Making it Matter: Out of the Box Activities for the Last Days of the School YearMay 28, 2018
It is the last week of May. The countdown is on the board. The kids are restless, the teachers are tired. How do we still make these last days meaningful?
My traditional end of year burn-out started early this year as result of the craziness that was the 2017-2018 school year (Remember? The eclipse in August, the WV Work Stoppage in February, A random snow storm in March, a shortened spring break in April). On May 1st, I really didn’t know how I’d make it to June 6th (the last day for students in our county). I was tired of my students, tired of grading, tired of going to work every morning.
In mid-May, my school family was affected by a horrible accident that resulted in the death of one of our students, a senior, a week before he was set to graduate. It was the worst week of my career. I cried with my students, I comforted them, and they comforted me. It is a loss that we won’t soon recover from.
This tragedy reminded me to make the most of my time with my students. I was reminded of the brevity of life, and the significance of my calling. The Sunday after the memorial service for our student, I posted the following on twitter:
Our job matters so very much, even in these last days of the school year. I made it my goal to have as much fun as possible with my kids as we finished up the year.
Are you also singing the Can’t-Wait-for-Summer Burnt-out Counting-Down-the-Days blues? Here are a few of the things I’ve used to get my kids out of their desk and into a book:
- Play with Chalk—Character Body Maps
“Can we have class outside? PLEASE!!??”
We’ve all heard it before. Sometimes, on a glorious pre-summer May day, you just have to give in. And, sometimes, even in high school, we need to channel our inner 7-year-old.
For this activity, I assign each group (2-3 students) a significant character from the novel we’re studying. Then, I have students trace one of their group members on the sidewalk in a position that demonstrates something significant about the character. For example, for Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, a student might curl their arm to show his presumed strength. Or, for Jordan, they might swing a golf club.
In the body outlines, students write 3 adjectives that personify the character (for Tom: selfish, arrogant, brutish). They then choose 3 significant quotes said by/about the character. They also are instructed to include at least one object that symbolizes the character (for Gatsby: a dollar bill, perhaps).
I’ve also done this activity with black butcher paper and chalk inside, and it is always a fun way to get out of our normal groove.
- Musical Chairs Theme Analysis (AKA play with Expo Markers and Post-It Notes)
“Don’t write on the desk. That is destruction of school property.” I’ve said that before. But, does this rule need to apply to dry erase markers? Nope!
For a while, I’ve seen teachers on social-media writing on desks, or having students write on desk. I figured, why not? It’ll wash off. My students were beyond excited to draw on the desk (and they are in 11th grade).
For this activity, we were discussing big ideas in Gatsby. Before class began, I wrote many big ideas on students’ desks: society, compassion, deceit, love, American Dream, wealth, poverty, dissatisfaction, achievement, isolation, fate, greatness, beauty, success, memory, time, loyalty, truth, morality, class, greed, and opulence. When students entered, they had to sit at a desk that had a word on it (it did not have to be their normal assigned seat). I then gave each student 6 post-its.
At their first word, students used their phone to look up a dictionary definition of the word. Then, I had students stand up with their post-its, a pen, and their books. Students had to dance (or walk) around the room to 20s music, and when it stopped, they had to sit at the word closest to them.
At this point, they had 1 of 3 options: Write a quote that exemplified the idea, write an example from the text that showed the idea, or list 6-7 words that they associated with the idea. We did this several more times until students had been to at least 4 of the big ideas.
One last time, we played “musical chairs”. At this last stop, students had to create a theme claim statement about the big idea (What was Fitzgerald saying about ______). They could reference the post-it notes left by their peers to do so. Here, I supplied them with Expo markers to write their statements on their desks.
A simple activity, but a great way to do something out of the box. Side note: Clorox wipes do the trick of cleaning up this messy activity.
Extra extension: I generally have students turn these into definition poems for significant characters. Check out the activity here.
- Mind Map Character Analysis:
This is not a complicated activity, and truthfully, I probably originally saw it somewhere in the Twitter-universe, but I don’t remember where.
Like the body maps, this is an artsy way to discuss character development, especially for characters that are very different than the rest of their society.
For this, I provided my students with a blank head outline with a line dividing it down the middle. On the left side, they wrote 2-3 quotes that demonstrated the character’s personality, goals, or other character traits. They also included 2-3 objects that demonstrated significant aspects of the character.
The right side is focused on the character’s society. Here, they also include 2-3 quotes and 2-3 images. However, in this case they are demonstrating what is “expected” of the character. What is “normal” or “traditional” in this character’s society.
For my students, this served as a quick analysis of character vs society in Anthem.
So, as we count down the days until we can turn off our alarm clocks, and read books for fun, let’s make the most of the time that we have.
Think about an activity you do normally, and find a twist. Play with chalk, or expo markers, or even Play-Doh. Find something that is fun for you, and fun for the kids.
Most importantly, lets remind our students how much they are loved. After all, that is the most important lesson we can ever teach.
What are some of the things you are doing to make learning meaningful in these last days? What are out of the box activities that have worked successfully for you? Leave us a comment, tweet @WVCTE or connect with us on Facebook!
Jeni Gearhart teaches 10 Honors English and AP English Language at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County. Originally from Western PA, Jeni loves West Virginia and has taught all six years of her teaching career in the Wild and Wonderful state. When not wandering the internet for new teaching ideas or grading papers, Jeni likes to drink coffee and devour good books.