Alternatives to "What I Did on My Summer Vacation"

Do your students groan when you ask them what they did on their summer vacations? Do you groan a little as you wait for someone to answer? That could be because some people have had a fabulous summer, while some students have not. Some students might have jetted off on vacation, perhaps taking a flight booked on Jettly or another booking site, and had a more adventurous summer, and others might have decided to stay at home, visit somewhere local for a few day trips, or even sunbathed in their garden for 2 months. Some do however not like the heat of the summer so much so they may have been cooped up inside with their AC unit (you can visit this link for more information on a service that can help with that), still enjoying their time off watching tv shows or spending quality time with their family! If you and your students had the summer off, it’s pretty impossible to avoid the what-we-did-this-summer topic. You’ll have some students who have spent weeks abroad, others who have visited a city like Houston for a long weekend (cramming in some of the things listed on, and some who won’t have had a vacation at all. Wherever they have or haven’t been, you can guarantee they won’t want to talk about it. So instead of dragging “not much” out of them, or assigning the question as a journal or essay topic, can you think of some new ways to ask the proverbial back-to-school question?

Just don’t tell them what you did in your summer if you spent 3 weeks smoking CBD joints in Amsterdam! Save that story for your own friends…

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking. Please share your own ideas in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our Back To School Lesson Collection.

Alternative Back-to-School Discussion Topics

  • What I DIDN’T DO this summer
  • A unique person I met this summer
  • My most memorable moment of the summer
  • One thing I learned this summer
  • The person I spent the most time with this summer
  • The best meal I ate this summer
  • A day that I wish didn’t happen this summer
  • What I wish I had taken a picture of this summer
  • Something educational I did this summer
  • Something I bought this summer
  • Something I made this summer
  • The best word to describe this summer

Alternative Back-to-School Classroom (and Homework) Activities

  • To warm up, play a class game of categories using “summer things” only (e.g., things I did, things I ate, things I saw, things I accomplished, things I should have done). After the topic is shouted out, go around the class giving each student a chance to share a word or phrase about his or her summer. The topic changes each time a student hesitates for too long (5 seconds or so). More advanced students can create their own “summer thing” categories. Teacher can name the category for lower level students.
  • Instead of asking your students, “What did you do this summer?” have each student take a turn changing the verb do to another verb (e.g. eat, sing, play, find). Go around the room to get a response from each student for each new verb.
  • Make movies about My Summer using an online movie maker tool such as Dvolver
  • Play My Summer – Fact or Fiction. Students tell something that did or didn’t happen this summer. The class has to guess whether each story is true or made up.
  • Have students interview each other about the past summer. Student can report back to the class about the highlights of their partner’s summer. Students can turn the discussion topics (above) into questions, or write their own.
  • Have students create their own Find someone whothis summer. Students can do the writing in pairs and then break up and survey the class (e.g., Find someone who got injured this summer, Find someone who went to the USA this summer, Find someone who worked most of the summer).
  • For homework, have students write true stories from their summer as if they were found in a newspaper. (Tell students it’s okay to embellish.) Put the stories together to make a Summer Digest.
  • Make a My Summer collage (with old magazines) and describe it. Or divide a page in half and have partners work on their own collage on each side. They can present the collage to the class by comparing the two summers.
  • Have each student ask you a question about your summer. The earlier they get to know a bit about the real you, the better.


What ideas do you have for avoiding the dreaded summer vacation topic? Share your back-to-school ideas and links in the comments.


Leave a Comment ↓

  1. GLORIA says:

    Sep 04, 2018 at 7:00 am

    Brilliant ideas! And so handy! Thank you so much!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Sep 04, 2018 at 10:20 am

      Thanks, Gloria! We hope you have a great term with your new students. Let us know if you have any special needs this year. ~ Tara

  2. kata says:

    Sep 04, 2018 at 6:09 am

    Hi Tara, thank you for these brilliant creative ideas!! I- like others here- didn’t want to do the usual question thing- and although I’m teaching one-to-one classes some of these can be well used in that too. I love the alternative discussion topics and the facts or lie game. Thank you so much!!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Sep 04, 2018 at 10:19 am

      Hi Kata,

      Thanks for your message! We’re so happy to hear that you are going to try some of these ideas. Have fun with your new students!


