The summer I was nine was one of those perfect childhood summers: running through the sprinkler, staying out until the streetlights came on at dusk, drinking enough sugary grape Kool-aid to fill a large bathtub, and spending long weekends at my grandparents’ house. It was also the summer of the Neighborhood Newsletter, a collaboration between my best friend from down the block, me, and any other neighborhood kids who may have had some useful “scoop” and we could rope into writing with us. (Spoiler alert: Our neighborhood was friendly and quiet and there was never any scoop.) As June melted into July, we spent hours crowded around my dad’s old electric typewriter, hammering out our version of any and all excitement on our street. It was wildly unsuccessful–limited correction tape and no way of mass-producing the newsletter left us with a circulation of slightly less than one reader–yet it was fun. We were creating and writing together, and that’s all that really mattered.
We were writers.
As we count down the days between now and the start of our much-deserved summer breaks, our students are no doubt looking forward to their own perfect childhood summers of playing, swimming, travel, and fun. We devote our final days of school to wrapping up our Writer’s Workshop: a final writing celebration, maybe a reflection here or there, perhaps the addition of a final piece to a portfolio . . . and then the workshop fades softly into the sunset as desks are packed up, supplies are sent home, and another year comes to a close.
But what if we treat the end a little more like the beginning of the year, building writing excitement instead of winding down? What if we plant the seed of being a writer both in and out of school? What if we start to view the last days of school as a comma instead of a period?
With a few strategic teaching moves, we can set our kids up to be summer writers, too.
Here are a few quick strategies for making the most of those last workshop days of the school year:
- Start a new writer’s notebook. Give students a fresh notebook during the last few weeks of school and use your workshop time to start some seed ideas, create some lists, and recreate some of your students’ favorite notebook activities from the beginning of the year. Use it to build excitement and give kids a place to play with ideas during the summer.
- Repurpose leftover school supplies as a “Summer Writing Toolkit.” Instead of sending home a sad grocery store bag of loose crayons and dull pencils, consider consolidating the salvageable supplies into a writing toolkit. Create and send home a simple “Summer Writing Toolkit” in a gallon-size Ziploc bag, maybe with the addition of a new stack of sticky notes or a fresh pencil.
- Build a portfolio of mentor texts. Collect favorite story passages and poems, writing pieces you’ve modeled during Writer’s Workshop across the year, and exemplar pieces of student work to send home as writing mentor texts. Creating this portfolio together will give kids ownership, allow your class to celebrate some of the “forgotten” moments from across the year, and provide kids with an authentic set of materials to access outside of school. Also consider adding some new texts that may help kids imagine the types of writing they might do in the summer: letters home from camp, photos with fun captions, postcards, etc.
- Establish support that will exist when you are no longer there. Devote some time at the end of the year to building minilessons around what writers do when they get stuck, how to set up a writing routine at home, and easy-to-find resources to help with spelling and conventions. Consider sending home a toolkit of anchor charts that have been used time and time again in your classroom during the school year for students to reference.
- Create a writing challenge. We often send kids out the door on the last day of school with a summer reading challenge, but summer writing isn’t promoted nearly as frequently. For some easy-to-use strategies, check out this post from Stacey Shubitz.
- Build an anchor chart of Ways to Write in the Summer. Start students on the path to summer writing with an abundance of ideas for ways they can capture their summer in writing: letters and emails, stories, plays, lists, captions for vacation photos, etc. For more inspiration, see this post from Kelsey Sorum.
- Set some goals or make some plans. Unless we explicitly issue an invitation to students to continue their writing lives into the hot summer months, many students might never consider it. Take some time to talk about writing goals or to develop some plans for when, where and how students might write outside of school.
- Share your own summer writing experiences. Maybe you, like me, had a neighborhood newsletter in the summer. Maybe you wrote stories or sent letters home from camp. Maybe you made lists of all of the things you wanted to do during the summer. Maybe you kept a diary of your summer adventures. Whatever writing you did during the summer, share it with your students–it’s important for them to know that you were (and hopefully still are) a summer writer, too.
- Remind students that writers never stop writing and growing. Send them off with the excitement of being a writer and a reminder that, as always, “When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.”
Sarah Valter is the K-5 Literacy Coordinator for Lindbergh Schools in Saint Louis, Missouri. Reading and writing are her lifelong passions. When Sarah isn’t teaching, reading, or writing, you can find her at soccer games, gymnastics meets, plays, and hockey games watching her two kids (and husband of 14 years) do all of the things they love to do. You can find Sarah on Twitter @LitCoachValter or follow her blog at readreflectteach.wordpress.com.