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How to Implement an Effective Summer School Program

Updated: May 19, 2019

School has just ended… Both teachers and students are exhausted, yet some students need additional support in order to move on and be successful in the next grade. But, how do we gain the students’ interest in something they were unsuccessful with during the regular school year?

Summer is a time for preventing learning loss, refining skills, and gaining academic ground before the next school year. Research shows that students typically enter school in the fall performing about a month behind where they performed the previous spring. Implementing an effective summer school program is vital to help mitigate summer learning loss and reduce achievement gaps. But just implementing summer school does not guarantee positive effects on students’ learning. There are several practical and easy steps schools can take to close learning gaps and gain student interest over the summer.

Small Class Sizes

Class sizes of less than 20, ideally between 8 and 14 students, provide teachers with more time to get to know their students, identify their knowledge gaps and learning styles, and build relationships to motivate struggling learners. During the school year, large class sizes often create barriers that prevent teachers from providing effective personalized instruction. Having fewer students allows teachers more time to work with students in individually and in small groups and differentiate instruction based on students’ needs.


Once class sizes are arranged and before teachers can provide students with targeted intervention, students must be assessed to determine learning needs. During summer school, time is of the essence, so teachers must quickly identify students’ needs. If available, data can be used from district benchmarks, universal screeners, or state assessments to determine areas of need. Otherwise, conduct a quick formative assessment to discover where your students’ knowledge and skills are before you begin planning. Ideally, post-assessments would also be used to gauge whether students have made progress and are showing growth.

Focused Instruction & Intervention

Assessment followed by focused instruction and targeted intervention will help students achieve success in summer school. Once you have a grasp of where students’ knowledge and skills are, you can make individualized, prescriptive plans for each student to make sure time is maximized.

Literacy Intervention

For students requiring literacy intervention, focus on building foundational skills, reading comprehension, and boosting confidence. Build your literacy block using the reading/writing workshop model with targeted guided reading on students’ instructional levels, small group instruction focusing on specific skills where students are weak, literacy stations, and time for independent reading. Your repertoire of resources should include leveled guided readers, authentic texts, skill-based task cards, and access to independent reading materials. For students preparing for another test administration, we also love to use daily spiral reviews and test-prep task cards to review skills taught during the year and reinforce test-taking strategies in either whole-group or small-group instruction.

Math Intervention

For math intervention, help students build number sense, fluency, and problem solving. Your math block should be built around personalized guided math instruction, math stations, and hands-on activities designed to help students grasp essential concepts with manipulatives, games, and problem-solving. While you teach a small group of students a focused lesson on a skill, other students should be working in stations to practice necessary skills. Recommended resources for math stations include skill-based task cards, review games, flash cards, math apps, and access to lots of math manipulatives. For students preparing for another test administration, we also recommend using test-prep task cards to review skills taught during the year and reinforce important test-taking strategies in either whole-group or small-group instruction.

Utilize Technology

Summer is a great time to try something new, especially when it comes to technology. Your students in summer school are most likely already burnt out, so making class time fresh and exciting can be difficult. Avoid the temptation to overload students with worksheets (you’ll find students groan a lot less). Do you have a smart board? Get students participating in your lesson by annotating texts, playing review games, or working math problems. Do you have Chromebooks or iPads? Energize your lessons with Classkick, Flipgrid, Boomcards, Quizlet, Kahoot, etc. Don’t be afraid of trying something new. Inevitably, if you don’t know how to navigate a problem with technology, your students will, and they can teach you as you teach them.

Join Online Communities

When you’re exhausted from the school year, teaching summer school can seem rather daunting. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. Find an online community on Facebook or Instagram that supports your grade level, subject interests, and/or ideas. These groups can offer a lot of direction in finding websites and teacher resources that can be beneficial to your goals, as well as interest your students. Some of our favorites are Upper Elementary Educators and Upper Elementary Test Prep.

Do you have any other tips for teaching summer school? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your awesome ideas in the comments below.

~Heather & Wendy

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