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Planning a Productive Summer for You and Your Students

By Beth Newingham on June 7, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

As a teacher, I am fully aware of the summer reading decline that affects so many students. In his article "Bridging the Summer Reading Gap," Richard Allington states, "Regardless of other activities, the best predictor of summer loss or summer gain is whether or not a child reads during the summer." In this post I will share the ways I encourage my students to reflect on the year's reading achievements and then to use their reflections as motivation to continue reading over the summer.   

But this post is not just about students. Teachers need motivation too!  Every year there are things that I want to change in my classroom or ways that I want to alter my curriculum. The summer is the perfect time to reenergize and make concrete plans for next year. In this post I will offer specific tips and suggestions for making this your most productive summer yet! 


Numbers 1–4  of this month's top ten list are ideas for helping your students have a productive summer while numbers 5–10 are suggestions for you.


1. Help Your Students Reflect on a Year of Reading
Hope Before students make plans for summer reading, it is important that they first reflect thoughtfully on the reading they have done in your classroom. Last year I wrote a post, "Wrapping Up Reading Workshop: Reflecting Back & Making Summer Reading Plans," about how my students use their Reader’s Notebook to look back on a year’s worth of reading. They love to see the progress they have made, and they use their reading reflections to make specific plans for summer reading. In the post, I created a "Summer Reading Booklet" that your students can use to make plans for summer reading.

2. Create (Cereal) Book Boxes for Summer Reading
Before after If you are like me, you have permanent book boxes in your classroom that students reuse each year. Students grow attached to their book boxes, and it becomes second nature for them to regularly fill their boxes with favorite books, to read books and record them in their reading logs, and to then exchange the books for new ones from the classroom library. My teaching partner and I think that having their own book boxes at home is the best way to make the school-to-home reading transition over the summer successful.

Laura book box We ask students to bring a large cereal box to school at the end of the year. They cut the top and sides off, cover it with construction paper, and then use photos or computer clip art to decorate their book box. Having a book box at home allows students to easily transport their books when taking summer vacations or long trips in the car. Some of my students even take their book box to the local library when checking out new books.

We also found inexpensive mini notebooks that we give to each student to keep in their book box. We encourage them to use one section of the notebook to record the title and author of the books they read during the summer and another section to write about the books. Students are asked to bring their reading journal back to school in the fall. I create a special certificate for students who write in their journal over the summer, and I write a personal note in the journal to express my admiration for their hard work.

3. Plan a Class Book Swap
Book swap Once your students have created their book boxes, they will need books with which to fill it up. In my classroom, each student can bring up to five gently used chapter books to exchange. The number of books a student brings from home is the number of new books he or she may take during the swap. I always order some inexpensive books from Scholastic Book Clubs using my bonus points so there are plenty of options.

Students can add their new books to their book box and take them home to read during the summer. You could even plan a “Read in the Park” get-together where you meet your students at a nearby park for lunch and have them swap books again. Students love to see their teachers during the summer, and it is a great time for the students to bring their summer reading journals and share their progress.

4. Register Your Students for Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge
Summer Challenge The Scholastic Summer Challenge is a free reading program dedicated to stopping the “summer slide.” Now in its fifth year, the Summer Challenge invites kids to log the minutes they spend reading as they "Read for the World Record." The 20 schools with the most minutes logged will be recognized in the 2012 Scholastic Book of World Records. Kids can participate in weekly challenges, earn digital rewards, enter sweepstakes to win fabulous prizes, find great books to read, and more.

Students can also join reading programs at their local library and bookstores. Summer reading challenges organized by popular bookstore chains include Barnes and Noble's Imagination's Destination and Borders' Kids Reading Challenge.

