At Maine South, where I teach, we have a rich and long-standing tradition of summer reading. Generally speaking, our students do (actually) read over the summer, and parents expect them to!
Our summer reading program has, essentially, two components: (1) an "assigned" book from limited choices; (2) an "open" choice from a pre-screened list. Each senior, then, chooses a book from the required list, based on his or her first semester English course. (With the exception of AP, our students take two one semester English courses senior year.) Also, each senior selects a book from the "choice list." (I've attached four .pdf files that outline the various choices and provide descriptions of the "acceptable" books in the resources section.)
For the summer of 2013, my seniors, coming into Advanced Composition, had to read one of the following books:
And they could choose from a list of 35 other titles for a "choice" book. They are expected to arrive on Day One, having read both books.
Before we begin writing the Book Review, we spend one class period, generally before we visit the LRC for a "book talk," discussing the "assigned" books we read over the summer. During this class period, students meet in same-book groups to discuss the merits of the book they choose from the "assigned" list; then, we reconvene as a whole class to "report out" re: the four "assigned" books.
After asking students to "remember" which book they read on the required list, I have students break into at least four groups or one for each book. Inevitably, I end up sub-dividing the groups because some of the book choices are more popular than others -- that is one or two of the four "choice" books are selected by students more often than the remaining choices. (For instance Million Little Pieces is less often chosen because it is somewhat "dated" and it is rather long.) I try to keep the groups to around four members.
Once students are in small groups, I appoint a "group recorder" who will take notes of the discussion. I ask students to simply discuss the merits (or drawbacks) of each of the books from the required list. (I've attached a list of questions I use to "prompt" discussions.) I circulate and listen in, offering encouragement, answering questions, and, most importantly, asking questions to prompt discussion.
After a few minutes of general conversation, I ask that students collaboratively "rate" the book they read (x out of 5 stars for instance), and I ask that they, together, write a short paragraph "recommendation" of their book. (Usually, I distribute large index cards, and I ask the recorder to write the group-authored paragraph on the card, so I can post them on the bulletin board of need be.)
Once I feel that they have "exhausted" the conversation, we reconvene the whole class together ...
Just before we "pull back" to the whole class mode, I ask each group to identify one point or sentence from the recently concluded discussion that is the "essence" of the book for them. I mention that they will share this idea with the whole class.
I start this phase of the discussion by reading the "blurb" for A Long Way Gone from the Department's "blurbs" handout. (See the resources for the previous section of this lesson.) I ask the group(s) to share with everyone the "essence" remark, and we continue to "shoot out" the core points of the text as well as our rankings/ratings. Once Long Way Gone is exhausted, we move on to A Million ..., proceeding in order until the four books are illuminated.
Just before the bell, I ask students to write down which book that they have not yet read would they be MOST interested in reading. I have them write down the title on a note card as an exit slip. I mention that I will keep the notecards until we visit the LRC for our "book talk" to choose free reading for the Book Review. On that day, I will give the exit slip back, so each student may also consider one of the four other summer books for writing a review.
If there is enough time remaining in class, I ask them to fill out this Google form; if not they may do this for homework.