Project ideas for Summer School

Project Ideas


One of the loveliest things (for me, at least) about summer school is having a bit more freedom in your classes than you often have the rest of the year. The combination of mixed nationality (and potentially mixed level groups), seeing the same groups of students every day, and potentially quite long lessons (my last summer school had three 90 min classes a day, pretty long for 7-13 year olds!) all lends itself to one thing: project work.

Film Project

I have to admit that these are hands down my favourite type of project. I’ve done them at summer camps in Russia, summer schools in the UK, and even managed to slot them into the last few weeks of term when my students have desperately needed a little ‘something different’ as a pick-me-up. Ideally for a film project you need at least a couple of 90 min lessons – they work best if you can spread them out over a whole week. It sounds like a lot of time to spend on one project, but I’ve found that the rewards of seeing a film through to the end are enormous, a lot of language learning will be taking place, and once the ball is rolling, the students will provide most of the input, meaning minimal planning time!

  • The first step in any film project is for the students to understand what is being asked of them. They’ll all be pretty familiar with films, but I find that often they don’t have much of a clue about scripts, and what they tend to include. I’ve found that the easiest way to introduce this idea is simply to show the students some short sections of simple scripts – some can be found here  or here. Ask them what is different about the scripts compared to a normal story – that they contain stage directions (telling you what you can see, when and how people enter and exit, and how people say things), and that they are generally laid out ‘Character name: What the character says…’ – but that they lack lots of the information that we normally include if we are writing a story (adjectives, long descriptions of people and places, lots of background information etc).
  • Once the students understand what format a script normally looks like, explain to them that they are going to write a script – which they will then act and turn into a film. Brainstorm film genres and then vote for the most popular one. At this stage you have multiple options: if you have a very small class, they can all work together to write the whole script. In larger classes you many want them to roughly outline the story as a whole group, then allocate smaller groups of students to each write a section of the script. Alternatively (ideally with teens) each smaller group could plan and write their own script, for a different short film.
  • Monitor and help the students as they are writing their script – you may need to remind them of the format, or help them to make sure the different sections of the story fit together seamlessly (if they are in smaller groups who are each writing a scene of the film). Once the scripts are complete make sure you read them all through and check that they make sense!
  • Ideally set aside one section of a lesson (or one lesson!) for students to make/find the props that they will need in their film.
  • Allocate the different roles in the film, and practice reading through the lines – it’s easier to correct pronunciation at this stage rather than waiting until everyone is acting! (It could be helpful at this point to make some photocopies of the script so that everyone can see it easily – particularly your main actors).
  • Record your film! The great thing about technology these days is that you can now record film on most cameras, tablets, and other handheld devices – eliminating the need for a video camera. Even if you don’t have the ability to record video yourself, chances are that one of your students will have some kind of device that can. If your summer school is based at a school, you will normally have access to some kind of video editing software already installed on the computers – if not this programme is a free download which I’ve used before. Either the teacher or one of the stronger students can act as director.
  • Once the film is complete, make sure the students have a chance to watch it! Ideally have a screening so that they can show it to the rest of the school too.
  • To extend the start of the project: This one is pretty easy to extend, as you can use it as a follow up to any other kind of work on film – discussion of students’ favourite films, reading about films/film making, or film related vocabulary such as different film genres.
  • To extend the end of the project: Especially if you have had several groups/classes making films, you can make the screening into a big event – your very own film premiere, complete with red carpet and interviews of the stars. The students can review the films they watch, and you can have an awards ceremony with prizes for Best Actor, Best Actress, etc.

Dragon’s Den

Again, a tried-and-tested project that I’ve done multiple times, with both kids and teenagers. This is a really good one for getting students to work on their presentation skills, and gives them a great opportunity to be creative! For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Dragon’s Den is a TV show in which contestants showcase their new invention or business idea. They present their idea to a panel of ‘dragons’ – successful businessmen and women, who are all looking to invest in new projects – and successful candidates receive money towards their business, in exchange for shares in the company or part of the profits. It all sounds very ‘adult’, but some years ago the BBC produced a great kids’ version for BBC Children in Need – and it’s been lovely to show my young students that just because they are young, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have a taste for business!