5. Revamp Your Classroom Library
P1080296 I get more questions about my classroom library than about any other part of my classroom.  I absolutely believe that a successful Reading Workshop would not be possible without an organized, ample classroom library.  However, the process of collecting books, leveling the books, organizing books by genre, and labeling book baskets to make books easy to find is a huge undertaking. My classroom library was “born” during the summer many years ago.  Whenever I had free time, I would look up book levels on my computer, classify them by genre, add labels, and put them in organized baskets. I actually worked in my basement at home and took books and baskets to my classroom as I finished. You can read my classroom library post from last year, "A Virtual Peek Into My Classroom Library," to learn more about how it is organized and used by students. My Top Teaching colleagues Angela Bunyi and Megan Power have also written great posts about classroom libraries: Angela about organizing an intermediate classroom library, and Megan Power about having a book leveling party.

6. Be a Reader!

Become Familiar With New Children’s Books This Summer
Dark Emperor Are you stuck in a rut when it comes to books you use in your classroom?  Do you have your “go-to” favorites that you read aloud each year because you know them so well and love them so much? I do! However, I am making a goal for myself to expand my read-aloud repertoire next school year. I want to take time this summer to become familiar with some of the MANY great children’s books published in the past few years.  Chicken

Some great resources to help you choose new children’s books include the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott winners and the 2011 Newbery and Caldecott winners.  My Top Teaching colleague Danielle Mahoney has created some awesome booklists for many months of the school year, including October, November, December, January, March, and April.

Set Professional Reading Goals
Still%20Learning While it is important to read children’s books so that you are providing your students with quality literature, I find it equally important to read professional books to grow my teaching expertise. So much of what I know comes from my teaching mentors. Many of those mentors do not know me, but I have read their books from cover to cover, reread their books again, and still refer to many of them to this day. Since it can be hard to find time to read and process professional books about teaching in the middle of a busy school year, I often dedicate time during the summer for professional reading.  Check out some of my all-time favorite professional books, as well as some great book recommendations from teachers who read Scholastic's Top Teaching blog. What professional books have helped shape your teaching? Please share them in the comment section below. I am always looking for great texts to improve my teaching!

7. Plan Your Classroom Theme for Next School Year
P1030860 Many teachers ask questions about my school-year themes. They want to know how I come up with a new theme each year, where I find the time to execute the thematic classroom decor, and how I incorporate the theme into classroom routines and daily happenings.  Well, it doesn’t happen in a day! I start thinking about my theme for the next school year before the current school year is even over.  In fact, my current students love giving me ideas for new themes and brainstorming names and slogans for my future classroom. I then use the summer to continue thinking about the theme and begin making plans for classroom implementation. I keep my eyes open for sales at party stores, and I peruse the Internet to find ideas related to the theme.  By the time school starts, my theme is in full effect, and my thematic classroom is ready to welcome my excited students.  You can check out the theme section of my classroom Web site to read more about the themes I have used in past years. You will find many photos, downloadable templates, printables, etc.


8. Execute an Extreme Classroom Makeover!
P1120764 Every year there are things in my classroom that I want to change. However, the stack of papers I still need to grade, the standardized testing that looms, the weekly lesson planning, the new SMART Board lessons I must create, and daily happenings in my classroom often take precedence over large-scale organizational measures. For that reason, I think of each new school year as a blank slate.  No matter how many years I teach, I set a personal goal each school year to become more organized and to make my classroom design most supportive of my teaching and beneficial to student learning.  When executing large-scale home renovations, many families actually move out of their homes while the work is being done. Since my students “move out” during the summer, it is really the only time when I can clean out, clean up, and fix up the room.

Check out my extreme classroom makeover video that I created at the beginning of the school year.

I get some of my best ideas from looking at other teachers’ classrooms. For some ideas about classroom design, check out my 2009 classroom tour and view photos of my current classroom.  For awesome classroom organization tips, read Angela Bunyi’s post "Getting Organized for Academic Success: Tackling the Paperwork Trail." Books like the Scholastic professional books below, available at the Scholastic Teacher Store, provide photos of creative ways teachers effectively organize and manage students in different classrooms and at different grade levels. 

Management Kindergarten First grade 


9. Check Out Great Classroom Web Sites
Internet www While there are a ton of great “teacher resource” Web sites that provide teachers with printables, lesson plans, books, etc., my favorite Web sites are those created and maintained by practicing teachers. Many of you are familiar with my classroom Web site, but have you visited the classrooms below?

