Giving students a choice is a sure-fire way to get them to do whatever you ask them in the classroom. When you're thinking about ways to get students to read outside school, an independent reading project is a great way to get them moving in the right direction.
However, a big mistake many teachers make is they give students a list of "school books" to choose from because they have materials made up for those books already. An even better way to make sure kids pick up a book and don't put it down is to let them choose whatever book they want!
Obviously, you can give them a few restrictions such as grade level, page count, etc., but the more open you are, the more excited they'll be. Who knows, after they read one book they like, they might just pick up another for the fun of it!
Once you have your students pick a book, assigning a bunch of small projects is a great way to make sure they are reading and progressing on their own. Have these small projects due at intervals throughout the reading can help you keep track of their progression through the books.
Small projects can range from reading logs that parents sign to vocabulary note cards with words on one side and definitions on the other. A great idea is to have students illustrate a character and write a paragraph about why they drew it. All projects are relatively simple and are easy ways to check in with your students as they are reading.
Medium-sized projects are a great way to assess students' comprehension of their independent reading books halfway through the reading time. These projects will be worth more than the smaller projects, but not as much as the large projects because they won't take as much time and won't serve as a summative assessment.
Some ideas for medium-sized projects could include a page-long written reflection on what is happening in the book so far with a prediction about what will happen at the end, or a "Book in a Bag" report that has the students bring in props that relate to the book and they explain those props in a short speech.
Other medium projects could include acting out a scene from the book or writing a letter to the author. These are all great things to do when students are about halfway through their books because the projects are meant to assess how well they understand the book after reading, rather than whether or not they are progressing through the reading.
Large projects are meant to be summative assessments for when the students reach the end of the book. These can include making a mix CD with ten tracks, one for each character, and writing a paragraph about why each song was chosen.
Another great large project idea is to have students create Facebook pages for a character in their book complete with status updates, pictures, and friends' posts. Students reading the same book can even create multiple Facebook pages for each character and have online conversations with each other.
How Do You Grade Them?
Grading creative projects can be difficult, especially when you may not have read the book they have. The best way to grade these projects is to have one rubric for small projects, one for medium projects, and one for large projects. This rubric should reflect creativity, effort, grammar, and understanding of the book. From there, the grading is up to you!