13 Can’t-Miss Strategies to Help Schools End the Summer Reading Gap!

ReadIn a few, (very) short weeks, the school year will come to a close. Students (and teachers) have begun the infamous countdown.

Regardless of how hard you’ve worked to support literacy learning in your classroom, summer sneaks in and can quickly chip away at your best efforts and the progress students have made.

In this post, I’ll share  concrete strategies to keep this from happening. In this post, I’ll share a few facts about summer reading loss, and 11 simple ways schools can support summer reading.

Defining Summer Reading Loss

Summer reading loss is real.  Do you know the number one predictor of summer loss or summer gain in literacy? Quite simply, it is whether or not a student reads during summer break.

And, the best predictor of whether a child reads is whether or not he or she owns books. So, it stands to reason that summer reading loss or “summer setback” is a bigger problem for children from low-income families.

To put it simply, if students don’t read over the summer, they’ll undoubtedly lose skills. Children need to read outside of school. Research clearly shows that the key to fight summer reading loss is finding novel ways to get books into the hands of children during the summer break.

Children Need the Right Books

  • Children don’t just need books…they need the right books.
  • Providing children with books that fit — books that match their skill levels and their interests — is an important first step in encouraging voluntary reading.

How Many Books Is Enough

  • Studies suggest that children who read as few as six books over the summer maintain the level of reading skills they achieved during the preceding school year. Reading more books leads to even greater success.
  • When children are provided with 10 to 20 self-selected children’s books at the end of the regular school year, as many as 50 percent not only maintain their skills, but actually make reading gains.

13 Ways Schools Can Support Summer Reading

1. Allow students to check out school library books for the summer. Make it easy for students and their families. For examples, staff the library one evening each week during the summer so that children can return the books they’ve read and select new books.

summer reading tracker pic

Summer Reading Trackers

2. Give away books! Allocate money from the school budget or from federal program funds (e.g., Title I) to pay for the books. Arrange the books attractively in the media center or cafeteria and build excitement for “Select Your Summer Reading Books.” Then, students select books to take home over the summer to read. I suggest primary students choose a minimum of 60-12 books, while intermediate and middle school students select 3-6 books. There is no better way than to get books into the hands of students.

3. Create a “Books for a Buck” program. Recycle donated paperback books and books purchased at garage sales or library sales. At a dollar or even 25 cents apiece, books become more affordable to many children.

4. Create an “honor library” that provides a steady supply of new and used paperbacks. Place a cart outside the front doors of the school, or in another public place, where students can borrow books and leave books they’ve finished reading.

5. Create a Summer School Voluntary Reading Program. Make popular reading books available to students to listen to, discuss and read, and take home to share with family and friends.

6. Check with local stores like “Half Price Books” and ask if they’ll donate books for summer reading. Our local Half Price Books donates boxes of books to schools. Once a month, a person picks them up from the store. Teachers use them to build classroom libraries. At the end of the year, it’s a perfect way to give students books to take home.

7. Encourage students to track their summer reading (see image).  Student return their sheets at the beginning of the school year. Then plan a celebration with students and their families to kick off the schoolwide reading program. You can download our Summer Reading Tracker at the bottom on this post.

8. Create an online book club. Have students participate in online book discussions during the summer. Format it however you like with suggested titles. The media specialist or teachers can lead and join in on the discussion.

9. Develop “Books Not to Miss” lists and/or bookmarks for students. Rather than creating a list based on the ALA or other notable organizations, how about looking at media center check-out data. Ask students to contribute directly to the lists as well.

10. Inform parents of local opportunities. Invite the local library representative to your school to create excitement for their summer reading programs. Send home information and sign up forms to parents.

11. Develop a “Summer Reading” page on your school/district website. Create a page filled with links to recommended websites and apps that support reading, vocabulary, and writing (and here). Make sure parents are informed of the page and encourage them to become familiar with the high-quality sites and apps.

12. Celebrate Reading! Have a huge celebration at the end of the year when students can select books to take home. And, then celebrate when students return and share what they read over the summer months.

13. Pepper the Hallways with Posters of what Teachers are will Read over the Summer! Create posters of teachers with a stack of books they plan to read over the summer months. Make it a point that students know that learning never stops and teachers read, too!

Download the Summer Reading Tracker here


 Did you like these ideas and strategies? There’s many more strategies in my new K-12 vocabulary book, Blended Learning, with @AngelaPeery.

It’s due out this summer and we’re happy to let you know when it’s published. Strategies for elementary, secondary, special populations and an entire chapter devoted to digital tools and apps that support word learning!
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Kimberly has been a teacher, administrator, and literacy consultant who worked in districts across the country to improve student literacy achievement. She currently serves as an Educational Specialist with Solution Tree and project manager for large-scale PLC implementations. Her new book, Blended Vocabulary: Harnessing the Power of Digital Tools and Effective Instruction, was recently released in February, 2017.