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An Easy “Reader’s Menu” for Fighting the Summer Literacy Slide

Hello, parents and guardians of a fantastic generation of students! The formal school year is over, and we are all off on our summer adventures! Thank you for all of the support you have given the teachers, administration, and support staff at your school this year. It does not go unnoticed, and it is incredibly appreciated!

This resource is for you. You often hear about supporting students academically during the summer, but we know how difficult it can be! Today, we want to share with you a pretty easy and manageable way to support your student’s reading during the summer months. Particularly, we’re concerned about the ominous “summer slide”.  Check out the details below on a simple way you can help us prevent this phenomenon!

What is the “Summer Slide”?

In short, data shows that if students are not reading during the summer, they actually tend to lose many of the skills they have gained during the school year. If you’re interested in what this looks like, Scholastic has compiled a data sheet here. The short end of this data is that “learning or reading skill losses during the summer months are cumulative, creating a wider gap each year between more proficient and less proficient students. By the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two–year lag in reading achievement.” This “slide” absolutely occurs across the content areas, but reading skills are essential to all of your student’s classes. Fortunately, there are easy ways to address this!

Literacy Basics

The strategy below is built to allow your student choice in what and how they read. Choice is a key element in reading engagement. But as you give students choice in their reading, we want to share a couple helpful tips about literacy:

  1. Find out your student’s reading level, and match them with texts related to that level. It is more than likely that your student's school will have a grade-level assessment of their reading ability. Simply ask!
  2. The “quick and easy” way you can check if a text is appropriate to your reader’s skill level is to have them read one random page. If there are more than five words on that page that they don’t know and can’t figure out in context, it is likely that text is too difficult for your reader. This strategy is more than sufficient for this activity.
  3. If you’d like to know more about your student’s reading ability, there are two general ways you are likely to see your student's reading level from the school. One is a straight grade level (6th grade, 10th grade). One of the common tests that can give you this number is called the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. The second number you might see is what’s called a Lexile score. This is a different assessment that is often used, and looks nothing like a grade-level number. Fortunately, you can use this chart to match your student’s Lexile with a grade level.
  4. If you have a text in mind, you can often check the Lexile for that text online to find out if it is grade-appropriate. Sites like Newsela (listed below) already level their texts. If you look up a book on Amazon or the Lexile website, it will give you the reading level of that book.
  5. If a student is particularly excited or interested in a text that might be slightly higher than their current reading level, their interest will often compensate (in other words, students will be more motivated to work harder at understanding a book they really care about). Don’t be afraid to allow them to challenge themselves.

The Strategy

The “Summer Reading Menu” strategy below is pretty simple: Your student reads, you keep score. Different types of readings are assigned different point values on the "Summer Reading Menu". Students get to choose what they read. They keep track of their reading on the “Summer Reading Monitoring Sheet”. You do one of the “quick and easy” assessments below. Sign off on the reading at the end of each week or month. Celebrate successes.

However, the “game” is up to you. We encourage having students set weekly or monthly goals. This gives them a motivator and allows for “check-ins” to monitor progress toward that goal. If they meet their goals, you have the opportunity to reward them if you feel it appropriate. This might be something as simple as ice cream on Saturday night if they meet or exceed our goals. For those that discourage external motivators, the competition with themselves and the opportunity to share learning might be enough. For those that like to encourage healthy competition, you could have your students’s siblings or close family friends compete against each other. Perhaps if the team of friends earns enough points, they all get to go to the movies together or have a pizza night. There are so many different ways you can turn this strategy into a game! The key is to find a way to celebrate and appreciate your student's reading this summer.

Below, you will find a description of each of the text types on the Summer Reading Menu, along with “quick and easy” assessments to check your student’s reading comprehension. Be sure to do these assessments before signing off on the Summer Reading Monitoring Sheet. Both the Summer Reading Menu and Summer Reading Monitoring Sheet are editable and printable. Feel free to add or delete types of texts! Change the point system! This strategy works best when it is adjusted for your student’s individual reading needs.

1.  Read a Newsela article (5 points)!

Navigating the Source: In short, Newsela is a site that provides a huge variety of recent news content, which can be adjusted to your student’s current reading level. Your student can search key terms to find something they might be interested in, browse the most recent news items, or even go back in time to read leveled historical content. Simply adjust the level using the Lexile bar at the right of each piece (see “literacy basics” above for information on reading levels)!

Easy Assessment: There are two ways to approach this, really. One, you could start a “classroom” yourself as a parent. Super easy, just following the instructions, and it is all free. The benefit here is that you can monitor what articles your student is reading, and see how they did on the many comprehension quizzes Newsela provides for their articles. The second method is a simple conversation: “tell me about what you read today!” Ask probing “why” and “how’ questions to monitor depth of understanding and to encourage further research!

