Taking a Dip in the Nonfiction Pool….#SummerReading

Back in January, my history co-teacher brought up the idea of incorporating the NYTimes into our daily routine with the freshman class.  We wrote a grant proposal for our Parent-Teacher Association and they approved it, with our subscription beginning in February.  Today, we receive 16 copies of the paper daily and it has revolutionized our teaching. Every morning we get to school and skim the paper for an article to focus on that day.  We draw up an activity and the students read and respond to the article when they get to class.  This usually leads to a discussion and we’ve had some great ones.

At the beginning of our great experiment, many students were lacking in general background knowledge.  Today, they can speak about a variety of issues and have learned to evaluate writing for bias, opinion, facts, and much more.  They follow stories over extended periods of time and can have intelligent discussions about issues that include Syria, standardized testing, Facebook’s IPO, ancient artifact ownership, and concussions in sports.  Bringing the NYTimes into our class has afforded us many opportunities to make connections between the past and the present and I can’t imagine teaching without the paper now!

One of the most striking effects of adding the NYTimes to our curriculum is the sustained silent reading that my students participate in daily.  Unlike our independent reading time, this is a part of the day when every student is reading a longform nonfiction article.  Most of my students don’t spend a lot of time with nonfiction, so this daily exposure has been vital to their growth as students.  I was concerned about them regressing over the summer, when they don’t have the Times waiting for them when they wake up.  I am thrilled to share that The Learning Network at the NYTimes is launching its Third Annual Summer Reading Contest!

How does the contest work?  Every week students can comment and share an article that they read that week.  In their comment, they will explain why that particular article interested them in approximately 350 words.  Any article will do, from the Magazine section, or sports, or business, or opinions, or the arts, etc.  The editors will choose a few comments each week as winners and those comments will be highlighted in a separate post on the blog.  That’s like being published in the NYTimes!  Pretty good, if you ask me! (Some examples from last year can be found by scrolling down on this page.)

The best part is that the rules are pretty loose for this contest.  I love the fact that students can read anything they want in the paper.  They can even choose graphics, videos, and other forms of media as their article for the week!  And while the Times has a paywall, students can access 10 free articles each month.  Plus, any articles linked from the Learning Network blog don’t count towards the paywall cap!  That should provide more than enough opportunities for students who don’t have digital subscriptions to the paper.

The contest will begin on June 15 and run weekly through the summer.  I will be sharing with my students and posting reminders on our class Facebook page throughout the summer.  I will also post links to interesting articles each week, to give the more reluctant student readers a jumping off point for the week.  I’m really looking forward to this summer’s contest because I think it will encourage my students to continue reading the paper over the summer.  Hopefully, they will continue to improve their nonfiction skills.  And honestly, I really just want them to form a habit of reading the newspaper more often!  Whether they read one article per week or the entire paper, cover to cover, they will be practicing an important lifeskill.  They will also be building their background knowledge and forming opinions on current events.

What do you think?  Students from age 13-25 are invited to participate in the Third Annual Summer Reading Contest and I think it’s going to be great!  Do you read the newspaper often?  What about your students?  Do you think this contest will motivate them to give it a try?

A link to the rules

******The NYTimes is partnering with a variety of organizations today for a #SummerReading tweet-a-thon.  Be sure to follow the hashtag on Twitter!

Be sure to check the rest of my posts this week for other summer reading ideas.