5 Tips to Spice Up Summer School

Summer school programs look different in each school district across the country, but one almost 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 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. This is because.. well, no one wants to be there… probably not even the teacher. 

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 bookwork and requiring them to sit for hours and expect them to be engaged? Instead, try these suggestions to spice up summer school! You all have to be there anyway; why not make the most of your time? Here are 5 Ways to bring new life into your summer school classes!


I learned this strategy at a Kagan workshop. Although Kagan structures are geared toward younger students, many still work like a charm in middle and 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 with 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 vocabulary.  


Showdown is another Kagan structure in which students work independently on an exercise— such as answering a comprehension question. When “Showdown!” is called, students show teammates their work, and they begin the process of checking, coaching, and celebrating. Then this process is repeated for as long as you see fit! 

Literature Circles:

Literature circles are ideal for motivation, especially if you incorporate student choice in books and roles. It is also easy to manage with multiple grade levels. This allows the students to feel ownership of their work since they are a part of a very structured team. For more information on literature circles, check out this blog post that shares tips for using literature circles effectively. 

 Socratic Seminar:

Socratic Seminar is my favorite way to get all students involved in a discussion, even when some are reluctant. Chances are, most of these students are repeating a course for a reason and likely did not get to show off their literary analysis skills during the regular school year. Socratic Seminar can offer a non-threatening way to feel personal and peer success. For tips on facilitating the Socratic Seminar, be sure to check out my blog post.

 Engaging Informational Texts:

While we know we need to incorporate more informational texts in our classrooms, it can often be 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 in one session and The Tipping Point in 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. For shorter 1-3 page informational text articles with high student interest, check out our informational texts and units

Summer school can be challenging for everyone involved. I hope these tips make it more enjoyable! 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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