For seven years, I was a high school English teacher, and every summer, I assigned my students summer reading. At the end of each school year, I would visit sophomore English classes to deliver that summer’s assignment. Many students groaned, a few wonderful nerds actually got excited, and most wore looks of resignation on their faces.
I don’t know which of those three groups you most identify with (since you’re reading Book Riot, it’s perhaps likely that a fair few of you count yourselves among the wonderful nerds, but I don’t want to make any assumptions), but no matter what, I’ve got a few tips for those of you looking to use your summer reading assignment as a springboard to a whole school year’s worth of academic success.
Students, take note.
Parents, casually send this link to your kid as often as needed to make it sink in.
Teachers, may none of your students utter the phrase “What summer reading assignment?” ever again.
Step 1. Do the thing.
Umm, actually read the book. This seems obvious, but don’t do that thing where you read a bunch of summaries or do the CliffsNotes thing or just pray you can pick up the gist of the book from your classmates during class discussions. Just read it. Maybe it’s a book you have no natural interest in; maybe it’s 600 pages long; maybe it was written in an age when “doth” and “thou” are words people actually used. Bummer. Whatever the case, you need to find a way to make it through. There’s simply no substitute for actually doing the reading. My advice? Get started early and make a reading calendar. Divide the book into manageable chunks and knock ‘em out one at a time.
Step 2. Take a look around.
Do a quick search to see if anybody’s written any articles or made videos about the book you’re reading. For one thing, they might provide some context that helps you grasp what’s on the page. But they can also give you something to respond to as you read, which is a great way to generate really useful notes to use on any assignments you might have to complete once the school year starts. Do you agree with what the lady in the video said about the book, or did you notice something different? Where is her take right on? Where does it fall short?
Step 3. Be prepared.
Typically, your summer reading assignment is the first thing you’ll cover when class starts in the fall. It gives you a chance to make a great first impression on your teacher and set the tone for a successful year. If you can read a different book that tackles the same subject matter from a different angle, take notes and bring those insights to class. Keep a list of questions your book prompts you to ask about the world. Take note of places where the author is particularly convincing in their argument or where they represent an emotion or idea especially well through their characters. Make note of your observations (or write them directly into the book, if you own it) and organize them by subject so you can call upon them quickly.
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. BUT the more work you do on the front end, the less you’ll typically have to do when it comes time to write that essay or complete that final project.
Step 4. Don’t go through it alone.
Assigned reading of any kind can be a tough pill to swallow. Something about having to read something rather than getting to read it just transforms the whole experience. But chances are, if you’ve been assigned the book, so has somebody else. Reach out to your fellow future classmates and chat about what you’ve read so far. Bounce questions and observations off of one another. Check out the book’s Goodreads page and see what people are talking about it in the threads. Or, even better, get together with a couple of in-the-flesh humans and spend an hour arguing about what you love or hate about the book.
For one thing, sharing the experience can make any burden feel a bit lighter. For another, thinking in groups is different than thinking by yourself. Both can be valuable, but talking through your thoughts with others is a great way to get a better grip on what you actually think about what you’re reading. Taking your thoughts into the classroom is a whole lot easier when they’re well-defined.
The school year will be here before you know it, and with it will come the time when you’re asked to account for your summer reading. You can blow it off until the last minute and then scrape by those first couple of weeks hoping not to be found out, or you can go in ready to knock your poor bedraggled teacher’s socks off.
With one eye on all my former teaching colleagues, I hope you use this list to make it the latter.