How to Keep Your Teen Reading over the Summer: SmartAlec’s Dos & Don’ts

How to Keep Your Teen Reading over the Summer: SmartAlec’s Dos & Don’ts

Exhausted student

It’s Summer Reading time again. How to get your teen to read? We came up with a dozen strategies and ran them by our panel of teen experts: Josh, Camille, Nayesha, and Sanjay (a mix of avid and reluctant readers). The results follow.

  1. DON’T lecture your teen about the benefits of reading. OK, it’s true that reading

Persuasive, right? BUT citing the research can make reading sound like eating spinach: something you do because it’s good for you. Nayesha rejected this strategy in three words: “It wouldn’t work.”

  1. DON’T use threats. “Threatening the kid isn’t gonna make him wanna read,” Josh texted me. Camille agreed, ranking this strategy the lowest. Nayesha added: “Most teenagers I know are very moody.” Enough said.
  1. DON’T talk about using good judgment. If your teen is required to do summer reading, then good judgment says, “Do the reading so you can get an A on your book report in September.” Sanjay’s response: “Whatever!” (I have to agree. Good judgment tells me that, if I go to the gym today, I’ll be buff come September, yet here I am on my couch. And my brain is fully developed—unlike teenagers’ brains. No offense, but the judgment control center in human brains isn’t fully developed until our mid-20s.) Bottom line: invoking the importance of using good judgment amounts to lecturing. Don’t lecture.
  2. DON’T proselytize. That means no speeches, and probably no referring your teen to inspirational lists of the myriad reasons why you should read, even if some of them are pretty great (e.g., read “to find out there are people just like you”).
  3. DO be a role model. At home and at the library, express your own enthusiasm for reading. Tell your teen what you like about it. Adds Sanjay: “Don’t be fake.”
  4. DO read with your teen. Get a second copy of the book, or borrow your teen’s copy when they are asleep. If you’re reading the same book, you can
  5. Talk about the book together. Nayesha: “I think that’s fun.”
  6. Play games based on the reading. (Generation G loves games.) Decide together in advance what the prizes will be. For example, you might want your teen to make you coffee every morning for a week. Your teen might want you to buy him ice cream and stuff. Josh, a devoted player of Xbox, liked this strategy the best. “Good,” he texted.
  7. Decide together how many pages you’ll read each night. Josh: “Good because if the kid doesn’t like to read u can get him to read 4 or 5 pages.” Nayesha wasn’t sure: “It seems a little babyish, don’t you think? If the parent chooses a dull book. . .” But wait, Nayesha! Read on!
  8. DO help your teen find books (but let your teen choose the books).
    • Encourage your teen to choose books they will be interested in. Perhaps your teen loved Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn and would be excited to know that Kuehn has written more books. Perhaps your teen is wild about tennis; help them find a book about tennis.
    • Help your teen to find books on their reading level. But keep in mind that, as Amanda Steiman of CalStateTEACH writes, “a high schooler, when presented with a high-interest-text, even if it is a bit hard, could be motivated to get through it in a way that is different from, say, a reluctant 3rd grade reader. I think that interest should drive the search for reading materials and that it should be broad—graphic novels, poetry, magazines. Reading anything is good.”
    • Check out online reading sites and e-book sources with your teen.
    • Make frequent trips to the public library. Leave enough time for relaxing browsing. “My mom used to take me to the library,” said Nayesha. “Now I really like reading, so I don’t really need to get forced to read.”
    • Check your judgment at the (library) door. If your teen loves romance novels but you’re not a fan, remember: One reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure.
  9. DO provide structure. Decide together what time of day will be daily reading time; help your teen stick to it.
  10. DO listen while your teen reads aloud to you. Nayesha: “I enjoy reading out loud.”
  11. DO read plays aloud together. No acting experience necessary!
  12. DO be supportive. Camille gave this strategy the highest compliment: “Could work with older teens.” The whole panel gave it a thumbs up, suggesting that, though your teen may be moody, they appreciate your support. (In fact, spending quality time with your teen can have multiple benefits.)

About the author:

Sarah earned a bachelor’s at Harvard and a master’s at Columbia, and she completed CalState’s teacher preparation program. She has taught and tutored for 16 years. She has also worked as a writer/editor and is a published poet and playwright. Sarah tutors in reading, grammar, test prep, study skills, and writing–English and history essays, creative writing, and college essays.  You can book her for a session today!

