Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tips for Teaching Summer School

Some of my favorite courses have been the ones I taught in summer school.  I have found that the condensed format with longer class periods provides more opportunities for meaningful discussions and excellent student interaction. Summer courses have a more diverse student population that sets the stage for interesting discussions.  You will find motivated students who are trying to get ahead, students who are making up credits, older students, working students, and recent high school graduates. 

What does the research show about summer or compressed format courses?  Researchers agree that these courses have some advantages such as improved discussions, student interactions, focused learning, and creative thinking.  (Kops, 2009)  Research also shows that success in teaching in a compressed format requires strategies that are important for student success in general, but these strategies are even more critical in a compressed format.  Here is a quick review of the key ideas from research on success in compressed formats:
  • Short and frequent assignments with regular feedback are best.
  • Success depends on organization, student involvement, instructor enthusiasm, prompt feedback, and high expectations.
  • It is important to focus on student outcomes rather than content delivery.  Focus on what students need to know instead of what content you should cover. 
  • Expectations and standards should not be lowered, but the course should be structured differently. 

Based on research and my own experience in teaching summer courses, here are some of my recommendations for an outstanding summer school experience for yourself and your students. 

  • Since summer sessions move quickly, it is important to be organized in advance.  Focus on the student learning outcomes.  Create your course syllabus and course calendar before the class begins.  From the first day, let students know what is expected of them and the required time commitments.
  • While designing your course, focus on what is most important.  As a way to remain focused, try this exercise with yourself.  If you only had 3 hours to teach this course, what topics would you include?  Of course you will include all important student outcomes, but make sure you are focusing time on the most important topics.
  • To increase student motivation, express your enthusiasm for teaching the course and show your interest in the topic.  Tell your students why the course is important and meaningful.
  • Start your class by building community.  Begin by getting to know your students and helping them to get to know each other.   Take a look at the introductory activities in my Instructor Manual at   Also see my blog posting below from August, 2015, “Making the Most of the First Week of Your Class.”
  • The key to success in summer school is student involvement and variety.  Based on current brain science, the human brain pays attentions for about 10 minutes at a time.  (Medina, 2008)  Think about your lesson plan in 10 minute segments.  After 10 minutes, change what you are doing.  For example, after 10 minutes of lecturing, involve students in a discussion.
  • Use a variety of teaching techniques to maintain interest such as the mini lecture, think-pair-share, mapping, quick assessments, demonstrations, humor, riddles, short videos, skits, the one minute paper, or the one minute speech.  As an example, after a 10 minute lecture, use a technique called 60-60, 30-30.  In this technique students work in pairs.  The first student talks about the topic or discussion question for 60 seconds without interruption.  The second student does the same.  Then the first students provides a response for 30 seconds and the second student does the same.  Students share key ideas with the larger group. 
  • Use frequent group activities.  Be careful to set a time limit so that students maintain interest and you maintain focus on important student learning outcomes.  For most groups, I set a time limit of 5-7 minutes for student discussion and then about 5 minutes for large group sharing.  Of course you can expand the time if the discussion is especially relevant or meaningful.
  • Keep grading up to date to minimize anxiety for yourself and to keep your students on track. 

Post your questions below.  Have a great summer!   


Kops, Bill.  "Best Practices: Teaching in Summer Session." Retrieved from 

Gooblar, David. “The Benefits of Intensive Summer Courses.”  Retrieved from

Medina, J., (2008) Brain rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. (Seattle, Washington: Pear Press.)