As the school year winds down, it can be hard for students (and teachers) to keep their positive energy high. With the end in sight, it can be hard to stay motivated to do work. With worries about the end of the year (and what the summer and next year will bring) building, it’s hard to stay in control. Especially with the pressures of testing and end-of-year assessments and paperwork, teachers can be so caught up in getting things done that we forget to keep learning fun and help students make a positive emotional transition to the next year.
At Parker-Varney Elementary School in Manchester, NH, teachers brainstormed ideas for ways to support academic engagement and maintain positive behavior in the last weeks of school. Their ideas (shared below) illustrate the important connections between great academic work and social and emotional learning. Through continuing to build positive community—even through helping students feel nostalgic about the year—they help students stay emotionally invested in learning. By maintaining consistent management practices, they create safe spaces where kids can still learn. When we create fun and lively academic work for students to do, kids can better maintain the enthusiasm needed to keep learning and stay positive and kind with others. We must remember that the last weeks of school should be treated with the same thoughtful planning and consideration as the first weeks of school!
In the comments section at the end of this blog, feel free to share more ideas that you have for helping the end of the school year finish strongly. This list is just a beginning!
- Keep the schedule as predictable as possible to maintain consistency.
- When there are changes, add a lightning bolt (or some other symbol) to the schedule to give kids a heads-up.
- Choose great read-alouds that will capture students’ imagination.
- Have students read to each other.
- Play outside games (especially ones that reinforce academics—like skip counting while jumping).
- Join with buddy classrooms for projects or reading.
- Introduce new materials (like colored pencils or new math manipulatives) to add a sense of novelty.
- Find reasons to add coloring to academic activities.
- Have your class vote on favorite games and activities from the year and start playing them (to builda a sense of nostalgia).
- If you have morning messages from throughout the year (or some other record of the year—perhaps pictures)—start to reexamine them to reminisce about the year.
- Have older kids help younger ones (which can help both sets have positive behavior and engagement).
- Create a book of memories—that includes academic review.
- Look back through the year’s reading journals—revisit favorite books and look for growth.
- Create short plays or movies to review content from the year.
- Write “easy reader” or alphabet books of content from the year to bring to a younger grade classroom.
- Poetry is a great final writing workshop of the year. It’s short and playful. Kids can write many poems and create a class anthology.
- Take on an outdoor project (like a garden or playground clean-up).
- Bring work outside.
- Have the class generate 10 activities to do last 10 days of school. Put each idea in a balloon. Then, each day, pop a balloon and do the activity.
- Have students write letters to their future selves or to next year’s students.
- Create a memory box—full of mementos from the year.
- Have students create video messages to next year’s students about how to have a successful year in the grade.
- Visit teachers and classrooms from the next grade to help ease next-year worries.
- Specials teachers can have kids write descriptions of their classroom teachers to share at the end of the year.
- Create a class Jeopardy game—have kids create questions/answers that come from content learned throughout the year (science, math, music, social studies, etc.). Consider some non-academic categories as well (recess, funny things that happened, the lunchroom, etc.).
- Have themed celebration days—some that directly connect with academic and some that don’t (dinosaurs, pirates, board games, summer fun, pajamas, science, etc.).
- Remodel expectations and routines as needed.
- Continue to balance being firm and kind—setting a positive tone while also helping students feel safe.
- Be playful with writing: create stories about themed sticker sheets, create illustrations in the style of favorite picture books, etc.
- Engage in author studies in reading.
- Create craft/design challenges with marbles/tubes, fun craft materials, painting, weaving/braiding, etc.
- Make and play with playdough, slime, Ooblek, etc.
- Create and try out cooperative challenges. (How high can we build a stack of snap cubes? How many kinds of reptiles can a group name in 3 minutes?)
- Create end-of-year mementos: friendship bracelets, class pictures, t-shirts, etc.
- Pre-K teachers insisted that dance parties are a must-have activity!
These ideas were generated in small groups during a mid-May in-house professional development day. You can try the same activity at your school at a staff meeting, during team meetings, or over lunch with a few positive colleagues. What other ideas can you come up with?
Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including What We Say and How We Say It Matter, The Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.