There’s something about a summer class: the sun is always out, and students tend to be more relaxed.
They don’t have as much anxiety and depression that may occur in the regular school year with all of its stresses. Bulky and awkward clothing isn’t necessary, and the teacher and students often have just one class, so focus is better, and everyone is less rushed.
And yet—summer classes are not without problems. And the problems are for just the reasons mentioned: everyone is relaxed, and there is no sense of urgency. Assignments don’t get done, or come in late, and students are often in a roaring good mood in class and not as able to settle down to work.
What can the instructor do to preserve the stress-free atmosphere that is beneficial to learning yet also keep a sense of work ethic?
10 Principles for Summer Learning Activities to Engage ESL Students
Create a Realistic Schedule
Summer classes are generally intense, packing a semester’s of objectives in a short period of lengthened days. Take this into consideration when planning. Pick out most important objectives, combine objectives, make activities to fill multiple objectives, and plan breaks during the long day.
Take Advantage of Freedom in Curriculum
The standards enforcers are on vacation! Focus on students’ individual needs, rather than the curriculum needs: that is, teach the students, not the standards. Find out where students are in their learning through some informal assessment and adjust the curriculum and objectives accordingly rather than teaching objectives that a significant number of the students aren’t going to be able to meet or that are not challenging for them.
Involve Students in Developing the Curriculum
Again, much of the administrative staff is away. This can be a time where students can take the lead more in their own learning. Have students work together to brainstorm a list of topics that are burning issues to them—or at least a little lukewarm—and these topics can be the basis of the curriculum: its reading, discussion, writing, and general points of study.
Involve Students in the Instruction
Have students research and develop some expertise on one issue related to the course content. For example, if the class is a reading class, have each student research something different about a class reading—the author’s life, the historic context the novel came out of, the setting of the novel, and so forth. They can then present their findings to the class as well as write about the research they have developed some mastery over.
Focus on Group Activities
Even the most introverted students tend to be more social in the summer months. Take advantage of this, and instead of forcing students to be quiet during long periods of individual seat work, set up some group activities such as discussion, peer editing, and project based instruction. In addition, try different group configurations such as pair work, small group, and large group activities.
Work “Fun” Activities into the Curriculum
Students who come to summer classes are demonstrating themselves to be serious students. Still—it is summer. Find ways to make learning fun more than in the regular school year. Some fun projects might be during class are web searches on a class issue that comes up or viewing youtube videos related the curriculum, having a class party where students can engage in discussion and socialization related to the content, or blogging about a book from class—these are all activities that students might find enjoyable.
Take Education Outdoors
Take advantage of the warm weather and plan for outdoor activities. Historically, education has not occurred in a classroom but out in the community or outdoors.
Take students on a field trip to a local museum or art gallery or even out for coffee or lunch where they can engage in discussion of the course content. If this is not feasible, even walking around the campus, sitting on the lawn for discussion, going to the student union or library (many students have not been to the library) can prove a productive break.
Try a Project-based Curriculum
Summer might be the perfect time to implement project-based curriculum, where learning objectives are met through completing one major project. There is enough time to complete the project without dragging it out so long that everyone loses interest. Possible projects are publication of a class book or newsletter, setting up a class website, making a video, or researching an area of interest and preparing a debate or presentation.
Try New Activities
Almost everyone feels more adventurous in the summer. Take advantage of summer’s flexibility to try out strategies and materials you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had time to or that don’t quite “fit” the course objectives in a traditional way. Try out a new project, book, activity, group configuration, etc. Get student feedback on it to consider working into your repertoire of strategies and materials or more regular use.
The regular school year tends to go by in a rush of faces and activities. Summer, however, often has a more relaxed pace in that often the students and teacher have only one class, and they are together every day for a significant part of the day. Take advantage of this to build the relationships with students that can be difficult or impossible in the regular school year, meeting with students more individually on campus and perhaps off campus.
Summer classes come with a number of challenges in that students can be unfocused, distracted by the weather, and the class structure, short term and intense, can be counterproductive to learning. However, with some careful planning and preparations, the disadvantages of a summer class can be turned into advantages.