PBS in the Classroom

We Asked Teachers: Cool Ideas to Activate Young Minds all Summer Long

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June 19, 2017

What’s a student to do during the summer? You’ve seen it time and again: without the sustained classroom connection between teacher and student, many students experience the dreaded  “summer slide.” So, PBS got in touch with educators to ask for tips on how to motivate students to continue learning over the summer. We received hundreds of suggestions that take students deeper into their communities, engage them in new learning experiences in different places, and encourage them to explore the web.

Looking for inspiration to motivate your own students over the long break? Here are some responses from our teachers, in their own words, with some great tips for continued fun learning over the summer.

  1. Take students on an adventure with PBS

    PBS invites teachers and students to study China’s history with Michael Wood, take a deep dive into the Pacific Ocean, document the adventures of Yosemite’s wildlife, and explore Alaska, all from home. Students could then write about these experiences or do research of their own to learn more. View the full Summer of Adventure Line-up. 

  1. Travel near and far

    Teachers and students can benefit from travel in and around their own communities, around the country or across the world.  If teachers travel, they might blog along the way to keep students posted on their adventures. Students can use travel as an opportunity to learn more about the places where they are growing up or use a journal to reflect on journeys to new places.

“I give my students a list of free activities around town. Libraries, museums, and other community activities. I give them dates of festivals and ask them to be sure to write about their experiences so that they can tell me about them next year.”

“I am a travel ambassador for the District of Columbia Public Schools Study Abroad program that offers fully funded summer educational travel for public school students with academic and service focused areas.”


  1. Rise to the challenge(s)! 

    While keeping it light and fun, there’s nothing like a little challenge to light a fire! Many teachers reported that they issue summer challenges like math and puzzle packets or book completion contests. Some educators even get a head start by having their students prep for a school year challenge, like National History Day, during the summer. 


“I try to create different ‘challenges’ for my students to complete. For example, I leave access for online sites (SpellingCity, etc) where I can monitor their progress  during the summer. If they complete "x" amount of activities by the end of the summer, they can come to me for a special prize.” 

“I am a literacy specialist at a Title 1 campus. Most of my students do not have internet access over the summer, so we have to go a different route to keep them learning. We have a reading log and tic tac toe for them to complete and then turn in for prizes as well as a drawing for two gift cards.” 

  1. Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner!

    The summer is a great time to encourage students to practice their math, and there’s no better way than giving a prize or incentive for math practice. Teachers can incentivize things like completing online math games, attending STEM camps, or completing assigned practice packets. Teachers can also introduce math games that gives students the opportunity to challenge their family and friends in all summer long! 


“I give each of my math students a deck of playing cards so they can play multiplication war with family or friends, or quiz themselves with multiplication facts (5th grade); my older math students can also play addition or subtraction war with integers by counting the red cards as negatives and the black cards as positives.” 

“I create calendars for math and reading/writing and send them home along with a blank notebook. Each day has a different problem/activity/topic. Children who return the completed calendars and notebooks to me the first week of school get to choose from my prize boxes—one prize for each area.”

  1. Read, read, read!
    Teachers can give their own reading challenges or point students to the local library’s summer reading programs. Some educators also suggested supplementary projects related to books like journals or blogs. 

“For AP US History, we assigned a summer reading list of books and articles.  I would also recommend a blog post or classroom feed where students can post and respond to classmates.”

“In several of my classes, we do summer work ranging from reading books and blogging about them.” 

  1. Write, write, write!
    Students can find inspiration for writing projects from other summer assignments, exciting summer activities, or their everyday life. They can write blogs and journals, as mentioned above, or try their hand at letter writing. 


“For our fourth graders who take the writing test, we provided a writing journal and 24 suggested prompts. However, they can write anything they like in the journal. The prompts are just to guide them. The more they write, the more tickets they earn for a raffle drawing. My puppet Petunia and I introduced this as the writing ninja challenge and a text went out to each parent to look for the notebooks.” 

“Writer's Notebook: I sent home a composition book with my 1st graders and told them to continue writing over the summer.  If they kept the journal, I told them they could come to the Open House in August, eat lunch with me and read a few of their entries to me.”

“My students make a book with writing paper and drawing paper in it, and then write where they traveled during the summer, places they visited and interesting facts about the museums, zoos, monuments they saw.” 

So many great ideas have come in from our teachers across the country. Keep us posted with your creative ideas for continued summer learning in the comments. Share the inspiration!


Emerson Goldstein

Emerson Goldstein PBS Education

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