Just a quick survey to see how many different approaches to end-of-the-school-year teaching we can get. Right now, my students are working on a year-end scrapbook, highlighting all of the great literature we've read throughout the year and other knowledge they've acquired. They're doing this the old-fashioned way, with scissors and glue, magazines and construction paper. Last year, I had students do a final PowerPoint. What are some strategies you use at year's end to keep kids engaged?
I frequently photograph my students engaging in laboratory activities such as experiments and dissections and projects. During the year, I compile a slide show with subtitles, narration and music. I show it to the class at the end of the year to review where we were and to see how far we came on the scholastic journey for the year. The class really appreciates it.
I am not sure if this has been said, but I like the students to write letters to the upcoming class. In this letter, I ask them to talk about their strengths and weaknesses in English, and, more specifically, what students coming to my class need to be prepared for. I have done different variations of this format:
1. Have students talk about their favorite/least favorite books and explain why. This helps me put together reading lists that teens will like, and it also forces the students to reflect on the work we have done in class.
2. Have students create a top - ten list of do's and don'ts in my classroom. It allows me to see what assignments/methods worked and what I need to revamp for the next year.
I also like for students to create a soundtrack for a particular book or unit. It allows them to have a little fun at a time in the school year when it takes a Herculean effort to get them to do anything, and it still taps into important critical thinking skills: compare/contrast, textual analysis (finding relevant songs and explaining why), etc.
I usually save short stories we have not read or a play for the end of the year. We read Shakespeare in class, but I like to have the students read The Miracle Worker that still moves me after so many years, and the English is so much easier to read that Shakespeare's English.
Then we watch the movie, and since I don't show many movies in class, this becomes something of a treat. I also offer extra credit (not a great deal) if students will learn to spell their names in sign language. It is a unit that still is worthwhile, but we read together in class, vocab. comes from the play, there is still a unit test, and then comes the movie.
I also have a packet I made up about an old movie with Bruce Willis called The Kid. It is about a man learning to face the heartaches of a difficult childhood that he has all but forgotten, and it generates great discussions as I ask them questions regarding the process of their growing up which parallels the movie. We also look at it in terms of symbolism and identifying themes. The kids generally really like it—they love to talk about themselves and share stories. It's another unit done in class, and if completed just before finals, it requires no homework. They watch the film and we pick it apart as if it were a novel, and they can study for finals instead of doing other work for me at night.
It also makes the end of the year easier as I ease into collecting books, grading last-minute assignments or make-up work, and I can pack the room while they watch the film.
I teach both English III and English IV. For the end of my year, English III completes a poetry book. They have to complete 10 different types of poems, find/create artwork to accompany each poem, and create a book including cover and binding. They are also required to read two of the poems aloud. (Funny thing is, many of them choose to read their haiku as one of them!!) My English IV classes complete group projects on Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. The novel contains multiple vignettes that address different possible concepts of time. Students are required to choose one vignette and must also complete two that I have chosen for all groups. They then create a PowerPoint depicting their concept of time in accordance with the chosen vignette. They all really enjoyed the unit.
When all the standardized testing is over and the Seniors think that the year is over, we work on a power point presentation that symbolizes what their senior year has meant to them. The students can use pictures, videos, music, web material or creative slides to express what the high school experience, especially their senior year has meant to each one individually. They then make a presentation to their class. We have really had fun with this project and they really seem to enjoy the process as well as the product. When we have finished, I burn all the presentations on DVD and present each student with a copy at the last class meeting. I have had students who had to miss that last course come back and see if they could still get their copy.
This may sound silly, but I hold a class scrabble tournament. It is a double elimination format, and the kids really take it seriously. I begin by showing Word Wars which is a film based upon the book Word Freak, a documentary about the National Scrabble Circuit. Then we begin our tournament. It has become a bit of a phenomenon in our school with teachers stopping in to visit, and some even wanting to play! I post a certificate each year of the class winners in the room. It really builds anticipation for the next year!
