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Back To Class After The Summer

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Returning to the school environment after the summer holidays can engender mixed feelings for both students and teachers. After several weeks of comparative freedom, there is work to be done and a busy timetable to adhere to. The days are likely to begin with the unwelcome chimes of an alarm clock; hot summer nights and lazy mornings in bed are quickly consigned to memories and dreams! But for English teachers and those involved in the TEFL/ESOL world, memories of the summer provide an engaging starting point for learning and speaking English. It is best to start while those memories are still fresh.

In this article, we suggest a number of exercises and activities that can be adapted to suit learners of English at all levels, all of which take the summer holidays or summer vacation as a starting point. The suggestions focus more on speaking and writing but also include some listening and reading. We’ve also put together a Passport To My New Class Booklet which you can download below and use with your students.

*You may notice that we use the words ‘vacation’ and ‘holiday’ interchangeably throughout this article. These words have the same basic meaning in common usage, but ‘vacation’ is more common in American English and ‘holiday’ is used in British English. At a time of year when travel is more common it might be worth pointing out these differences to your students.

Beginners and younger learners (A1-A2)

Mind Maps

Hand out large sheets of paper to small groups of students. In the centre of the paper, they should write Holidays or Vacations. Then around the centre write and circle new headings such as;- Things to do, Things To See, Where to stay. Draw lines from some of these radiating out to new headings such as;- At The Beach, In The Town, etc… Encourage your students to keep adding to their mind map with as many headings or links as they can come up with. They can also illustrate their mind maps with pictures or diagrams and perhaps use colours to highlight linked themes or ideas. While the main text should be in English they could also add in translations of any new or difficult vocabulary. Once finished you could vote on the best mind maps and leave them all pinned around the room for a few weeks as vocabulary prompts.


Storytelling is at the core of many of the following activities. At a basic level, you can begin with the simple questions, where did you go during the summer? What did you do there? (Revision of past tense, gerunds for activities). What did you enjoy most? What didn’t you like? (The language of likes and dislikes). Have each learner share a short story about their summer vacation. This will help them practice speaking and describing experiences in English. For young learners, this can be done in a circle in which all students are invited to speak and ask questions of each other. Perhaps ask students to bring something to the class which is connected with their summer as a prop or a prompt for speaking. To encourage students to listen carefully to each other, you could make some notes to form the basis of a quiz after all the students have spoken about their vacations. ‘How many students went abroad for their vacation? How many students stayed at home? Where did Maria go? What did Carlos enjoy most on his holiday? What object did Ines bring to class? How did Hannes get to Italy?’ Etc.
Further ideas based on storytelling include the following;-

Postcard Exchange

Organize a postcard exchange activity in which learners write postcards to each other describing their summer adventures. They could draw or paste a picture on one side of the card. Postcard writing will enhance their informal writing skills and could be compared later in the year with more formal writing assignments. As an alternative, ask students not to sign their names and invite the receiving student to guess who wrote their postcard.

Summer Memory Pictures

Have learners paint a picture or create a visual collage of their summer experiences and present it to the class. This encourages them to speak about their memories using descriptive language and gives those who are less confident in English the chance to compensate with their creative and artistic skills. This style of presentation, while informal, also begins to prepare students for the type of presentations they might need to make for external exams such as Trinity and Cambridge FCE.

Interview Partners

Pair up learners and have them interview each other about their vacations. Encourage more able students to use descriptive language and ask follow-up questions to promote conversation. Then, they can introduce their partner and share their partner’s vacation highlights with the class.

Picture Descriptions

Provide a series of summer-themed pictures and have your learners describe what they see in each picture. This will help them practice using adjectives, prepositions, and storytelling skills. It is also good practice for many end of term tests and exams in which picture description plays a key role.

Find Someone Who… (Simple Survey & Mingle Activity)

Assign pairs of students simple questions beginning with the phrase ‘find someone who…’ relating to holidays or travel. For example, ‘Find someone who went camping this summer’, or ‘Find someone who travelled on a boat this summer.’ The students then mingle around the classroom to ask their questions and note down the replies they receive. After completing their survey, they present their results to the class. Pre-teach any connecting language you would like your students to use. For example, ‘We found that 20 people travelled abroad while 8 people stayed in the country’.

Intermediate Activities (B1-B1+)

Guess the Destination Game

Give students clues about a holiday destination without revealing its name and have them guess the place. Limit the number of clues depending on the age and ability level of your class. For example, in three clues… 1. It is a large city in Europe that has a river flowing through it. 2. Its most famous landmark is made of metal. 3. The local people speak French. (Paris). Once your students have gotten the idea of the game, have them compose clues of their own based on places they have visited for others to guess.

