9 Critical Lessons to Teach to your ELA Summer School Students

So you’ve signed up to teach summer school to middle school students. You are a brave soul and a dedicated educator! If you are like me, you are also a tired school teacher ready for the much deserved and desperately coveted summer break.

You may be looking at your summer school teaching experiences from the standpoint of a fairly exhausted (okay, completely exhausted) teacher who has given their all for ten months already. Whatever your role, whatever your grade level, whatever your subject area—you are tired, and justifiably so.

By this point in the school year, I am tired of planning, tired of prepping, tired of  the early morning alarms, and very tired of the seemingly endless assessments. Essentially, I am tired of hearing my name- Mrs. Taylor- said 10,000 times a day. I dream of waking up (casually and without alarm) to hear my first name or my most favorite name, mom.

Yet, I feel myself pulled towards teaching summer school for two important reasons.

The first, admittedly, is for financial reasons. I just can’t turn away from a secondary income for these few weeks. We all have various reasons for coveting the money we earn from summer school teaching. Some of us pay off student loans, pay down debt, make ends meet, or for extras we cannot generally afford on our teacher salaries. Let’s face it- the money is a central driving force for many of us.

The second, far nobler reason, is to help struggling learners. These summer school classes are reaching students at a critical juncture in their lives. For whatever reason, you will have students who (despite their wall of angst) desperately need you. They need your guidance, your expertise, your immense support, and your deepest compassion. It is challenging work, yes. It can be tough at times, but my most rewarding teaching breakthroughs have come within these classes. These are the students whose lives you will deeply impact forever. This sense of responsibility can be overwhelming; however, especially when we, teachers, are running on fumes at this time of the year.

So what critical lessons should we teach during our summer school session? I have found the following lessons most important for struggling readers and writers. My goal is to improve their basic skills so they will feel success within the summer school session, but also feel great success in the upcoming school year. I also want to encourage these often fragile learners.

  1. Close Reading Strategies (Text Annotation to Support Reading Comprehension)
  2. Summarizing Fiction Lesson
  3. Summarizing Nonfiction Lesson
  4. In-Text Citation Lesson – MLA 8th Edition
  5. Plot/Literary Elements GAME!
  6. Compound Sentences with FANBOYS Lesson
  7. Semicolons and Conjunctive Adverbs Lesson
  8. Tone and Mood in Literature + Connotation and Denotation
  9. “Cemetery Path” Short Story
 1. Close reading strategies

This is so much more than highlighting the text. I frame this to my students by explaining that good readers have a conversation with the text. They will write their thoughts, understandings, take-aways, questions, concerns, connections all over the page. This “talking to the text” method will encourage your students to completely rethink how they view themselves as a readers.


These are the steps I take to introduce this “talking to the text”:

-Students will begin by completing and discussing their own personal reading histories. When students reflect on and share their personal reading histories, they have an opportunity to view themselves and their classmates (and you) more generously, as “readers in progress,” with reader identities they can understand and CHANGE!

-Then students will work on understanding and listening to their inner voice as you model the think aloud process. Then students will practice this process as they begin to capture their own process of reading.

-Students will begin to capture their own reading process as they navigate through a challenging text.  As students identify the strategies they use as a reader, they will be able to think, pair, share these to create a brilliant classroom discussion. As students share their strategies, they begin to see how readers approach a text, that it is not simply a scan and understand process. This is a complex, rigorous process that can improve with strategies and effort! I love to create a classroom display of all the strategies they brainstorm for future reference.

-Students will then learn to annotate and close read a text as you model a stanza from the poem provided. I choose a poem from the curriculum of the previous year, and model how good readers process through a challenging text. I then allow students the opportunity to practice this safely by allowing them to practice with the second stanza (or paragraph). Students are given many opportunities to share with their peers, collaborating and discussing the best approaches to understanding a difficult text.

2. Summarizing Fiction Lesson

I use the SWBST method to teach students how to summarize fiction.

S-Somebody (the protagonist)

W-Wanted (the character motivation)

B- But (the conflict)

S- So (the three rising action events. The attempts made by the protagonist to solve the problem)

T- Then (the resolution)

I provide a fun lesson with a short story for practice, then students are provided a graphic organizer to support them in drafting their three sentence summary of any fiction text! Bonus- students are practicing with plot elements!

3. Summarizing Nonfiction

This skill can be tricky for students, but I have created a full proof method for effectively summarizing any nonfiction text. Students begin by annotating each paragraph; they will summarize each paragraph with seven words or less. This will force students to identify the most important information in each paragraph. After reading the text, and annotating each paragraph, students can begin their summary. They will begin each summary with a statement about the author, the title, and the main idea of the article. Then they will simply add up their marginal notes (annotations), turning each into full sentences to convey their summary!