  • Show the students an extract from Dragon’s Den. I tend to use the BBC Children in Need version which can be found here – but be warned, I’ve found that this clip is not available outside the UK. For those teaching elsewhere, I’ve found that the best option available is this Irish version of the same concept, but be warned, the accents can be quite tricky for learners to follow! Tell the students that it is a TV show/competition, and ask them to find out: Who are the dragons? and What do the contestants (preteach if necessary) have to do? 
  • Collect feedback, then ask the students to watch the extract again – if you’re using the BBC version you can choose a different business idea if you prefer. This time ask the students to write down as much information about the business idea as possible. They should be looking for things like: What is the idea, why did the contestant decide to produce this product, how do they make the product, how do they sell the product, how much money have they made so far etc. Again, collect feedback.
  • Explain to the students that they are going to do something similar – they need to design their own product/their own idea for a business, and present it to a panel of judges. Put the students into groups, and then allow them time to brainstorm ideas and decide on a final product/business idea.
  • Once they have decided on a product, encourage the students to think about it in as much detail as possible. They should think about what it is made of, its size, any possible variants on it (different models, different colours etc). If you have lots of time on your hands and creative students, they can draw or make a model of their finished product.
  • Having designed their product, the students need to work in their groups to create their presentations. It’s worth reminding them at this point that everyone in their group needs to speak, rather than just one person doing all the work while everyone else stands around awkwardly! At this point, as well as the specifications of their product, they should also be thinking about things like how they will sell their product, how much it will cost, how much it costs them to make, and how much profit they have made already.
  • Now it’s time to host your very own version of Dragon’s Den – the dragons can either be a panel of teachers/other staff members, or be all of the other students in the class! There are different options when it comes to prizes – I’ve had students request the number of housepoints/raffle tickets they would like (rather than the size of the investment) – and then granted the winning students’ request (tying in with a whole school reward system), but I’ve also simply awarded a small prize to the group with the highest number of votes.
  • To extend the start of the project: Students can discuss other inventions, or read or discuss ideas about entrepreneurship. Students can study useful vocabulary/structures, eg. passives, vocabulary for describing objects/materials, presenation skills.

Design a Game/Sport

Coursebooks aimed at children/teenagers often include a section on sport. However, as we all know, playing sport tends to be far more fun than simply talking about it! This project combines the best of both worlds – and makes for some interesting discussion about some of the wackier aspects of British culture as well!

  • Show students some pictures of weird and wacky sports – we have some great ones here in the UK! Examples can be found here, here and here. Tell the students that the pictures each show a real sport – and put them in small groups to discuss a) what each sport is called, b) what equipment you need for it, and c) what the participants have to do. Collect feedback, and let students know if their predictions were correct!
  • Put the students in small groups. Tell them that they are going to design a new sport – it should be interesting, and unusual, but remind them that it also needs to be safe! Let them know at this stage that provided it is possible (ie. the equipment and space are available) they will be able to try out one of their new sports.
  • Remind the students that they need to plan: What equipment is needed for this sport, where will the sport take place, how many players/teams are needed, what you do to play the game, how players/teams score points (and how the scoring system works), how players win the game, and how the game is won. Give examples using some well known sports (ie. how do these things apply to football, tennis etc). Then leave time for students to discuss their ideas – you can ask them to prepare a poster/presentation about it.
  • Students present their new sports to the class – hold a vote to decide the best/most interesting one!
  • Provided you have time, space, and equipment, get the winning group to teach the rest of the class how to play their sport – and then play it! (This is the most fun part of the activity, so ideally while monitoring encourage students to prepare something that they can actually play – eg. no pig riding/broomsticks/shark-infested swimming pools etc.)
  • To extend the project at the start: Discuss students’ favourite sports/popular or strange sports in their own countries. Turn the ‘wacky sports’ information into a reading activity/running dictation rather than simply telling the students the correct answers. Teach useful structures/vocabulary, eg. must, have to, don’t have to, sports equipment, verbs relating to sport eg. shoot, score, hit, kick, win, lose, draw.
  • To extend the project at the end: Students can review/evaluate the game they played. Students can create an advert for their game. Students can create a kit and badge for their game. Students can teach their game to other people/another class.

What’s your favourite thing about summer school?

Do you have any great project ideas? I’d love to hear them! 


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