3 ESL Summer Lesson Plans (Plus Activities)

Whether students are trying to get a head start on next year’s work or catching up on things they missed, it can be tough to motivate summer school students to concentrate on their English.

Luckily, where there’s a will, there’s a way!

In this guide, I’ll show you three fantastic, one-hour ESL lesson plan ideas for summer.

They’re filled with fun activities to keep your students excited, but they also get students involved in more challenging work where it matters.

Pick the lesson plan that best matches the level of your students, and they’ll actually be glad school isn’t out for summer.


1. An ESL Summer Vocabulary Lesson for Beginners

Beginners in summer school can be particularly tough to motivate.

Whereas more advanced students can take advantage of their ability to converse, beginners can’t necessarily learn by watching movies or debating—at this stage, there’s still a lot more memorization to do.

However, our summer vocabulary lesson will be paradise for your ESL beginners. It’s got just enough information to be helpful without making them miserable about summer school.

Start things off by coming up with a great vocab list related to summer activities, like this beach vocabulary list or this outdoor activity vocabulary list. You can also come up with your own list based on your students. Choose about 10-20 words.

Once you have your list, you’ll need to prepare:

  • 3-4 photos of summary scenes, printed large enough to put them on the chalkboard
  • 1 list of 10-20 vocab words for each student in the class
  • 1 set of image flashcards (of vocab words) for every 2 students in the class
  • 1 set of word flashcards (of vocab words) for every 2 students in the class
  • 1 large set of image flashcards
  • 1 fill-in-the-blank worksheet of vocab words (plus a second, should you choose to assign homework)

Intro Activity: Discovering Summer Vocabulary (5 minutes)

Start things off by posting the images of summer scenes on the blackboard. Ask students to describe what they see.

When they say a word on your list (or even one that isn’t, but that you might like to incorporate!) write it on the board.

If they’re having a hard time coming up with some of the words, feel free to give them hints or make suggestions.

Vocabulary Introduction (5 minutes)

Once the students have come up with many of the words on their own, pass out the vocab lists. Read them out loud to your students, and have them repeat every word back to you, together in a chorus.

Clarify any meanings that were not covered in the intro activity, and allow time for questions.

Pair Work Game: Matching (10 minutes)

Put students in pairs and distribute the sets of flashcards. Have students play Memory with the cards. Make sure that students are trading off, and try using our techniques for pair work to ensure that this is a beneficial exercise.

Group Activity/Validation (20 minutes)

Collect the matching games. One by one, stick the larger images to the blackboard. Ask students at random to identify each image. Once an image has been identified aloud, ask a student to come write the word beneath the image.

Be sure to check spelling as you go!

Worksheet (10 minutes/homework)

Pass around the worksheet. Have students work individually to fill in the blanks. There is no need to give students a word bank, since all the vocabulary on the worksheet should have been covered by the previous exercises. They can also fall back on the vocab sheet for additional support.

If you see that you have taken up too much time with the introduction of new vocabulary or another part of the lesson, this worksheet can serve as homework. In this case, the final conclusion (below) will no longer be necessary, since these are just for class.

Conclusion (10 minutes)

When all students have finished, check answers as a group.

Homework Suggestion

If you’re planning to give homework, you may either want to give another worksheet (ideal for true beginners) or ask students to write five sentences about what they like about summer (better for “false beginners” with some English experience).

Be sure to take two minutes at the end of class to remind them of the structures they can use in this assignment:

  • I like + noun
  • I like doing + activity
  • I like + verb gerund

2. An ESL Summer Verb Lesson for Intermediate Learners

Intermediate learners can already communicate with one another, which can make summer lessons even more fun!

That being said, it’s important that they do not forget all of the work that they’ve done during the year over the summer. A review of things they’ve already seen is a great compromise, which is why this past and future tense verb review is the perfect summer lesson.

For this lesson, you’ll need:

  • 10-20 slips of papers with different summer activities on them (feel free to get creative!)

Intro Activity: What Did You Do Last Summer? (10 minutes)

Start things off with a bit of group conversation. Your goal should be to ask and answer the following questions:

  • What did you do last summer?
  • What are you doing this summer?
  • What are you going to do next summer?

Introduce each question one by one, asking it to one student, having him answer and encouraging him to ask the same question to another student.

After three or four times, this form should be properly reinforced for most members of the class, so you can add the second, followed by the third. Once all three forms are introduced, students can choose which one they would like to ask and to whom. Encourage the following structures:

  • Last summer, I…
  • This summer, I…
  • Next summer, I…

Grammar Review (5 minutes)

Pass out the grammar sheet. Allow students a few moments to peruse in silence, and encourage questions if they have any. This is a good opportunity to highlight any recurring mistakes you heard during the intro activity.

Group Activity: I Know What You Did Last Summer! (20 minutes)

Show the following authentic material: the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” trailer. This will get a ton of laughs!

