Dog Days of Summer
Keeping Students Engaged in Literacy During Summer Vacation

Introduction | Background Knowledge | Activities | Extensions | Standards


The days are getting longer, and the school year is getting shorter. It is almost time for summer vacation. But how can we keep kids engaged in literacy over the summer? Booklists? Bingo Boards? Even with prizes and gimmicks, too many students tend to put books on the shelf in June and don’t pick them back up until September.

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Background Knowledge

We have all heard about the “summer slide.” It is a term that describes the phenomenon that happens when students seemingly forget everything that they learned the previous year. Families face many obstacles when school is not in session. Childcare challenges and transportation concerns make getting to the library difficult for some families. School fatigue hits other families, and the parents are as tired of school expectations as the kids are. Reading gets left behind in favor of social media, swimming pools, and video games. We must look at ways to motivate students to read when the weather is hot, and school is far from their minds. Some excellent resources with ideas on how to do this are The Ultimate List of Reading Reward Programs for Kids and 10 Ideas for PTAs to Get Kids to Read More.

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Get Books Into Students’ Hands

  • Little Free Library
    • Look into building and maintaining a Little Free Library (TeachersFirst review) at your school or in a central place in your community. Reach out to your local Boy Scout troop to see if there is an Eagle Scout candidate that needs a project. Fill the Little Free Library with donations or books that have been weeded from your school or local library. Based on a take one/leave one principle, a Little Free Library would be a great way to get books into your students’ (and their families) hands!
  • Send a Book Home With Every Child
    • Check out the First Book Marketplace Book Bank (TeachersFirst review), where you can get multiple copies of a book for the cost of shipping. You can also find gently used books at thrift stores or yard sales. Were there any books discarded from your library? As long as the books are in good condition and the information is accurate, that is a great place to get books to send home with your students. A book that is familiar to one family could be a brand-new adventure for another.
  • Host Book Swaps
    • Just before school ends for the summer, ask each student to bring a gently used book to school to swap with another student for a new one. (It would be a good idea to have extra books on hand just in case everyone brings a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or a student doesn’t have a book to share.) Make the swap exciting by using the books as prizes at an end-of-the-year review game or as favors at the end-of-the-year party. Kids will be excited to have new books to read for the start of summer!
    • Set up a “Read Box” (a take-off on the Redbox movie rental system) just inside your school’s entrance near the Main Office, where families can pop in and swap books. It would also be handy to have some topics adult family members might enjoy. (This does require a daily or weekly scan of appropriate titles.)
    • Ask your community event planners if you can set up a Book Swap table at the local Fourth of July events or Farmers’ Markets! See if your school can send a summertime robocall, email, or mailing that markets the event. This is mid-summer for most locations, and students probably need something new. You can also do this as part of summer school if your school hosts summer school.
  • Read Aloud
    • Storyline Online (TeachersFirst review) is a great way to share stories with students! Share the links with your students, and then the books come alive as members of the Screen Actors Guild read them.
      • Discuss how the actors on Storyline Online read with expression and fluency, then use Microsoft Reading Coach (TeachersFirst review) as a tool for your student to practice those same skills with reading materials at their level. Reading Coach offers support in over one hundred languages, making it perfect for use by multilingual students.
    • Sync - Audiobooks for Teens - aimed at teenagers, AudioFile’s Sync delivers two free books a week during the summer to Sora, the reading app from Overdrive. All it takes is an email address to register!

Suggest Exciting Activities

  • Library Reading Challenges
    • Your local library may have a summer reading challenge where students (and, for some, adults as well) earn prizes for reading. Registration for most programs has moved online. Check with your local library.
  • Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Journal (TeachersFirst review)
    • Students in grades 1-6 read eight books, and Barnes and Noble will give you one for free! Free books are from a specific list. No purchase is necessary to participate!
  • Camp Book-it (TeachersFirst review)
    • Pizza Hut’s long-standing reading incentive program looks a little bit different in the summer! Enter an email address to get a weekly email of summer reading activities for kids.
  • Chuck E Cheese Reading Rewards Calendar (TeachersFirst review)
    • Chuck E. Cheese offers ten play points for students who read every day for two weeks. Students can redeem one calendar per day for food purchases.
  • Bookopolis (TeachersFirst review)
    • Students can use Bookopolis to track their reading with reading logs and interact with other readers. The site also offers activities where students can practice reading and writing skills.

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Stay Connected

  • Stay connected with your students over the summer! Wait until late summer to archive your learning management system (LMS) and encourage your students to continue talking about books over the summer. Even a weekly question, “What are you reading?” can keep students reading and engaged with each other. A Google Classroom can stay active for five years! If your school does not use Google Classroom, stay connected to your district’s LMS.
  • Other tools for conducting virtual meetings are Gatheround (TeachersFirst review), Kumospace (TeachersFirst review), and Free Conference Call (TeachersFirst review).

Virtual Book Clubs

  • Now that most schools have experienced virtual learning, you can continue building your community of readers by hosting weekly (biweekly or monthly) book clubs. Google Meet or Microsoft Teams are great resources if your district provides them. Zoom (TeachersFirst review) is also a great resource but is limited to 40-minute meetings without a paid subscription.
  • Find tips for starting and conducting a virtual book club in this article by Literacy Partners.
  • Flip (TeachersFirst review) is an excellent resource for hosting virtual book clubs that allow students to respond on their schedule without having to participate at a specific time. After selecting a book to discuss, use Flip to invite students to discuss weekly questions. This topic, for example, focuses on I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and includes questions to use before and after reading. Provide students a schedule, then post a pre-reading question, followed by discussion prompts by chapter or section of the book, and then create a final topic to wrap up your book club discussions.

First Chapter Fridays

  • Starting after spring break, read the first chapter of a novel to your students each Friday for the rest of the school year. Then, make these books available for students to borrow during the summer.

Summer Library Hours

  • Work with your administration (or school librarian if you have one) to open the school library weekly throughout the summer.

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  • AASL National School Library Standards
    • Inquire Shared Foundation, Create Domain: Learners adapt, communicate, and exchange learning products with others in a cycle that includes: 1. Interacting with content presented by others.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Think Domain: Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by: 1. Reading widely and deeply in multiple formats and write and create for a variety of purposes.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Grow Domain: Learners develop through experience and reflection by: 1. Iteratively responding to challenges. 2. Recognizing capabilities and skills that can be developed, improved, and expanded. 3. Open-mindedly accepting feedback for positive and constructive growth.
  • ISTE Standards for Students
    • Empowered Learner 1a. Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.
    • Empowered Learner 1b. Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
    • Empowered Learner 1c. Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways
    • Knowledge Constructor 3d. Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.

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