Summer Reading and Book Reports

Some twenty years ago or so, while I was homeschooling my children, I wrote an article about “Creative Alternatives to Book Reports.” With summer coming, encouraging your children to read a wide variety of books is a great way to avoid the “boring summer day blahs.”

Now you can of course just let them read the books–or you might want to have them do a book report. A book report? In summer? Why, oh why? Well, if you’re talking about traditional book reports, I’d have to agree. But there are so many fun activities that children can do during or after reading a book, that could make that summer reading even more adventuresome. In fact, these ideas are great activities year-round!

This popular article has been posted before in another of my blogs and in homeschool newsletters, is available as a booklet with extra ideas, and has even been translated into Dutch and published in a Dutch educational magazine! Since summer holidays are almost here (or maybe have arrived already where you live), this might be a good time to check out all these entertaining alternatives to book reports, which make fun summer learning activities.

Creative Alternatives to Book Reports

Halfway through grade one, my adored, grandmotherly teacher saw fit to promote me, in one dizzying moment, from a member of the earth-bound Turtles Reading Group, past the Bluebirds in the treetops, to join the soaring Eagles. It was an epiphany! I could read! And from that moment I loved books. Every new book was an adventure, filled with anticipation, excitement, joy. Until one day, a dark shadow fell. Another teacher, more Draconian, assigned my first Book Report.

Now theoretically, The Book Report is supposed to be a wonderful educational device. The eager Book Reporter displays reading ability, comprehension of plot (both action and literary development), recognition of theme, understanding of vocabulary, knowledge of literary devices, understanding of characterization, ability to compare the book to other literary works, and of course critical thinking skills. (Often most importantly, The Book Report also proves that the teacher assigned the curricular reading requirements!).

Some children, blessed with a learning style and upbringing conducive to the traditional classroom, gamely plough through the book and produce the required composition. Yet despite a good mark, the drudgery and dread of the Book Report often manage to destroy the joy of reading.

Unfortunately, for many children, even the glory of a good mark is often unattainable. Most resort to a thinly disguised plagiarism of the cover blurb or introduction; a few energetic souls even go so far as to borrow from Coles Notes. Some watch the movie version, but the teacher is almost sure to catch on, as the movie is rarely the same as the book. And then there are those who simply give up, whose learning styles, or reading level, or fear, make the Book Report an impossible goal. And the inevitable long-term result, for many, is not only a dread of Book Reports but a life-long avoidance of reading books.

Still, assuming that Book Report skills are important (some disagree), what alternatives are there? Should we simply encourage our children to read for enjoyment, and hope they develop those skills as they read? Should we use an oral discussion approach? What about children whose learning styles, interest areas, and natural abilities are radically different from those inherent in the Book Report approach? Does the purpose for reading a particular book affect the need for analysis? Can we learn and demonstrate reading skills in other ways? Do we really need to test such skills at all?

For now, let’s assume you do want to help develop, or test, your child’s reading skills (or perhaps you are required to provide “evidence” to your educational authority). You, as a parent, know your child better than anyone else. You know their interests, their learning styles, their reading and writing ability, their special talents. Now it is time for you to think creatively. What methods can you use (or, better yet, let your child choose) to develop or test reading skills? Below I have listed a wide variety of suggestions. I have given just a brief description of each; it is up to you and your child to choose what is interesting and will work for you both. The most important thing is to have FUN with the approach you choose, so that your child never loses the joy of reading!

Alternative Book Report Ideas

  • Draw an action illustration, paint a mural, or create a comic strip, of a key event in the book.
  • Create a book jacket or design a poster, with illustrations and blurbs, to advertise the book.
  • Make a carving, sculpture, or another type of model of an event or person in the book.
  • Design a coat of arms or a pennant to symbolise the main elements of the book.
  • Use a collage of words, colours, and pictures to describe the book.
  • Make a diorama, create a graph, or draw a map to show the time and setting of the book.
  • Create an interesting title page to introduce the book.
  • Create a photo album of pictures relating to the novel and/or make a travel brochure.
  • Make a diorama, mobile, or a set of postcards relating to the book.
  • Create a bulletin board display.
  • Design a secret code to tell about an important part of the book.
  • Make baseball cards to identify characters and their “stats”.
  • Make an activity book with games, puzzles, jokes, riddles, etc.
  • Practice and videotape a dramatic reading of part of the book.
  • Design a game (board game, Trivial Pursuit type game, card game, game show, etc).
  • Convert a scene in the book into a puppet show, pantomime, skit, radio play, or drama; create the props, sound effects, etc, and perform the show.
  • Create and tape a television talk show segment to interview a character from the book or an actor/actress from the movie version.
  • Adapt a song to become a theme song for your book.
  • Make a movie ad campaign with magazines, posters, toys, etc.
  • Invent new words for vocabulary in the book (example: cat=purr pet, book=looker).
  • Pretend you are a creature from the book; act like the creature; make up conversations that would be of interest to that creature.
  • Change sentences or lines of conversations in the book into rhymes.
  • Design a web showing a biographical sketch of one or more characters.
  • Choose a cast, of modern day actors and actresses, or of people you know, for a movie version of the novel; including photos or sketches, and tell why each is perfect for the part.
  • Make a character sketch chart, including a sketch of the character, relationship to other characters, personality, favourite things, sports, hobbies, pet peeves, etc. (Or make a “magazine” featuring the characters).
  • Write a letter to the author (or the main character) about the book.
  • Invent a new adventure for the characters, or write a new ending.
  • Do a “You are there” newspaper story of a particular event.
  • Create two or more different kinds of poems about characters, events, setting, etc in the book.
  • Write a promotional, press conference, or radio announcement to publicise the book.
  • Write a review of the novel for the book section of the newspaper.
  • Devise riddles, a crossword, or a word search of important events, characters, and objects in the book.
  • Compose a telegram about the novel, with a 20-word limit.
  • Construct a timeline to illustrate events in the book (for a challenge, make it 3D).
  • Make a cookbook of recipes from the time and place of the book; cook some of the foods.
  • Create costumes from the time and place of the book.
  • Conduct a survey and share the results.
  • Make a collection of personal items one of the characters might have owned, and share the significance of each item.
  • Using the information in the book about a character, write a biography, using your own creative ideas to “fill in the blanks”.
  • Choose one or more objects (real or imaginary) mentioned in the book, and describe them in more detail, including appearance, function, size, materials, etc.
  • Imagine and write about, or act out, what might have happened if a character in the book had made a different decision or choice.

What other great ideas do you have for activities that can be used alongside reading? Why not share them in the comments? Thank you!

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