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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)

Erin (comment #14),

It is always exciting to hear from "international" readers of my blog! I'm glad that you have found my posts to be useful in New Zealand! Have a great school year!


Liz (comment #13),

That is very cool that you are translating my genre posters to Spanish! We rarely have Spanish speaking students at my school, but I know that there are many teachers who would be interested in them! I'll be in touch!


Hi Beth, I have used your website so much and appreciate all the time you put into it. My school has used Accelerated Reader for the past years as a way to give students a reading goal and test their comprehension. However, due to budget cuts this is being taken away. I was just curious how you monitor their independent reading. I was thinking about having a goal of how many books to read each quarter, and then they could choose from a list of projects to share about their book. Any help would be great!

I love ideas #2 for creating book boxes for summer reading! I took the idea and made some adjustments. For the end of the year, my school doesn't get out until June 24th, I'm having my students create Summer Book Bags. They are going to decorate a blank canvas bag with handles on it and when they exchange with their classmates they can take them home in their bag. It's also great for them to use for trips to the library during the summer...hopefully an encouragement for them to read. I really do like the idea of having students create their own book boxes. Next year, I'm going to buy cardboard magazine files (you can find them cheap at IKEA or other places) and have the students create their own boxes at the beginning of the year. Then, at the end of the year they can take them home as a momento of Reading Workshop!

Beth, thanks for always sharing! I always appreciate your ideas...they are very inspiring! Have a restful summer! :) -Sarah in Hong Kong

I have been a fan of your blog for a few years now. Always looking for something on the creative side to engage students and creating the ideal environment for learning. Although it is not the end of my school year (in New Zealand we are only in our second out of four terms) I look forward to implementing some of your awesome ideas. Kind regards and enjoy your holidays with your family:)

Hi Beth, I LOVE the genre and book labels. I started translating them to Spanish and wanted to know if you are interested in this material? Would love to discuss further. Email me. Thanks Liz

Suzanne (commment #9),

If you are a primary teacher, "Growing Readers" by Kathy Collins is a great book for you. Also, Lucy Calkins recently came out with Reading Workshop Units of Study that will provide you with a very detailed plan for launching reading workshop and teaching meaningful units of study throughout the year. You can check out her units of study here: http://www.unitsofstudy.com/teachingReading/default.asp

Since her books are not cheap, the following website will provide you with some free units of study for reading workshop at all grade levels. Check it out: http://curriculum.dpsk12.org/lang_literacy_cultural/literacy/elem_lit/curric_instruc_assess/planning_guides/index.shtml

I hope this helps!!


Jada (comment #8),

Thanks for your book recommendation. I have heard good things about "The Book Whisperer" but have not yet it myself. Perhaps I will add it to my summer reading list.

Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog this year! Have a wonderful summer!


Jennifer (comment #7),

I'm so glad my word study and classroom economy posts have been beneficial to your teaching! Thanks for reading my blog this year! Enjoy your summer!


I'm planning on starting Reader's Workshop next year!! I bought Around the Reading Workshop in 180 days and have read it. I still would like to read a more detailed professional development book this summer on it, one focused on launching and practical mini lessons. Funds are tight...do you have one that would get me the most for my $? Little by little :) Thanks for all your work this year. You are absolutely amazing!

Have you read the Book Whisperer? It's a good one...I just want you to know that I consider your posts professional development! Thanks for all you do for children and colleagues alike! Happy Summer!!!

A friend introduced me to your site and it has made me a better teacher. Most recently I have implemented money and Word Study into my classroom. The results have been excellent! Thank you for being an amazing resource to teachers!

Erika (comment #3),

I love hearing from new teachers, especially those who are in their first year! I remember how hard the first year is, and I am so glad that my resources have been helpful to you!


Marlene (comment #2),

I'm sure your students will love creating the cereal book boxes and doing a book swap with their classmates! Thanks for the book recommendation! I will be sure to check out "No More, I'm Done."

Have a great summer!


Deb James (comment #1),

Good luck next year! I'm sure your new students will be lucky to have you as their teacher! Thanks for reading my blog!


I cannot thank you enough for your amazing websites, blog posts, etc. You have made my life as a 1st year teacher sooo much easier! I can't wait to become even better next year as I implement some of your ideas again! I am extremely grateful!

Thanks for all these wonderful ideas! I really love the cereal book boxes and book swap ideas and will be planning that for my class. I also take some of my summer to read professional books. One that I really liked this year was No More I'm Done which is a writer's workshop book.

Thank you, Beth, for all your hard work for us on top of all you do for your students! I am so excited for next year, thanks to you. I am not teaching this year due to a job transfer for my husband but will be back with bells on next year! I am going to be the best teacher ever! :) I hope you have a great summer and I really look forward to your posts next year! Thank you!!!

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