By Teachers, For Teachers
The last few weeks of school can be challenging. As thoughts turn to summer vacation it can be difficult to keep our students’ minds (and ours!) on school work. Many schools throw an additional curve ball in teachers’ direction by requiring grades to be submitted a week or more before the school year ends. As a result, we’re faced with a classroom of summer-crazed students to keep under control and no grades to use as an incentive to get them to behave!
With that in mind, here are eight fun and unique ways to spend the last few days of the school year. While showing a movie or giving your class opportunities to sign yearbooks kill time, these activities will make your students reflect on their school year and provide you with useful feedback. Perhaps most importantly, it will leave your students with fun, positive memories of their experience in your classroom that they will take with them when they go.
As teachers, we are trained to give feedback – both positive and negative. Rarely do we get the opportunity to take time to just celebrate all the wonderful qualities our students possess and display throughout the school year. Take some time in these last few weeks to hold a fun event where you provide each student with a certificate celebrating what makes them special. You can find lists of silly awards online, but some that I have given out are:
The only advice I’d offer is to make all of the awards are positive. It might be tempting to give out The Rolex Award – for the student most often tardy to class, but at this point in the year I think it’s more important to not focus on getting in a jibe at a student who hasn’t been perfect, but rather to acknowledge the positive attributes each student has brought to our classrooms. You’ll be surprised at the pride and happiness your students will feel knowing that you’ve recognized their best qualitie
In college, I worked part-time at the end of each semester as a proctor for course evaluations. The professor would leave the room, and I would run through a script stating that the professor had requested a formal evaluation of his/her teaching practices. It was an easy way to pick up some extra cash, but I also noticed that some students really jumped at the chance to let the professor know how they felt about the class they had just taken.
Our students are no different. While it might be harder for us to get anonymous feedback, giving our students an opportunity to tell us what they learned, what they liked and disliked, and what they wish we’d do differently can be an amazingly eye-opening and rewarding activity. Make sure you ask a good mix of questions. I ask what the student’s favorite and least favorite unit was and why, but I also ask if they felt I treated them fairly, if they thought I favored some students over others, and if the work was too easy, too difficult, or just right. These are the questions I want answers to, so I can plan to make any changes to my class next year if needed. If you want truly honest feedback, let them turn their surveys in anonymously.
Teachers often pass along information about their students to the teacher who will work with them the following year. It’s important to get information, like which students really shouldn’t be in a group together, which parents expect you to communicate weekly, and which parents are challenging to get in touch with, etc. However, we often discover that the students have changed over the summer, or that the students who might have made last year’s teacher crazy are some of your favorite students this year. You just never know. That’s why I like to give my students an opportunity to introduce themselves to their next teacher in their own words.
Have your class write letters of introduction that you can pass along to their next teacher. You’ll be surprised how honest they’ll be about what they do well, what they struggle with, and what they hope to accomplish next school year. And, you’ll be happy knowing that you’re still reviewing important skills like letter writing, spelling, and using appropriate language for the audience (their next teacher) to whom they are speaking/writing.
Most administrators are very understanding about how difficult keeping students engaged in meaningful, educationally relevant activities can be as the year winds to a stop. That being said, I always feel like teacher of the year when my principal stops by my room and sees my students doing an awesome activity when they could be signing yearbooks or watching a movie.
Why not combine your students’ desire to reflect on their school year with a review of graphs by having them create a graph of the “highs” and “lows” of their past ten months? Ask students to list their best and worst moments of the year. I always have them start with the first day of school and offer some suggestions for other “data points,” like field trips, dances, snow days, holidays, big tests or projects, etc. Then, the students can rate how good or bad these events were to them and plot them on a graph. If desired, have them create their graphs on poster board so they can illustrate each event.
End of the year activities don’t have to be overly complicated to be fun. Why not review some types of poetry by holding an end of the year poetry jam?
Invite students to create their own haikus, diamante poems, concrete poems, cinquains, acrostics, and free verse poems about the school year or about what they plan to do this summer. Hold a poetry reading and invite students to share their work. Students tend to be a bit bolder when the subject is so familiar and the situation is laid-back, so you might find that some of your less outgoing students are willing to share their work when grades are not involved.
There isn’t much students love more than the realization that they are now the experts on their grade – so much more experienced and knowledgeable than the kids who will be in your class next year. Give them the chance to show off with these next two activities that ask them to reflect on what they have learned and share some useful advice with your incoming class.
The ABC’s of Our Grade
ABC charts, where students are asked to come up with some piece of advice or information for each letter of the alphabet, are a fun challenge to give your class during the last few weeks of school. Invite the students to work in pairs or groups to add some additional fun to the activity and circulate frequently to see what they come up with for each letter. You’ll enjoy seeing how they fit the year’s lessons and activities into the chart and they’ll have a blast thinking back over all that they’ve done. If desired, save their charts to display next August and you’ll have one bulletin board planned and ready to go!
Welcome to Your School Year
Similar to the ABC chart, it can be a blast to ask your students to provide your incoming class with advice for how to survive your class and grade. Come up with a list of fun questions, like:
Your class will love giving the “inside scoop” to their younger schoolmates (and you’ll love reading their responses!). Compile all their responses and you’ll have a fun bulletin board or book to share with your new pupils next fall.
I saved this activity until the end because it’s my favorite. It sounds a little cheesy, but the first time I ever saw it done was in my senior English class in high school, when my teacher, an amazing lady (Hi, Mrs. Duprat!), asked us to end our year with it. I’ve never forgotten this exercise.
My classmates and I were given an index card for each student in class, along with a brown paper bag. We were asked to decorate the bags with our names and things we remembered from the school year. After we were done decorating our bags, she told us to write one nice thing we remembered about each of our classmates and place them in their bag. We were allowed to do this anonymously. Later, we were allowed to go through our bags and read all of the nice things our fellow classmates had said about us. It was wonderful.
What a great way to spend a few minutes reading what other people thought about you – in a positive way. In my classrooms I’ve added a few caveats when I do this activity. I gather up the cards and double-check them just to ensure that nothing inappropriate gets put in someone’s bag. I express my expectations for positive comments and offer some suggestions for nice, neutral comments for students who don’t know each other well or who don’t like each other. I think this is important too, because it teaches students the valuable lesson of looking for the good in other people – even if they don’t really get along. More often than not, I’m thrilled with the thoughtful responses my students come up with for each other. I’ve also added a brown bag for myself – hey, we need to hear the good things our students think about us too!