Get Started on Your College Essay This Summer

Get Started on Your College Essay This Summer


Summer is here! And rising high-school seniors now is your time to shine. You’ve finally reached the top of the hierarchical high school food chain. I’m sure you’re floating on a sense of mastered self-confidence and appreciation for the academic respite, but don’t get too complacent on these sweltering summer days. Now is the perfect time to consider brainstorming—and even drafting—a few versions of your college application essay(s).

Now, now, I know what you’re thinking. But it’s summer; can’t I just RELAX? And the good news is, yes you can relax. The brainstorming stages for the college application essay can often be kind of fun. Luckily, this writing assignment requires minimal outside research as the subject is… you! So what easy steps forward can you take now to set yourself up for success during college application season this fall?

Firstly, I’d suggest you begin to familiarize yourself with the types of questions being asked of you in order to maximize productivity during your brainstorming sessions. The Common Application—a tool used by nearly 700 colleges around the world—announced earlier this year that personal statement essay prompts for 2016-2017 will be recycled from the year before. This is where you should begin.

After that I’d suggest you identify your colleges of interest, and do a little poking around on their websites or online profiles. Some colleges offer information that sheds light onto exactly what they’ll be looking for in a college application essay and/or from which critical lens the essay will be read.

The college application essay offers an opportunity for you to showcase not only your personality, but also your writing abilities. Ultimately, your essay should provide a clear, succinct and persuasive personal statement that illuminates the person behind your academic transcript. That being said, now’s a great time to begin thinking about the special characteristics possessed or interests maintained that favorably set you apart from others. Additionally, start observing the world around you; what excites you? What ignites you?

Spend 15 minutes each day identifying strengths and connecting these strengths to concrete and vivid examples. It will be easier to substantiate your claims later on if you are able to pull from evidence you’ve already identified in your initial brainstorming process. In a similar vein, it will also be easy to discard claims you find you can’t firmly support with examples. Jot down these daily thoughts in a notebook and revisit them frequently.

Now parents, here’s where you come in: speaking with family members, friends, and teachers to gain sense of best qualities can often help to spark your student’s critical thinking process. Have any family meals planned? Or how about any summer road trips? Use these times to prompt your student to begin reflecting on personal attributes. Often you can provide supporting details your student has forgotten about that can help strengthen essay claims.

Overall, the best thing you as a student can do now to set yourself up for a stress-free college application essay writing process is to reflect early, and reflect often. Use the remainder of these summer weeks to really stew over a few personal details. Relax, reflect, and remember to write everything down.

For more information take a look at the 2016-2017 Common App Prompts.

About the author:

Aniela Wendt is a recent college graduate currently working as a Certified Professional Governess in Manhattan, where she focuses on the creative, cognitive, and physical development of young children.

The Pomodoro Technique: A Fun Exercise in Time Management

The Pomodoro Technique: A Fun Exercise in Time Management

Consistent productivity is something we all struggle to maintain. As certain courses progress each chapter may vary in difficulty. Ensuring that we always use our time most efficiently is extremely important when it comes to study habits. One way I’ve been able to maximize my focus is through the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is an exercise in time management skills created by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It encourages us to work with the time we are allotted instead of working against it. By allotting ourselves 25 minute work increments with 3-5 minute breaks in between we can eliminate the dreaded “burnt out” feeling we get after marathon study sessions.

Executing the Pomodoro Technique properly is simple. Chose a task to be completed and set a timer for 25 minutes. Any time a distraction comes to your attention—be it a text, email or snap—immediately write it down and then resume the task at hand. At the end of the first 25 minutes, allow a 3-5 minute break and then start another 25 minutes of focus. After four blocks of focus (also called “Pomodoros”) allow for a 15-30 minute break. Repeat the cycle until the task is completed.

It is important to record each Pomodoro we complete to reinforce a sense of progress. The best part of this method is being able to compare and contrast the number of Pomodoros needed to complete certain tasks over time. After a while more daunting tasks will begin to seem a lot more achievable and our estimate of the time they will take will become more realistic.

In addition to our work, the Pomodoro Technique offers us a clearer breakdown of our distractions in terms of priority . Knowing that we only have 5 minutes to take my mind off this Chemistry final on Friday helps us realize that aimlessly scrolling through our Twitter feed may be an activity best saved for later on. A more rewarding use of that 5 minutes could be finding last minute stub hub tickets to a sold out show this weekend.

For more information on the Pomodoro Technique visit where they have educational videos in addition to actual timers for sale.

About the author:

Tjani earned a bachelor’s in Chemistry at Tufts University.  He has tutored Chemistry, Biology and Math for 6 years.