Do you have a voracious reader at home? A child whose constant companions are books? Who, when dinner is ready, responds, “Wait till I finish this chapter?” Come summertime, an advanced reader is likely to welcome a visit to the library as much as she is a trip to the pool.
But getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to reading over the summer is just as important as the reading itself. So here are five ways to make sure he or she gets maximum benefits from summer reading:
- Talk about story elements. Engage your avid reader in a discussion about a current book. To extend his thinking beyond surface comprehension to deeper understanding and analysis, ask him to talk about story elements. For example, ask him to describe the setting—where and when the action takes place. Talk about plot—what’s the book about? Ask about main events and see if your child can verbally summarize the story. Who are his favorite characters? What do they say or do that tells us what they are like? What problems do they face, and how do they solve them? Ask follow- up questions to prompt your child to talk about a theme—an important central idea or lesson that can be learned from the story. Of course, all this book talk is not an interrogation but should be part of casual conversation and a great way for you and your child to connect!
- Create connections to daily life. As you go through your day, talk with your child about the characters in books she is reading or has recently read. For example, if you go to a museum, see a movie, or take a trip, ask your child how one of her favorite characters would act or respond. Ask your reader to consider how a theme from her reading applies to her own life or to someone she knows. For example, in Ella Enchanted, Ella learns that the only way to break free of the spell that binds her is to find inner strength. While Ella’s circumstances differ from your reader’s, you can find common ground in talking about the kinds of challenges that demand strength from within.
- Encourage curiosity. Summer reading is typically pleasure reading; lighter fare such as adventure, fantasy, and mysteries. If you have an avid reader, encourage him to use this pleasure reading as the inspiration to explore and learn by digging into nonfiction. On an index card that serves as a book marker, write these headings: on one side, “I wonder…” and on the other, “I want to know more about….” As your child is reading fiction, have him use the card to jot down topics to explore. Take a trip to your local library to find appropriate nonfiction resources. With your supervision, he can also search for reliable websites to fulfill his curiosity. In casual conversation, encourage him to tell you about what he has learned. Since much required school reading is nonfiction, it’s a good idea to keep nonfiction on the summer reading list as well.
- Form a book club. Seek other advanced learners in your area and form a book club. Or start an online book club using a threaded discussion that parents can monitor. Help the young readers in the group research book lists, choose books for summer reading, or participate in a reading contest. To start discussions, ask the children to focus first on important story elements (that is, plot, characters, themes, etc.). In these groups, young readers can learn valuable communication skills, including the ability to state a thesis and support their points with evidence. They will also become more respectful and effective listeners.
- Write about reading. The ability to think critically and write clearly about what he or she has read is what distinguished the star students from the rest of the pack. Help your child set up a Reader Response journal, a notebook in which she jots down her reactions to characters, situations, events, and ideas in what she is reading. Offer questions to help prompt writing. For example, “How did you feel about the choice the character made? What do you think will be the consequences of that decision?” Unlike formal academic compositions, Reader Response journals are a place for readers to explore their own thoughts and feelings. You can encourage your reader to select some passages from her journal and prepare them for posting as an online book review, like the brief reviews posted on Amazon.com. It can be exciting for an advanced young reader to publish her work and find herself among a community of readers.
By encouraging your advanced readers to respond, discuss, and explore, you’ll help them become more analytical thinkers and keep their reading skills sharp even as they soak up the sun.
Beth Zemble, director of alternative learning strategies and English language arts for K12, has been working in the language arts for more than two decades. She’s led the development efforts for Internet-based English curriculum as well as integrated instructional systems and educational software. Additionally, she has worked on lessons, textbooks, test preparation and practice materials for numerous publishers, and has taught literature and composition courses at Immaculata University. Ms. Zemble was graduated with honors and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and earned her master’s degree with honors from Columbia University.