2.  Read another online article (5 points)!

Navigating the Source: The challenge here is that Internet news is sort of a “wild west”. There’s a ton of information, but not all of it is credible, developmentally appropriate, or at reading level. Generally, major mainstream online news organizations write their pieces at an 8th to 10th grade reading level. If you want to play it safe with content, sites like Discovery and PBS have endless resources for inquiring minds, but certainly are very heavy in social studies and science, which might not match your student’s interest index. Keeping these things in mind, almost all reading is better than none. If you have time to search for content with your reader, go for it!  If you’re confident they can find their own content, great!

Easy Assessment: Similar to the second strategy given above, assessment can be a simple Q and A. What did they read about? Ask them why they chose the piece they chose, what they learned, and why they think it matters. Again, “how” and “why” questions are great, and don’t be afraid to ask about the details. And please, it doesn’t have to be a grilling session. It’s not a “test”. This can happen casually over dinner or on a car ride somewhere. Just be interested. They learned something today, and they’ll be excited to share it with you.

3.  Read a book (20 points)!

Navigating the Source: Once again, you’ll want to know your student’s reading level before helping them choose a book to read. You can find the readability level of most texts online by simply typing the name of the book with the term “lexile” or “reading level”. The Lexile website also allows you to search by book title (upper right-hand corner). Librarians can help you to find appropriate texts. But perhaps the most difficult thing about novels and memoirs is the dedication it takes to make it through. A student might think they’ll like the book, and then lose interest a quarter of the way through. At that point, it is up to you: in some cases, you don’t want to push a student through a book they don’t want to read. In others, it might simply just be the healthy challenge naturally associated with reading a longer text. Try to figure this out by discussing it honestly with your student. All storylines have a dip, but often it means something awesome is about to happen! If you decide to move on to a new text, do so together. It’s okay to not love every book you pick up! Don’t let that be discouraging!

Easy Assessment: With longer books, it’ll be good to do small “check-ins” as they are reading, to keep them engaged and thinking about the plot and characters. At the beginning, ask all about the characters and the world of the book, much like you’d want to be introduced to one of your student’s new friends. Get to know the characters. Then, simply check in to see how the characters are doing! Be concerned. Ask questions that get your student thinking about why the character made the decisions that were made. If you find a connection to something going on in the real world or in your lives together, that’s great too! If they don’t know, you might encourage them to check back in the book, simply because you are super curious! By the end, feel free to create a project for your student, if they tend to like such things, be it art or poetry or writing. Getting through an entire book is a big deal, and not everyone has the patience for it! A great focus question at the end of any book is: What should the reader learn from the novel? What sorts of things do you learn about life? This message is often what we call a “theme”, and always ask them why they think that.

4.  Read a magazine article (5 points)!

Navigating the Source: Certainly not as well-read as they used to be, magazines are still a thing. Due to the general public’s preference to read content online, some magazine publishers have brought down their prices, however, to encourage sales. This could work in your favor. Your local pharmacy, grocery store, or chain bookstore likely has a giant wall somewhere of popular magazines. Magazines are great because their total size is not intimidating, the articles themselves tend to be shorter in nature, and they are extremely well divided out by interest. Walking down a magazine aisle, you can clearly see the technology, photography, travel, humor, music, fashion, or current events sections. Give them the freedom to choose what they’re most drawn to (making sure you feel it is appropriate, of course, with a quick flip-through). And don’t be afraid to allow students to choose more comics-based magazines, either. Reading is reading. At some point, you might want to encourage them to ease into more complex pieces, but these texts are sometimes a great gateway into enjoying reading for reluctant readers.

Easy Assessment: Honestly, this one is the same as #1 and #2 above. The key is to make these conversational. You don’t want students to feel like you are giving them a test to pass. That makes reading scary. Instead, it's just simply what educated readers do: they talk about the new ideas they’ve been exposed to and share them with people! When students see the reward of being well-informed and connecting with other human beings around complex ideas, they begin to see the true value and power of reading!

5.  Listening to an audiobook (20 points)!

Navigating the Source: Audiobooks are great resources for students anxious about reading a large text and sticking with it. Many sites like Audible and Amazon have an extensive library of audio texts, and many of them have “free trial” periods you can take advantage of for a short time. However, there are quite a few “free” options online, if you are willing to search. Many of these tend to be “classics”, where the copyright is expired. In fact, for many of these texts, you can find YouTube videos of people reading them. The interest level and readability level concerns still apply here, but students can sometimes stretch their level by listening and hearing the context and intonation used with difficult words. Be sure that students are able to read along with the text, however, so they can associate the story with the visual words themselves.

Easy Assessment: Exactly the same as #3 above. Do not make the assumption that because it is being read to them, students will not make reading gains. Listening to master readers is beneficial at all reading levels. The only caution is that if the student chooses not to follow along in the text, they could easily lose focus, yet think that they have been paying attention. Reading is not a passive activity. They must engage with the text.

