If you’re an ELT teacher in a private language school, you’ll probably be working at a summer school during July and August. When I was teaching full-time, the school year ran from mid-September to the end of June and in summer I had no job or income.
For a period of about ten years, I worked at summer schools every year, first as a teacher then later as a Teaching Coordinator or Director of Studies.
The summer school experience can be amazing! It’s hard work but fun when it’s reasonably well-organised.
I went back to the same school year after year, working with children and teenagers aged 10 to 14 in a residential school. In the mornings there were lessons and in the afternoons activities, which teachers would supervise along with the Activity Organisers. Three hours of lessons in the mornings were pretty intensive. We’d have a weekly theme and each week we’d spend our Sundays planning lessons for the week ahead. We had lots of materials, organised by level, including a large variety of course books, resource books and supplementary materials.
But let’s face it – no twelve-year-old is getting excited about a photocopied page from any course book in their summer holidays!
We tried to make our lessons as fun as possible and include projects and games. I’ll never forget a teacher one year who took his guitar to class (Kimon, if you’re reading this – you were the students’ favourite teacher!) But it was always a bit of a struggle to motivate some of the kids.
If only I’d known about inquiry-based learning…
What is inquiry-based learning? Read this post to find out! Then come back and continue reading…
Summer school needs to take a different approach to learning. It should connect language learning with the students’ lives outside the classroom. Learning must be relevant and lessons should be centred around the students and their interests.
Here are nine reasons why inquiry-based learning is ideal for summer schools.
1 It makes language learning meaningful
If your students are in an immersion setting, they will be hearing and using the target language as part of their day-to-day experience. It makes sense to teach them the language and skills they will need for this.
2 It’s thematic
When you have a rolling intake, some students will be in the class for a single week while others may be there for maybe six weeks. For this reason, many summer schools take a thematic approach and have a weekly topic. With inquiry-based learning, you can design an inquiry project around the weekly theme and ensure that learners are developing the language and skills they need to learn about, discuss, and share their learnings about the topic.
3 It focuses on communication skills
Improving communication skills should be the number one aim of a summer school class. Students will likely be studying vocabulary and grammar all year round at school, where they may or may not be using English to communicate with each other. In a summer school, where groups are often multilingual and multicultural (see point 8), learners need to learn how to communicate successfully and they will best do this by working collaboratively.
4 It works with mixed abilities and varied levels
Your students will come from a variety of contexts and backgrounds and as such, they will have different levels and abilities in any area of language learning. Some learners might need to work on their listening skills, some may struggle with vocabulary retention or question forms and others may struggle to express themselves. Inquiry-based learning allows for differentiation and choice, as different groups work on areas and activities according to their interests and needs.
5 It’s designed around learner interests
An inquiry is based around the students’ question about a topic. Finding out what students want to know is the key to a successful inquiry. It allows you to develop activities around the students’ interests or, if you’re brave enough, give students the freedom to direct their own learning and take the inquiry in whatever direction they like!
6 It can easily connect to other areas of summer school life
Summer schools for young learners usually provide fun activities such as sports and crafts, visits to leisure facilities like roller skating rinks and ten pin bowling as well as day trips to different nearby cities and locations. It’s easy to generate interest and curiosity in these activities by creating an inquiry around them. Visiting a castle next week? Have learners research castles or the lives of the people who lived there. Going to a trampoline park? Choose a STEAM focus and set up an inquiry into gravity and forces!
7 It’s holistic and helps learners develop life skills
Learners can develop so many skills with a learner-centred approach like inquiry-based learning: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, digital literacy, eco-literacy, initiative & agency, social responsibility and more. Students will learn to make responsible decisions, be tolerant and accepting of others and become independent learners, all skills that will help them in the future.
8 It develops global citizenship.
A global citizen is open-minded, curious, compassionate, collaborative, inclusive, responsible and reflective. They are ready to embrace people from all cultures and to learn from them. These values should be inherent in summer schools where students will be meeting new classmates and are encouraged to make friends and hopefully even develop long lasting global friendships.
9 It’s fun!
One of the most important elements of a summer school is fun! Who wants to be bored during their summer holidays? Not the students, and not you, their teacher! But fun doesn’t mean passive entertainment. The best way to ensure your lessons are fun is by making sure they’re about something of interest and that students are actively involved. Encourage your students to take part in the decision-making process and choose what to do. Engagement and enjoyment will follow.
Whether you’re going to be teaching at a summer school or organising course materials as a DoS and you’d like to try inquiry-based learning, you’re in luck.
I’m creating bundles of my resource packs which will be available at a special price*. The packs are aimed at primary-aged learners but could be adapted to lower secondary. They contain step-by-step instructions if you’re new to inquiry-based learning but also contain ideas for standalone activities and projects. Individual packs and bundles both contain a short ebook that introduces you to the basics of the approach.
And if you’re interested in hearing more about inquiry and other learner-centred approaches, why not sign up for my newsletter? You’ll get tips and ideas straight into your inbox over the summer.
*If you’re a school and require a school licence for several teachers or classes, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org