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!

Hot off the presses! Secondary Solutions Launches SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for Grades 3-12

Secondary Solutions SmartFlip Common Core Reference Guides

Secondary Solutions SmartFlip Common Core Reference Guides

The first of their kind, SmartFlipCommon Core Reference Guides give teachers a smart tool for creating Common Core aligned lessons and assessments. 

Secondary Solutions®, (www.4secondarysolutions.com) known for superior-quality standards-based Common Core Literature and Writing Guides for Grades 3-12, today announced the release of the entire line of SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for English Language Arts for grades 3-12.   These handy spiral-bound flip books include the Common Core State Standards in their basic form along with each standard broken down into easily understandable, “translated” guidelines for CCSS skill mastery, culminating in hundreds of question stems and prompts, standard-by-standard, designed to enable teachers to easily create lessons and assessments with the question types required by Common Core standards, and found in PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessments.

“When we evaluated our own products for Common Core alignment, we found that there were very few resources available that enabled our writers to specifically address the standards and raise the rigor in our Literature Guides. Since we knew that we were having trouble finding resources to help us create our materials in line with Common Core, we knew teachers were in the same predicament when trying to design their own lessons and assessments.  We decided to create our SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for teachers of grade 3 and up to help fill that need, and so far, the response has been overwhelming!  Teachers are thrilled!” said Kristen Bowers, President and owner of Secondary Solutions.

To visit Secondary Solutions, go to www.4secondarysolutions.com

SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides for grades 3-12 are available HERE

Secondary Solutions’ SmartFlip™ Common Core Reference Guides:

  • are available as a handy “flip book” reference guide for the Common Core English Language Arts standards
  • provide accessible and understandable Annotated Standards that break the standards down into teachable “chunks”
  • give you HUNDREDS of CCSS-Aligned Question Stems for lesson planning and assessment preparation
  • are in-line with PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and Smarter Balanced (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) assessments
  • help you assist your students in preparing for the revised SAT® test


CCSS (Common Core State Standards), PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), Smarter Balanced (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and the SAT test (College Board) are registered trademarks and rights are reserved.  This product is not commissioned nor endorsed by any entity.

Teaching Effective Digital Note Taking


I read this article in The Atlantic recently that discussed a new finding that hand written notes are more effective in student learning than are typed notes.  The article focused on laptops and specifically noted that there may be differences with tablets, but as a teacher in a school that is moving toward a one on one iPad program, I’m interested in thinking about and sharing best practices for helping students take effective digital notes.  Below are my top five tips.  I’d love to hear any questions, comments, or suggestions in the comment section below!

note taking

1. Actively teach the dangers of distracted learning: it isn’t just a problem with driving!  We have to do more than ban social media and get angry when we catch them texting during class.  We have to talk about the importance of focus and critical thinking.  We have to create learning experiences that engage students and then we have to talk openly about reasons and strategies for avoiding digital distraction.

2. Teach structures for organizing digital notes.  It is easy to take notes using Word or Pages, but it is hard to keep all of those documents organized along with images, powerpoint presentations, and video/audio files that go along with the notes.  I highly suggest using Evernote or OneNote.  Here is an Evernote tutorial if you are interested in going that route!

3. Keep a calendar/planner. Students may think that they can type their homework assignments or due dates in their notes and they will remember it all, but even with digital notes, it is important to keep a centralized planner.  This planner may be incorporated in google drive, Evernote, schoology or wherever it is convenient.  I keep a class calendar and encourage students to keep a personal planner also.

4. Find ways to help students process the information. The Atlantic article points to an issue of students transcribing verbatim notes when they type instead of processing notes as they handwrite them.  If this is the case with tablets or whatever technology we are using in the classroom, we need to adjust our formative assessments to encourage more processing through discussion, writing, and other means.

5. Continue to require solid writing skills. As language evolves to reflect our digital culture and students start writing more often in informal digital contexts, we have to hold on to formal process writing and continue to teach the structures of solid academic writing.

I’d love to hear from you!  Do you think digital note taking will impact student information retention?  What will you do to make sure that your students continue to excel in the digital classroom?


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