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301: The Easiest Last Day in ELA
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A Teacher’s Guide to Summer Planning that Works

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Summer time! All jokes aside, it’s a great time to be a teacher. It’s a time when you can live a really balanced life, and make progress on things that matter to you across all the different arenas of your life.

Maybe you want to rollerblade in the sunshine every day (wait, is that just me?).

Maybe you want to play a hundred games of Candyland with your four-year-old.

Maybe you want to catch up with each and every one of your best friends over wine and many, many layers of chocolatey goodness.

Maybe you’re going to binge on Schitt’s Creek,  Jason Reynolds, and your favorite new podcast.

Whatever the fun things you’ve been looking forward to, I know your classroom will be on your mind as well. And I really love what Angela Watson said to me once on my podcast, about how you can set yourself up for success in the following year by thinking about what you want your life to look like come fall.

Do you wish you could eat healthier during the school year? Summer’s a good time to design a grocery list template, buy some new cookbooks, and learn how to food prep.

Do you wish your grading wasn’t always haunting you? Now’s the time to do some research and figure out how to change your system.

Angela and I dove into a few possible summer overhauls you might want to consider in that podcast episode, but today on the blog, I’m going to offer a longer list. Because the more I learn about batching my work, using templates to save time, and finding ways to be more productive, the more I think that creating systems is incredibly important to saving you time and making your life a happier one.

Ready to dump some stress?

Let’s start with some systems to make your life run more smoothly outside the classroom.


Are you always scrambling for a lunch at 7:05 in the morning? Do you sometimes end up with Cheet-Ohs and deli ham come noon? I feel your pain. Maybe summer’s the time to shop for a stack of Bento box Tupperwares and build yourself a Pinterest board full of ideas for filling it. Maybe you want to make a plan to fill those Bentos (and some for your kids too, if you have them) on Sundays from 1-2 pm while watching your favorite T.V. show.

Friend Time

Do you feel like you never see your friends who aren’t teachers? Is it, perhaps, bothering you? Maybe this summer you can make a plan to start a rotating dinner club with your best friends, or to meet for drinks the last Friday of the month NO MATTER WHAT. Or maybe you guys can do a movie night every other month. Whatever works. But if you can set something up and make a plan, it’ll be a lot more likely to happen than if you just hope you can find the energy to call someone at some point, when you’re not so busy (…never).



Everyone, everyone, everyone says the same thing. You’ll feel better if you “find” time to exercise. But where is that time hiding? As with anything and everything, the only way to make it happen is to schedule it into your life. Summer is a great time to figure out what you really enjoy doing and create a routine that makes it happen. Sign up for a year’s worth of Tae Kwon Do with your child and pay in advance so you have to go. Or join a yoga studio and start going to the Tuesday/Thursday classes now so you’ll miss it if you stop when school starts. Maybe you start with the virtual version until things reopen, and then transition into the studio.


This one, of course, won’t apply to everyone. But if you, like me, have young children at home, summer is a great time to find a babysitter or two your kids love so you can have that option during the year. So you can go to yoga. Or to that movie night with your friends. Or just have an hour to stay after school on Tuesdays to finish your work so you don’t have to crank it up at nine at night after your kids go to bed. Knowing you’ve got a great babysitter your kids look forward to spending time with can take a lot of pressure off you.


I think everyone in education has eaten a lot of cereal for dinner. And questionable salsa on stale nachos. These things aren’t major morale boosters. Maybe this summer is a good time to find a food blogger or two that you like (my favorites are Dinner: A Love StorySmitten KitchenHalf-Baked Harvest, and Artisan Bread in Five), buy an instant pot, or sign up with a food service like Hello Fresh. Maybe it’s time to learn about that mysterious activity called “food prep” that some people do on the weekends and that always sounds sort of magical. Figuring out a rotation of a few dinners that work could add some seriously tasty moments to the upcoming school year.

I’m sure you can think of some more systems that would help your home and family life run more smoothly, but that’s at least a strong start! Now, a few options for creating time-saving systems inside the classroom….


