Teaching Summer School as an ELA Teacher

Teaching summer school? Answer these questions before you begin lesson planning.

Teaching summer school as an ELA teacher? Answer these questions before you begin.

Welcome to “This or That,” a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.

I taught summer school three times, and each time, I loved it. That’s not an exaggeration – I really enjoyed myself.

Why? Well, each class was small. Students knew me well, and we could sit on the floor and openly discuss confusion. I had lots of freedom over content.

Plus, all students knew they were in summer school because taking the class the first time didn’t work out. This admittance removed any facades the students felt they should have around their peers.

Even though summer school was a pleasant experience, I didn’t feel immediate success.

The first time teaching summer school, I did many lessons on short notice because I didn’t have enough of a feeling for what to expect. I also rewrote many plans. Looking back, I could have prepared more by asking a few questions beforehand.

When you are teaching summer school, answer these questions before you begin.

What are expectations for this class?

Understand what students should leave the class knowing. Your department chair or principal should give you an idea. It might simply be the standards for the class!

The class you are teaching may have a curriculum, but for teaching a class in a short period of time, you will need to adjust. Ask if anything cannot be eliminated and plan from there.

Realize that the students have been through the class once, so you might not need to introduce the concepts; you may need to review them in a different manner. Consider previous approaches and think of a different (scaffolded, technological) way to present the information.

After you understand the goals for the class, think about where your students are headed…

What class are these students headed for? 

To get students to Point C (the next class), look at what you should make Point A and Point B.

I wanted my summer school students to feel prepared and confident for the next step, so I developed the class seriously – Points A and B needed to matter.

For example, if you are teaching a freshmen summer class, look at what sophomores will need to know. Create those steps that will allow students to step into that next class with confidence.

Keep in mind that Points A and B probably will not be the same as during the normal school year. These students have heard some of this information before. They still need to learn it, but they probably need to learn in a different way. That means you should ask…

What will interest students the most?

Summer school is long – many hours packed into one day. Don’t choose literature or nonfiction that your students will dislike. Don’t teach texts that you find uncomfortable.

Summer school allows a bit more freedom. For me, if I met the standards, I could teach whatever literature I wanted.

That meant I created activities and assessments from short stories outside of the textbook. I found high-interest stories, and then developed grammar lessons from the stories. Students chose their own assessment – and some chose a test!

For interest, I really allowed students to have choice. I was lucky; my school had several sets of novels we could read. I let students vote! They really appreciated it.

It frightened me the first time I was teaching summer school. Aside from the overall standards, I decided everything else. These kids didn’t find success through this class the first time, and I wanted them prepared for the next level. I very much felt that I had a responsibility for them not to become a statistic.


Teaching summer school? English classes are often part of summer school. Follow these ideas for having success.

Reflecting, my nerves through summer school would have been calmer if I had known which questions to ask before planning.

Experienced summer school teachers, what questions would you ask?

Looking for more summer school curriculum ideas? Reading and Writing Haven has you covered with her post.

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