Setting the Scene
Students might not feel motivated to be stuck in summer reading camps or classes over their break, but if you create a fun atmosphere for students, eventually their curiosity will get the best of them. Start with a theme, like summer fun, and let that be your guide through the following lessons. Choose books, prizes, movie clips–and whatever else you choose to use–connected to this theme. I’m not above bringing in a beach towel, beach ball, and a blown up palm tree just to spruce things up a bit. Start by stimulating their senses so you can engage their minds with the following activities.
Skill #1—Creating Inferences
Start by stating a basic inference about the classroom: “I can infer it is cold in this classroom because everyone is wearing a sweater." Define an inference—a decision, conclusion, or opinion made after considering evidence or facts. Ask volunteers to create their own inferences.
Continue practicing this skill by sharing a collection of photos, paintings, newspaper or magazine articles, or cartoon strips. Place the collections around the room at different stations and allow students to rotate from station to station and hold timed meetings with their group to discuss and list possible inferences and the reasoning behind their inferences. After, take turns compiling a classroom list of inferences for each station.
To extend this lesson, place students in groups, read a picture book to the class, and have them discuss possible inferences for the story with their groups.
Another idea for teaching inferences is to bring in a box wrapped like a gift. Make sure you’ve left something inside so students can shake the box and listen. This way they can form reasons for their inferences. I also like to play games like Taboo, chess, or twenty questions with students. If they can make guesses based on reasoning, then they’re on their way to mastering this valuable reading skill.
Play a quick game of Round Robin in which students use a Post-It note to write their name and two adjectives to describe themselves. When all students have shared, go backward and have each student describe his neighbor to the right with a new adjective. Explain that this activity is the essence of an important reading skill called characterization. Provide a definition with students (characterization— the way a writer portrays the characters in a book, play, or movie) and mention that characterization is based on the way a character looks, acts, the things he/ she says, thinks, or what other characters feel for them.
Next, watch a favorite brief cartoon with students. After, pass out a sheet of butcher paper to each group and ask students to draw a large-sized replica of a character from the cartoon. Along the margin of the paper group members can explain how each aspect of characterization applies to their character. Finally, the group will present their character to the class. To extend this activity, have students practice characterization by reading a picture book or a short story. Look for lines from the story to prove your answers.
Students can also practice this skill by creating their own characters. Each student can color and cut out his or her own paper doll, and then select a set of traits and jot them on the back of the doll. In groups, students will get to know the dolls and act out their own stories for the rest of the class. After each presentation, take time to discover why each character responded the way they did and what conclusions were created based on appearances and what was stated during the presentation.
Skill #3—Cause & Effect
Begin this day of your summer reading camp with a definition for cause (what makes something happen) and effect (a result of an action). Comic strips are a great way to demonstrate cause and effect relationships, so provide a few examples. Then share pages of comics from the newspaper and challenge students in groups to find examples of cause and effect relationships. Take this activity one step further and have students share their stories of cause and effect mishaps. Finally, share a picture book with students. Books like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff or Ruby the Copycat by Margaret Rathmann are good selections for teaching this skill. After the story, have students create a thinking map to differentiate between the causes and the effects in the story.
Another way to practice this skill is to make a list of things that could go wrong on a summer vacation. Label this list Cause. Then give groups of students a set time to contrive their own list of effects for these causes, labeling the new list Effects. For instance, my car broke down would serve as a cause, while the effect would be because I didn’t get an oil change. They can also work backwards from the Cause list to see if they can generate a reason for what went wrong on summer break, tracing the cause back to the original source. Compile a final list of all possible effects and note the relationships as a class.
Choose a picture book and allow students an opportunity to pre-read the book by examining the title and any pictures. Next, students will listen to the story, paying attention to events and details. Afterwards, pass out blank sheets of paper and instruct students to fold their paper in thirds and label each column Beginning, Middle, and End. They will use this space to write events in sequence from the story. Once they have the list of events from each column, ask them to describe the main idea of each list in their own words. When all three main ideas are written, combine the answers. Groups can submit their summaries to the teacher who will then read through the book one more time. Allow students to view all summaries once more and decide which is the most accurate.
Since summarization is about deciding what is relevant about a longer piece of material and then stating the piece in your own words, provide a newspaper article or short story for each group. Then choose a limited number of words (10/15/20) and ask students to relate the relevant aspects of the story or article using the set amount of words. They will have to decide with their group which words are details and which are necessary facts for relating the story. After, students will use the set of words from the story to write a sentence or two stating a summary.
The last day is dedicated to review and recollection of the skills learned. Students can choose from a collection of picture books or short stories to read independently or with a group, and then construct a product for the class such as a puppet show, role play a scene, illustrate a poster, utilize a graphic organizer, or any other activity that would allow them to assert their understanding of the reading skills learned earlier in the week.
At the end of each reading camp day, provide students with prizes as a reward for their efforts. Prizes can be as simple as a colorful sticker or free ice cream, or as memorable as a book they enjoyed reading that day. Or, stick with the summer camp theme and prepare a batch of smores to enjoy over a spooky story. In short, generate an environment where students can form an enjoyable, memorable experience with reading.
Pick and choose from these activities based on your students’ needs and interests. This way at least you can teach them what they need to know and what they want to learn more about.