5 Tips for Spicing Up Summer School


There can be so much variation in summer school programs, but in my experience, the class sessions tend to be longer, class sizes tend to be a little smaller, and most students tend to be a little less motivated, especially if they are retaking a class that they failed.  With budget cuts, I’ve also experienced a tendency toward combo classes like English 9 and 10.   While these factors can be barriers to engagement, I think there are a few things we can do to spice things up in the summer (and during the school year too!). I’m sharing my 5 tips for spicing up summer school and I’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions in the comment section below!

summer school1. Quiz-Quiz-Trade: I learned this strategy at a Kagan workshop during my first year teaching in junior high.  Although Kagan structures are geared toward younger students, many of them still work like a charm in secondary English.  You can check out the Kagan website here.  To use quiz-quiz-trade, you have students create flashcards with vocabulary, literary devices, or other terms.  Then students mingle around the room creating temporary pairs.  When they pair up, they quiz each other on one card each, trade and then mingle to new partners.  It doesn’t take very long, but it gets students up, moving, and studying.  I’ve had so many students tell me that it helped them remember vocab.  If you have a combo class, you can create mingling areas for students with like words.

2. Showdown: Showdown is another Kagan structure in which students work independently on an exercise. When “Showdown!” is called, students show teammates their work, and they begin the process of checking, coaching, and celebrating.  You can read more about it here.

3. Literature Circles: Literature circles are ideal for motivation, especially if you can incorporate student choice in books and roles.  It is also easy to manage with multiple grade levels.  Here is a link to my post all about literature circles.  

4. Socratic Seminar: Socratic Seminar is my favorite way to get all students involved in a discussion, even when some are more reluctant.  If your summer school class is made up of students repeating a class, chances are they did not get to show off their literary analysis skills during the regular school year for whatever reason.  Socratic Seminar can offer a nonthreatening way to feel personal and peer success.  Here is a link to my post with more information about the logistics.

5. Engaging Informational Texts: We need to incorporate more informational texts in our classrooms, but it is hard to find the time to go through all of the options.  If you have more freedom in summer school curriculum, it is a great time to try out a few new reads. A few summers ago, my class did Nickel and Dimed one session and The Tipping Point another session. Students were interested in the reading and I was able to pull out excerpts to use during the regular school year.  Depending on the level, I’d also recommend Blink, Freakonomics, and Fast Food Nation.

What do you do to spice up your summer school sessions?  We’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions below!

Quizlet Tutorial for Teachers!

Remember when I told you about a few apps that my students taught me to love?   Well I just jumped on the bandwagon and realized that one of them is going to change the way I assign vocabulary study.  No matter what words or book you are using for vocabulary, you have to check out this tutorial on quizlet:

What do you think?  Would you use this in your classroom?  Do you think your students would love it and/or find it useful?  Let us know in the comment section below!

Implementing an Effective “Word of the Day” Program

Have you ever considered a Word of the Day program?  I used a Word of the Day (WOD) for several years to help my students (A) focus at the beginning of class (as we completed the WOD during the first 5 minutes),  B) improve their vocabulary, and C) grow their decoding skills by learning the meaning of hundreds of affixes and root word meanings.

For my WOD program, I used this Advanced SAT Word list.  The words need not be SAT caliber, however.  Here are 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know and 100 Words Every High School Freshman Should Know and  100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I chose a word from the list each day and had a special section of my white board labeled “WOD.”  I gave them a new word each day, and students were responsible for immediately walking into class, grabbing a dictionary (dictionaries with complete Etymologies are essential…see note below) and their WOD notebooks (a simple composition book works well for this), and sitting down in the first five minutes of class to complete their work.  This gave me time to complete roll and other housekeeping, and it immediately focused the students on work.  If they were three minutes late for class, they had the remaining two minutes to finish.  If they did not finish, they were responsible for completing it at a later time. If they miss it–they miss out on the points.

I would randomly choose names to collect and score the books every few days or so.  If their name was called and either they did not have their WOD book or it was not complete, they received zero participation points for the check–quick and easy.  Do not worry about grading the information itself after you have made sure that students actually know what they are supposed to be doing.  Simply give a check mark and your initials or some stamp so that they know you are “watching” them, then mark a check or points in your gradebook.  Keep randomly choosing students’ names…this will keep them on their toes, as they won’t know when you will be checking theirs.  I also recommend collecting some students’ books more than once, just to be sure they are continuing to do the work.

Before you can just let students loose with a word, a dictionary, and a set of tasks, you must teach students the important skill of using a dictionary.  I have a handout on Using a Dictionary that helps students learn the parts of a dictionary entry.  You will need to take your students through, step by step, on how to find each element for their entries.  You’d be surprised how little students know about using a dictionary.

*A word about dictionaries:  You must have dictionaries with etymology (word origin).  I had to buy my own, since the only ones our school had were compact, paperback versions with only one or two definitions–and no etymology to speak of.  I went to several local thrift stores to gather the big suckers–the hard bound, real, old-fashioned dictionaries with real words and a real cover.  Many were old and dilapidated, but I never ran into a problem of a student not being able to find a word!*

The Activity
So, what do the students actually do once you have gone over how to use a dictionary?  After writing down the WOD, students look up the word in the dictionary, and are responsible for finding and writing down in their journal the following:

  1. Part of Speech
  2. First Two Definitions of the Word (if given)
  3. Base of the Word
  4. Affixes
  5. Simple Root and Meaning
  6. Origin and Meaning of further Roots, including the country of origin (if given)
  7. Other Forms of the Word
  8. Word in an Original Sentence

Sounds pretty easy, right?  Here is a sample entry:

WOD: dynamic

  1. adjective
  2. (a) characterized by effective energy or action; (b) vigorously active or forceful
  3. dynamic
  4. none
  5. dyna-, meaning “power”
  6. From the Greek dýnamis, meaning “power,” from dýnasthai, meaning “to be able”
  7. dynamite, dynamically, undynamic, nondynamic
  8. Lacy’s dynamic personality won her the position of ASB president.

Once students know where to find their information, they become little detectives, trying to search out the answers.  They begin to see similarities between words… “Ah!  Dynamic is related to dynamite!  I see (and now will remember) the connection!”  Occasionally, you may run into a problem in which there is some discrepancy between word origins or meanings.  Use this to teach the all-important lesson on how words evolve, and how certain words’ origins may not be able to be verified–or they may have started in more than one place!

You may want to further hold students responsible for their information by having a quiz on the words every week.  I do not suggest quizzing them on the intricacies of the word, i.e. the Greek spelling, or even the meaning of these very old root words, but I would quiz them on the definitions and possibly the general meaning of the root (i.e. the first definition of dynamic and that the root dyna- means “power.”)

If you are interested in further word studies, stay tuned as I will eventually share my “Root of the Day” program that I used with my honors kids…that one’s a doozie!

Teach well!  And thanks for stopping by!