  3. Natalia says:

    Sep 02, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you so much for your fantastic ideas!! Tomorrow is the first school day in Belarus. And you have been so much help with the first lesson for my students.

  4. Luke says:

    Sep 01, 2018 at 10:30 am

    I like how these activities can be expanded upon. For example, for the “What did you do this summer?” activity where students suggest different verbs, they can of course ask each other these questions and reply in the past tense of that verb.

    The interview activity is great for introducing reported speech. Other students can also be called upon to ask one relevant question to the interviewed student.

    I like how in some of these activities, the students do some writing at the start. Not only does this help them focus and organize their thoughts, but students can be quite shy when asked to blurt out an answer on the spot.

    Finally, it’s certainly possible to adapt this to going back to school after the winter holiday. For Chinese students, they can adapt these activities for Chinese New Year, and if it’s not the first lesson, they can be assigned related vocabulary to prepare ahead of time.

    Thank you for your wonderful post, Tara!

  5. Chetali Sethi says:

    Jul 01, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Tomorrow is the first day after summer vacation and I’ve so many ideas now, I’m sorted. Thanks a lot for such thoughtful ideas.

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Jul 03, 2018 at 9:01 am

      We’re happy to hear that! Welcome back to school. Have fun!

  6. pri says:

    Sep 02, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for the ideas .
    i teach English to Adult learners . i am gonna try this .

  7. Elaine says:

    Sep 02, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Brilliant ideas. I’m a teaching assistant and have my own writing groups and didn’t want to do the usual ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ piece of writing.

  8. Naomi says:

    Aug 31, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    What an absolute delight to discover this webpage! Thank you, Tara; I will definitely be magpie-ing your ideas with my Y5 class next week!

  9. Emilie says:

    Aug 22, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Thanks, you’ve just made my day!
    It’ll be my 1st year as a teacher, and I was a bit short on ideas.

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Aug 22, 2017 at 11:46 am

      We’ll be thinking of you, Emilie! Have a great first year. Let us know if you need anything. Happy Teaching!

  10. Bel says:

    Aug 16, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Loved your ideas, they are great!!!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Aug 17, 2017 at 8:23 am

      Thanks! Feel free to add some of your own ideas, too!

  11. Juan H says:

    Jul 10, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Great lesson plan, it helped me a lot.

  12. Sonia kazimi says:

    Jun 08, 2017 at 3:48 am

    This is very useful. Want more of these kinda things.

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Jun 08, 2017 at 7:54 am

      Thanks, Sonia! We’re happy to hear that you find this post useful! We’ll try to add some more ideas for activities soon. You can share yours too!

  13. Julio Rios says:

    Mar 19, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Great ideas! I’ll try them. Thanks a lot

  14. Hana says:

    Sep 17, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Wonderful?Just what I needed??Thanx?

  15. eljot says:

    Sep 12, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Your ideas are fantastic! Thank you so much! I’m sure getting back to school after the summer holidays will be great fun for my students :-)

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Sep 12, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! Welcome back to the classroom! Let us know if you have any special requests for blog or lesson topics this school year.

  16. Debbie says:

    Sep 06, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Amazing ideas !
    Thanks a lot !

  17. Hasina says:

    Sep 04, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. They are great and I am definitely going to be using them :)

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Sep 06, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Great to hear! Have a fantastic school year!

  18. Maria Theologidou says:

    Aug 22, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Great post, thank you for all the wonderful ideas you’ve shared! I also love coming up with new, different back to school activities every year, especially ones that are related to/inspired by summer. Here are two posts I’ve written on some more summer-related back to school ideas in case anyone finds them helpful/interesting. and

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Aug 22, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Hi, Maria.

