Nearing the end of the school year? Keep students engaged. Try these end of the year activities for secondary ELA.
Sometimes teachers feel guilty about incorporating fun lessons at the end of the year. What will people think? Am I wasting learning time? Let’s unpack these concerns.
First, we need separate fun into two categories: meaningful and fluff. Fun activities that are meaningful meet important standards and increase student learning. Other activities, like watching movies just to watch movies or playing a board game just because, are less productive. Teachers can incorporate fun end of the year lessons, but they don’t need to come at the expense of learning time.
Let’s explore some end of the year activities that are standards aligned and beneficial for learning in middle and high school.
1. YEAR MAPPING
Something fresh! Year mapping requires students to creatively reflect on their learning. As they think back over the lessons they have learned, students make connections between them. How is a writer like a reader? Why is a command of grammar necessary for proficient writing? How do purpose and audience impact author’s craft? Year mapping is most engaging when done collaboratively, but it can be digital or print. The value is ALL in the discussion. You don’t have to grade any of it…just give informal feedback as students work, and then allow time to share!
2. ONE PAGERS
Who wants to be grading huge stacks of essays in May? I’ve always tried to plan essays to have the last one due in April. My students always write plenty throughout the year, but I want them to do something different during the last month of school, something that is more abstract and unexpected. One pagers are an increasingly popular option for teachers who want their students to think analytically about literature. Inspiring both to create and to grade, one pagers require higher-order thinking and thematic analysis. I use a scaffolded version.
(If you have already incorporated one pagers this year, you may instead want to try social media activities for novels!)
3. MUSIC PLAYLISTS
Both teachers and students love music. At the end of the year, put a skip in everyone’s step by asking students to reflect on their school year. They can create a playlist unified by a common theme. Perhaps it’s something they learned, a character trait they developed in spite of obstacles, an insight about themselves, a new mindset or bucket list…options abound. As students work on compiling their list and writing their paragraph-long response, play some of their tunes to set the mood. View the activity.
4. LEARNING GAMES
ELA games can be engaging learning tools at the end of the year. Students have already learned the majority of the content and new terms you wanted them to know. So, review in a student-centered format! Play games with grammar, figurative language, poetry, vocabulary, and writing. Mix things up by incorporating games in learning stations or centers. If your students are finishing up a piece of writing, try this free grammar revision game.
Interested in more learning game ideas? Here’s a post about engaging grammar games that are simple to incorporate at the end of the year.
5. MOOD AND TONE ANALYSIS
Looking for a way to amp up students’ understanding of mood and tone? I love this analytical mood and tone assignment because it adds an element of rigor through symbolism. Students study the way authors play with word choice through the lens of a sound equalizer. Diction is the main focal point of this creative activity, which can be applied to any poem or song. I especially like it with “The Highwayman.”
Planning to end the year with a poetry unit? Here are nine unique poetry lesson suggestions.
6. VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES
I value revisiting the year’s vocabulary with students because it re-emphasizes the importance of language and refreshes their memories. Ask students to create a Top 10 featuring their favorite ten vocabulary words of the year. Or, host a vocabulary awards ceremony in which students give senior yearbook type awards to words from the year. For instance, Most Likely to:
- Go to Outer Space: audacious
- Be a Millionaire: affluent
- Write a Hit Song: mellifluous
7. BOOK LISTS
Don’t let students leave for summer break without creating a book reading list. Based on what you know about your students, create preview stacks (books you think they might like). Work with your school librarian to put these lists together. Students can also make recommendations for what they think their peers would enjoy. Read more about preview stacks in the book Game Changer.
After creating the preview stacks, spend some time letting students browse, read a few pages, and write down titles that interest them. You may also decide to share this list of book recommendations to students, by students, and then have your class create their own version!
Here’s a simple summer reading resource that has tips for parents, parent letters, recommended reading lists, book lists organizers for students, and peer-to-peer book recommendation pages you can laminate and keep for upcoming classes.
Get savvy with technology, and create booksnaps with students. They are a great way to capture students’ favorite books from the school year. If you aren’t sure how to start, read this “how to” booksnap lesson post. Use the booksnaps to put together a bulletin board for the beginning of next school year so that your next group will have visually appealing book recommendations ready for them when they walk through the door.
9. BOOK COVERS
Book covers are often beautiful. Use this to your advantage by engaging reluctant readers. Teachers can use book covers in a myriad of ways. Possible book cover lessons might include genre sorts, question generation, cover comparisons, I Spy, artwork analysis, evaluative cover re-designs, elevator images, book cover families, and points of view.
10. PICTURE BOOK ANALYSIS
When students’ attention spans are dwindling and the schedule gets hairy, try using picture books as read alouds! Yes, this strategy works to calm older students! I love pulling out a picture book because it contains examples of figurative language, grammar, or vocabulary we have studied. Other times, I want students to study the illustrations and text design because they contain symbolism and deeper meanings.
Picture books are loaded with standards-aligned opportunities for learning. You can make the activity fit any length of time by adjusting how much of the book you read aloud and how long you hold the discussion. This resource features a list of mentor texts to consider as well as a couple of graphic organizers and learning topics to help you get started!
As you plan for engaging activities for the end of this school year, I encourage you to continue coming back to the standards. What is it you want students to take away from the lessons, and how can you add meaningful elements of fun to those lessons? Also, don’t forget to treat yourself! A pedicure, a new book, a walk outside, a conversation with a good friend – a healthy teacher is a happy teacher.
At the end of the year, engaging activities keep the days feeling short! Slide into summer with these low-prep resources for the last days of school in English Language Arts.