Mr. Coley: This 5th grade teacher is very high tech, and so are his students! His class keeps a daily blog and a Room 34 Book Blog as well. They also have their own podcast, called Coleycast.  Recorded by students, each broadcast highlights exciting things they are doing and learning about in their classroom. There are links and lesson ideas for all subject areas. This a "must-visit" site!

Mrs. Renz: This 4th grade teacher has an extensive teacher resource section where you will find links to all of her favorite Web sites for many subject areas and her favorite online teacher tools. She also provides lists of Web sites with great SMART Board files and literacy resources. Perhaps the most fun is looking at her "Student Projects" section with photos and ideas from this school year and previous ones.

Laura Candler: This teacher has been teaching for 29 years and continues to maintain an amazingly comprehensive Web site with teaching resources geared toward the upper grades. You will find tons of free printables in her online file cabinet for all subject areas. She also has a Teaching Strategies section where you can watch Webinars related to Reading and Writing Workshop, math centers, cooperative learning, and classroom management. You must check it out for yourself!

Mrs. Meacham: This 1st grade teacher calls her Web site "Classroom Snapshots."  The homepage is an alphabetical index that includes a variety of resources like unit plans for all subject areas, virtual classroom tours from current and previous years, tons of SMART Board files, useful printables, and much more. If you are a K–2 teacher, this Web site is worth your time.

Mrs. Gold: This 3rd grade teacher maintains a great classroom Web site with lots of teacher resources and a very comprehensive "Outstanding Classroom Web Site" list organized by grade level.

Victoria Jasztal: This former Scholastic online mentor also has an awesome classroom Web site. She has tons of resources for Reading and Writing Workshop as well as math investigations and much more. She also provides another fantastic list of classroom Web sites.

10. Spend Quality Time With Your Family
Family1 Of course I will use my summer to plan and prepare for next school year. However, what I cherish most about summer is the uninterrupted, quality time I get to spend with my family. Although I wrote a post last year about balancing motherhood and teaching, it is not always easy during the busy school year.  However, the summer is a different story. We already have lots of family trips planned, and I look so forward to days filled with play dates, picnics, swimming, trips to Dairy Queen, and evening walks to the park. There is nothing more “productive” than the time you spend with your family! So, take lots of time this summer to relax and enjoy being with your friends and family. That is my #1 goal for myself!


Happy summer to all! Thanks for reading my blog this year!

Comments (68)

Beth - How do you run a Reader's Workshop and Guided Reading groups (I have 4 groups) at the same time?

Daily 5 and Cafe Question -

Hi Beth...Like everyone else I LOVE your site and am so thankful that you share! =) I have taught first grade for four years and followed the Daily 5 and Cafe book. I am not moving to third grade and am curious as to why you choose Reader's Workshop over Daily 5 for your third graders. I want to do what is best for my class and would love your input. Thanks so much! Brooke Osborne


Thank you so much for offering your ideas, inspiration, and creativity to other teachers. I am in my 4th year of teaching and there is not a lot of reading support at my school. I really look to you for additional ideas and help with my students. Thank you! Thank you!

I was looking at your ideas for the Titanic. Did you have a specific sript that your children used for the movie? Also, did you assign them people to do research on? Is that how you created the characters for the movie? I would like more info about this day if you would share. Thank you.

Do you have a curriculum calendar or scope and sequence you follow for reading and writing workshop each month?

Hi Beth,
I read your blog about movie making and had a question. I have Pinnacle Ultimate Studio, but how do you get the transitions and backgrounds? For example, the ones you use to make your beginning of the year movies about where are they now, and there was one transition in another movie with a book opening. I would love to take my movies to the next step but don't know how to do it.
Thank you,

I really love the neat things that take place in your classroom. My question is how were you able to cut out the pictures so well using the free hand tool also without having a background still showing.

Beth, Will you be posting your wonderful blogs this school year? I always look forward in reading your wonderful ideas.

