4 Types of Summer Reading (and How to Assess Them)

As English teachers, we romanticize the idea of curling up with a book poolside... but our students probably don't. Even if they do, they likely do not appreciate the required reading books that we (or our department heads) choose for them. Further, more research seems to support reading choice books than reading teacher-assigned novels, but the latter practice persists anyway.

So how do we make summer reading assignments meaningful, if not enjoyable, for everyone?

I believe part of the answer is choosing the right TYPE of summer reading task, not to mention the form of assessment we will use with the book afterward. Based on our incoming students' talents and needs, what sort of reading will promote the most growth? Do they need an increased love of reading, or just a boost in comprehension? Is your goal to block the summer slide, or to prep them for the specific course you'll be teaching them soon?

As an English teacher and a survivor of MANY summer reading programs as a student, I've seen four common paths of summer reading assignments. Choosing the right one depends on your students' abilities and your eventual goal for that reading.

What it is: NOT just for elementary grades! Students read several books to meet a goal, such as a total number of books, a total number of hours spent reading, etc. The goal is usually to achieve growth as a reader (or at least to prevent the dreaded summer slide). Since the emphasis is on quantity, usually the students get to pick their own books (within reason).

Best for: Either teens who need challenge (i.e. An honors class) or those who need growth (like a middle school or lower-ability class).

Setting it up: First, see if your public library already has a Summer Reading Program that you can capitalize. (Here's my local one as an example.) If not, decide if you want students to log hours spent reading, total quantity of books read, or another metric.

Back to School: Your first goal is to confirm that they actually did it, whether that's asking for parent signatures or assessing their knowledge of the books. Then, decide what grade or course-appropriate way you want to celebrate that reading! (Why not with a Tower of Books?)

What it is: Choice reading again, but quality over quantity this time. Perhaps students choose one grade-appropriate novel from a list, or read one that meets certain criteria (such as, "anything that's a memoir" or "any contemporary fiction"). Choice reading can mean one book, or choosing several (like in #1 above).

Best for: English classes with a specialization, theme, or year-long essential question

Setting it up: Make sure you have a guidelines sheet that clearly explains what they can read, what the purpose of the assignment is, and what they'll have to do with the book upon return to school. (Pro tip: Proofread that letter from the perspective of the parent who is taking the student to the bookstore or library, and make your directions clear!)

Back to School: Use a broader assessment type or activity that can be applied to any book. For example, try this FREE Summer Reading Scavenger Hunt activity as a diagnostic or formative assessment (to see if students can find literary devices in their own novels)!

What it is: The teacher assigns one book (or a small set of texts) for mandatory reading, usually as a prerequisite assignment for the upcoming course; the text might be related to the course's theme or difficulty level (such as reading Shakespeare before a Brit Lit class).

Best for: Specialized or advanced English classes, the ones for which students might benefit from early exposure.

Setting it up: After making sure that the school supports your choice of novel (and will have your back in the event of protesting parents), make sure all upcoming students know what book to go find. (The bookstores and libraries might appreciate some forewarning, too!)

Back to School: Either collect student homework (such as an essay that was written over the summer), or begin a novel unit based on the text that they have (supposedly) read.

What it is: Whether it's choice OR a mandatory text, the novel is just a means to an end, such as examining the American Dream, identifying symbolism, collecting vocabulary, or finding a theme.

Best for: Any English class!

Setting it up: Frame your directions by defining and explaining the skill or concept you're looking for. (Perhaps your assignment sheet will include a mini-lesson on theme or active reading?) Make fully clear what you're looking for and why!

Back to School: Have students lead the discussion of how their book(s) did or did not fit the concept, or use self-assessment to see how they grew.

My FAVORITE way to keep the summer reading ball rolling (and get other assessments into my gradebook) is to expand summer reading to vocabulary, writing, and NON-fiction!

I use this mini-unit as a stepping stone to get students ready for DBQs, evaluating different source types, and thinking more about opposing viewpoints. (What do teachers, parents, booksellers, and others think about summer reading? How will we refute their viewpoints in an argument?)

