Executive Functioning, Learning disabilities

10 Fun Ways to Sneak in Summer Literacy

Summer is well underway! Hooray! We all know the summer slide is real, and especially for those students with learning challenges. But those who need summer enrichment the most, are often the most reluctant. If I suggested summer journaling or a summer book club to most of my students they would look at me like I suggested we spend the hour watching paint dry.

For reluctant readers and writers we have to be a bit more sneaky about creating authentic and fun ways to use their skills. Like hiding vegetables in muffins.

So here are 10 ways to at least get a pencil in their hand or some words in front of their faces! Some even have bonus areas that get hit. Score!

1. Mad Libs

Mad libs are a summer literacy trifecta: reading, writing, and grammar can all be hit with this one giggle-inducing activity. Mad libs are stories with blanks in them. Each blank gives a part of speech (noun, verb, number, adjective, etc.) that will make the story make grammatical sense. Of course, the person giving the words doesn’t know the story, so what comes out is an often hilarious and frequently nonsensical story.

  • GRAMMAR: Start by having your child 9780843125498.jpeggive you the word suggestions. This is great practice identifying the difference between nouns, verb, and adjectives.
  • WRITING: Once your child understands the process, switch roles. This time they have to ask you for the various parts of speech and then write them into the blanks. It’s not exactly writing an essay, but for the very reluctant writer, at least it gets a pencil in their hand.
  • READING: After you’ve created your hilarious story, hand it over to your child to read aloud. If it’s a good one, they’ll soon be running through the house reading it to whoever will listen.
  • BONUS Executive Functioning: The word suggestion process is also a great way to practice idea generation for those who can get stuck. If this is a big trouble area, you can create helpful lists of types of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

To maximize the fun element, silly, gross, and ridiculous words are highly encouraged. For older kids, or those up for an extra challenge, start creating your own mad libs to share. This can be a fun activity for siblings or even on playdates. And an especially easy and fun way to pass the time on an airplane on the way to a summer vacation.

2. Cook Together

Cooking is such an authentic, real-world use of so many skills. It is also a fun, hands-on activity and it results in delicious things you can eat. No complaints!

  • READING: have your child be your sous-chef and have them read the recipe to you. Feel free to be extra “forgetful” that day and ask them to reread sections as you go. Other authentic reading moments include finding the right spice bottle, reading the label for cooking instructions on the pasta box, etc.
  • BONUS Math: Feeling extra ambitious? Have your kid use a conversion chart to figure out how many cups in a quart or how many eggs you’d need if you double your cookie recipe.

3. Treasure Hunts

Who doesn’t love treasure hunts!? In my family, it is a tradition that in order to get your birthday presents, you have to follow a set of clues. (The tradition goes that the number of clues you get depends on the age you are turning – 9th birthday, 9 clues). The first clue leads to some place in the house. For instance, “When you need a snack, or want something to eat, this is the place that keeps things cold, like eggs and milk and meat.” Run to the fridge, open it up, and behold! Clue number 2. Each clue leads to a new place until eventually you get to the end. In my life, the end meant my birthday present, but it could lead to a fun treat like a piece of candy, a sticker book, or even a note that promises a fun activity like a movie.

  • READING: This is a great way to get kids to read short passages and they’ll actually care about getting it right because they need to understand what the clue says.
  • WRITING: If your kids enjoy the hunt, encourage them to make one for you or for their siblings. My sister and I use to make hunts for each other, even with nothing at the end (maybe a chocolate chip cookie or two), just for the love of the hunt.
  • BONUS Executive Functioning: Depending upon how tricky you make the clues, this is a great opportunity for some critical thinking. Plus, if they take on the clue creation process, this is a great exercise in planning and organization to make sure they can keep track of which clue needs to be hidden where, in order to make the sequence work.

4. Experiment with Audio Books



Audio books are great resources for those who have challenges with reading or attention, but it can take a little bit of practice to get used to listening rather than reading. For some, like those with auditory processing challenges, it might not be the best option, but you can only find out through experimenting.

  • READING: Listening to audio books is still reading. And it can be an especially great tool for those whose decoding skills are below their comprehension. Audio books (just like you reading aloud to your child) allow for kids to access stories that are at their age level, even if they may not be able to read them on their own. This is a good opportunity to practice higher level comprehension. If you’re listening together, such as in the car, stop every once in a while to check in and talk about the story.

Summer is a great time to experiment with any kind of new strategy or technology because it is so much more low stakes than during the school year. Pick out some audiobooks to listen to. Just be sure to ask about how it’s going, and do some comprehension probes to make sure that they are able to catch everything that’s going on. This will help you figure out if audio books could be a good support strategy during the school year.