6.  Reading a short story (10 points)!

Navigating the Source: Short stories are fantastic ways to get students thinking about real-world issues, engaging in reading, and perhaps best of all: they’re short! This means your student can push through a story they might be uncertain about, because it’s likely there’s not much left. It’s a great way to show students that sometimes stories can lose your interest momentarily, and we don’t have to give up, because sometimes they also immediately win us right back! This is a great skill to have before you attempt a full novel or memoir. Short story collections are often a great way to go. Many collections, like these fantastic compilations by Donald Gallo, tackle a particular theme or experience, so you can find what is relevant to your student.

Easy Assessment: The key to asking about short stories is to follow the “story arc”: Who are the characters? Who is the character you follow through the story? What is the central conflict? What was the most tense part of the story? How did the problem resolve by the end? What do you think the author was trying to get you to learn about life by sharing this story? Again, keep it conversational!

7.  Reading a graphic novel (10 points)!

Navigating the Source: Graphic novels are super popular these days, and can really add a new beautiful dimension to the stories students read. Again, don’t assume that because it looks like a comic book, it isn’t good reading. Graphic novels still deal with all of the elements of fiction you’ll get from more traditional texts. The vocabulary can be equally challenging. And making the connection between the text and the images they are seeing, be it facial expression of characters or the fine details of the background art, can really challenge a reader’s critical-thinking skills. They have to make sense of both text and image! The only caution here tends to be regarding content. Be sure to check with a librarian, bookstore, or online reviews to make sure you are comfortable with the reading, as the draw to a small subcategory of graphic novels sometimes veers into more adult subject matter. But again, most do not, and are great ways to encourage your more reluctant readers.

Easy Assessment: You can approach the “assessment” conversations around graphic novels the same way you might approach a regular novel (#3) or a short story (#6), be it character development or the story arc. However, a fun extra element might be to ask your student to show you the characters or events. They’ll likely be super excited to do so, and will naturally prompt them to explain the story details related to what they are showing you! All good stuff!

8.  Reading a poem/lyrics (1 point)!

Navigating the Source: Poetry sometimes feels like a niche market. Some students love it. Some can’t stand it. Lyrics, on the other hand, will always engage. Are all lyrics poetry? That’s forever a debate. However, as we’ve said: reading is reading. The key here is can they figure out the message? Both tend to not be literal, and can therefore be complicated. Of course, both can also contain content, so be wary and be prepared to discuss in such an event.

Easy Assessment: Giving credit to reading a poem or a set of lyrics needs to be more than just reading or listening to the words. Students will want to get credit for some of the songs they listen to on a daily basis, and this shouldn’t be sufficient for assessment. Instead, they should be asked to figure out the message! What is the author trying to say about the world we live in or the general experience of life? Why does that message matter? Do you agree or disagree with that message, and why? They’ll also often run into figurative (not literal) language in these pieces. Symbolic language. They don’t necessarily need to be able to identify what type of figurative language is being used, but you absolutely should ask them about what it means: “When the author says this, what are they really talking about?” Sometimes students will need some time to figure it all out. Give them that time! It’ll be time well-spent.

9.  Read a Chat Story App (5 points)!

Navigating the Source: “Chat story” apps are a new market, and with every new market, you’re going to want to be careful. The basic premise is that your student can read text messages back and forth among various fictional characters. As they do, they slowly figure out who they are, the world they live in, and ultimately the central conflict of their story. It is definitely a unique way to access reading skills, and is still a bit of an experiment. Currently, Amazon is piloting chat content for readers, ages 7 to 12 with their Rapids program. There’s a 14-day trial period, but the rest is either a monthly or yearly subscription. The format they take is obviously mostly dialogue, the storylines are engaging, and with limited story exposition and background knowledge, it really works a student’s “inference muscle”. Now, there are many versions of these programs (many of them are even free), but beware! Many of these apps cater heavily to adult content, and will absolutely want to be reviewed before allowing students to access them.

Easy Assessment: Since these are basically short stories, using the short story (#6) and novel (#3) assessments above is more than appropriate. The added fun piece to asking your student about these stories is the “and then what did he say?” element. Remember, they are basically reading a conversation, and will quickly associate themselves with these characters and their experiences. Engaging them as you might engage any everyday social interaction will make the “‘assessment” portion feel seamless.

What if They Don’t “Pass” My Assessment?

This is going to happen at some point in the summer, but it is not the end of the world! Sometimes asking students to “go back and find out” because you’re really interested is all it takes to revisit the reading. Other times, it might be an issue around engagement. If it is the latter, it's time to have a conversation! Summer reading should not be a responsibility or a punishment. Try to figure out what’s going on with your reader. Is the text boring? Why? Is it hard? What’s hard about it? Do you want to try something else? Having these discussions with readers is a great way to allow them ownership over the reading process, something that they might not always get the opportunity for in the regular classroom. Real-world readers don’t always read things they’re not interested in, unless they have to! Alternately, it might be an exercise in patience and “giving it a chance”. Let’s assess this current scenario to figure out what’s going on!

Here are the editable and downloadable Summer Reading Menu and Summer Reading Monitoring Sheet!


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.