Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Who's afraid of the summer break?

In the Northern Hemisphere, summer is upon us. For teachers, that also means that the long summer holidays are upon us. Students are already getting into their holiday mindset (that is, thinking ahead to what they will be doing away from school, instead of thinking about what their teacher is asking them to do at school), so they are slipping away from our lovingly crafted supportive learning environment.

After the summer: back to school, back to square one?

If you are a teacher, are you dreading the autumn restart? Are you concerned about how much your students will have fallen out of practice, how much they will have forgotten of everything you taught them over the past months, perhaps years? Do you then, every autumn, drop back the level and re-teach some of what you consider the problematic essentials? Well, that IS the responsible thing to do, but how much better would it be to get your students back with exactly the same level of knowledge they had before the summer break? The same level of practice, already warmed up for further study? How would you prefer progressing from where you left off rather than having to repeat yourself?

Summer assignments - do they work?

Many of us set our students summer assignments - like reading texts we think they might enjoy reading, "fun" grammar exercises to fill their time, perhaps a project for them to do while on holiday? (If you do have a successful idea that has worked in the past, perhaps you'd like to share it - feel free to use the Comments feature below.)
Will students complete these assignments? Sure, some will - most probably just a couple of days before they're due back to school, in a rush and without proper care for quality of content. They know you won't have time to check and assess their work properly anyway! You'll be too busy repeating what you taught them in the spring...
Well, there are no foolproof recipes for all this.

Here's an idea: social networking

One thing you can try to do is to capitalise on students' obsession with social networking. Yes, yes, you and their parents would love them to go outside and get some fresh air rather than to sit in their rooms or in Wi-Fi hotspot cafés, facebooking... Resign yourself to this! They'll be facebooking all day long, anyway. 
But how about creating your own network? (Nik Peachey's excellent blog on technology in education might help - here's an article from 2008, most of it still valid: - have a look!) Social networks are meant for precisely the same purpose as the whole of language education: communication! Why not let students communicate the way they like communicating then?
If you decide to go with Facebook itself, make sure you create a closed group so only your students and yourself can see the posts in it - your students' safety is your responsibility, and preserving their privacy is vital. But there are other options are to explore - free web services which allow you to create your own noticeboard (check out or or for example - note that I cannot personally vouch for any of these three sites, but there are literally dozens of similar services available) where students can post comments, updates on their activities and photos. You can even create your own private social network (for example: or - again, note that I haven't personally vetted these two, but have a look yourself to decide whether they offer what you need). 
Here are a few tips to get you going:
  • Don't frame this network project as a school assignment - make it sound like fun. 
  • Don't set too many rules. One rule that is worth setting: English only (or as much as possible).
  • Involve students in setting up the network or noticeboard. You might even like to allow them to pick the service they like best. If the service allows page design, get students to customise your network page - this can even turn into a classroom project as well as proper language work (practising the language of planning and co-operation, for example: making, accepting and rejecting suggestions, should / ought to, modals for obligation, necessity and permission, and so on).
  • You might want to kick things off by writing the welcome message together in class. Discuss the sort of things they would like to see on their network. (NB. Steer them gently towards coming up with the kind of things you want out of it - don't tell them explicitly what to post. Don't worry, you're a teacher, you're good at making them come up with your own ideas.)
  • Encourage students to be active. There's no point in having a noticeboard or network with only one or two boring posts on it.
  • Join in. Be active - post about yourself regularly. Posts don't have to be long (students won't be interested in ALL your holiday snaps, for instance - just pick one or two that will make them laugh or that will make them interested in finding out more), just make sure you're seen. 
  • Don't be TOO active. The network isn't a news service for your students about your life - it's a place for them to share experiences, thoughts, feelings.
  • If the selected service allows it, post comments (or, at least, "like") on what students have posted. Show them you're interested.
  • Don't correct any errors. Make notes of any glaring mistakes students make, but go over them in your autumn revision classes - without mentioning that you've picked up on them in the network.
  • Moderate posts and comments. Make sure things don't get personal or inappropriate - but don't make a huge issue about it all. Use private messaging to warn misbehavers rather than public. Intervene only as a last resort - most conflicts, if any occur at all, can be sorted between your students. It's their network.
Am I saying this will work? Hard to say. But students are more likely to give it a go than to complete a worksheet on, say the third conditional. Who knows, perhaps next summer it'll be them who suggest repeating the experience!

1 comment:

  1. I found an interesting article on the British Council website, which is related to my post above. Well worth a read: