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One-Day Wonders: Great Activities for a Single Class

Kim Haynes

One-Day Wonders

There is a scourge that strikes classrooms every spring, as common as hay fever or senioritis. It is the one-day gap in the schedule, the single class period of time when you’ve finished the last lesson but really can’t start the next one. Maybe it’s right before Spring Break and your students aren’t focused. Or right after Spring Break and their brains haven’t woken back up to school yet. Or too many kids are off at a sporting event, or it’s too close to testing time to introduce anything new…. Whatever the reason, it’s time for a One-Day Wonder: an activity that only takes a single class period, won’t have a major impact on their grades, but will offer some educational benefit.

Preview/Review Day

Students can always benefit from re-visiting things they learned before, and who doesn’t like a preview of coming attractions? Declare a preview/review day. Devote half the class to an activity that reviews content students learned last semester (or even last year). Dig up an old test, have students re-take it, with a prize for those students who do well. No need to enter the grades – it’s just for practice. Then devote the second half of the class period to an activity that introduces something they will learn next year. Give your biology students a taste of chemistry. If your fourth graders have added and subtracted fractions, introduce them to multiplying and dividing fractions. Explain that this is a preview: students won’t be graded for getting problems wrong. Encourage them to guess, to experiment, to explore these new ideas.  Often we don’t have time to let students try and fail without consequence, but this is a perfect opportunity!

Instant Debate

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A debate is a terrific classroom activity. It builds speaking and listening skills, encourages critical thinking, and boosts student participation. But debates can be time-consuming and tricky to arrange. Instead, hold an instant debate.

Pick a topic. You can choose something directly out of your curriculum, or select a topic that ties your subject to the “real world.” For example:

  • Math: Should students be asked to memorize theorems and do math in their head? Or should calculators be used at all levels?
  • Science: Should we control what scientists research so they don’t discover “bad” things like diseases that can be used for biological warfare? If so, how do we do that? If not, how do we prevent the bad things from causing problems?
  • History: The Internet is the single most important invention in human history. Agree or Disagree? Why?
  • English: Should books be banned? Who gets to decide if a book deserves to be banned? What should happen to banned books? If books aren’t banned, how do we prevent people from accessing inappropriate content?

If necessary, find or prepare a short reading on the topic. When class starts, divide the students into two groups and assign them to a point of view. Give them time to organize their thoughts and discuss it in groups. Then have each group nominate one spokesperson (or a small group of spokespeople) who will present their group’s point of view. Let each side present their argument while the other side takes notes. After both sides have presented, send them back to their groups to develop a rebuttal to the other side’s argument. Then have a different spokesperson from each group share the rebuttal. Finally, hold a class vote to see what students’ actual opinions are.

Skill-Building Day

Most teachers can tell you about the skills they wish their students would develop: time management, organization, note-taking, and so on. Choose one you think this year’s crop of students needs help with, and devote a day to that skill. Do some research in advance so you can offer a range of approaches: three different ways to organize your backpack or four different note-taking methods. Even your best and brightest students can benefit from a day to self-assess and improve their basic skills, and your scattered students might really blossom with a little assistance.

Research Scavenger Hunt

(This approach works best for students with access to a library or computer lab, or students in a 1:1 laptop or tablet environment.)

Create a list of topics related to your subject.  They could be curriculum-based (the periodic table of elements), news items related to your field (which famous British monarch’s body was recently identified?), or names of famous people in your field (a list of 20th century American authors).

Ask students to work in pairs or small groups to search for specific information about each item on the list: for example, the name of each author’s best known work and the year it was published. Have students write down the information and the website (or book) they got the information from. Offer prizes to the student who finishes first, the student who gets the most correct answers, the student who finds the most obscure correct information, and so on.

Career Day

Students are often more interested in the adult work world than the classroom. Take advantage of that by spending a day discussing how your subject area affects the “real world.” Try one of these activities:

  • Bring in a guest speaker who works in a subject-related field
  • Have students research careers that use your subject
  • Teach students a job-related skill, such as resume writing or participating in a job interview. The Purdue Online Writing Lab has great job-related writing resources.

Your students might develop a whole new appreciation for math when they realize it’s used to create the computer graphics of their favorite cartoon or video game!

Day-Long Unit

There is probably a topic you would love to teach if you had the time. English teachers have been known to speak longingly about units on advertising or propaganda, while math teachers bemoan the lack of basic financial literacy. Whole units exist online on these topics; choose the best materials and make a day-long unit. You may find yourself hoping for more one-day gaps in the schedule!

Whatever the reason, ever y teacher will be confronted by a day when the traditional curriculum just doesn’t quite fit. But with a little planning ahead, these awkward class periods can be turned into fabulous One-Day Wonders!


What do you liked to do with your extra class periods? Tell us in the comments!