Keeping your students motivated at the end of the school year.

“Wait, it’s the end of the school year.  You mean we’re not watching movies the last few weeks????”

Teacher friends-I’m sure we’ve all heard some form of the above statement a time or two.  The last few weeks of school have become synonymous for Disney movie watching and student free time.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE all things Disney, but showing Disney movies for an entire week or two will not keep your students engaged and learning.  It will also leave you bored!

While it is true that many schools have teachers submit final grades and textbooks the week before school lets out, this doesn’t mean you have to give up on meaningful learning opportunities in the classroom.  Sure, students are ready for summer and so are you.  Sure, it’s easier to show movies.  Sure, students will like you more if you do this.  BUT, is this really what we need to teach our students about education?  That instead of being lifelong learners, they need to learn up to a certain point, and then they can watch movies and hang out simply because the deadline to the end of something is near?  NO!  We need to remind students that education is a continuous process, and it doesn’t just end with a deadline-in this case, the end of the school year.   YES, It may be difficult to keep your students motivated throughout the last few weeks, but there are several things you can do to keep them learning and entertained!  If you motivate yourself the last few weeks, it will be easier to motivate your students, and they will feed off of your positive energy in the classroom.

Here are some ideas I have used in my classroom to keep students motivated and enthusiastic the last few weeks of school:

1.)  Break up the repetition of the traditional classroom setting.  I’m not a big supporter of desks in rows.  Mix up your desk arrangements the last few weeks of school to give students a fresh start!  This will also keep them engaged, and remind them of their opportunities to collaborate with their peers-especially if you arrange your desks in pairing or group method.  Try a semi-circle or a full circle with your desk in the middle!

2.) Have students participate in a creative culminating project of their choice.  Students like to have options.  For example,  we just finished a novel study of the “The Outsiders” in my language arts classes.  Instead of having students complete the generic book report project, I gave them a list of 14 things they can choose from in order to do their culminating unit project.  They range from creating a music soundtrack to the book, to using clay to make models of the scenes, to making a board game out of the plot and characters, and designing a new book cover, just to name a few.  Students are loving this, and they all have said repeatedly how fun it is to get to pick their project.  I truly believe that giving students options motivates them, and it excites them.  It also allows them to have an opportunity to still create and collaborate while the school year is ending. I would recommend you do this the second to last week of school if you like this option.

3.)   Take your students outside for journal writing!  The weather begins to get nicer toward the end of the year-at least in Georgia!  Use a day or two of your last week of school and take your students outside for class.    Being outside is good for the soul, and it allows them to get some fresh air.  It also keeps them entertained and gives them a break from sitting in desks all day.  Give them a topic that they can creatively write about.  I usually bring speakers outside and play music while they write as well.  Student spread out, lean up against trees, and fully take in nature and the fresh air while they write.  It’s peaceful for them, and it’s a nice change of pace. For Language Arts classes, I usually give them a picture from a movie or television show and ask them to write a story related to that picture. Click on THIS LINK to see an example of a photograph I used with my classes this year. For social studies classes, instead of creative topic writing, I let them pick a current event to write about.  They can free write and share opinions on the event, and other ideas.  If the event has to do with a conflict or government action, they can weigh in with their ideas and also their potential solutions.  This allows the students to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, and it allows them to express empathy with situations.  I usually give students thirty minutes to write, and then I reserve the last thirty minutes of class for them to read what they wrote and share with their peers.

4.)   Let students make “BRAGG bags!”  You can name them whatever you would like, but I like to be corny and use my last name.  These “BRAGG bags” are compliment bags. Each student gets a brown bag, and each student in the class gets slips of paper with the names of each student on them.  Students leave a compliment or fun memory about each student and when they are finished, they drop it in that student’s “BRAGG bag.”  This is a fun exercise to do the day before school lets out or the last day.  It keeps them active and participating, and also allows each student to go home with a positive keepsake filled with memories and superlatives from their school year.  I have never tried this with high school, but it works well with middle school and elementary school.

5.)  Classroom Charades!:   Put the big ideas or events learned throughout your class this year into a hat.  Have students break in to teams and play charades using the ideas and events.  This is a great way to reinforce material, but also to allow students a fun way to see how much they have learned this year while having to be creative and dramatic at the same time!  This is a great activity for the last week of school.

If you have any suggestions of things you do in your classroom during the last few weeks of school please comment and share!

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