I LOVE having my students keep a beautiful notebook in class. A folder on their iPad just won’t do it, people! There are so many fun uses for journals, and they are always available to fill in a ten minute slot you weren’t expecting to have. Just say “grab your journal and write about…” and you can always save yourself in a jam. If you give students a list of writing prompts to tape inside, you don’t even necessarily need a prompt when you turn to the stack of journals.



I’d actually never heard this term until I became a podcaster. “Batching” work, as you can imagine, just means doing a bunch of the same thing at the same time. It takes your brain a little while to catch up when you switch activities, and you can lose a lot of time this way. If every day you make one handout, write one parent e-mail, grade one homework assignment, re-do one bulletin board, etc., then you are making your brain switch gears repeatedly.

On the other hand, if you designate a day to create all your vocabulary quizzes for the term, a day to make the handouts for a whole unit, a grading day, etc., you’ll save yourself a ton of time. You’ll hopefully also discover you can copy and paste a template version of whatever you’re doing into many documents, just changing up what you need to. When I design curriculum, I frequently use the exact same layout on different pages, just changing up the pictures and type. That way I don’t have to format a new page every time with all the fonts and shapes I want to use.

Forms of Display

Blank walls can be intimidating. If you know you want to display your students’ work during the year, but you don’t want to be reinventing your display concept constantly, come up with a system for some bulletin boards or wall displays where the work can be rotated out all year long with the same headlines and backdrops. An Instagram headline bulletin board like #I’MSOPROUD or “#NAILEDIT” and a few wires with little clips strung across them will be WAY easier to change up throughout the year than a wall-sized taped collage of amazing student work. Know what I mean? Check out @thesuperoteacher on Instagram for fun display ideas like this one (as well as general classroom design ideas – I love her classroom makeovers).

Library Organization

If you’ve got a classroom library (yay!), summer might be the time to nail down a good system to keep it organized. Maybe you want to input your book titles into an app, label the genres on the book spines and add genre labels to your shelves, or come up with a system in which students help with shelving books after they are dropped off to a cart.

Don’t have a library, but wish you did? And that you knew how to keep it’s books on the go? Sign up for my free five day e-course, “5 Days to Build a Better Reading Program” below. In five emails, you’ll learn everything I’ve discovered through years of research and trial & error to build my own thriving independent reading program. You’ll also get my Friday emails full of teaching ideas, but you can feel free to unsubscribe at any time if they aren’t your jam.


Grading Plans

If grading is the big thing bogging you down during the year, summer is a good time to come up with a new system. Check out this post and discover forty ways that other teachers are cutting back on their grading while maximizing its effectiveness. Then choose several to put into practice and do what you need to do so you are ready and committed to stick to your system. Get your stickers, make your charts, download Kaizena, learn to use the Chrome Extension, order your personalized stamp, plug “grading after school” into your schedule for every Tuesday, etc. MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Discussion Routines

Teaching students how to do certain types of discussion early in the year makes planning discussions for the rest of the year easy peasy. If you figure out what discussion formats work best for you and teach them in the first week, then you can rely on them in your lesson planning all year long. I always teach Harkness on the first day of school, then start doing Harkness discussions right away. The students get better as the year goes on, but when I want to do a discussion, I can just plan a short warm-up activity and then count on that discussion format for twenty solid minutes of class time any day. Building up a toolbox of activities like this that you can mix and match when lesson planning is really helpful. Summer is a great time to think about these activities and prepare to teach them early to save time and planning later. You’ll discover a ton of free projects and resources here in this fun area of my website if you’re in search of new go-tos.


Genius Hour Mondays 

Have you heard of genius hour? 20% time? It’s an idea pioneered by Google, in which employees get to spend some of their time at work on projects they’re interested in, regardless of whether they seem related to company directives. In school, that means giving students a chance to pursue something they really care about, then produce some kind of final project as well as documentation along the way. A student might decide to learn about gardening and plant a school garden, blogging about the process along the way. Or learn basic Chinese and then help teach English to recent immigrants in her neighborhood, creating a video about the process to share with the class. If you decide to do genius hour, introducing the project at the start of the year will allow you to access it as a consistent stellar lesson plan. Maybe you want to do genius hour Mondays throughout the first semester, or whatever works for you.