5. Send Postcards

Going on a trip? Sounds like a great reason to send lots of postcards to grandma or friends back home! Post cards aren’t as daunting as letters (wait, I only have to fill up this little space?) and there is something fun about picking them out and then dropping them in the mailbox sans-envelope.

  • WRITING: Not only are postcards an excuse to get a pen in hand, it’s also a great opportunity to talk about summarizing. You’ve only got room for a few sentences, so let’s talk about the things we should highlight and how to fit them all in.
  • READING: If you can arrange to have someone else send your kids postcards or letters, this is a fun way to have them enjoy the receiving end and get some reading practice in.

6. Play Scattergories

Scattergories is a party game where you have to name things that fit a category, but you are constrained to a particular letter. After rolling the 20-sided letter die you have your letter for that round. A timer is set, and then you have to think of examples that fit your categories but start with your letter.


  • READING: You have to read the categories silently that are on your card in order to know what kind of word to write down.
  • WRITING: Good practice quickly writing down words that fit your letter, and a good effort in spelling. Plus, you’ll need to read your words back later, so legibility counts!
  • BONUS Executive Functioning: Processing speed and cognitive flexibility and organization are important here. How quickly can you mentally sort through all of the vegetables you know and find one that starts with the letter “C?” What do you do if you get stuck? Good opportunities for strategy practice here.

There is also a Scattergories Jr. for kids aged 8-12.

7. Learn the Lyrics

Loving that new summer anthem on the radio? Make a challenge to learn all of the lyrics to that fast paced chorus or the words to the guest vocalist’s rap section.

  • READING: Look the lyrics up online and have your child try to read along while listening so that they can start to get it. The trickier the song, the more read-throughs it will take. But they’ll be excited to wow their friends when they belt out that verse without a single stumble!

8. Book vs. Movie

Looking for a summer reading book? Try to find one that was adapted to a movie or, better yet, is getting adapted and will be in theaters soon.

  • READING: Motivating reluctant readers to read over the summer can be really tough, especially if there isn’t a series they are already into. I often choose books to read with my students that have movie adaptations. When we finish the book, we watch the movie and do a comparison. It’s a great light at the end of the tunnel, especially if it means a trip to the movie theater. Even if you’re watching at home, hype it up with a true movie night experience — popcorn, candy, comfy blankets, or the favorite in my home: blowing up the air mattress in the living room and watching from there.
  • WRITING: If you don’t have a terribly reluctant writer, you can practice writing a review comparing the book and movie.

Make this a family activity and have everyone read the book and go see the movie. Then, you can all participate in the conversation about which was better or what differences you noticed. For Summer 2017, a great option is the book Wonder. It’s about a ten year old boy and has a great message and is readable for late elementary students and above. Plus, it’s being made into a movie to be released on November 17th. Plenty of time to get it read before then!


9. Story Cubes

Story cubesRorys Story Cubes Original cubes large.jpg are dice that have small illustrations on them. There are lots of games you can play, but the simplest is to roll the dice, one at a time, and try to create a story out of the pictures that come up. Easy to transport, this is a great activity for a plane ride or any other downtime that could use a creative activity.

  • WRITING: Using the story cubes to come up with stories is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, but with enough constraints that it isn’t so overwhelming (e.g., you can write about any topic you want…). These stories can be done completely orally – it’s still great practice with story structures like beginning, middle, and end, using transitions, and adding detail. If you want a written record, however, this is a great opportunity to practice some typing or writing. You can lessen the load by switching off sentences.
  • READING: If the story gets written down, either scribed by the adult or written in some combination by the student, the best part is to go back and read it from start to finish.
  • BONUS Executive Functioning: This hits several EF skills: It requires some working memory to keep in mind the story you’ve told so far. Cognitive flexibility to change the story you had in mind based upon the next picture you roll. Organization as you try to create a story that starts and ends in a reasonable way.

10. Play Hangman

All you need is a pen and the back of a napkin to play hangman. Tried and true, it is a great chance for some spelling practice.

  • WRITING: Take turns being the guesser and the writer, since both hit important skills. Encourage kids to pick words that they know how to spell, or, if you’re at home, to use a dictionary (digital or analog) to check before they start.
  • BONUS Executive Functioning: Keeping track of the letters that have been guessed when you’re the guesser, and being on top of filling in the letters when you’re the writer are both taxing on the EF system. Great simple practice! For some kids, they may want to write down their word to reference when they are writer.



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