Top Tips: Teaching at UK summer schools

Summer school season is nearly upon us! This is my favourite time of year – you get to work in some great locations around the UK, visit famous attractions and generally have a lot of fun! I’ll be missing out this year, but I’ve worked at 6 different schools in the past. Each time I’ve been a Teacher and Activity Leader. If you’re doing a similar role this year then here are a few tips to help you hit the ground running!

  1. Prepare yourself…

Summer schools are pretty manic. The hours will mount up, tiredness will set in, and you might find it hard to stay positive and energetic. Just prepare yourself, that’s all. You might assume that fun work will mean easy work. However, just when you think there’s a spare 10 minutes to relax, something usually comes up. Don’t be surprised (at some schools) to be on the go from 7am – 10pm. Some small preparation made before summer can help free up some time during it.

  1. First lessons

Many summer schools have their own set syllabus, so lessons are pretty much planned for you. This is not always the case. I recommend asking about the school syllabus at interview. Once, as a new teacher with no experience, my summer school just handed a copy of Headway and expected me to get on with it. This is difficult if you are new to teaching, mainly because your planning time will probably be quite limited over the summer. Never fear, there is a flip side. Some of the best summer schools to work for have brilliant in-house materials – so good that you might still go back to them years later!

Whilst lessons for the bulk of summer school will be covered, introductory lessons are sometimes forgotten. It’s worth planning an introduction lesson beforehand (maybe to cover 90 minutes), just so you don’t get a fright on Day 1. This will be pretty standard stuff:

  • Introductions, learning student names
  • Ice-breakers, getting to know you
  • School orientation
  • Needs analysis
  • Introduction to the UK

Learners come to language summer schools in the UK from all over the world. Don’t assume they know a lot about the UK though! A group quiz on UK culture is a nice way to build rapport in the first lesson. Stuck for ideas? You could make some questions based on info from Project Britain.

    1. Teaching materials

Summer schools are likely to have all the equipment you need, so this isn’t a concern. However, it is always worth bringing a few back up TEFL ‘cookbooks’ (things like Minimax Teacher, Pronunciation Games, that type of thing) just in case you need to supplement existing lessons. On the cultural front, I would thoroughly recommend getting a cheap copy of Timesaver British History Highlights. There are some nice activities in it that can link to excursions that the students might go on. Again, you might find everything is done for you. If you’ve already taken a summer school job but forgotten to ask about this type of stuff at interview it might be worth dropping them an email.

  1. Research

On a typical excursion you’ll take a group of learners to a local place of interest. Chances are you’ll be going en masse, and could well be paired with a colleague. You’ll be trained on various safeguarding procedures, given first aid kits (if you’re qualified) and get emergency contact details. You’ll probably get some historical information about the place itself, and a free lunch. These trips are generally very fun, although can sometimes be stressful in very touristy places like London.


Preparing for a trip at LTC, one of my favourite summer schools

In some places you’ll be lucky enough to get a tour guide. In others, that responsibility falls on you. Sometimes, students come over in groups accompanied by their English teacher from their own country. The teachers often want their students to learn something on the trip (understandably!), and can demand quite a lot of information. Some don’t really care that much.

Imagine you’ve chosen to work for a summer school in a city you aren’t familiar with. It really helps to do a little bit of research beforehand. This doesn’t take too much effort, and you’ll be surprised how far a few key dates can get you! Group leaders and students aren’t expecting you to be an expert historian, but a few stories about various attractions will go down well. Yes, you could look up the information on your smartphone during the trip, or get the kids to do it, but this might seem like you’re a bit lazy.

If you want to go that extra mile and you’ve got time to prepare, a short quiz about certain attractions can be really good. If you know you’ll be visiting a certain attraction a few times over the summer, treat your first trip as a fact-finding mission.

  1. Returning staff

It is highly likely that you’ll be working with some staff who have done the job before. Returning staff are a great source of information and will help you along. Make an effort to get to know them and find out about their experience of the previous years.

  1. Read the rules carefully

Pay close attention to the rules during staff induction or in the staff handbook. I’m going to sound like an old man here, but when I first did a summer season in 2007, my school seemed pretty lenient on issues like staff drinking culture. By my last summer stint in 2014, there was a strict ‘no alcohol on site’ policy for staff at my new school. Be aware of the rules, but mainly just be aware that the job does require a certain level of responsibility. Also, the role may involve a lot of pastoral care, so you need to be clued up on safeguarding and child protection. Lecture over…!

  1. Bring fresh ideas

In my early summer school days!

Whilst a lot of the afternoon and evening activities at summer schools are tried and tested, most schools will welcome fresh ideas. Think of a few activities you could plan and run – it might really help you to develop your leadership skills. Don’t dismiss any of your own skills as boring – there’s bound to be some students interested in it! I’ve seen knitting classes, Qi Gong workshops, an introduction to sumo wrestling… just about anything can work!

  1. Play your part!

You have to be a team player to work at a summer school. Everyone needs to pull their weight and help out whenever they can. There’s no time for slacking, even when your contract is almost up. The team ethos brings staff together and can lead to some lasting friendships.

Please share any of your own tips in the comments. Have a good summer school!

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1 reply

  1. This post really takes me back 🙂
    I spent a few years doing summer schools in the UK and they were so much fun because I got to see so many places I hadn’t been to and everything was so chilled.
    Completely agree with your idea on researching where you are going on excursions – I learnt that the hard way! Let’s just say my students might have gone home with some interesting facts about Greenwich 🙂


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