By Teachers, For Teachers
Ah, the end of the year. Everyone’s tired and losing focus. Some tests are behind you (state tests, AP exams), some may be ahead of you, and probably no one – you or your students – is really at their best. So what’s a teacher to do? Choose a goal to make the last month of school an effective one. Here are some time-honored end of the year activities.
You’ve got one last chance to review your material before exams (or the great mind-eraser of summer vacation). Why not…
Split the class into groups and assign each a specific topic you studied this year. Give them time to go over their topic and invent a good review activity, which they have to grade. You assess them on whether they get their facts straight and how effective their review activity is.
When writing for younger children, your students will have to really simplify and emphasize the key elements of your course. This can serve as a great review and a fun way to integrate art into the curriculum. Students might write the children’s version of a Shakespeare play, a young readers’ version of the history of Ancient Egypt, or a picture book that illustrates the cycle of life.
Imagine an Oprah-style show on bullying or school violence as a way to discuss The Chocolate War. Or a discussion on “Great 20th Century Achievements in Science” featuring Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Stephen Hawking – all portrayed by students. Put students in groups and have them research their topic, write a script on it, and present their show to the class.
Looking back can be fun, but it’s also a good instructional strategy to help students learn from previous experience. Why not…
Let each student make a page. Offer some prompts (My favorite book we read…/The best experiment we did in Chemistry…/One thing I learned about myself…) and encourage students to include favorite class memories. Supplement with photos of students, the classroom, or class activities. Make a copy of the scrapbook for every student, or make an electronic scrapbook and take the opportunity to teach students how to use PowerPoint or another program.
Ask your students to write themselves a letter, reviewing the year and making “resolutions” for the next school year. Give them some prompts to write about: one thing they are proud of from this year, one thing they would like to do differently next year, one thing they want to remember, and so on. You can either mail these letters to your students just before the start of the next school year, or make arrangements with their next teachers to distribute the letters at the start of school.
Have your current students write letters of advice for the new students you will teach next year. What advice would they give on how to “survive” or do well in your classroom? What are the hardest parts of the course? Note – if you have any special traditions or “surprise” activities you don’t want students to spoil, make sure to tell them ahead of time.
Work together with your students to develop an individual profile that highlights their work from this year. Depending on the level of your students, this may include samples of work, a self-evaluation, and a written teacher evaluation. If possible, make two copies – one for students to show their parents and a second copy for the student’s next teacher. Keep in mind: this activity works best when it relies on student work and self-assessment more than teacher comments.
For older students, evaluating the course can be valuable on many levels. They may surprise you with their assessments of their own contributions and may have some good suggestions for ways to revise the course. Even better, you’re providing a good model for them, showing everyone can benefit from constructive feedback and all of us have things to learn.
Sometimes, just getting the students to do something educational is hard enough, especially at the end of the year. Why not…
Most teachers have fun units or activities they can never find time for: why not do it now? Food math, logic puzzles, “Mythbuster”-style experiments, or lessons on advertising or political cartoons – these are legitimate educational activities with a high “fun factor” that will make it easier to hold students’ attention.
As the weather warms up, find a way to teach outside. Students can explore nature using math or science skills or write a poem about the weather. Got an activity that is messy or noisy? Doing it on the field is a great way to enjoy spring. Of course, students may get more rowdy outdoors, so make it clear that if they misbehave, it’s back to the classroom and normal (a.k.a. “boring”) assignments.
Every teacher has skills or content they want students to practice – reading, writing, learning the Periodic Table, or memorizing the Pythagorean Theorem. Choose a specific skill and make it the focus on your lessons. Have a Reading Fair, declare Grammar Week, or hold a Math Theorem Memorization Contest.
Find a fun way to practice these skills – if your students need to improve their reading skills, can you allow them to read Sports Illustrated or X-Box: the Magazine? If they need more time on writing, have them write profiles of their favorite TV stars or even write their own autobiographies. Practice is easier than learning new material, but still a valid way to spend class time.
Take this time to get involved with a cause that is meaningful to you or your students? Students can write letters to government leaders, organize fundraisers, or create pamphlets or flyers addressing a particular issue. You can build off world events, tackle an issue you read about during the year, or just ask students what issues matter to them.
Unsure of what your students can do? Why not have them research ways that people their age can make a difference? Create a binder or website that lists volunteer activities or causes that welcome the support of younger people – it can be a resource the entire community can benefit from.
It can be hard to keep yourself – and your students – motivated, but with a little effort and planning, the last month could be the most fun, most effective time of the school year!
What are your favorite end of the year activities? Share in the comments section!