5 Tips for "Spicing Up" Summer School

Summer school programs look different in each school district across the country, but one thing that is almost a constant is that student motivation is certainly not high. Many students are in summer school to get a head start on classes for the next school year or to retake a course they previously failed. 

Either way, many summer school classes aren’t very popular with students, however necessary. Most summer school classes are longer sessions (longer than the traditional class period), smaller (or larger if combined with another class), and (likely) more ahem... tedious.

If a student is in a summer school class because they previously failed that class, chances are they didn’t have a positive experience with school to begin with. So why make it worse by assigning book work and requiring them to sit for hours and expect them to be engaged? Instead, try these suggestions to spice up summer school!


Quiz-Quiz-Trade: I learned this strategy at a Kagan workshop. Although Kagan structures are geared toward younger students, many of them still work like a charm in secondary English. To use quiz-quiz-trade, have students create flashcards with vocabulary, literary devices, or other terms they need to know. Then have 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.  


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.  

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.

Socratic Seminar: Socratic Seminar is my favorite way to get all students involved in a discussion, even when some are reluctant. If your summer school class comprises students repeating a course, 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 non-threatening way to feel personal and peer success. 

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 the 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: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingFreakonomics, and Fast Food Nation. Check out our informational texts and units.

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


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  • Great ideas, Robin! I love that you’re giving students autonomy and allowing them to take responsibility for their own schedules. Students are in the driver’s seat, which I can see making things easier for both teachers and students. A win-win! Thanks for sharing.

    Kristen Bowers
  • We’ve been giving all of our weekly requirements at the beginning of the week and allowing students to choose when they do them as long as they’re done by the end of the week. If they finish early, they’re rewarded with “play time”. They can play certain educational games and/or they can earn extra physical activity outside or in the gym. The kids say they really like being able to choose when they do what, and so far it’s been a success.

    Robin Anderson

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