Photo Captioning

Collect pictures from magazines or the internet related to travel and holidays or ask your students to find and print suitable pictures using the class computer. Stick each picture to a piece of A4 sized paper. Distribute the pictures so that each student has one. Then each student has to write a title or caption for their picture (this could include speech bubbles if appropriate). Students then pass their photos around the class so that each student can write an alternative caption. When the pictures return to the first student, they can read out the captions and decide which one they thought was best.

Travel Brochure

Get learners to create travel brochures for a destination they visited (or would like to visit). This activity can be done individually or in pairs or groups. Pre-teach and emphasise the language of persuasion. Their brochure aims to convince other people to spend their money to visit the destination. You could get other students to rate each other’s brochures and vote for the best; i.e. which place they would most like to visit based on the brochure.

Holiday Surveys

In groups or pairs ask students to compose a set of questions related to holidays and travel. They then mingle to ask their questions before presenting the results of their survey to the class. The type and number of questions can be varied depending on the level and maturity of the students. Lower intermediate students might start with basic questions (such as ‘where did you go?’ and, ‘when did you go?’) to establish the most popular destinations. Upper Intermediate students could ask more nuanced questions about the environmental impact of travel or the quality of their vacation experience.

Holiday Based Discussions And Debates

Write down a variety of summer-related topics such as sports, outdoor activities, festivals, food, modes of transport, shopping, and sightseeing. Distribute the topics on slips of paper and ask students to speak for a minute without preparation for their assigned theme. Vote on the most interesting topics and then discuss them as a class in more detail. Depending on the level and interest of your students you could extend some of these topics into more structured debates with groups assigned to argue particular for and against clauses.

Books and Films

Ask students if they have read any books or seen any films/movies during the summer. If so, did they enjoy them? Why, why not? Can they recommend a book or film to you or their classmates? Alternatively, choose a book related to summer or vacation themes, and have learners read and discuss part of it together. Try to identify how the text evokes feelings of summer. Or ask students to suggest films they associate with summer. Perhaps show a movie or documentary related to vacations or summer adventures, then hold a discussion about the film’s themes and content.
Thinking ahead, you could also get your students to write reviews of films and books as the year goes along to compile a summer reading recommendations booklet for next year.

PowerPoint or Poster Presentation

Assign learners the task of creating a more formal presentation about a famous tourist destination, a cultural event, or a summer tradition. Encourage learners to use their own vacation as a starting point to give their presentation a personal feel, but then to extend their knowledge to include more specific aspects of travel and tourism.

Travel Dialogues And Role-Plays

Compile a list of different holiday and travel scenarios such as booking a hotel, ordering food, or asking for directions. Brainstorm vocabulary associated with these themes and write key phrases on the board. Then get learners to create and role-play dialogues in pairs. For lower intermediate students you may need to provide a lot of scaffolding. Gradually remove scaffolding phrases from the board and get students to swap partners and cover different themes. Ask them to incorporate personal experiences and problems they encountered during their own holidays as they go along. In this way, structured dialogues gradually transform into more free-flowing role-plays and a lot of vocabulary will be covered.

For Advanced Learners (B2-C1+)

All the previously mentioned activities can be extended and adapted to cater for older or more advanced learners of English. In addition, you might like to consider the following ideas.

Structured Debates

Look up formats for different types of formal debate. Choose a few which you feel would be suitable for your students and explain them to the class. Then present some more thought-provoking topics related to summer activities or travel (e.g., Does travel really broaden the mind? Is solo travel better than travelling with a group? Does our region gain or lose as a result of tourism? Should all students take a gap year to travel before starting university?). Divide the class into teams and hold structured debates following the conventions and styles of the type of debates you have chosen.

News Analysis

Share news articles about summer events, tourism trends, or environmental issues. These could be from newspapers, magazines or web-based news sites. This year for example (2023), there have been several climate change related issues which have affected the holiday period including extreme hot weather, floods and fire. Discuss the articles as a group, encouraging critical thinking and using advanced language to express opinions. Consider questions such as ‘How biased are the news reports?’ ‘How factual are they?’ Then ask your learners to summarize the topics raised in written essays or verbal presentations.

Detailed Role-Playing Scenarios

Provide complex travel scenarios (e.g., negotiating with a local vendor, resolving a travel-related conflict, complaining about advertised facilities) and have students role-play in pairs or groups, focusing on the language of negotiation and persuasion. Encourage your learners to really take on the roles they are playing. for example, a hotel manager, an angry client, a tour guide… They could each create a back story for the role they are playing and consider what would be needed to resolve the situation they are portraying.

Planning For A Gap Year

In pairs or groups ask your students to do some serious research and planning for a fictional gap year journey. Where would they go? How would they get there? What route and means of transport would be used? How and where could they find work to finance their journey? What problems or dangers might they encounter? What would they expect to learn from such an experience? The project should conclude with a detailed presentation.


We hope the above ideas inspire you and your students to get back into the routine of teaching and learning English as the new term begins. Please let us know how they work with your students and feel free to share more ideas in the comments below. Happy New Term!

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