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Plan Out of School, End of the Year Activities

Jordan Catapano

 

Our normal school days provide a designated time for us to meet with students. This designated time together is nice – we know exactly when, where, and for how long we’ll see one another. However, this timeframe can often prove confining too: you get your exact apportioned time regardless of if you need more or less of it. Plus, it relegates our interactions to classrooms rather than giving more open opportunities.

On occasion we facilitate field trips or end of the year activities that are great for sharing a unique out-of-the-classroom experience, providing an alternative to the schoolhouse learning experience. Yes, these can be expensive, rare, and not to mention a pain to orchestrate between students, chaperones and administrators.

If you’re looking for some out-of-the-classroom or end of the year activities with students that don’t involve the degree of logistics a field trip might require, then consider organizing a casual get-together with your students at a public setting. This kind of experience can bring learning to the real world, yet put it at a much more social, relational level.

My Story

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When at the end of a class period I found over a dozen sophomore hands in the air eagerly waving to be called on moments before the bell dismissed us, I jokingly said, “You guys would get together on a Saturday to talk about this!” When the students responded with a serious, “We would!” I got to thinking of the possibilities.

A week and a half later, I found myself sitting at a local pizza restaurant surrounded by almost two dozen of the sophomores from that class. For the next two hours, we ate pizza and chatted about our current read – “Life of Pi.” The conversation we shared was unlike any that we normally hosted in our regular classroom discussions, as students openly engaged with one another, shared personal stories and reflections, and let their thoughts on the novel intertwine with their broader thoughts on life. I had received the “all-clear” blessing from my school’s administration to gather with students here, and students had their parents sign permission slips stating that they knew their child was electing to meet with their teacher in a social setting. The night was a success, and students asked when we could do it again.

What You Can Do

For all the work that goes into our daily lessons and in-the-classroom activities, there’s something to be said about a simple change of scenery. Sometimes I worry that students might only think our work is relevant inside the four walls of the classroom, so one way that I counteract that fear is by organizing casual out-of-the-classroom get-togethers.

There are a variety of options for any teacher when it comes to organizing their own similar gathering at an unusual time and place. Of course, the largest objective for you is to determine what would work for the personality and preference of your class. Ask yourself, “What do I want students to get out of a more casual, social time together?” and “What kind of setting or activity can help us accomplish that?” Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • See a movie at the theater together that’s related to your current class content.
  • Meet for a chat at a local coffee shop, bakery, etc.
  • Share a meal together (there’s something to be said about the power of food).
  • Have a class party at a favorite local haunt.
  • Identify a unique show or experience (concert, performance, museum exhibit, etc.) to visit together.
  • Or … poll your class and see what might interest them.

Making it Work

Hosting an out-of-the-classroom social learning experience won’t work for every class of students. Some groups just aren’t interested in meeting with you. Other classes have mixtures of students that may not welcome being very social with one another. But if you have a class that is interested and a definite learning objective you feel this unique activity could facilitate, then make sure you cover your bases with the following:

  • Gauge students’ interest and availability in getting together.
  • Make sure your building administration is aware of your plans (better for them to know upfront then find out later).
  • Make sure parents are fully aware of what exactly your activity and objectives are. Permission slips are strongly encouraged, though not required for a purely optional, social event.
  • Provide students with detailed invitations that clearly state the time, place, and objective.
  • Pester students with reminders.
  • Make it clear that no points, course credit, extra credit, favoritism, or any benefit of any kind is conferred for attending the gathering. It is based purely on free will.
  • Make a definite plan for the event, thinking through what you want to do or talk about with students and how that’s going to happen.
  • Don’t over plan – it’s not class, after all! Keep it fun and casual.

Brace for Success … or Failure

I’d like to say that for all the times I’ve organized out-of-the-classroom events, they’ve all be successes, but I’d be lying. Many of them have been successes, but many have been flops, too. Sometimes hardly any students have shown up. Sometimes I didn’t get the administrative blessing. And other times, despite the planning and the attendance, the activity just didn’t have the “glow” that I hope would come from this unique experience.

But that’s OK with me.

The power and depth of sharing a casual, social, intellectual activity with a class has convinced me that it’s worth a few flops to get to those successes. I have been able to develop deeper relationships and teach students more about our content and skills than I could have in the more rigid confines of our class time together. So if you want to take a unique, more relational approach to building into students, consider organizing your own out-of-the-classroom learning experience. 

Have you done your own out-of-the-classroom gatherings with your students? What did you do, and how did you make it a success? Please tell us about it so we can learn from you!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.

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