Students may put on a show about how they can’t wait for summer to arrive, but many of them will miss their teachers, their friends and the routine of the school day. The final days of the school year are an opportunity for teachers to help students have a last bit of fun together as they celebrate their progress.
“The year goes by in a blur sometimes,” says Chris Hall, a middle school teacher in New Hampshire. “The end of the year is a rare moment to reflect. Before you careen into the next phase of your life, it’s a moment to say, ‘What was fifth grade like?’”
Follow these tips compiled by NEA Member Benefits to make the end of the school year special for students.
Get in the Game. Hall uses kids’ competitive spirits to help them remember their school year. Students come up with Jeopardy! categories like “Facts About Teachers” and “A Typical Day in the Life of a Fifth Grader,” and then brainstorm questions and answers about fun projects, events and little “remember whens.” Hall says the games often produce questions about things he’d totally forgotten about, and give kids a way to look back on everything they’ve done. “It really is amazing how much they grow and change.”
Trade Autographs. For high-school students, signing each other’s yearbooks with messages like “Stay sweet!” and “Never change!” is a rite of passage. Megan Struckel, a teacher in Boston, lets her fifth-graders in on the action by stapling oak tag into personal autograph books. “Not all of the kids would be able to afford a yearbook,” she notes. Struckel gives students photographs to paste into the books, and they use spare minutes over the last few weeks of school to scrawl their phone numbers into their friends’ books, along with “super cute” messages about having a great summer.
Fay Blake, an elementary literacy coach in Jacksonville, Florida, hangs a sheet of paper around the classroom for every student. “Everybody in the room has to autograph that and share something nice or a memory—something they learned from them or something they admire about them. It gives students a memento to take home.”
Party On! End-of-the-year get-togethers give kids a time to relax and be their silly selves within the four walls of your classroom, but they take on additional meaning when they’re tied in some way to the rest of the school year.
Struckel’s school has a grade-level awards ceremony with honors for achievement, effort and improvement across all subjects, followed by a potluck. Struckel says that families typically bring “obscene” amounts of food from their diverse cultures, and the kids love chowing down on the empanadas, fried chicken and rice and beans. The party also gives students a chance to show off their work to their parents. “Hopefully it isn’t the first time that we were meeting a family, but sometimes life happens, and [because of the party] we’re able to meet the family at least once,” she says.
Blake invites parents in for an “Author’s Tea,” where kids share writing projects from the beginning, middle and end of the school year. “They love playing teacher and saying, ‘Look at how I’ve grown,’” Blake says.
Let Kids Be the Experts. Your students entered in September as naïve newbies, but by now they’re grizzled veterans of second (or fifth, or eighth) grade. Give them a platform to share their hard-won expertise by writing letters to entering students. “My last assignment of the year is a ‘Survival Guide,’” says Allison Hogan, an elementary teacher in Dallas. “It includes top ten lists—what are the top ten things you experienced, things you should know about your teacher. We highlight different subject areas: What are some things you do in music, what are some things you do in art? They write about field trips.”
Kids love the project, Hogan says, because they all receive a “Survival Guide” from a previous student at the beginning of the year, and they can’t wait to write their own.
Share Your Pics. Hogan creates a personalized photo book for each child, picking from pictures she’s snapped throughout the year. “These personal books are just the right touch to highlight some of our special experiences and memories,” she says.
If you don’t have the budget to create a book for every student, you can print off photos and raffle them off, ensuring that each kid has at least one record of a special moment to take home. Or, you can compile your photos into a slideshow to present at an awards ceremony or party. Pick the right music, and you might even catch the I-can’t-wait-for-summer crowd wiping away a tear or two as they see just how much fun they’ve had together.