4. A Lesson in Citing Textual Evidence

In this lesson I will teach:

-How to create an in-text citation with and without an author’s name.
-How to lead into or out of a quote with the student’s own words.
-How to pepper a quote.
-How to delete parts of the quote to seamlessly incorporate the evidence into the student’s paragraph.
-How to incorporate the title and/or author in signal phrases prior to a quotation.
-Block style quotations.
-How to cite dialogue
I use examples from quality literature for each type of citation so students can see parenthetical citation in action!

5. Plot/Literary Elements Game

To review the all-important plot/literary elements, I have students play a game/shared writing experience that I have created. This really helps struggling learners to connect and engage with a plot and understand how each of the elements work together. I have students create a shared story with each person adding the next plot element (graphic organizers support this drafting process). Then as students read through the story- they can see how critical it is for each plot element to effectively build upon the next- because their story is now likely full of flaws! They can see how the character motivation does not match the conflict or climax, or how the resolution does not relate to the original conflict. You will hear them ask: “if my character is motivated by friends and family, why would they get into a fight with an alien teacher?” (A real example from my classroom!) This leads to excellent conversations about plot development and literary elements.

6 & 7. Writing – Grammar and Sentence Structure Lessons

My struggling writers often need support with crafting compound sentences with the proper punctuation. I have found the most helpful lesson is the introduction of FANBOYS. These conjunction words (superhero conjunctions) combine two complete thoughts together, but they need their sidekick- the comma!  For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. I have created stations and FANBOYS games to get kids up, moving, practicing, and playing with compound sentences. These lessons saved a lot of ink in my red pen!

I also like to review/teach the semicolon in summer school classes. This takes the compound sentence to the next level. The semicolon can simply replace the use of FANBOYS and the comma, but students feel really empowered in their writing when they can use the semicolon with a conjunctive adverb. When they can use words like however, consequently, therefore, and meanwhile correctly in a sentence, their writing takes on a new level of sophistication. Students begin to see themselves as writers perhaps for the very first time!

8. Tone and Mood

One of my favorite units to teach is my tone and mood unit. I teach students how to see the author’s attitude about of piece of writing they have created. We do this through connotation/denotation lessons (great for word choice too). Then we compare tone and mood through music and art. I have students compare four love songs – each with a significantly differing tone. One despairing, one sappy, one despising, and one desperate- all around the same topic of love. Then I have students complete the tone and mood picture project. I have them read a text (any one page story or poem will suffice) and put a box around all of the words that showcase the author’s tone. Then I have students draw a picture of the mood the piece created without covering the boxes. This creates a beautiful graphic of their understanding of tone and mood. This is my favorite project of the entire school year, so I love using this with my summer school kiddos.

9. “Cemetery Path”

I like to close out summer school with an interesting, engaging, and thrilling short story- “Cemetery Path”. Students can apply their understanding of tone and mood to this short story! I review context clues with this story as well, as this is a great support to struggling readers. I also have students partner to answer the comprehension questions on the text. This way they can collaborate and develop their understandings together! Students have really enjoyed this story in the past for its eerie mood and its surprise ending!


This set of lessons have worked together to really grow stronger readers and writers in my classroom. They help to build confidence, skills, and interest in these areas. If you are interested in a no prep, no planning summer school experience, click on the image below for more information on my Summer School Curriculum Bundle.

Writing Instruction that Fosters Future Authors- a Philosophy for Teaching Writing at the Secondary Level

Teaching writing can be an overwhelming challenge. It can rarely be taught sequentially like a math class, which begs the question- where do I even begin? Grammar, sentence structure, idea development, voice, organization? Do any of these skills build upon the next? What happens when a student has skills in one area and not another? Which of these are the most important for students to learn?

It is these questions and more that had me overwhelmed, stressed, and panicked in my first year of teaching. The next year, I began to try and develop an order to the madness. This, now rather embarrassing year, I attempted to spend the first two months of school solely on sentence structure and grammar. My theory was that students would easily be able to develop their narrative/expository/argumentative texts correctly with this instruction under their belts, so to speak, and I could stop ‘red penning’ their papers to death. Instead, my students thought I was torturing them and in many ways I was. I was killing any interest and enjoyment they had with the written word. My students began to hate writing, and me for that matter. I quickly realized that teaching one element in complete singularity does not create student engagement or buy in. By November, I understood that writing instruction must be authentic and it must be taught holistically. Over the next few years I would begin to develop my third, and likely most important, tool in teaching writing successfully—the mentor text.


