The Science of Learning Blog

May 22, 2019

Inspiring Students to Read This Summer

BY Kelly Keller

Inspiring Your Students to Read This Summer

Four ways to avoid summer learning loss and why it matters.

The end of the school year is approaching, and students are looking forward to summer vacation. Educators are ready for a break, too, but are also thinking about students losing momentum—and even some skills—during the summer months. How can we encourage kids to continue to read and learn, when we know that some setbacks are statistically probable? 

Sometimes referred to as summer slide, summer learning loss, or summer setback, researchers have been looking at this phenomenon for decades. The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) attributes these setbacks to long summer vacations that “break the rhythm of continuous instruction and in turn lead to forgetting what was learned in the previous academic school year.” In a 2018 interview with Education Week, Matthew Boulay, NSLA Founder and CEO, talks about these challenges.

Research by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) identifies the cumulative effect of summer learning loss as one of the principal factors—along with nutrition, parental involvement, and child motivation—that are deepening the achievement gaps between students by family income. The problem becomes more pronounced for English language learners, who may lose access to English speaking adults during summer months. 

Here are some ways you can help your students stay sharp over the summer, and make summer reading a fun choice:


Let students know that all forms of reading count. From short books, chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and magazine articles, to ebooks on mobile devices, they should read what interests them. Books on tape build language skills and encourage a love of storytelling, and struggling readers can use audio support as they follow along with a print version.  

Encourage parents to read to their children, or to take them to story time at the local library during the summer months. Reading aloud to children from a very early age has been shown to build language and reading skills. Explain to students and parents that reading will actually make their brains work better.


Tell students about a book that you have enjoyed that has influenced or changed your life in some way. Talk to your students about why people read – e.g., acquiring historical knowledge, entertainment, learning about other people’s experiences and perspectives.  Ask them what they like about reading. Make a class “Why We Read” list and give each student a copy for inspiration and encouragement.

Describe to students the place you most like to read (a cozy chair, perhaps), how you prepare yourself to read (make some tea, check the lighting), and when and how long you schedule your reading time (before breakfast for 30 minutes; after dinner for an hour). Encourage them to PLAN for this time every day, even making it a calendar item or part of a daily to-do list.


Invite students to bring books they liked to class. Have them write a brief description of why they love the book on an index card. Display the books and cards around the classroom and give students time to browse and learn from their peers. Student or parent organizations might organize a class-wide or school-wide book exchange at the end of the school year. 

Ask students to create a personal reading list of four or five titles to complete over the summer, and compile these into a class reading list to post to the school website. If you have a classroom blog or wiki, post thought-provoking passages from books along with the book title and author. Keep your class blog or wiki available to students over the summer so they can share their reactions to books they’re reading. Don’t forget to add updates about your own reading. 

Schools or districts might create a program for middle and high school students to read aloud to and mentor the younger grades by sharing favorite childhood books. Help them create a “hand-me-down” program to share age-appropriate books that older students have outgrown. Ask them to include a note about why they liked the book, to inspire the younger readers.   


Share the location and summer hours of area libraries with parents. Invite a librarian to school to present summer reading ideas and opportunities to students and to parents. Encourage every family to get and use a library card. If your school or district has the budget, open school libraries for students to access over the summer months.

Provide students, and parents of younger students, with book lists that are age appropriate. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, provides summer reading lists by grade, with titles that have been chosen to keep children engaged in reading throughout the summer. 

Here are a few lists to get you started:

ALSC Summer 2019 reading list - Birth-Preschool 

ALSC Summer 2019 reading list - Grades K-2 

ALSC Summer 2019 reading list - Grades 3-5 

ALSC Summer 2019 reading list - Grades 6-8

Reading Rockets 2019 summer book list - Ages 0-12

Communicate with parents about the importance of setting expectations for reading every day. Encourage them to read aloud, and to take turns reading, pointing to the words so a child can follow along. Give parents some tactics that will enrich the reading experience at home. Provide a list of questions to get a child talking about a book, such as “What might happen next?” “How do you think the character felt?” or “Why do you think something happened?” 


Give students access to the online Reading Assistant program at school or home for extra guided oral reading practice to help build fluency.

Would you like to host a Fast ForWord Summer Reading Boot Camp for students?

Learn how to create an effective summer learning program for your school or district. 


Association for Library Service to Children (ALCS) Summer 2019 Reading Lists

Closing the Achievement Gap by Attacking Summer Learning Loss 

On Summer Loss: National Summer Learning Association 

ED Week: Summer Learning Gaps Worsen in Higher Grades, Just Not the Way You Think

Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it?

Summer Learning Programs, ELLs and the Achievement Gap

Antidotes to Summer Brain Drain (Part 1): Tips and Tools for Fun Math Skills Practice

Antidotes to Summer Brain Drain (Part 2): 5 Ways to Pull the Plug on Learning Loss

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