      Your posts have so many fun activities that could be useful for English teachers! I just love the Ziploc Aquarium idea. The T-shirt memory is a fantastic idea too. Thanks so much for sharing your creative back-to-school ideas.


      • Maria Theologidou says:

        Aug 23, 2016 at 4:30 am

        Thank you so much for your kind words, Tara! :)

  19. Shinyoung says:

    Aug 17, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Hi, I’m an English teacher from South Korea and I wanted find a way to stay away from the “typical” after vacation routine. I’m so glad that I found your post! Thanks!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Aug 17, 2016 at 9:24 am

      We’re so glad you stopped by! We hope back-to-school goes smoothly for you this year. Cheers, Tara

  20. Viviane says:

    Feb 24, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    I’m really happy to find here such a great ideas!! Thanks so much!!

  21. Erin says:

    Sep 02, 2015 at 9:49 am

    Thanks for the helpful article!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Sep 02, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Glad you found it useful, Erin!

  22. Marina says:

    Sep 01, 2015 at 9:20 am

    I am going to share something I did last year with my students and thought it was not too bad.
    I prepared sentences. e.g.: I didn´t go abroad this summer. I spent some time studying. I read some interesting books.I missed my teachers. I almost died in the sea. My parents got angry with me a few times. I did not speak any foreign language in summer. I was looking forward to going back to school…
    I cut them up and let students comment on whether they are true, false or partly true.
    There are many ways you can use such prepared cards, either in groups or plenum.

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Sep 01, 2015 at 10:14 am

      Nice idea! Thanks so much for sharing, Marina.

  23. Maica says:

    Apr 06, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Thanks from Spain Tara!
    I’m gonna use the “summer fact or fiction” activity adapted to Holy Week. I have a ten -students classroom and here is what I decided to do taking your ideas as a basis:
    First, they work individually and write four sentences about their vacacion: one of them should be a lie.
    Then, I divide them in two groups. One speaker of the opponent team comes to the front and reads his/her sentences. The opponents have to discoverthe lie. They can ask two questions. If they guess it , they get the point.
    Then, it’s the other team’s turn.
    I hope it’s useful! thanks!

    • Tara Benwell says:

      Apr 06, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      Great! Come back and tell us how it works out, Maica.

  24. Ange says:

    Aug 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    What a Relief!
    Thanks Tara – I was at a loss for the first leeson after summer this year – “The Lies” is great but I always do it for my 1st lesson (ever) with the students.
    You just saved my life – and my sanity!!!
    Thanks again

  25. Derrace says:

    Aug 21, 2012 at 4:59 am

    I am so happy that I found this website. I really was dreading the same old essay “What did you do for your summer vacation?”. Last year I could tell the students were bored and so was I. This year, I have hope for a better experience for me and my students. BTW, I am in Japan !!! Thanks Again !!!

  26. Ali Rose says:

    Sep 02, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Hello Tara!

    Greetings from Japan! I am very happy to have read your post about back to school topics, and I am looking forward to implementing them in my classes!
    Hope to learn and share more ^v^

  27. ESL Library Staff says:

    Aug 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks Anna! Yes, I love those fact or fiction style games. Lying on purpose is a great way to break the ice!


  28. Anna Loseva says:

    Aug 23, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Wow, that’s a blast! Hyperuseful!! Thanks a lot!

    Personally I tried the following task a couple of times: students have to make up 10 sentences, part of which are true and the rest should be LIES (about their summer holidays). They then work in pairs to ask each other all possible questions to find out the true story of each other’s summer! Goes on pretty well, students don’t usually expect you to make them tell lies, and that thrills them=))
    Have a great year ahead!


  29. Joe says:

    Aug 21, 2011 at 3:51 am

    Great article. You may just have saved my life; was dreading another painful week of “What did you do during summer vacation?” Will definitely be checking your website regularly.

  30. sorayya says:

    Aug 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I’m really pleased that I could find your website while I was surfing the internet. The tips here are really benefitial for language teachers. I’m going to apply them in my lesson plans.

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