Independent Reading Fridays

Another fun system you can put in place is to schedule in some consistent reading time in class. I’ve liked doing independent reading Fridays after vocabulary quizzes, but you could pick any time of the week. I know there’s a push for ten minutes a day, but for me, I like a little bigger block of time so I can check in with kids who aren’t engaged and help them choose a different book. I find that after ten minutes everyone has really just settled in. First Chapter Fridays are another fun way to spin it. With first chapter Fridays, you read aloud a chapter of a different engaging book each Friday and then watch it zip off your shelf and into the eager hands of one of your students.

Classroom Committees for Special Events

Do you do some special programs with your kids throughout the year? Do you find yourself making the programs, contacting guests, taking pictures, picking up food, etc.? Consider switching over to classroom committees, it makes thing so much easier! I first started doing them with poetry slams, letting kids form committees to be in charge of judging, programs, and ambiance. It worked beautifully, and every slam in every class has been sooooo different ever since. The kids have more ownership over the event and care about it more, and I have less random work to do to make everything work. I give these committees a small grade and keep an eye on things, but the kids make the choices and see to the follow through. I put together a generalized committee handout you can pick up for free over on TPT and either use or get ideas from.

Unit Planning

Having a system for planning your units will keep you from feeling like you’re always scrambling and running out of time for things. Pausing before the start of each unit to schedule out the homework and major activities and design a unit syllabus for your students really helps. You can check out how I do it in this blog post, if you’d like some help with this.


I bet you can think of other areas of your life that you wish were a little easier during the school year. Maybe you want to hire some help with cleaning, create a rewards chart for toddler behavior, or put all your bill paying online. Maybe you want to figure out one of those online birthday calendars that ping you when your best friend is about to have their birthday, so you don’t have to hate yourself for forgetting. Whatever you wish was taken care of during the year, summer’s a great time to take some steps toward making it easy when the time comes.

OK, last but not least, let’s look a bit at community. Having professional community and support in your life make a huge difference as you do the daily work in your classroom. Teaching can be lonely at times – strange, but true. Here are a few strategies to help.
Retake the Faculty “Lounge”
If you’re an experienced teacher, maybe this summer you can ask permission to give the faculty room at your school a little overhaul. The faculty room/lounge/work area COULD be such an amazing space. A place where people could sit down and share ideas, pick up an excellent PD book, take a peek at bulletin boards filled with conferences, journals to submit to, and recommendations for great websites, Ed Twitter Chats, and Instagram hashtags to check out. There could be healthy food now and then as well as candy, new curtains as well as long lines for the photocopiers.
If you build it, they will come. If you can find a way to get a few people on board with making the faculty room a nicer place, a gossip free zone, a place to collaborate and not complain, your movement will hopefully generate momentum. Time for a #makeover. Creating a space you like where you can collaborate with others will be a lovely gift to your future self!
Join a Like-Minded Community Online
Have you heard? My Facebook group, Creative High School English, is such a caring, supportive, creative place to hang out! We’d love to have you come and collaborate with us! 
Or maybe Instagram feels like more your thing. Now’s a good time to set up a teacher account and find a few like-minded teachers and great discipline-specific hashtags to follow. I hope you’ll say hi to me over there too! 
If you like Twitter, find the fun chats that apply most to you over the summer, so you can participate online. If you like getting emails from teacher bloggers, choose a few and sign up for their email lists so you can get inspiration sprinkled into your year. 
Finally, remember that it’s OK to REST and RELAX over the summer too! My friend Angela Watson reminded me once that if you don’t schedule in time to make the memories you want, you just might go through your whole summer without really engaging with it as a vacation. Plan airy days at the beach or cool paddles on the lake, summer barbecue potlucks, mountain hikes, and epic gardening sprees too. Deal?


hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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