Bridging the summer learning gap

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Useful activities to keep your students' English prominent


Come continuare a studiare e a imparare l'inglese anche durante le vacanze? Vi proponiamo un'ampia proposta di attività e di idee con cui stimolare i ragazzi nel corso dell'estate per fare pratica e per non perdere mai la motivazione!

by Vanessa Hartson Walker

Here we are, the summer holidays are upon us again. Students and teachers alike look forward to the long summer break and that carefree feeling that comes with a break from daily school life. However, at the end of the school year, though most teachers find that students have made significant progress in their learning, the worrying factor is that after a 3-month long break some summer learning loss will occur.

In this article, we will look at various practical activities that will allow your students to keep English prominent in their minds and exploit their moments of summer boredom. You will also find that some are useful back to school activities to focus on in the classroom in September.


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Summer Bucket Lists

A bucket list is simply a checklist of a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. However, a summer bucket list concentrates on a list of activities that you hope to do over the summer period. For younger learners there are ready-made bucket list templates (foldables and flapbooks) that can be printed and made up.

More adventurous learners may want to create their own bucket lists. Students will need to brainstorm and set goals that they can achieve and that can be accomplished during the summer months. These can also be things that they have done before and would like to do again. Some ideas can also involve friends, you the teacher, or even the whole class. The list helps students identify the things that they want to do over the summer and helps them to reach these goals. Not only is this list good practice for setting goals, it can help them to avoid summer boredom and encourage them to try new things.
To prove that bucket lists work one of our teachers, Chris, actually created his own bucket list at Summer Camp last year and ended up running the Rome Marathon this year!

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Summer Reading

A great way to turn reading into a positive learning experience is by allowing your students to choose their summer reading books. You can guide them in their choice by offering levels that are not going to exceed their reading level and therefore discourage reading. Provide a good selection of graded readers with a variety of topics that will interest all and motivate them to engage. The benefits of extensive reading are numerous and evidence proves that it develops learner autonomy, enhances general language competence, helps develop cultural knowledge and sustains vocabulary growth. You can add a summer reading checklist which encourages student to read a range of topics in various places and ways.

Another advantage of guided readers is that they come with audio, either in CD form or in a downloadable app. Combining audio with text allows students to follow and read, and use their listening skills to aid comprehension.
Pearson English Readers offer a large selection of readers for all ages and interests. The Amazing Readers project offers ideas for engaging students in reading outside of the classroom. Visit the website for information and a range of downloadable resources. You can also join the facebook group.

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Summer Ecology Project

To make the summer learning break more valuable, useful and more importantly, to allow students to develop an important life skill, you can introduce a Summer Ecology Project (CLIL). Ecology is definitely a key issue in our day-to-day lives and is certainly important for the future, but we perhaps don’t pay it enough attention during the school year through lack of time. Summer though, lends itself to ecology as most holidays involve time spent in nature (the beach, the seaside, the lake or the mountains) and can raise students’awareness of the world around them.

Students can explore:
Recycling – environmental issues and solutions such as beachcombing, and picking up litter, keeping a record using the three R’s (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle)
A nature scavenger hunt - have a checklist of animals, insects, plants and flowers that they manage to see over the summer, keeping a log of where and when they have seen them.

Summer Revision

Summer revision books are common for the school holidays. These are welcomed by parents and not so much by students. Nevertheless, ‘practice makes perfect’ and this goes hand in hand with language learning but the choice of book needs to be as relevant as possible to what students will face in the following year.
Something that is new to the Italian curriculum is the inclusion of English in the INVALSI test from this year for students in the 3rd year of SSPG, the end of the primo ciclo, and for 5th year primary students. It will be introduced from 2019 for 5th year Upper Secondary school students. Step by Step and Successful INVALSI by Pearson offer valid test-like tasks that will stand students in good stead for the exams.

Summer Films and TV

It may be stating the obvious, but sometimes students have to be reminded of the importance of watching favourite TV shows or films in English. They are an integral part of students’ lives and now we live in an age where there really is no excuse not to, as most things can be seen in original language at the click of a button. It can be done with the help of subtitles (in English or Italian, I think either is a good start) and watched in small doses depending on level. If they have already seen the programme in their own language that will help comprehension. Many other countries are at an advantage because their films and TV shows are not dubbed as they are in Italy.

Other than it being entertaining and enjoyable, another benefit of using film is that it provides a source of authentic and varied language. Film provides students with examples of English used in ‘real’ situations outside the classroom, particularly interactive language – the language of real-life conversation. Film exposes students to natural expressions and the natural flow of speech. If they are not living in an English-speaking environment, perhaps only film and television can provide this real-life language input.

Summer Songs

Summer, sunshine and songs seem to go hand in hand and if there is one thing we know, it is that children and teenagers love songs. They provide examples of memorable and rhythmic language and are motivating for students keen to repeatedly listen to, and imitate, their musical heroes. Songs are authentic and easily accessible examples of spoken English. The rhymes in songs provide listeners with repetition of similar sounds. Students often choose to listen to songs time and time again, indirectly exposing them to these sounds. There are a number of online websites dedicated to songs as a tool for learning English where students can improve their listening skills and build their vocabulary by watching music videos.

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Summer Writing

In order to make a writing task more enjoyable and achievable it is important to make it easy and fun. Writing can be an engaging, interesting and inspiring activity for young learners. Children are active learners and thinkers (Piaget 1965), learn through social interaction (Vygotsky 1978) and learn effectively through scaffolding by more able others (Maybin et al 1992), who can be adults or peers.
Summer postcards - with smartphones and messaging, the classic holiday communication of sending postcards seems to be dying out. Nevertheless, you can ask your students to send you postcards from their holiday travels but remember to provide a template as postcard writing has a specific layout and purpose.

Summer Journal/Diary

Your students could write a weekly journal or diary where they simply keep a record of the weather, food and activities in their lives at that moment. To make it even more appealing, especially to teens, you could create a class blog, vlog or even an Instagram class page. Students will be not only writing but also reading and it’s a nice way to keep in touch.

Uk Study Trips and Summer Camps

There are two common options for young students who want to take an English course during the summer holidays. The first is the full immersion abroad option: to travel to an English speaking country, study at an English course run by a language school and stay away from home.
The second option, which is growing in popularity, is to stay in one’s own country and go to a full immersion summer camp run by a good quality English language school. Dedicated summer camps that provide an environment that is dedicated to quality (English and activities) rather than quantity (a large number of students) ensure that the students are receiving a similar experience to those in the UK.

With all of the above in mind, the important thing to remember is that teachers and students use the summer to recharge and enjoy!


Vanessa Hartson Walker has taught English for over 20 years. She is Celta and Delta trained, and is now a teacher trainer. She has worked for International House, the British Council, Pilgrims and the American University of Rome. Since 2004 she has been Director of Studies and owner of Kids Can – a chain of language schools that specialises in teaching children and teenagers in Rome.