Summer Work That Sparks Curiosity

what to do when you feel stuck

All year I’ve been writing about teaching research writing. I’ve been teaching two research-heavy classes (AP Seminar and a class called The Incubator) and it’s forced me to zero in on what I’m doing to help my students see the relevance of developing solid research skills.  It has pushed me to think about the why behind the daily scramble of lesson planning and the skills I want my students to have developed by the end of the course.

For this last post of the series, though, I’m thinking most about where my students started and how I could have set them up differently to begin our research journey together.

Two nights ago, I sat on a panel with some of my students as they spoke about their journey through our Incubator class. An audience member asked about advice for students entering the class. A student’s answer?

Get a notebook. Write down every problem you see and then imagine you have to solve it.

That was the moment my wheels started turning. The next day, Rebekah emailed the Moving Writers team to let us know that the 100 Days of Summer Writing was kicking off soon.

Now the big wheels were really turning. Tina Turner-ing, if you will.

giphy (12)

What can I do to spark curiosity in the summer?

How can I lay the groundwork for the type of thinking we will be doing all year long?

How can set them up to come into the year with notebooks full of ideas and wonderings?


A Researcher’s Curious Mindset

Ideally, in September, I need my students to walk into my classroom ready to wonder about the world around them. I need them to ask why something is so when they read a news story. When they encounter a problem, they need to wonder how it came to be, who is going to fix it and how that is going to happen. They must have questions that are like annoying pebbles in their shoes that they simply cannot ignore.

I believe that many of my students used to be this way. They used to incessantly ask questions, demand to know the whys of everything and pick at the adults in their lives until they provided answers. I’m certain of this because I live with two of these persistent researchers–my seven and ten year old. Their friends are all equally persistent so I know it’s not just my kids.  My theory is that many of our students lose this curiosity as they move through school because there simply isn’t the time or space for it as curriculum demands become more intense.

This summer, my assigned work for my future students will attempt to help them reconnect with that childlike curiosity. I want them to wonder about the world around them and do a little writing about those wonderings.

Researchers’ Notebooks

I’m asking my students to keep a researcher’s notebook (see assignment sheet here) over the summer. I’m giving them the choice to set it up however they like with three different options. Do three sections, focus on just one, or choose two.  

Option 1: Things that Need Fixing

Research and argumentative writing often ends up being Problem/Solution-type writing. That’s a fine genre to explore, but many struggle when solutions aren’t simple. When their research reveals complications, they are not sure how to proceed. What if the best solution will still be problematic? What if a solution is only partial?

For these entries, I’m asking students to consider problems they encounter this summer. Everything from large ones they see on the news to small ones they experience in their daily lives. Write about what they observe. Describe who the problem impacts, why it’s problematic, and how it might be solved. What are the limitations to the solution? What are the implications of it? What about the problem is unsolvable?

The goal? I need them to start seeing that most problems we research will be complex with multiple solutions that require careful analysis and judgment.

Option 2: Woah! I didn’t know!

Another roadblock for students’ research and curiosity is their lack of context. They know snippets of what’s going on, but often they’re missing big pieces of the puzzle. Here’s where I will borrow from the 100 Days of Summer Writing.  I’m offering up the link to the slide deck (here’s last year’s link for now) as well as encouraging them to watch or read the news for texts that spark their interest and add to their contextual pool of knowledge.  What’s interesting? What’s confusing? What do you need to know more about?

The goal? Start filling that contextual pool. Texts should generate questions and hopefully this wide variety of short texts will push them into exploring unfamiliar topics a little.

Option 3: My Summer Adventures

My third option gives me a chance to finally steal a great idea from Jessica Salfia (@jessica_salfia) that I’ve been wanting to try for a few years now. She has her students go out and explore their own state and then share their adventures with #adventuresinappalachia on Twitter.  I love this because it pushes kids out of traditional school mode and into some boots on the ground exploring. All I want them to do is check out something new. It could be a big adventure (a family trip), a mid-size adventure- (a museum), or even a small local one (a park or a new restaurant) Whatever the adventure, describe it, what you learned from it, and what questions it raised for you.

The goal? Recognize that research doesn’t just mean sitting at a computer and googling. Talking to people, exploring, using your eyeballs–those are all important steps in the research process.

What do you DO with it? How do you hold students accountable for doing the work?

So this sounds lovely—a summer of exploration and journaling–but we all know that summer work is tricky. It’s becoming more and more controversial as schools do everything from require it to forbid it! If it’s valuable enough to assign it, we need to give the students some credit for doing it, but at the same time, summer is SUMMER. I don’t want to turn this into a chore.

My solution is conferences. I need to get to know my students anyway. What better way than to sit down the first week individually and chat with them about their notebooks? I’ve done this type of assessment of summer work for a few years now and I really love it. I get to know them quickly, and I’m not spending the first week of school grading piles of summer work.  

Because they’re new to me and don’t know my expectations for conferences, I give them a rubric for how the conferences will be assessed. While I’m conferencing, they can work in small groups sharing their notebooks and getting to know one another, working on developing group norms (we do a LOT of group work in my classes), and reviewing some basic research skills. It sets the tone for the year with what I value in my room: time to talk, think, and interact around our work. 

I’ve done parts of all of this at different points in the year before, but I’ve never thrown it all together and made it my summer work for my students. I’m curious to see if it works. At the very least, I’m modeling the researcher’s curious mindset for them, right?


What are you asking of your students this summer? Let me know what you’re doing to spark curiosity with your students! Connect with me on Twitter @TeacherHattie, on the Moving Writers Facebook page, or comment below.




  1. I think you will love teaching this course–it is so much fun and a great challenge every year. I’m glad you’re training in June! That will give you the whole summer to think and process. Feel free to reach out any time you want to chat or if you have questions. There aren’t a TON of AP Sem teachers out there so we need to do a better job of connecting with one another!

  2. This post is EXACTLY what I need right now. I will be teaching AP Seminar this summer (training in June 2019) and am seeking any and all guidance for how this class should be taught. This is my first AP class in my many years of teaching and I am excited for this challenge. I will be searching your archives for any other posts you’ve made about AP Seminar and if you have any further suggestions or other teachers I should follow or contact, I’d appreciate it.
    Students are so used to being given everything they need that the work it takes to find things out on their own gets swept under the rug–this notebook will serve many purposes and is a great foundation for the class.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s