This year we decided to switch things up a bit with our summer reading assignment for our incoming students. In the past, we’ve assigned a class novel to read, often with some sort of discussion questions to answer and an essay to write. When the first day of school rolled around, the last thing we wanted to do was grade that pile of mediocre essays. And let’s be honest, the last thing our students wanted to do over summer was write those mediocre essays and read an assigned book!
First, we figured it would be more beneficial to have students read books of their choice (we require three) and prepare a book talk to share with the class once school resumes. There are some great book talk resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. We expect a hook, brief summary (without giving away the ending), and a cliffhanger that makes us want to read that book. This works great, as it gives students a whole bunch of ideas for books they’ll want to read independently during the school year as part of our literacy program.
Second, we are assigning a short story (as opposed to an entire book) for the whole class to read over the summer. We chose the story, “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros, and seeing as it’s only 22 paragraphs, we don’t foresee any complaining from our students!* Rachel, the main character, experiences a wide range of emotions in these 22 paragraphs, and kids will totally relate to her reactions. While seemingly a simple story, there’s lots of room for analysis – which is precisely why we’ve chosen to assign it over the summer!
BUT. Students won’t simply be reading the short story. That would be far too easy! Instead, we put together a packet to send home with our incoming students that includes the following:
- A vocabulary graphic organizer for unfamiliar words found in the story
- A blank copy of “Eleven” for them to annotateWe expect students to do the following: write down the vocabulary definitions they just learned, note character traits (depictions of the protagonist’s appearance, the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, other characters’ actions), highlight descriptions of the setting, highlight and label any figurative language. Read this blog post for more information on teaching annotating!
- An analysis of the relationships among three characters in the story using guided questions
- An activity that requires students to find textual evidence and provide justification using predetermined claims about the main character (definitely a challenging activity!)
- A reflection activity that has students focus on the deeper meaning of the short story and make personal connections
Because students are working with a much shorter text than is usually required, our hope is that they will be more engaged and do several close readings of the text to prepare their analysis. Plus, when we return to school, we’ll be able to do a deep dive reading of the text since it’s much shorter than a novel! This way, summer reading doesn’t feel like such a waste of time, nor such a challenge to overcome when returning to school.
If you’d like to do the same thing, we’ve compiled these activities into one resource, and while we’re using it for a summer assignment (simply making student packets), it can honestly be used any time of the year! You can grab it here or by clicking on the picture below. Enjoy!
*(Quick summary: It’s Rachel’s eleventh birthday and the day is not going well, especially when a smelly, discarded red sweater is found in the classroom, and a classmate wrongly declares that it’s Rachel’s. To make matters worse, Rachel’s teacher makes her wear it, and Rachel is humiliated and upset!)
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