Summer writing notebooks are a great way to stymie the summer slide.  Create a space to record, observe, and create with the only requirement: fill up the book!  This is a second of a three-page blog installment, Summer Suite: Read, Write, Listen

In traditional school calendars, the summer is a yawning wasteland of loss.  Teachers often refer to it as “the summer slide,” a time when a growing mind ceases to be challenged intellectually and skills bottom out.  Research by the National Summer Learning Association shows that students gain little or no academic growth over the summer, and in many cases, students lose the equivalency of three months of academic achievement. 

One of the easiest and most joyous assignments I give all year long is the Summer Break Observation Log.   I started this after the Spring Break Observation Log was such a huge success. Like all of the most successful lessons in my bag, this one is super simple in concept, concept, and grading. It hits a gazillion standards. 

I teach at a school where I loop with the same 40 kids for four years, so it’s easy for me to make an assignment in May and respond to it in August.  However, you could do this with another agreeable teacher in the next grade, creating a nice vertically aligned assignment that bridges the grades and provides a great opportunity for continuity and conversations.

First I buy a bunch of small 80-page composition notebook. I get them three for $1 at our local dollar store.

Then I pass them out to my students. And I tell them they have to fill up a single notebook by August 12, our start date for the next academic year.

“What’s the requirement?”

“Fill up the book.”

“With what?”


“What kind?”

“Any kind.”

“Well, what do we write about?”



“And everything.”

At the heart of project based learning is choice, and a blank notebook’s potential in this capacity is unparalleled. The only requirement for the Summer Observation Log project is that students must fill it up – writing on every page.  Observe. Note. Chronicle. Plot. Scheme. Dream. Meditate. Obsess. Question. Build. Design. Sketch. Whatever.

Being a writer is about observing. As Flannery O’Connor said, “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

If students feel a little blocked, they can check out Writing Prompts on Tumblr, which is a fantastic treasure trove of prompts that are quirky, contemporary, sometimes dark, always interesting.   Or check out 642 Things to Write About designed by the writing tutors at 826 Valencia, a non-profit writing organization. Or go to a thrift store and write about some unusual object. Explore Granny’s attic and write stories about the odd items there. Interview your neighbor. Write a scene about two people waiting on the bus down the street.

Teaching students to be observers of their world, to be curious, to observe people and events and write those moments down unvarnished and uncensored is a great step toward developing the eye necessary to be a critical thinker.

The assignment is easily graded. It’s pass/fail. Do or do not. There is no try.


(This is the second installment of the Summer Suite: Read, Write, Listen. Check out Summer I and Summer III also.)

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