Every year I have my freshmen do a project called "Letter to Self". They write five different letters for this project: Me Now, My World, What I Do, People in My Life, and My Future. They have many subtopics within each of those main heads to help them know what they are to write.
Once they are finished, they put these letters in manila envelopes and I keep them in my classroom until their senior year, when they get them back. It's a time capsule of sorts. They are also able to put anything else in their envelopes that they would like to remember.
The purpose of this project is to show these students how much they change throughout the course of their four years of high school. This year I was able to hand the letters back to the first group that wrote them. That's all they could talk about; they were so excited to see what they had written!
I have used the opportunity to develop students instructional skills in getting them to devise 'How To' instructions. They can present these in a range of forms (video, poster, Powerpoint, class presentation). The key is that they have to be interesting and engaging. This year I have How To Groom a Dumbledore Beard, How To Build a Fort, How To Care for Your Unicorn and How To Become a Princess to name but a few. It's great fun!
It's very hard to keep students motivated after completing state mandated testing. One of their favorite activities is a "magic brochure." We usually use this activity to create and present something they have learned about themselves during the school year. This year it will be "How I Can Change the World."
Great ideas! I am planning on combatting senior inertia by showing one of my favourite films and getting them to write a response on it. Lars and the Real Girl is a true gem if you haven't already seen it - it is an amazing, bizarre and truly unique film that charts one man's journey from isolation to acceptance in his community through the most crazy of methods.
I love all of these ideas. I tend to work on the same lines as others, where students do/create a personally motivated project and end up presenting/teaching the class at some point.
At the end of the year, when students and teachers are equally tired, I think students really do enjoy doing something "fun" and they enjoy the break of listening to me do all the talking.
Another activity I save until the end of the year/semester with all my classes is a problem-solving activity which guides them through a plane crash survival situation. I'm sure there are several scenarios available on the Internet, but the basic idea is that they must rank and list (both personally and then as a group) items that they believe to be most important for survival. There is a "correct" list according to experts that I share at the end, but this is one activity even the quietest students enjoy and really get into.
I've done a couple of things that seem to go over well.
We have several flip cameras in the district, and I allow my seniors to tape a short advice message to the upcoming senior class. I then save them and show them to next year's seniors during the first week of school.
In yearbook, I save the last page for publishing on the last day, and project it onto the screen. We then have a countdown to pushing the button, and we push it. When we get the "congratulations your yearbook is complete" message, we hold a celebration party.
Also, improv (Whose line is it anyway-type) games are a good way to incorporate public speaking skills we have used with fun on those last, hot, crazy days in the classroom.
Happy Summer everyone!
After the AP Lit test we read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It is the story of a young man who goes on a physical and spiritual journey to understand the meaning of life and to find enlightenment. The students kind of get into the philosophical/spiritual nature of the novel and they are at the perfect time of their lives to be reflective. When they finish, they must write a stream-of-consciousness narrative of their journey so far. I provide them with lots of prompts to get the thoughts coming, but they usual don't have much trouble. I ask about influences, character traits, flaws, strengths, relationships etc. I draw some quote from the novel and suggest they react to them for themselves etc. I collect the writing and respond to each one. I love learning something about each one of them that I may not have known otherwise. I love to responding to their writing -- much more personal interaction than a comment in a yearbook.
For my seniors last year, I had them do a project where they listed the 100 things they were thankful for. They had to do it in response to just reading Night by Elie Wiesel.
Then they had to put it on something creative - one student typed their list, paper macheed them into a rose. Another student wrote them all onto a t-shirt. We were in a tech school so a lot of them use their tech studies classes to creat something really unique and personal.
Another thing I do is have my students write a letter to their teacher next year explaining things they want that teacher to know about them as a student. It is a good form of self-reflection.
My favorite has been something I usually do with upper classmen where they are assigned a project in which they design a lesson and then teach it to the class. The focus for me is on helping them prepare and give a good presentation, but because they can teach about anything, they often come up with amazing topics and presentations that everyone really enjoys. It is surprising sometimes what the kids come up with and how they bring out talents and interests I'd never have imagined they'd have.