Lauren (comment #58),

You asked if you are able to download my library book basket labels in anything other than Print Shop. Unfortunately, the answer is no since that is the program in which they were created. However, you could easily create your own in Microsoft Word using text boxes and clipart.


Dava (comment #57),

I think we are going to go with a Hollywood theme next schol year. This was the first theme that I ever tried out years ago, but I am planning to go even bigger next year. I was inspired by Scholastic Classroom Solution's Brent Vasicek. Here is a link to his Hollywood theme: http://blogs.scholastic.com/classroom_solutions/2010/08/creating-a-theme.html

Are you planning to do a theme next school year?


Nicole (comment #56),

You asked if I would still be using a reading workshop format with the new common core standards in place. Absolutely! I believe that any and all reading skills should be taught, practiced, and reinforced in the midst of an authentic reading workshop where students are thoughtfully engaged in purposeful reading on a daily basis.

Our district will be reviewing the common core curriculum maps and deciding how they fit into our current curriculum.

Thanks for reading my blog!


Hi Beth! I use your book bin labels for my classroom library, and I am organizing things a little more this summer to make things easier for my kids next year. I noticed your labels for Fiction Series for picture books (i.e. Arthur, Berenstain Bears). Are we able to download those in something other than Print Shop? I'm not able to get it on my computer, and I would love those labels, as my library is growing. Thank you!

I was wondering if you have an idea of what your classroom theme will be next year?


With the new common core standards in place, will this change the way you teach reading or will you continue to use the reader's workshop format to address the new standards? Are you planning to use the common core curriculum maps?

Thanks Beth and I hope you are enjoying your summer!

I'm such a FAN!! Love the generosity, creativity, organization, and all - I've introduced many teacher friends and colleagues to your site. THANK YOU!!!

Alison (comment #52),

I'm sure you will love 3rd grade! I have been teaching it for years now, and I feel like I never want to change grades!

For ideas about starting the school year, you can check out my September Top Ten List that I created at the beginning of the school year. I shared many ideas about the way I start my school year with my own students. Here is a link to that blog post: http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2010/09/september-top-10.html

I hope this helps!


Jody (comment #51),

You asked about the wire racks that I use for both books and magazines in my classroom. I purchased them years ago at Calloway House online. When I checked the website, that specfic book rack doesn't seem to be available any longer. However, they do have some nice book racks. Here is a link to the website: http://www.callowayhouse.com/home.asp

I wish I could have been of more help!


Beth, I love reading your posts. I have been teaching for 5 years and have only taught 1st grade. This next school year I will be teaching 3rd. I am a bit nervous due to the state test my students will be taking in the spring. Do you have any helpful simple tips to make my first week of school at least go smoothly? I am going to try to have a class economy to help with classroom management. But I do not want to try to do too many new things and get overwhelmed.

Beth, I am planning on following many of your tips this summer, but one I have a question about is tip #8. I was browsing your classroom and am noticing all of your wire displays for your books. Can you please point me in the direction of where you purchased them? I would love to organize some of my magazines and chapter books! Thanks, Jody

Dava (comment #49),

I think we are going to go with a Hollywood theme next schol year. This was the first theme that I ever tried out years ago, but I am planning to go even bigger next year. I was inspired by Scholastic Classroom Solution's Brent Vasicek. Here is a link to his Hollywood theme: http://blogs.scholastic.com/classroom_solutions/2010/08/creating-a-theme.html

Are you planning to do a theme next school year?


Beth, I am just curious. Have you thought about what classroom theme you are going to use next year?

Pueden enviarme esta informacion en espanol? Gracias.

Nancy (comment #45),

Thanks so much for linking to my website on your blog! I'm honored:)

I really enjoyed reading your blog! I found myself browsing back through old posts and finding some really cool ideas. Great job!


I linked to your website in my blog today, I'd love for you to stop by and check it out! Thanks for being such an amazing inspiration!!! Thanks, Nancy www.theapplebasketteacher.blogspot.com

Mary (comment #37),

You asked about the Time Machine song in one of the class movies on my website. The title of the song is "If I Had a Time Machine, That Would be Fresh." The artist is MC Lars. I purchased it from iTunes years ago.


