Summer Scribbles
Here’s how to keep kids practicing writing skills over the long summer.

“What I’m Doing” Blog
In 2009, the “What I Did This Summer” essay is old news—thanks to online updates, kids know what’s happening with their friends down to the minute. Take advantage of this immediacy by inviting incoming students to participate in a class blog. Encourage kids to post biweekly entries detailing their summer activities. You may want to establish a set of ground rules so you don’t have to play police officer. You might also agree on a standard format, such as “Three Things I Did This Week.”

The Traveling Travelogue
While blogs are oh-so-right-now, it’s fun to keep in touch the “old school” way as well. Buy a notebook and write an entry about your summer plans. Mail it to the first person on your list, along with a stamped envelope to mail it back to you. Keep passing the journal down the list. Briefly respond to students’ entries with comments such as Jonah, soccer camp sounds fun. I think you’ll enjoy Mike Lupica’s books this year. Bring the journal the first day of school, and invite students to read the entries they missed.

Nonfiction Notebooks
Before leaving school for the summer, meet individually with incoming students. Discuss their summer plans, and together choose nonfiction topics for students to research and write about in a notebook. A student going camping may choose to write about local flora. A student watching a younger sibling may write about emergency care. Agree upon the number of entries and what research students will need to accomplish. This may vary depending on students’ abilities. When kids return in the fall, have them present their topics to the class.

Creative Expansion
Invite students to select a piece they wrote this year to revise and expand over the summer. This might be a poem, short story, or even nonfiction piece that the student cares about and wants to improve. Meet with students individually to discuss their goals for the piece. Encourage writers to be specific with their goals; for example, “I want to add 1,000 words to my short story.” Check in with students over the summer to see how things are going. When students return in the fall, encourage them to submit their polished pieces to a writing competition or for publication.

What Kind of Writer?
Sometimes we favor a certain kind of writer—one who can pen a five-paragraph essay at the drop of a hat or compose a haiku perfect for posting on the bulletin board. Not all writers fit into these molds, and you might take advantage of summer by asking kids to think about what kind of writers they are. Encourage students to keep lists—lists of topics that interest them, of writers they admire, or of books they stayed up late to finish. Kids might also interview adults about what kind of writing they do in their everyday lives. Students will see the wide range of writing tasks, styles, and opportunities.

Idea Catalog
Invite students to keep a notebook where they record possible writing topics. They may choose to do it scrapbook-style and include images and headlines that could spark a piece of writing. Encourage students to gather ideas from all aspects of their lives—a postcard from summer vacation, the score of a competitive volleyball game, an old family recipe. Lists are also a great way to generate ideas, such as lists of favorite toys or objects, family pets, or earliest memories. Next year, when students need a topic to write about, they can pull out their “idea catalogs” for inspiration.

Skills Practice
5 Really Fun Review Games

Spice up your next review session with one of these teacher-tested, kid-approved games.

1. Flyswatter
How it Works:
Dawn Leonardo plays this game to review vocabulary with students in her Bronx, New York, classroom. To play, divide the class into two teams. Write ten vocabulary words across the chalkboard and give one rep from each team a flyswatter. Read aloud a definition of one of the words. The first student to hit the correct word with her flyswatter earns a point for her team. “It’s a great way to engage kinesthetic learners,” Leonardo says.

2. Review Obstacle Course
How it Works:
“This game is high energy,” says Shane Johnson, a math teacher in Tenafly, New Jersey. Create two mazes with desks that go from the front to the back of the room. After writing a math problem on the board, one student from each team runs through the obstacle course to the front of the room and attempts to answer the problem. The student with the first correct answer wins a point for his team. If the student answers incorrectly, he has to run back through the obstacle course and tag the next person in line to run up to the board and try to answer correctly before the other team does.

3. Group Spelling Bee
How it Works:
Kate Morgan, a French teacher in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, reviews world language vocabulary and conjugation spelling with this kinesthetic game. Pick a conjugation of a verb for students to spell in French (for example, the “we” form of the verb to run, which in French is courir). Students spell out the conjugation while sitting on their desks. If a student makes a mistake, she has to sit back on her chair. Continue to give different verbs and conjugations. The last person sitting on his desk is the winner.

$. Slap That Desk!
How it Works:
Tenafly, New Jersey, English teacher Erin Schwartz has students create three review questions each for homework (one easy, one medium, one difficult). Schwartz collects all the questions before the game starts. (Remind kids to write their names on their questions so you don’t wind up asking them a question they created.) Divide the class into two teams. For each round, call one student from each team up to the front desk. After you ask a review question, the first person to “slap that desk!” gets the first chance to answer. The student must respond within five seconds or the other student gets a turn. Whoever gets it right earns a point for the team. If neither contestant gets it right, no one gets the point, but you can open the question to the entire class to see if anyone else knows. They might not have scored a point, but they’ll all do well on the test the next day!

5. Review Basketball
How it Works: Teacher Shane Johnson helps kids review for tests by playing (a version of) basketball. Divide the class into four teams. For each round, one player from each team tries to answer a test review problem on the board. To prevent the strongest students from dominating the game, don’t allow collaboration between the team members. The first student with the correct answer earns a point for her team. If the answer is wrong, that team loses a point and another teams can jump in and answer. When a student answers a question correctly, she can earn an extra point by making a basket from a set point in the room. “The ‘basketball’ and ‘basket’ can be as simple as a crumpled-up piece of paper and a wastebasket,” says Johnson. —Jessica E. Rosevear