You know the drill. June hits, students turn in their textbooks and take home their summer reading lists. Then, in the final week of August students hastily read the assigned book's front and back covers (and possibly an online plot summary) in order to write the required book report by the time they report back to class.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Here is the story of how an imaginative English teacher in Houston, Texas motivated her students to spend their summer months fully engaged with their summer reading assignment — one word at a time.

Battling the summertime blues

Kathy Zimbaldi of the St. Vincent de Paul School found that the book reports her students were writing based on their summer reading assignments were uninspired, hastily written, and unrelated to the curriculum. And, the grading burden of being confronted with 300 book reports on the first day of school was zapping her energy before the school year had even begun. Therefore, after attending an NCEA workshop entitled, "What do you do about summer reading?" she knew there had to be a better way.

"This is really a national issue," Zimbaldi explained. At the very mention of summer reading, "everyone groans, kids and teachers alike. We all know the book reports don't work, and yet there has to be some kind of accountability. Do you give a quiz on the first day?" That only seemed worse.

Thinking about the success her students were experiencing with, Zimbaldi decided that she would use word-learning to ensure accountability. Instead of writing the traditional (and boring) book reports to "prove" they had done their reading, students were told to play word lists prior to starting to read each book on their summer reading list, and Zimbaldi was able to monitor student progress on her teacher dashboard.

Zimbaldi's summer reading experiment worked. The vocabulary component of the summer assignment helped with students' overall comprehension, as well as ensuring students achieved mastery of words. "I worked on the vocabulary lists before I read," reported rising seventh grader Jillian Hermoso. "It made me familiar with the hard words so I could read uninterrupted, allowing me to enjoy and understand the books better."

St. Vincent de Paul students celebrate their monthly leaderboard win.

When school resumed in the fall, students seemed more engaged in discussions, and when they wrote about the texts, the quality of their writing was enhanced as compared with the book reports that students in previous years had written over the summer.

Another incentive? As trailblazers in incorporating into summer learning, St. Vincent de Paul became the North American Vocabulary Bowl champion for mastering the most words in July and August of 2015, an accomplishment that further motivated students to continue wanting to learn more words.

Find the word lists you need, or create your own…

If you are wondering if has already created word lists for the books on your summer reading list, visit our Vocabulary Lists page and use the handy-dandy search box in the upper left of the page. We have lists for all the most popular fiction and nonfiction titles, and we keep adding more. And, if you can't find what you need, use VocabGrabber to create your own customized list. Once your students click "practice" or "learn this list," they will embark on a word-learning journey and the only summer slide they will experience will be at the pool.