Summer School Fun: Lesson Plan Ideas That Nurture a Love of Learning

By the end of the school year, students and teachers are often burned out. They need a break and look forward to leaving the classroom for a few months. Unfortunately, not everyone has this luxury. Some students are required to attend summer school, and some teachers need to accept summer positions as well.

Fortunately, summer school doesn’t have to be like normal school. You might have a smaller class size and more time to help students with specific subjects. There’s also a hidden secret most people don’t know: summer school can be fun. This can be an opportunity for students to approach learning with a more playful mind while teachers also try new things.

Here are a few tips to develop summer school lesson plans to help your students while keeping them engaged.

Get to Know Your Kids

The first thing to do as you develop your summer school plans is to get to know your students. You only have a few weeks with these students, rather than the whole school year. However, taking time to learn about your kids can help you tap into their interests and cater to their needs.

“Successful educators build strong student relationships,” says Violet Adams, a teacher with decades of experience. “When students have good relationships with their teachers, magic happens. They emulate their hero; they set goals to be better, they don’t want to disappoint, and they work hard to please. And they learn.”

The team at Seesaw, a learning platform, suggests having students write down a list of things that interest them, which they can build on throughout the summer. Review these lists to see what topics your students are interested in. The more you can tie your lessons to interesting themes, the more engaged your students will be.

Teacher high-fiving young student; summer school fun concept

Identify the Needs of Your Students

While sharing names and discussing hobbies is a great way to break the ice, you also need to identify the core concepts that your students need help with. You can’t pack an entire curriculum into a few weeks. Instead, identify a few key hotspots with students where they need to improve — or could benefit from working on. For example, which are the most important foundational math concepts that students will apply in the coming school year?

The team at Learning A-Z recommends focusing your lesson plans around these goals. Take the most important concepts that students need help with and organize your activities around these ideas. They also recommend simplifying lessons. Summer school isn’t the time to assign long, complicated assignments. Focus on learning growth and the mastery of important concepts.

Identifying student weaknesses can also prepare you for the full school year. You can see which concepts you need to spend more time on or where students who didn’t attend summer school might be struggling.

“Each year that we teach summer school, we have a better understanding of what the specific needs of our incoming students may be,” write middle school teachers Katy and Denise at The Teaching Distillery. You might discover that your summer school students need help with research strategies or taking notes. “When we have a better understanding of what our students’ needs will be, we can plan accordingly and make our year the best it can be.”

Incorporate Projects and Activities Into the Learning Process

Even though your summer school time is limited, it’s more important than ever to make learning fun. “Stop calling it summer school. Like adults, children think of summer as a time to relax and have fun,” says Anton Piddubnyi at Studies Weekly. “Be creative and name your summer school something fun or give it a theme so students will want to go.”

Projects, games and other interactive activities can make summer school more appealing. Researchers have looked at summer learning programs that follow traditional school models versus those that use more projects and games. The latter is much more effective for student engagement.

“If kids are struggling from the school year, repeating the same thing — you’re not going to have a positive impact,” says Terry Peterson, an education consultant to the Mott Foundation. Simply relearning material in a standard classroom environment will feel more like a punishment and leave students frustrated and angry.

Projects and games engage students by making learning fun. That student engagement can tap into a further level of curiosity that makes them want to learn more.

“Retention and recall are not the only things affected by summer vacation: students’ motivation to learn can also drop,” writes the team at Oxford Learning. “Motivation is like a muscle: action is needed to maintain it.”

Students gathered around laptop, working on a project together; summer school fun concept

Build Lesson Plans Around Student Interests

One of the benefits of getting to know your students is that you can develop projects and lessons around things they care about. This can help you tie math concepts to the real world or assign reading excerpts related to student interests.

In one lesson plan, students boost their research skills by exploring summer sports and activities. Richard Blankman and Brenda Iasevoli at HMH list multiple questions related to summer sports that students can research. These include statistics on record holders, the history of the sport, and where the sport is played in the world. You can use this activity to teach the 5Ws and H, help students gain a better understanding of media literacy, or as a public speaking project.

You can also give students periods of free learning time. Jacqui Murray, teacher and author of various publications including the K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, highlights how you can create a “genius hour” setting in your summer school classroom. This is a period dedicated exclusively to things that interest your students. It’s a great way to incorporate periods of independent study where kids can see that learning is fun and develop their own creative ways to prove what they know.

Finally, Carol Chinea at Flocabulary shared a series of Week in Rap videos in which current events are covered in two minutes. You can have students create their own rap recaps, reviewing what they covered in school or what is happening in the world. Challenge them to insert a certain number of vocabulary words into the song or a certain number of facts from what they learned. You can even have a few rap battles with students who want to share their work.

Each of these activities allows students to focus on topics that interest and excite them while still keeping up with concepts they need to learn in summer school.

Think Outside of the Box With Your Lessons

Summer school doesn’t have to be endless work for educators. This can also serve as an opportunity to test new ideas and activities without the pressure of keeping up with common core requirements.

“Summer is a great time to test out things that you have been wanting to try—new technology, new scheduling, new curriculum, a new grading model, etc.,” writes the team at online learning program provider Edmentum. “Whatever ideas you’ve been considering, summer school programs are a great opportunity for educators to get creative and flesh out innovative new practices. After all, summer is the time for having fun, right?”

Risks of new lesson plans flopping are lower in summer school than the standard school year, allowing you to modify your ideas so they are more effective. You also might have a smaller class of summer school learners, which increases your flexibility.

Plus, these new lesson formats don’t have to be groundbreaking. For example, teacher Jill Baker gives lesson plan examples where kids face off against each other in math challenges. Other examples include small groups working together in rotating stations, where they complete tasks before moving on to the next activity. If you haven’t incorporated these types of activities into your classroom, you can test them out during summer school.

Science experiment outside; summer school fun concept

Make Summer Learning Fun

While your students attend summer school, it’s entirely possible that some of their peers are taking expensive vacations or attending overnight camps. Your kids might feel left out or insecure about their situations. You can’t control this, but you can do your best to make the next few weeks fun and engaging — almost like an educational summer camp.

“Summer school needs a branding makeover from ‘a requirement when I am failing’ to ‘a fun, safe place to learn and grow,’” writes the team at iTutor. “Programs must offer engaging activities that provide beneficial experiences for all types of students.”

Explore different ways — within your budget and time constraints — to make summer school special. This might involve inviting guest speakers to meet with the class or going outside for treasure hunts with geocaching or building a solar oven. You can also have students graduate summer school with a celebration at the end of the course.

“Incorporating incentives into your summer school session will encourage your students and teachers to stay on target or surpass their goals,” says Lili Rivas at Let’s Go Learn.

She recommends reaching out to the community for small tokens that can be awarded to students with the best attendance record or those who read the most books. This also allows you to end the summer session on a high note.

While you might not have all of the resources you want for your summer sessions, more administrators and directors are working to give teachers the tools and budgets they need.

“We want to offer as many diverse opportunities as possible to enrich different pockets of students,” says Dr. Brandi Burton, a school district leader in Mississippi. “It’s just important to provide some type of consistent learning without the summer break so students can remain engaged.”

Summer school can be a refreshing time for students and teachers. You can try new things and play games with your students without learning about the common core. Your students can learn in a less stressful environment with less peer pressure around them. Relax and look for activities and group projects to bring to your summer learners. With the right motivation, your kids can catch up while discovering that learning is actually fun.

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