When September rolls around and the school bell rings, I like to dive right into my curriculum without spending a great deal of time reviewing skills from the previous year. One way to make sure your students hit the ground running when school begins is to keep their skills fresh all summer long with a variety of learning activities.
Earlier this month, fellow blogger Tiffani Mugurussa wrote a post called Summer Learning that was filled with terrific ideas for summer enrichment. During the last week of school, we also send home a summer packet with work we would like the students to complete during their summer break and return to us the first week of school.
This week, however, I would like to focus on an area that many of my students have a tendency to neglect during the summer: writing!
During the last week of school, students create a summer writing journal using a composition notebook and a cover they design on the computer. They also make a special “summer writing pen” to go with their journal.
Students are encouraged to write in their journal each day in order to keep a log of their summer vacation. How to write journal entries is modeled in school using our writer’s notebooks. The summer notebooks can also be used with their daily writing prompts explained below.
A few years ago, I compiled a list of writing prompts, one for each day of summer vacation, that my teaching partners and I use and that my students could respond to. As part of their summer packet, students select a minimum of six prompts over the course of the summer to write about. Having such a wide variety of ideas means there is something for everyone's interests. And allowing students to choose what they write has also meant a much higher level of participation.
During the year, my students loved using Kidblog on the iPads to respond to stories they read or to ask and answer their classmates’ questions about books and characters. Kidblog can also be used on regular computers to keep kids talking (writing!) about what they’re reading during the summer.
To get the greatest number of students involved with the blog during the break, I pose a question at about the same time each week. Monday mornings are a great time to get the conversation going by asking your students, "What is everyone planning to read this week?" or "Share what you read this weekend. Would you recommend it and why?"
While responding to blog posts in class, many of my students were foregoing proper writing conventions, especially capitalization. Students love to see what they wrote in print on the Internet, and when they realized I was not going to approve their posts if they were poorly written, the quality of their work improved substantially. So go over expectations with your class before summer begins.
These days, students know their teachers are only a keyboard away. Keep up the relationships you worked to build all year long by staying in touch with your students via email or regular mail. Included in their summer packet is a note that asks students to write or email me to let me know what they are up to. I love getting notes and postcards from around the country. Whenever I go on vacation, I pick up inexpensive postcards that I use to write and reply to my students.
This bingo game combines both reading and writing activities for students to try to complete. This is an optional activity, but many students like the challenge of completing a B-I-N-G-O before school starts in the fall.
While this isn't technically a summer writing activity, during the last week of school each year, I ask my students to write a letter to the third grader who will sit in their seat next year. We model the letter writing on the interactive whiteboard and develop a framework together of what information should be included. The letters normally include an introduction, as well as what to expect in third grade, what they will love learning, how they should behave, and what their teacher is like. Students also offer one piece of advice that I post on our class website right before the new year begins. These letters are put in the hall as part of our "welcome back" bulletin board each fall, and their writers love seeing their last bit of third grade work displayed as they start the new year as fourth graders.
Over the years, we have learned that when we keep the length of the summer packet manageable, more students complete and return the packet in its entirety. The work we include can be completed in about 90 minutes per week and is split between reading, writing and math.