The school year is almost over. There, we said it. And after you go grab a paper bag to breathe into while you contemplate all the things you still need to get done this year (deep breaths), read on to find creative ideas for year-end lessons that will get your students reflecting about all of the great things they accomplished in the last nine months. Here are some of our favorite ideas.
1. Book Hall-of-Fame. Have each student write (or draw) a reflection on the best book they read over the year. Then, save their reflections and post them on a bulletin board so that next year’s students can glean reading ideas.
2. It Takes a Village. Or at least a classroom. Write several story titles—”The Great Summer Adventure,” “How My Teacher Lost Her Mind” or “My Teacher, My Hero” at the top of blank pages. Then, have each student start a story and after five minutes, pass the story to a neighbor who will continue writing. Continue writing round-robin style until you have several stories to read aloud to the class.
3. High School (or Middle School) Musical. Break your students into groups and have them create (and perform) musical numbers commemorating the year.
4. Teach Me. Flip your classroom upside down AND backwards. Have each student prepare a video lesson (try using the app Explain Everything) on a topic that they learned about during the year. Then have them (re)teach the class what they learned while you sit in the back of the classroom and pass (um, we mean take) notes.
5. Dear Next Year’s Class. Have your students write letters of advice (or, if they want, commiseration) to next year’s students.
6. Count ‘Em Up. Get students counting by having them use a calendar to figure out how many Mondays you’ve had this year, how many Fridays, how many P.E. days and how many Jello-in-the-cafeteria days. Then work together to make a bar graph and hang it on the wall.
7. People of the Year. Time Magazine can’t have all the fun. Help your students to compile of book of the “People of the Year” for your class. Make sure to include important people from history (say, Obama and Romney) as well as important people to your classroom (the custodian, the principal and even that crotchety lunch lady.)
8. Science-Inspired Art. Head outside with paper and art supplies such as watercolors, colored pencils and chalk. Ask your students to create a wall-worthy piece of art that reflects something they learned in science. Did you study plants? Maybe a watercolor of flowers. Or if you studied space? A cosmic-inspired number. Dirt? Well, at least they’ll have to take their artwork home before too long.
Question for you: How do you commemorate the school year?
In the first end of year post, I wrote about having students remix their work in order to resee it and remember it. In the second post, I explored the idea of designing an end of year reflection that plunges students back into their work from the year and encourages them to critically think about it with an eye towards what happens next. In this post, we’ll play around with the idea of letter writing as a way to culminate the year.
Idea #3: Writing An End of Year Letter
There are a few different kinds of letters that I suggest would be useful in bringing the year to a meaningful close: teacher to student, student to self, and student to next year’s teacher.
Letters are great because they are personal. They are different from emails. They stretch time. They open spaces to be honest. The physicality of them makes the receiver want to keep them. Letters are like gifts. You look forward to opening them. Often we’ll read them, or part of them, more than once. Letters also push the writer to think carefully before writing because the audience is immediate. For all of these reasons, letter writing is a great way to end the year.
Write a letter to your students
The kind of end of year letter that probably comes first to mind is the letter from the teacher to the student. This may seem daunting at first, particularly if you have 150 students! Let’s look first at the kind of letter you can write if your student load is more manageable. If you have a class of 26, you can write individual letters to the students. They don’t have to be long, but make sure that you are specific to each student. Highlight a specific aspect of their work that you think was particularly strong. Reveal a way that they were in the class that contributed to the success of the whole. These letters are a time for celebrating great work and for pushing students to keep going in that direction. I would end the letter with exactly that kind of push. Help each of your students see what could possibly happen next for them. Finally, it would be nice to leave them with a quote that you think is particularly relevant. Maybe the whole class gets the quote in their letters. Maybe it is a quote that has become part of the ritual of the class over the course of the year so that when the students read the quote in their letters, it reminds them of the class.
If you have 150 students or more, I would still write a letter, but it would be one letter to the class as a whole. I would still make it personal by pointing about specific things that the students did that made the class meaningful, interesting, and fun. I would include a quote, and I would address the letter individually to each student, placing it in an envelop for each student. Envelops are key. The students have to be able to open the letters up. That is part of the specialness of it.
Have your students write letters to their future selves
This is a great idea. Has a bit of the time capsule element to it. In this case, have your students write letters to their future selves. Let them know that you will hold on to these letters until they graduate from high school. Make sure they include their address on the envelop that you provide for them just in case they leave the school. I know that this does not guarantee that the letter will make it to them, but it is a step in the right direction.
In terms of the letter, coach them on what they could write by asking a few questions:
- What would you want to say to your future self?
- What about this year would you want to remember?
- What are things that are important to you now?
- What are you proud of?
- What do you wish could change?
The foil of the future self really helps free the writer to say things they normally wouldn’t say. Once they have written the letters, have them seal them in an envelope, addressed to themselves, and hold on to them. Hand them back the day of graduation or shortly before or after and see what happens.
Have your students write a letter to next year’s teacher
What a wonderful opportunity – the chance to share a bit of oneself with next year’s teacher. For this form of letter, I would introduce it to the students by asking the question, “If you had a chance to write a letter to your teacher next year, what would you want to say?” This question would hopefully open up a pretty interesting conversation that would then prime the pump for the letters themselves. Tell the students that this is a chance to share a bit about yourself, about the work that you have done, and about what you would love to be able to do next year. Questions that they might want to address in the letter:
- What work have you done that you are particularly proud of? Why?
- What are some questions you have about next year?
- What do you really hope you get to do next year in class?
- What is something that you would like to get better at?
For younger students, this kind of letter is a great way to work on learning the form of a proper letter. For all students, this kind of letter provides an unusual opportunity to make initial contact with next year’s teacher in a meaningful way. All letters should be placed in envelopes and addressed to the teacher(s). Who knows, maybe the teacher(s) that receive(s) it will either respond back over the summer and/or in the way they design the following year.
Category: Reflection, Teaching, Writing-Based Curriculum | Tags: critical reflection, elementary, high school, Language Arts, literacy, middle school, Reflection, Self-Assessment, writing, writing-based curriculum