Have a wonderful summer of reading!
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3 Types of Puzzles & Games for ELA

Have you tried incorporating puzzles and games in your ELA classroom? Well, I’m here today to talk about my favorite ways to do so, and the benefits I see in students. Using puzzles and games in the high school classroom is a great way to build collaboration, critical thinking, and a growth mindset. Puzzles can be particularly powerful in the ELA classroom because they allow students to approach words logically, mathematically, and visually, creating cross-brain connections.

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

I’ve talked before about my love of puzzles at my blog, and how I’m good at some (jigsaw puzzles, woot woot!) and terrible at others (tanglement/mechanical puzzles… you know, the metal or string ones that supposedly pull apart? Yeah, those are tough for me), and today I want to extend that conversation and offer up some new ideas.

1.       Word Games

Word Games are the easiest thing you could possibly integrate in ELA, and they have so many benefits! They foster critical thinking, extend student vocabulary, and create multilingual connections. I’m a huge fan of word games, such as Taboo® or Scattergories®. These can be great as filler games, but they can also be incorporated into your teaching, too. They make fantastic reviews.

You can use the Taboo® set-up to review any list of vocabulary words, characters, or actions in a novel or short story. Simply create five words that students aren’t allowed to say when giving their clues. You can also have students create these for another team or group. For example, I split my class into groups of four or five, and have each student create five cards. Then, I have them duplicate the cards, creating two piles. Their whole group combines the cards into two duplicate sets. Then, they pass these sets to two other groups. Now, each group should have two sets of 20-25 cards, for a total of 50.

I also LOVE sharing Cryptograms with students. A Cryptogram is a single puzzle (often a quote or a list) where a cipher has been used to encrypt the message. Generally, this is a simple substitution cipher (A transforms to F, B transforms to X…) and the player must figure out the message. These are incredibly powerful in the classroom because students have to think about common letter clusters (t-h-e, s-t) and common double letters to begin unlocking the code. They have to develop a sense of patterns and possibilities and rarities (h-h isn’t a possible double letter in English, and the letter j is pretty rare).

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

Download these free literary-themed Cryptograms to get started using these in your classroom today. :)

2.       Team Bellringers

I’ve also introduced Team Bellringers in my classroom.

I love going to play trivia each week at a local restaurant, and they have an ongoing competition where our points add up for the whole month. Our team members are committed to coming every week because we know the group is counting on us to win the grand prize.

I decided to introduce the same concept in my classroom. I created two sets of forty mini-quizzes (similar to one round of trivia) to be used as bellringers, and students split into teams of 3-4 and keep a running score over the course of a month. Each mini-quiz is focused on literature, movies, and music, and has some sort of word game twist to it. For example, one mini-quiz asks students to identify classic novels and authors based only on their initials. Another asks students to identify the children’s book depicted as a cake. There’s also a literary math puzzle that I love (“The number of Winnie the Pooh’s friends minus the number who are female…”)!

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

These mini-quizzes can be used as daily bellringers or exit slips, a closing activity on a Friday, or as an entire reward day. They encourage collaboration and challenge students to think critically. They are also engaging and make use of everyone’s expertise.

You can grab these bellringers at my TeachersPayTeachers store: Volume 1 and Volume 2.

3.       Escape Rooms

Lastly, I am planning on incorporating Escape Rooms in my classroom next year. In a traditional Escape Room, you are led through a series of puzzles that eventually culminates in you receiving a key (to “escape the room”). You can also play Breakout Boxes, with the end result of the puzzles being a key to access a box that has some sort of prize.

I recently developed an Escape Room Review Game for Romeo & Juliet to use with my students in the fall. As a test review, I wanted to make sure that each puzzle focused on a different element (Plot, Character, Conflict, Figurative Language, Quotes, etc.) of the play.

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

Making a “room” takes a lot of work (luckily, there’s TpT!), but students are engaged and motivated throughout the review. You’re not exactly fooling them (they know they’re reviewing), but you’re giving them stakes for the review beyond the grade. Also, it’s exactly what I would have liked to do when I was a student, so there’s always that. ;)

What are your favorite tips for teaching with puzzles and games? I’d love to hear more from you in comments!

