Summer School Survival Guide- for the High School ELA Teacher!


So you’ve signed up to teach summer school/ credit recovery. Now what?

If you are like me, you are already fairly exhausted (okay, completely exhausted) from teaching this school year. 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 credit recovery classes (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 credit recovery classes? These are the most critical skills I cover in my credit recovery program.

  1. Close reading strategies.
  2. Literary Analysis- including literary responses
  3. Poetry Analysis-including literary responses
  4. Analyzing Rhetoric
  5. Creating/crafting arguments
  6. Grammar and basic sentence structure through all analyses.

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.

Literary Analysis with iSee

Literary analysis is such an important skill for any student planning on attending a post-secondary institution. This can be an overwhelming and difficult task, however. I use the iSee method to break down the process of analyzing and writing about literature.

i-           Inference statement (the hardest part!)

S-           Summary (of the text at the point of inference)

E-           Evidence (textual evidence!)

E-           Explanation (the second hardest part)

When teaching this unit, I explore the different topics students can cover when responding to literature. I have created the poster below to display in my room as a reference! I have also had success in building an anchor chart together with my students! We then practice with texts that are manageable for students, crafting literary responses with the graphic organizers I have created for this.


Poetry Analysis

I have broken down the process of understanding, analyzing, and responding to poetry to five easy steps. This is the cover page of the packet I have created to walk students through each of these steps. I ask students to collaborate as they analyze a piece of poetry. As with all text selections for your credit recovery students, make sure that this is an ‘achievable text’!


Analyzing Rhetoric

Life skill alert! I fully believe that students cannot leave high school without the ability to analyze rhetoric and identify false news/media. When students can fully analyze the information they face from all facets of media, they will become better consumers of information, and left with the ability to think critically on any subject. The greatest part about this unit is the innate engagement in the material! Students can clearly see the link between learning new information in this unit and the life skill they will attain from doing so.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos. Teach students the three pillars of persuasion. I always introduce this concept by telling my students that this concept will help them win any argument, or achieve any goal. Do you want to convince your parents of something? Do you want to get a raise from your boss? Win an argument with your spouse? Yes, please! These pillars of persuasion will get you there. The buy-in for this lesson is incredible! I then have students look deeply into advertising techniques used in popular commercials/print ads/media posts to identify the Ethos/Pathos/Logos used to convince or sell. They love this!

Logical Fallacies go hand-in-hand with the Ethos/Pathos/Logos instruction. When students can identify flaws in logical reasoning, they are able to identify false persuasion in media advertising, politics, media informational news, and everyday arguments! Students LOVE finding the flaws in arguments. They get to have a “ha- I told you so, I win” moment! What teenager wouldn’t get engaged by this possibility? I teach the most common fallacies, and leave the intricate fallacies for their law school education. Students practice looking for fallacies in media, news, politics, etc.

Finally, I ask students to look at one written or spoken argument. Students will use the SMELL method to completely analyze the argument:

S: Sender-receiver relationship

M: Message

E: Ethos/Pathos/Logos

L: Logical fallacies

L: Language

Once students have identified all of these within a given argument, they can draft an analysis by simply adding up these pieces. Start with the S and work your way down to L. The graphic organizer in this unit has been very helpful for struggling readers and writers.

Crafting Arguments

The logical next step in any curriculum is to allow students the opportunity to craft their own arguments. Let’s face it, teens love to argue, and this unit gives them the forum to do so. Over the summer, I encourage students to work on crafting their thesis on any argument that interests them. Then I provide the graphic organizers to support them in drafting their argument and counter- argument paragraphs.

I use the PEE method for drafting an argument:

P: Point

E: Evidence

E: Explanation

This is similar to the more popular C.R.E Method (Claim, Reason, Evidence) but this is so engaging for struggling learners! I tell them that will get a chance to PEE all over their papers! It is usually a hit (sometimes an eye-roll) either way, a reaction will be seen!

I use the five point argument model for the counter-argument paragraph:

One might argue that…






This graphic helps students to see that they must address the strongest counter-argument by refuting this point with examples and evidence. They can use this model in debates as well!


Product Spotlight


I have created a unit bundle that incorporates everything that I have taught for Credit Recovery/Summer School classes. I would recommend this to any teacher who wants to take back their summer! This unit will let take you through summer school without any planning or prepping. Think about all of the backyard BBQ’s you can attend, the sand castle building adventures you can have, the book you have wanted to read JUST FOR FUN, or the pool that deserves your belly flop! Now you can do all of these things as you head into these summer school sessions!

Teacher’s desperately need to respect their time this summer, covet this time for yourself and your family. Let my lessons help your students, and take that summer school income and RUN!

Go change the lives of those students, and then rest, teachers, rest.

2 Replies to “Summer School Survival Guide- for the High School ELA Teacher!”

  1. I give you a lot of credit for teaching summer school and appreciate your honesty. It is definitely not easy to teach summer school when you are the tired teacher teaching a bunch of tired high school students who would rather be anywhere else. I taught summer school 3rd grade and I thought I wasn’t going to get through it.
    I really like the strategies you use to teach ELA. I teach close reading strategies, literary analysis and crafting an argument in elementary school too. I hope you survive…I know you will! Happy Summer!

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