As the school year winds down my days always start with the question of “How I am going to manage the excitement and chaos while also having fun with my students?” Here are a variety of strategies you can use to help you navigate the end of the year.
I feel like there are really two categories that all of these can be broken into. Depending on your personality or the students you have this year, one category may be more appealing, but mixing is strategies from both can help make the end of your school year amazing.
Special Events That Make End of the School Year Memories
How students feel at the end of the school year is so important. If students have good feelings about school they are going to try harder and look forward to the next year more. By making special memories they are going to feel good about the school year. Do you remember worksheets or special events that were fun from your own school days? Help your students have positive memories.
- Book Exchange
This is a memory maker. I love the idea of students bringing books from home they are done reading and passing them on to a classmate. It’s a great way for parents to clear out bookshelves and encourage kids to give to others. Students will also have options for books to read for the summer, no matter how much money their families may have.
A few recommendations for the day of the book exchange. Look at how many books you get and ask every student to take at least three books or pick a number that works. You might be able to round out the collection by visiting a library bookstore. At the end of the exchange I would keep just one box of left over books to repeat this activity next year. You can let parents know you will donate or save anything not taken.
Maybe you can spend the whole day reading and relaxing. If kids find out they dislike a book they can exchange it.
- Pajama Day or Some Other Kind of Dress
I know so many kids chose this as a reward for incentive jars, but it’s really fun to have an extra day of it. If you are tired of pajamas then maybe you have a different theme (future self, the 80s or another decade, sports teams, famous person).
If it’s hard to get kids to participate tell them you will add 5 points to their lowest test grade if they dress up. It will be worth the memory of the whole class dressed up. Plan to take some pictures too.
- Reading Day
I have been surprised at how many kids and classes vote to have this for a reward. They literally read all day. One year we let students bring in blankets or pillows to read on. We took down all the furniture and let them spread out. You can even include time to start a read aloud of one of your favorite books. Get the kids hooked on it for the summer.
If these seems like too much reading for class don’t be afraid to combine it with something else or pick a different activity.
- Game Day
Have your students bring in their favorite board games and let them play. Board games involve so many skills that are necessary, but so many kids don’t play board games at home anymore. It’s fun and it’s learning all in one.
- Movie Day
It’s not a new idea but well-loved. Mix it up by having the kids bring in popcorn. Is there another teacher who would do it with you? You could play two movies and let the kids pick which room they want. It’s simple, but still special.
- Extra Recess
Extra recess is always a winner. Be sure to let parents know ahead of time so they can prepare with sunscreen and water. Maybe you even want to engage the kids in some silly versions of team sports like kickball or whole class tag.
- Field Day / Team Challenges
If your school doesn’t host a field day then just do it. You can print simple certificates for the winners of little games. If you need ideas you can see some field day ideas in my Field Day blog post.
The alternate route is to have team challenges. Can they all move from one platform to another with a plank of wood? Can they figure out how to fit everyone in a hula hoop? Team challenges that encourage working together are a fun learning experience. My class usually does them at the beginning of the year, but it’s never too late.
- Picnic Snacks or Lunches
The more time kids spend outside the better. Bring students to have an extra-long lunch or snack outside. Anything that is different is fun.
- Work in the Community
Is there a place in the community students can volunteer? They could make cards for a nursing home, pick up trash, or help plant plants at a park. Call the city or a community center to see what they can do. Hard work that helps others is so amazing. It’s also something your students will remember for years.
- Write letters for next years class
Have your students write letters to the student you will have next year. They can share tips and tricks about the whole year. Students can share things they loved, or things to watch out for. What I love about this activity is it has your students reflect on the school year without really knowing they are doing it.
Continue the Learning
I have definitely had classes that struggle so much if the routine changes or learning stops. They need to continue learning until the last day of school. However, in the last days, little changes can save us or help us get ready for next year.
- Try out the new teaching strategies, incentives, or lessons
During the school year you might have read about something new that you wanted to try, but weren’t sure how it would go. Now is the perfect time to try it out. Test out new strategies and lessons. Put a new rewards system in place. See how it works with a class that is trained, so you know if you like it for next year.
- Rearrange the classroom
I love to rearrange the room before the end of the school year. It lets me test out my design to see if the flow of the room is better or worse. Do I need to tweak the design a little bit?
This way I can have students help me move furniture and clean up. Kids also love to help with this kind of thing. I don’t know why they hate homework, but love to move furniture. It’s much easier to use the kids that are in the class than to get someone to come in and help.
- Play more music
Have your students jam out as they finish working on their final projects, clean, or play. Get a feel for the music they like (that’s appropriate of course). Music helps release tension and stress. Press play.
- Stretch with your class daily
If you don’t already stretch with your class daily start now. You might be able to find a good routine that keeps them focused. If it works keep it for next year.
- Work on skills they will start next year
If your students are unfocused then you can help keep them motivated by telling them you are going to working on skills from ____ grade. It helps them preview what they will learn in the fall and hopefully reengages them.
- Take Lessons Outside
The weather is beautiful here in New England. Take as many lessons as you can outside. Rewrite lessons so that you are outside. Enjoy the fresh air.
- Reflect on the year
Personally, I don’t think students are going to be writing a full reflection essay, but you can try. I prefer to have my students reflect through poetry. I think poetry is a great short way for students to reflect on the school year. It’s also short so you can finish it in a day or two. Read all about reflecting on the school year with poetry here. (Hint: There’s a freebie in there.)
- Ask for feedback
- There are two ways you can get feedback on lessons. First, ask about a specific few. Did you try out a couple of new lessons this year? Ask students how those specific lessons went. What did they like or dislike about them? Is there a lesson you thought went great? Ask your students how they felt about it.
The second is to ask students what their favorite lessons of the year were. What do they remember? What did they love? It tells you a lot if they loved it and remember. See if you can get specifics from them about lessons they loved.
If you just ask for general feedback about the year it’s not usually very helpful. These two approaches work much better.
- Genius Hour Projects – STEM – Passion Projects
I love Genius Hour because it is student driven learning. It’s a looser style of learning so its great for the end of the school year. Genius Hour is when students choose what they will learn, make a plan, and do it. If you need to know more about Genius Hour you can read about it here. If you need a lesson for Genius Hour click on this link.
Bonus – Start cleaning everything out
Cleaning the classroom at the end of the year is a big job. Have your students do it. I would devote 45 minutes every day to cleaning. Recycle papers, clean desks, clean lockers, and wipe shelves. Literally everything needs to be cleaned an organized. Have the kids help. You are teaching them life skills, so don’t feel bad about it at all. If your school has restrictions then buy natural cleaners or literally use buckets of dish soap and water. Put the kids to work all week.