Explain that you’re going to play a game as a class.

Choose one piece of paper yourself. Explain that you’re going to try to have other students guess what is on the paper. Give hints without ever mentioning the words on the paper, like you’re playing Taboo. For example, if the paper says, “I worked as a lifeguard,” you can say:

  • I spent a lot of time at the pool.
  • I made some money.
  • I saved some people.

You cannot say:

  • I worked at the beach.
  • I saved some lives.
  • I guarded the beach.

When a student guesses the correct answer, they should shout out, “I know what you did last summer!” and make a guess.

The person who guesses correctly gets to be the speaker. Be sure that you verify their slip with them before they begin talking, so that you can police permissible and impermissible sentences.

Pair Work Activity: This Summer, I… (10 minutes/homework)

Time to switch verb tenses!

Place students in pairs and ask them to interview each other about their plans for this summer. Encourage the use of the present continuous. Ensure that the students who are doing the interviewing take notes.

If you notice that you have taken up too much time with the group activity, not to fear! This activity can be included in the homework assignment. Group together the present and future revisions with a homework assignment that includes both this prompt and the question described below. The verification will therefore no longer be necessary, and you can spend more time on the group activity.

Verification of Pair Work Activity (10 minutes)

Ask students at random to stand and present the results of their investigation to the group.

Homework Preparation (5 minutes)

Remind students about the future tense and introduce the question, “What are you going to do next summer?” If your class is taking place at the beginning of the summer, you might want to change this to, “What are you going to do in August?”

Homework Suggestion

Have students write a response to the question that you choose from the above two options.

3. An ESL Summer Writing Lesson for Advanced Learners

Advanced learners are usually still in an ESL class to make sure they continue working on everything they have acquired throughout the school year. That’s why an applied writing task is such a great idea for advanced ESL learners.

For this lesson, you’ll need:

  • A great question for discussion and writing (find some examples below!)

Intro Activity: What Would You Do? (5 minutes)

Summer is a great time to review paradise vocabulary, which is why it’s fun to talk about what people would do. The “if” questions you choose are up to you, but during the intro feel free to ask several questions, like:

  • What would you do if you lived near the beach?
  • What would you do if you had a million dollars?
  • Where would you go if you could go anywhere?

Use the beginning of class to get students talking and thinking about their wildest dreams.

Conditional Review (5 minutes)

Pass out the conditional review sheets. Give students time to read them and answer any questions.

Pair Work Conversation: What Would You Do? (10 minutes)

Pick one question that will be the focus of the lesson, for example, “Where would you go right now if you could go anywhere?” Have students discuss in pairs, highlighting different ideas. This will help students brainstorm their central idea for their writing project.

Writing Practice: What Would You Do? (25 minutes)

Give students a good 25 minutes for their writing practice. This will allow them to delve into the question that you have chosen.

Be sure to let students know how much time they’ll have to write and how many lines you expect. For advanced students, a full page is possible in 25 minutes.

Peer Review (10 minutes)

Have students review work by their peers. Ask them to use a different color pen. Be sure that both the original student and the peer makes their name easily identifiable on the paper.

Review (5 minutes)

Allow students five minutes to review their original paper before handing it in.

Activities for Summer ESL Classes

  • Beach Ball Vocabulary — In this activity, you write different English words or phrases on a beach ball, and students pass the ball to each other. When a student catches the ball, they must say the word or phrase that is closest to their thumb. This activity is great for summer because it gets students moving, and feeling summery with the beach ball prop!
  • Summer Recipe Creation — There are plenty of popular foods people associate with the summer season, so for this task, have students work in groups to create a summer recipe using English. They need to decide on a dish, create a list of ingredients, write instructions, and present it to the class. You can even try making the food for an extra fun activity.
  • Sing Summer Songs — Nothing will get you students feeling motivated more than an upbeat summer hit! Select popular songs related to summer and provide students with the lyrics. Have them listen to the songs, discuss the meaning, and fill in blanks in the lyrics, so your students can better understand what they’re singing along to.
  • Outdoor Scavenger Hunt — If the weather is good, take the classroom outside and organize a scavenger hunt. Provide students with a list of English words or phrases related to nature or the environment. They will then have to find and identify these items or objects in the outdoor setting. This hands-on activity is perfect for summer, as it allows students to enjoy the nice weather while practicing their English skills.
  • Summer Storytelling — Encourage students to practice their summer vocabulary by writing or telling a story set in the summertime. They can include details about their summer experiences or create fictional stories with a summer theme. This is a great way to practice relevant vocabulary and get in the summer mood!


As you can see, summer school can be fun, provided you approach it in the right way!

Lessons don’t have to be easy, but a lighter tempo and summer-themed work can help your students have fun and learn simultaneously.

And speaking of summer, check out these summer camp activities and tips for ESL teachers.

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