I have learned through trial and a great deal of my own error that students must write for authentic purposes. As they draft their written work, they must do so for the same purposes established authors do: to entertain, persuade, inform, or analyze. As they begin to craft these pieces, we can support them with the elements of writing needed for success in that given purpose. Consider your narrative writing unit—within this given purpose you can craft mini-lessons on plot structure, character development, idea development, and voice. As students draft their literary analysis you can focus on formal academic language, appropriate sentence structure, organization, etc. Lessons in writing must be applied to these genuine purposes so students can see the larger picture; they can see how all of these elements work together to create a completed written masterpiece of their own creation.


It is often said that extensive readers will become good writers. The idea is that students will naturally replicate the style, craft, and structure from these expert published authors. While I don’t argue that a correlation does exist, it is certainly not a guarantee of quality writing and skill. Grammar, sentence structure, organization, and style don’t often come naturally to our students. This theory can only be correct if these readers regularly pay close attention to the author’s craft as they read. While this is fairly uncommon, it was while considering this theory that I developed my love affair with using mentor texts to teach writing.

Consider the ever popular D.O.L (Daily Oral Language) instruction, a method I once used religiously: I would ask my students to stare at flawed sentences for the first five minutes of every class. They would spend a good deal of time searching these incorrect sentences for its many errors, yet I would spend only seconds correcting them. My students spent far more quality class time staring at flawed writing than quality writing.

The use of mentor texts flips this methodology allowing our students the privilege of viewing, staring, searching, and exploring well written, grammatically correct, authentic writing examples pulled right out of the pages of popular or classic literature. This method can really be applied to any type of writing instruction.


–          Sentence Structure

–          Context Clues

–          Irony

–          Ethos, Pathos, Logos

–          Logical Fallacies

–          Satire

–          Parallel Structure

–          Tone/Mood

–          Paragraph Structure

–          Argument writing

–          Literary Analysis

–          Literary Commentary

–          Text Evidence

–          Characterization

–          Figurative Language

–          Poetic Elements

–          Suspense

–          Conflict

–          And so much more!

I have used quality examples from fiction and nonfiction to teach all of the above; this has been so very effective in supporting my students in their writing development. For example, as I begin to teach complex sentences with introductory phrases, I will display the following example pulled from literature: “After reading twelve pages, she looked to the end to see how many more pages there were to go: more than two hundred.” – E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967). I ask students to examine this sentence—they will spend the first few minutes of the lesson writing down their observations on this sentence. They can then discuss with peers that are near, and back out to me for a whole class discussion on this quality example of writing. After the lesson, I can continue to pull examples from text as bell ringer practice to reinforce these skills all year!

I have created several classroom posters that I reference as I teach students various sentence structures. This is a free resource for your classroom, and each poster contains a mentor sentence to support student understanding. Feel free to click on the image for this free download!


Teaching writing will never be an exact science—perhaps that is why we call it Language ARTS. Just as students work to hone their craft, we must work to hone our instructional craft. Creating authentic purposes for writing will help your students create meaningful written work as they begin to understand the tools a writer needs to be successful within these varying purposes. They will begin to feel confident in the process of creating writing by simply understanding their purpose for doing so. Mentor texts will provide students with the opportunity to analyze an author’s craft, and offers a great base to your lessons as you work to help students achieve the same level of writing they see from these established authors. As they model the quality works of established authors, they will begin to feel like authors themselves. They will leave your class with a new respect, understanding, and appreciation for the craft of writing with all the skills needed to be successful practitioners of the written word.

Literary Analysis with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream- A Freebie!

Teach students the art of literary analysis with Shakespeare’s drama filled play- A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Literary Analysis PowerPoint/Google Slides Lesson
—Graphic Organizers and Rubric to assess examples of literary analysis (for use with PowerPoint/Google Slides lesson)

Beautiful Literary Analysis Poster- in two sizes

7 high level, in-depth literary analysis questions for paragraph responses
— Graphic organizers for support.
— Printable, editable Word Document
— Digital Student Interactive Notebook

Optional literary analysis essay and graphic organizer

-CCSS Aligned:

Rubric provided

10 Pages with poster + 14 Slides

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Check out these individual lessons for all things Shakespeare!
Debate with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream- The Battle of the Sexes
Theme Analysis in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Character Analysis with A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Student Interactive Notebook for A Midsummer Night’s Dream- Complete Study Guide

Save money and get four additional lessons with: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Unit Bundle!!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Complete Unit BUNDLE!

Teaching Macbeth?
Theme Analysis &Thematic Literary Response Essay in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Literary Analysis with Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Character Analysis with Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Introduction to Shakespeare:
Engaging and Collaborative Introduction to Shakespeare