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.

Updated 9th Grade Summer Reading (F and NF)

Last year,  I shared the summer reading list that my colleagues and I developed for our incoming 9th graders.

Recently, our team sat down to hammer out summer reading.  (nota bene: I am not a fan of prescribed summer reading, but I do believe that students should read during the summer.  I believe in choice. Plus, my students are highly motivated and expect to read!)   I wanted to capitalize on our inter-disciplinary team and I’m so thrilled with what we came up with.  First, we decided to have One Book, One Class. All of the incoming freshman will be reading Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive for two reasons.  First, Brian is an alum and we expect the kids to love that.  Second, the book (review coming soon!) is a perfect composite of our cross-curricular team.  It covers science, language, communication, computers, history, and so much more.  All of the freshman will have this touchstone text and the teachers will be reading it, too.

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the list we provide.  On the list, we also noted our own favorites, in case students were seeking guidance.  I am thrilled with this list- it provides a wide array of choices in a variety of genres and across many levels (keep in mind my students are all accelerated, so while it is a 9th grade list, it may read more like a 10th-11th grade list).

I recently finished updating the list for the class of 2016.  I didn’t make too many changes, but I did add and subtract a few books to keep the list fresh.  I also took into acocnt the advice my current freshman shared with me about their favorites from the list.  You can find the updated list below.

All incoming freshman are asked to read the following selection:

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian  (HTHS Class of 2002)

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the table on the reverse side of this sheet.

You are to read TWO of these books this summer for your BASH (Biology, Applications of Software, Humanities) courses. You must read one fiction book and one non-fiction book. We hope you enjoy your reading and look forward to discussing your thoughts when you arrive in September.

A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Collapse or  Guns, Germs, and Steelby Jared Diamond jao
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card mtr As The Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth by Juan Enriquez mtr
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster smg
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Fault in Our Starsby John Green smg Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heigelman
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  by William Kamkwamba
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork  The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elementsby Sam Kean
The Road by Cormac McCarthy Measuring America by Andro Linklater jao
CatalystBy Laurie Halse Anderson A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
Unwind by Neal Shusterman Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksby Rebecca Skloot
Boy21 by Matthew Quick smg Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein smg
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender
Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasely 
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win by Judy Dutton











  • The books listed above represent a wide range of choices and reading levels to meet the varied needs and backgrounds of all of our students. We trust each student to self-select the books most appropriate for them.  Feel free to try out more than two choices in order to find the best books for you.