Ten Terrific Reading Activities for Children
It's summertime, school is out, and many afterschool program staff are at their wits' end trying to figure out how to fill three months of children's free time. How do you keep children busy while still allowing them to enjoy their summer? Here are ten activities that are both fun and educational. Most can be adapted for different age groups, and they can be fun not only during the summer but also during the school year.
A friend of mine shared an idea that makes book reports more fun. She commissioned a friend to draw slices of ham, tomato, and Swiss cheese; lettuce leaves; a layer of mayonnaise, and a couple of slices of bread. Then she photocopied the drawings onto appropriately colored sheets of paperham on pink, tomato on red, and so on. The sheets served as the ingredients for her students' book report sandwiches.
Once they finish, the children staple their sandwich layers together. Arrange a display of book sandwiches with the heading "We're Hungry for Good Books!" The display serves as a menu for students who are ravenous for a good readthey just grab a sandwich to learn whether a particular book might satisfy their appetite!
Children can have fun creating a commercial for a favorite book they read. Set up a video camera and provide brief instruction on how to use it; a sheet of simple instructions will provide reinforcement. Children can videotape themselves presenting a short commercial for their book. In the first 30 seconds, they should tell why they like the book. In the next two minutes, they read a favorite passage that could motivate others to read the book. You can make a few copies of the video to send home with different children each night; that way parents can not only see the children's work but also gather ideas for books to give as gifts.
Find books that have been made into films or television shows. First, have the children select one book from among several choices. Depending on their level, they can read it themselves, or you can read it aloud over several sessions. Then screen the film versionor take them to the theater, if such an opportunity exists in your area. Ask the children to talk about the differences between the book and the movie and which aspects of each they liked better. Talk about the choices the director made in adapting the book and whether those choices were successful. You can also ask the children to write about their observations.
Reader's theater is a simple and effective way to present literature in dramatic form. It involves children in creating their own scripts, reading aloud, performing with a purpose, and bringing enjoyment to themselves and their audiences. Reader's theater focuses on narration rather than full dramatic presentation. It uses no sets or costumes, and performers use scripts rather than memorizing their roles.
If possible, children should write their own scripts, individually or in collaborative groups, based on a book they have read. If there's no time to write a script, try some of the ready-made scripts at Teaching Heart. Just be aware that while most of Teaching Heart's scripts are great, some provide more information than you'll ever want or need.
After children read or listen to a book about time travel such as A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle or Moon Window by Jane Louise Curry, help them make a time capsule. Talk about what a time capsule is and who this time capsule is forit could be for the child him- or herself in ten years, or for other children who come to your program ten years from now. Provide a suitable container; any box with a lid with a lid will do. Have the children pick items that represent themselves and their time to put in the capsule: a newspaper; drawings; a list of favorite music, movies, or books; some photographs. Children may write a letter to the person the capsule is for. Seal up the capsule with tape and label it: Not to be opened until 2014. Put it someplace out of the way, like the top shelf of a closet. And keep a record somewhere of its existencesome child may well come back in ten years!
All the children read a specified book list and then have a trivia contest. Knowing they'll be competing to answer questions about the books encourages students not only to read the books but also to remember information about plots, characters, and settings. Form teams of two to four kids each, provide a book listsix to eight books is about right for a summer sessionand start reading! Toward the end of the program, the children write the questions that will form the basis of the Battle of the Books. The answer to every question should be the title and author of one of the books, for instance, "Name the book in which a horse and a boy are stranded on an island." Give a prize, such as bookstore gift certificates or an ice cream party, to the winning team.
Children select and combine memorable words and phrases from a book they've read to create or "find" their own poem. The process of choosing and rearranging the words will help them understand the tone of the original piece and how words create mood. As they begin reading a book, ask children to write down words and phrases they enjoy or that strike them for some reason. From what is probably a long list by the end of the book, the children select words and phrases to arrange in a pleasing and meaningful way to create their own found poem. They can't add words that aren't in the book, but they can remove words, rearrange them, or repeat them. They may want to add illustrations. When they've finished, have the children read their poems aloud to the group.
Form groups of two to four children ranged by reading level or age. Each group gets a big Bingo card drawn on poster paper. You have a master list of titles and authors, one copy for each group plus an additional copy that's cut up with one entry on each slip of paper. Each group selects 24 authors or titles and writes one of their choices in each of their Bingo squares. The center square, of course, is FREE. They'll need something to use as markers, perhaps pieces of construction paper. When the cards are ready, start pulling names out of a hata red-and-white "Cat in the Hat" hat if you can find oneand calling them off. Provide a special treat for groups that get the first Bingo of any given round.
If you have Internet access, send children on a web scavenger hunt. Give the children a worksheet that asks questions about, for instance, a children's book they've read or the book's author. Keep the questions short and interesting like these sample questions. Working with a partner, children can use search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or InfoPlease to find the answers. Always do an Internet scavenger hunt yourself before giving it to childrenyou don't want them to spend ten minutes looking for a site that isn't there any more!
Once children have found all the answers, they can do a bonus activity: Using the answers to their scavenger hunt, they can make puzzles and word scrambles for each other on Discovery School's Puzzlemaker.
My children love these book-related online games.