Renee (comment #36),

I'm honored that you have found my blog posts to be useful to your in your first 4 years of teaching.

I actually do not use Daily 5 in my classroom. I just use CAFE as a goal setting/assessment tool in my reading workshop. As I teach the strategies and have students add them to our CAFE board, students are assigned CAFE goals that they keep track of on their own CAFE menu in their Reader's Notebook. Students date the goal on their own CAFE menu, and I keep track of each student's goal in a CAFE teacher binder. As I meet with students on a regular basis in guided reading groups and in strategy groups, we work on the goals together. I keep track of students' progress so that I can move on to new goals when necessary and help them document and celebrate their successes when achieving goals on their CAFE menu.

I hope this helps!


Brent (comment #35),

It was fun to see your comment on my blog! Your website is awesome! You are doing such great things with your students, and I love checking out your ideas. I linked to your website because I wanted other teachers to see the cool stuff going on in your classroom.

Have a great summer!


Lynne (comment #34),

I am so bummed to see that the Kids Bank website is no longer available. I will have to look for a new website when introducing my classroom economy next year!


Kelly (comment #33),

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I just had to include a picture of my boys in my last post:)

Have a great summer!


Maegan Anderson (comment #32),

It's great to hear that your students enjoyed making book boxes to use during the summer! It sounds like it worked perfectly with your school book swap.

Good luck organizing your classroom library over the summer! It's a big task but one that is well worth it once it's done.

Have a great summer!


Megara7 (comment #31),

I am so glad to hear that your classroom economy was so successful in your first year trying it out! It is such a great way to teach economics and to improve classroom management. Also, it's always great to get good evaluations from your principal:)

Thanks so much for reading my blog this year! Have a great summer!


Beth, love your website! I am interested to know where you got the rap song at the end of the "Time Machine Adventure" movie when the credits roll with the students names and dances. Thanks and have a great summer1

I would first like to say thank you for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. I have tried to implement many of your classroom ideas since my first year of teaching. This year I am going into my fourth year of teaching. This will be my first year teaching 3rd grade! I have been reading Fountas & Pinnell and Daily 5/CAFE. I feel truly inspired. I wanted to know how you fit everything into your Guided Reading Block. If at all possible an example of your schedule of how you incorporate the Daily 5/CAFE for the Guided Reading Block. Again, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO. ;-)

Hi Beth, Just wanted to say thanks for including my website in your list of great classroom websites. I'm honored. :)

I have a question about the kids bank website that you mention in your classroom economy lesson. The link does not work and I was wondering if it changed or is no longer a website. If so, do you have a recommendation for another area to use? Thank you

Beth, You have an adorable family. Hope you have a wonderful summer and thank you so much for sharing your wonderful ideas.

Beth, I enjoyed reading your blog so much that during the last week of school I decided to use your book box idea. I thought, oh my I'm crazy for trying to plug this in during the eleventh hour! However, my students thoroughly enjoyed making the book boxes and I know they will use them over the summer. Currently, my school is trying to get rid of the summer reading blues. The book box idea worked out perfectly because my school was also hosting a book swap for summer reading in order to encourage more reading over the summer. The book swap allowed my students to bring in gently used books from home that they already read and exchange them for different books. The students were beyond excited to place all of their book swap books into their book boxes. Next year, I plan to put a county library flyer and a reading journal in the book box as well. I also read your blog about your classroom library and I plan to use many of your ideas beginning in July. Thank you so much for sharing all of your fantastic ideas. My district uses Professional Learning Communities as a way to ask questions and share ideas. I feel like I just participated in a PLC over the internet! Thanks again and I hope you have a wonderful and productive summer!