Also, check out these great resources from the other Coffee Shop teachers.

Grammar Games Bundle by Room 213
Grammar Races by The Classroom Sparrow
Word Puzzles by Presto Plans
Board Game for Any Novel by The SuperHERO Teacher

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Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)


Minimizing Stress at the End of the Year

Helpful tips for minimizing stress at the end of the school year.

The end of the school year is near, and that means it is time to start thinking about final projects and final exams. Usually the last few weeks of the school year are a whirlwind or stress. Between trying to squeeze in the rest of the curriculum, grade final papers and projects, and maintain our sanity, and maintain our sanity, it's easy to get caught up in the end-of-the-year madness. And let me tell you, it is entirely okay and entirely normal to feel stretched a little bit too thin right about now. We've all been there. Here are some tried and true ways to minimize end of the school year stress.
Helpful tips for minimizing stress at the end of the school year.

Now, I am not ashamed to admit it, but I always plan a student work day toward the end of each semester or grading term. By the end of the term, I totally need this day. Yes, I tell my students that the work day is to help them prepare and study for final exams, and yes, it really does help them, so that’s a bonus. However, the day is for me. I use that day to finalize any grading that I still need to do before the final round of grading begins. I use that day to get caught up with all of my work that’s piled up as I made my way through the end of the year rush.

When I give final exams, I always let my students bring one page of notes to use on the test, and I dedicate a day in class for them to write their notes. While some educators believe this might not be the best practice for final exams, I truly believe that it helps the learning process. In creating and writing their notes, students review the content, write the content, study the content, and learn the content. I get a day to grade, and students get a day to study. It’s a win-win for everyone!

In addition to planning for a student work day, teachers can also minimize stress by administering a multiple-choice final exam. To help stressed out teachers during the end of the school year, I have a premade, 100 question test with a student study guide that is completely formatted and entirely editable. Actually, there are two different versions of a 100 question test in this resource, so teachers have more than 200 questions to choose from! It is ideal for final exams because it covers standards and skills for middle school and high school English language arts classes. And since this test is a Word document, teachers can easily change questions and answers to suit their needs, all while keeping the formatting and answer key to save time. I’ve used this test (and various versions of this test) for many years.

Another way to minimize stress while maintaining high standards in class is by holding a Socratic Seminar or Fishbowl Discussion as a final activity. These activities can be graded in class as students participate in the activity, and they require students to practice their listening and speaking skills. When I hold a Socratic Seminar or Fishbowl discussion, I will usually give the students a list of comprehensive questions that require evidence to support their answers about a week before the seminar. I encourage students to work on a few questions each night so that they produce thorough answers that are complete with examples and analysis.

Free Socratic Seminar questions to help students review at the end of the year.
You can download this FREE list of end of the year Socratic Seminar questions that are ideal for reviewing an entire semester’s worth of content. For English and literature classes, I also have a Socratic Seminar resource that works with any novel.

During the Seminar, students discuss what they learned the most, what content stuck with them, what challenges and obstacles they faced and overcame throughout the year, and more. It’s a good review of the semester.

Another way to minimize stress is to plan backwards and make sure that you give yourself enough time to grade final essays. During my first year of teaching, I made the mistake of having large research papers due the Friday before final exams. I gave myself less than a week to grade more than 150 research papers. I was a ball of stress that weekend. Since then, I’ve learned from this mistake. All of my final papers are due at least two weeks before grades are due. Planning for adequate grading time at the end of the year is essential for your mental health. Here is what my final week of school typically looks like now. Between the student work day, using a multiple-choice final exam, and scheduling my final writing projects beforehand, the end of the year isn't as hectic as it used to be.

As the end of the year draws near, don’t fret. Have some fun with you students and try out various end of the year activities and end of the year growth mindset activities to end the year on a positive note. And if you find yourself stressing out, just know that you are in good company. Teachers everywhere are tired and overloaded with grading. You've got this. Summer is right around the corner.

Teens can get stressed at the end of the year, too. Jackie from Room 213 shares ideas here on how to help teens manage their stress.

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