. Worry about that word later.
Allow the reader to choose or abandon a book
We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Allow the child to choose the books she reads at home—and don’t force her to struggle through something that is either too challenging or does not suit her interests. To struggle is to learn, but remember that you are teaching the child to love reading.
If the child is unsure of how to find books that suit her interests and reading level, stop by Book Wink, a website that uses podcasts and 3-minute video book talks to introduce students to books they’ll love. Each video book talk is about a different topic, and additional “read-alikes” can be found on the website. In addition to this, users can browse Book Wink’s database where they can search for books by grade, subject, author, or title.
Show a bit of empathy—even if you never struggled with reading
I remember catching my junior high math teacher after class one afternoon and asking her if she ever struggled with algebra. “Nope, I always loved it” was her response and five seconds later, the conversation was over. You see, I was looking for empathy and support from my teacher. While I anticipated that she had always excelled in math, I was hoping that she would at least admit to me that she empathized with what it meant to struggle with something.
Reading isn’t easy, even for adults. Try reading Finnegan’s Wake or Derrida and you’ll get a sense of what your students go through. We’ve all encountered texts that make us feel inferior. Likewise, we’ve all experienced what Kumar Sathy calls the “passive eye shift”: Your eyes scan the pages and take in the words, but your brain is on another continent, planet or universe! Keep this in mind and go easy on beginning readers.
Make read-alouds fun for you and the child
In her cornerstone text for teaching reading, The Art of Teaching Reading, Lucy McCormick Calkins says there are “only a handful of things” that everyone agrees are essential for teaching reading: “Perhaps the most important of these is the fact that children need to listen to the best…literature read aloud to them.” We’ve made it a habit to read aloud to younger students, but when they get older, for one reason or another, we tend to think that they’ve outgrown this. But good writing is meant to be read aloud.
There’s a story about a rather well-known poet, John Keats, who was given a new translation of Homer’s great works by a friend of his, Charles Cowden Clarke. That evening, Keats and Clarke sat up until daylight reading to one another and “shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck [their] imagination.” If a grown man like Keats did it, so can you.
Try out three of Esmé Raji Codell’s tips for reading aloud to children
If the classroom is truly the training ground for life, it only makes sense that we would use reading strategies that mimic the way we read outside of the classroom, doesn’t it? This is essentially the crux of Rachel McCormack’s and Susan Lee Pasquarelli’s argument in Teaching Reading: Strategies and Resources for Grades K-6 (2009). We found it to be an engaging text and thought we’d share a few of their reading strategies:
Reading Strategies that Transcend the Classroom
Allow students to read silently before reading aloud
Students are often asked to read aloud; less often are they given the opportunity to silently read the text first. This might be worth reconsidering.
If you’ve ever agreed to read publically, chances are that you requested the opportunity to review the text before you stood in front of an audience. Why? Because you didn’t want to stumble over words or make silly mistakes. Naturally, our students feel the same. Most real-world reading happens silently, so doesn’t it make sense to allow our students the opportunity to read silently before shining the spotlight on them?
Not all texts are read the same
How we read varies with the type of text and the purpose for reading it. In life outside of the classroom, we find ourselves in a myriad of reading situations. McCormack and Pasquarelli give the example of a reader who is waiting for a dentist appointment. Most likely, the reader will pick up a magazine to pass the time—or to take her mind off of the impending root canal! The reader knows the dentist is not going to give a reading quiz, so she skims, looks at pictures and often abandons articles for new ones.
This same reader would approach a recipe, a science text book, or an instruction manual designed to help her install a hot water heater very differently. Likewise, students should always consider the type of text they are reading, the overarching purpose for reading it and adjust the way the approach the text accordingly.
How would you read an unfamiliar and difficult text?
Over the years, we’ve picked up reading strategies and use them so often that we’re no longer even aware that we’re using them. Because of that, it’s easy to forget how beginning readers experience texts. Here’s a simple exercise that will help you see reading from a student’s perspective and reacquaint you with your own reading strategies.
- Find an unfamiliar text on something that is not particularly engaging to you—or even better, find something that is challenging: a scholarly article or Ulysses, for example
- Open it up at random and start reading with a pencil in your hand
- What’s happening to you? What words or phrases did you circle? Why? Is your mind wandering? Do you have to reread sections to comprehend them?
- Now take note of how you refocus your attention and regain your footing. Did you backtrack to the beginning of the chapter? Did you search for bolded or italicized words? Did you read the author’s biography?
Readers improve when they struggle
Learning something new is intimidating for many of us because we fear failure. As much as we want to challenge our students, we often worry about the effects challenges may have on a struggling reader’s self-esteem. It’s wise to allow students to choose their own reading materials sometimes, but don’t take away opportunities for your students to take risks, stumble and pick themselves up again. To struggle is to grow.
Yes, yes, you already know that March is National Reading Month, a time when your students “fall in love with reading all over again.” Right... You, meanwhile, are still trying to figure out how to get your students to truly fall in love with reading for the first time.
A few weeks ago we mentioned a 2008 survey that found that 55 percent of the students surveyed agreed that there aren’t enough good books out there that target their age demographic. Of course, this isn’t true; there are plenty of good books for all ages. It is true, though, that our students could benefit from an easier way to find books that suit their interests and reading levels.
Book Wink has heard your students’ cries for help and answered with a website that uses podcasts and 3-minute video book talks to introduce students to books they’ll love. Each video book talk is about a different topic, and additional “read-alikes” can be found on the website.
But there’s more: Book Wink also allows users to browse their book database where they can search for books by grade, subject, author, or title.
Check out one of Book Wink’s video book talks on Sharks:
If you are a reading teacher, you know that you must motivate as well as instruct. To help you accomplish this, we’ve compiled a Best Practices Guide that can help you build a successful reading program in your classroom.
These strategies really work. No fads, no politics; just common sense scholarship for K-6 reading comprehension.