Summer Planning in 3 Hours or Less

Oh, how we love summer…a time to rest, a time to reflect, and honestly a time to become human again. We as teachers know how truly exhausting the profession is, and everyone outside of the teaching world just doesn’t get it. I think I can speak for most educators when I say the first month of summer is spent simply recuperating from the school year.

Teachers don’t get summers off; they just collect their overtime.


After the initial phase of summer where I am simply regaining my strength and energy, I am often ready to dive right back into curriculum and start planning for the upcoming year. Well, that’s usually the case…This year, I am finding myself pushing things off until the last possible second. Anyone else with me? This year more than ever I am looking to get the most bang for my buck when it comes to planning.

Cue this blog post…

MY GOAL: to finish my long-term planning in three hours or less

Now, I obviously cannot make copies and plan every detail of every lesson in three hours. However, my goal is to set up my planner and create an outline of my year. I like to break down my summer planning into three tasks:

Teach Love Inspire – I LOVE my Purple Trail teacher planner!

Task 1: Planner Setup

Perhaps one of the most mundane yet necessary steps of setting up your planner is writing in the dates for the school year. I did this for years until I finally splurged and got a pre-dated planner from Purple Trail. What I love MOST about this planner is that everything is customizable. The absolute best option is the pre-dated planner and customized subject headings.

Check out Purple Trail planners here. Use this link to save $10 off your order!

Curious why I LOVE my Purple Trail planner so much? Click here, and I’ll tell ya…

Once the dates are written in, it’s sticker time! I get out my school’s calendar and put in all the important school events: Back to School Night, Open House, Conference Weeks, field trips, minimum dismissals, etc. For me, I use stickers, but you could always just write these dates in, of course. Having these events already in your planner saves heartache down the road.

There was a time I used to add these dates in every month, but I undoubtedly would forget an important event. Then, I would “overplan” on a minimum day, for instance. Although this mistake is not the end of the world, it does get annoying if done often enough.

Teacher Tip: While you are writing the dates in your planner, write the dates on your newsletter templates also! This will save you the hassle of doing it every week. Trust me, it’s worth the time. OR…

Let me do the work for you. You will never have to date another newsletter EVER!!!***

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Task 2: Scope and Sequence

Now that your planner is ready to go, it’s time to long-term plan. It is extremely difficult to fit everything into a school year. Therefore, it is critical to divide the standards and curriculum before the school year begins.

I know this may be debatable, but I stand firm in my opinion. For me, in order to be most effective, I need to know what I will be teaching next. I think it is even important for students to know what they will be learning next.

For example, when I teach my students how to infer, I explain to them that they will need this skill in order to analyze the theme of a text. That way, by the time we get to theme, they are already well aware that inferencing is needed. It helps to “warm up their brains” to this concept.

In order to be able to teach in such a way, you as the educator must know your year-long plans like the back of your hand.

When I sit down to plan, I start with math. I look over each unit and determine which units are most essential and will be the most challenging for students. (It may be helpful to look at your students’ data from the previous school year. Are there any gaps in their learning that will need to be addressed?) I then assign a total number of weeks for each unit. NOTE: I recommend taking one week per unit test if you are planning on giving second chance tests and intervention days.

Once the weeks have been assigned, spread the units out over the school year, taking into account school breaks, holidays, field trips, and other school events. UPPER-GRADE TEACHERS: Make sure to plan around state testing! You will need to finish the essential standards beforehand. Leave the non-essential standards, or standards that will be reviewed in the next grade level, for after testing.

Rinse and repeat for the other subjects you teach! It usually takes me around 15 minutes per subject, if that. If you are new to your grade level, it may take you a bit longer. The good news is you can always use the same scope and sequence for years to come!!!

Task 3: First Week Plans

The last task for our summer planning session is to plan the first week of school. The first week of school should be filled with “getting to know you” activities, classroom community games, and a ton of SEL! Pandemic or not, my opinion has always remained the same: curriculum does not belong in the first two weeks of school. Routines and procedures, yes. Standards, no. Perhaps you can include some foundational skills during the second week but definitely not during the first.

If you typically start teaching right away, this idea may seem a bit daunting to you, but trust me, building a strong classroom community filled with learners who feel loved, welcomed, and excited is worth every minute. The rest of the school year will thank you for taking the time to build such a strong learning environment.

I am not going to go into detail about various activities, as I have already written a detailed blog post about them. However, I do want to mention what a typical first week of school looks like in my classroom. No matter the grade level, I always include the following activities every day during that first week:

  • “Getting to Know You” Activity – All About Me, I Wish My Teacher Knew, Reading Preferences, etc
  • Student Ice Breaker – These are fun!
  • Teamwork Activity – I love PBL (project-based learning) tasks. I often teach one skill per day, such as how to respectfully disagree, how to be a strong leader, how to split up tasks, etc. Looking for ideas? Check these out!
  • SEL Read Aloud and Reflection – Picture books are NOT just for primary grades. They can be used to teach skills such as perseverance, respect, friendship, and so much more! During the first week, no matter what grade I am teaching, I end the day with a picture book read aloud. We then do a quick activity to practice applying the book’s message to our classroom. This activity comes in the form of a discussion, drawing, or quick write. Sometimes, I will even use what they created in a Gallery Walk the next morning. I am currently compiling a list of books and ideas that you can use during the first couple weeks of school. BLOG POST COMING SOON!!!

I don’t know about you, but I am feeling much more prepared for the school year already. The best part? I am feeling prepared without being overwhelmed!

Our next blog post will post on August 21 and will cover SEL picture books and activities you can use during your first two weeks of school. Make sure to check it out!

Other Blog Posts to Help You Get Ready for Back to School

Setting Up Your Classroom: 10 Must-Dos for Any Upper-Grade TeacherWho doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned classroom reveal?!
5 First Week of School Activities Your Upper Graders Will LoveDiscover ideas and downloadable freebies for the first week of school!
10 must-teach classroom routines and procedures to start the year off rightIncludes Ideas for the
Second Week of School
5 Goals of Reading Workshop:
Is Reading Workshop Effective?
Instill a love of reading in your classroom. Trust me, this is a MUST-READ.

Published by Learning N Progress

I am an elementary teacher who specializes in differentiated instruction and intervention. I have taught grades K-6, including intervention and gifted students. I am here to help other educators make differentiated instruction easy to manage and effective in reaching EVERY student in their classes.

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