Beth, I just wanted to tell you about my experience with your classroom economy, and your reading workshop tips also, as someone else mentioned it. I am in my 2nd year, my first year in 3rd grade. I was complimented by subs, the school counselor, specialists and others who had to work with my class. One sub is a former teacher herself and said she wants to be in the room at the beginning of the year because my kids are so independent and responsible and she wanted to know how I did it. I know it was what I learned from you, particularly the economy. The kids LOVED it and even my students who had a hard time sitting still did better with the reinforcement from the class store. My principal and vice principal gave me great evaluations. It was truly a successful year. Thanks for the help!!

Erin (comment #27),

You asked how I became a Scholastic Advisor. Another teacher who worked for Scholastic actually gave my current boss a link to my website. She checked it out, liked what I was doing in my classroom, and asked me to start writing weekly blogs for the Scholastic website. This is now my 4th year working for Scholastic, and it is an honor to work for such a great company!

You also asked about Mountain Math/Math on the Water. After modeling how to teach a lesson for the first month of school, we then hand the reins to our students and allow them to plan and teach the lesson each day. It takes place during the first 10 minutes before Math Workshop.

I hope I have answered your questions! Thanks so much for reading my blog this year!


Lisa (comment #26),

I use return address labels for the back of the books in my classroom library. The number is Avery 8167.

I hope this helps!


Do you have a letter that you could share that explains your book swap? I just love this idea!

Hi Beth, yet again, a month of fabulous ideas for me to try and think about. I love the idea of using cereal boxes...very clever and affordable. I also like the idea of canvas book bags too. Hong Kong is a fabulous place to visit. Their education system is quite different to both Australian (where I am) and American. On a different note... I am interested in how the opportunity of becoming an advisor on top teaching with Scholastic came about? I think it is a fabulous opportunity. Also, do you have a sample proforma on how you program for Maths on the Water, Mountain Maths? In Australia we're currently in the middle of second term...but am looking forward to using some of the above mentioned ideas at the end of the year. Have an enjoyable an relaxing summer with our family!!!! Erin in Australia

Hi Beth, I was wondering what size labels you used for the back of each of your books in your classroom library...the measurements or the Avery label number would be very helpful! Thanks in advance! Have a great summer!

Beth, Beth, yes, I was talking about my website. I use Thistle Girl Designs now, but can't decide if I want to use their space theme for my website. I love your pictures of all your classroom themes online. Also, I've ordered Mountain Math for my promethean board next year based on your posts. Thanks so much!

Susan (comment #22),

When you ask about "backgrounds," do you mean on my website or the wall covering "space-themed" backdrops in my classroom?

I really do not know where I got the webpage backgrounds....most likely a Google search. You should be able to use them by right clicking on the background and choosing "save background as."

The space decorations and backdrops in my classroom are from Party City.

I hope I've answered your question!


Sarah (comment #21),

Thanks for the info about the canvas bags!


I have been following you for years. This year I am having a space theme. Where did you get all the backgrounds on your space themed site? Also, I have been given an award and am going to start moviemaking. Thanks for all your ideas.


Hong Kong is indeed an incredible place! I've been teaching 3rd grade here at an international school for the past three years. When I graduated from university I got my first job here, so I packed up! There are big differences as far as teaching goes, but I really love it!

Another note about the Canvas bags. It can be a bit of a cost, but at Oriental Trading they have 'Design your own white canvas tote bag kits' It has everything you need to design the bags! You get 12 bags and all the pens and stickers, etc for $30.00. You can purchase them here: http://www.orientaltrading.com/

Thanks again Beth! Always enjoy your ideas and your willingness to share!



I just noticed that you teach in Hong Kong. My sister just got back today from an 8 day vacation with friends who are currently living in Hong Kong for 2 years. She said it is amazing! Just thought I'd add another comment to let you know:)


Sarah (comment #15),

I love your canvas "book bag" idea! While it may cost a bit more than a cereal box, it is certainly more durable and easier to transport to the library, on vacation, etc. I also like your idea of having your students decorate their own book boxes in the classroom at the beginning of the school year. It adds a degree of ownership to the box as students fill it with books of their own choosing throughout the year.

Thanks for sharing your great ideas! Have a great summer!


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