8 Ways to Survive the End of the School Year

TIP #1
CREATE A UNIT AROUND SOMETHING THAT NATURALLY MOTIVATES STUDENTS:  Stop the end-of-the-year daydreaming and apathy by planning instruction that taps into students' favorite things.

--- Got a class full of sports enthusiasts?  Have students create fictional interviews filled with factual information about their favorite athletes.

--- Are your students music fans?  Have them write critical reviews of new albums or songs.

--- Want to get everyone excited about learning?  Have students design their own roller coaster and write persuasive advertisements filled with figurative language and propaganda techniques about their rides.
Turn critical vocabulary about roller coasters into a roller coaster!
Here's a highly motivational end-of-the-year 10-Day Persuasive Writing Unit:
In this 10-Day Writing Unit students will study roller coasters, design a roller coaster, write persuasive advertisements and reflect on their school year.

TIP #2
TAKE THE LEARNING OUTSIDE:  Kids love learning outside, so why not tie academic and behavioral goals to having class outdoors?  Set daily goals for things like homework completion, classroom participation, or class behavior.  Then, when students achieve the goals as a class, host your lessons outdoors.  Be sure to bring lots of blankets and clipboards to make learning outside easy and comfortable.

TIP #3
INCORPORATE TECHNOLOGY:  Now is the perfect time to infuse technology into the classroom.  One of my favorite ways is with an Informative Writing Unit.  In it, students research and then write a news story about a historical event.  Then, they could even produce a news segment with a green screen.  Using a green screen app and lots of technology they're able to produce videos.  Creating the green screen is as easy as hanging green paper behind students' "new desks."  Tons of learning, technology integration, and so much fun!

TIP #4
MAKE LEARNING MEANINGFUL AND FUN WITH LEARNING CENTERS:  One of the best ways to keep students engaged in their learning at the end of the school year is with learning centers or stations.  They're hands-on and they meet students' natural need for active learning.  
I particularly love learning centers because they foster independent and collaborative learning at the same time. Find a bunch of turn-key learning centers plans and activities HERE:

TIP #5
LET STUDENTS BE THE EXPERTS OF THE CLASSROOM:  Create ways for your current students to be the experts for your future students.  You could have them write a guidebook for incoming students or design a bulletin board full of advice for the beginning of the next school year.  Or, why not have students produce a video filled with tips and tricks to help students succeed in your classroom?  Then, you could play it at the beginning of the next school year.  You could even have students write letters to future students.  The opportunities are endless!

TIP #6
PLAN A SPECIAL DAY OF LEARNING:  The end of the school year is a perfect time to mix things up at school.  Why not host a game show day or reality TV day or academic field day?  Or, swap classrooms with another teacher to really mix things up for students.  You could even plan a fun day of integration.  

Have you seen this FREE team building lesson that allows you to easily integrate with all core subjects?
This team building activity is FREE in my shop.  In it you'll find links to the free lessons for the other core subjects so that you can not only integrate the activities, but have a school-wide special day of learning.

TIP #7
INVITE IN A SPECIAL GUEST:  There's nothing like a new, fresh face to keep students engaged in the classroom, and the end of the year is the perfect time to invite someone into your classroom.  You might want to link the guest to something students are learning about like a local poet during your study of summer poems.  Or, you could even have students reach out to people in your community as they plan a Career Day.  

It's fun to tie a thank you note writing lesson to your guest's visit as well.  Here's a lesson on writing thank you notes and creating fun thank you pockets.

TIP #8
SHADOW THE NEXT GRADE LEVEL:  Give students an opportunity to alleviate any anxiety that they might have about their next school year by shadowing an upperclassman.  They could spend a day with an older student or just a class period.  Then, let your students serve as mentors to younger students.  Setting up a shadowing experience is a great way to end the year!

Another great way is with meaningful gifts for students.  Have you seen these pocket-sized motivational cards for students?  You'll find them and 2 other gift ideas in this resource.

I hope these tips will help you end your school year on a positive note.  Wishing you the very best end of the year!

Thanks for stopping by,

Mary Beth

Simple (and meaningful) End of the Year Gifts for Students

Looking for meaningful gifts to give to students at the end of the school year?  Read all about these simple and inspiring gifts that don't cost a thing at Brain Waves Instruction's blog.

Can we talk about the time I spent a year teaching 12th grade British Literature and 7th grade ELA at the same time?  I spent most of my day with middle schoolers, and then during one class period I taught a group of very un-enthused seniors.  It was a challenge.  The school district was new to me. The curriculum was new.  The high-school-student was new to me.  I was often overwhelmed and exhausted and defeated.  However, I was committed to making the experience meaningful and engaging for my seniors.  I may have white-knuckled my way through the school year, but we found our stride and I grew to love each of the eighteen-year-olds in that classroom.  In fact, when the school year ended I wanted to give them each a little gift that they could take with them to college or their jobs.  So, I made quote cards for them.  

These inspirational quote cards are the perfect end of the year gift for students!

I spent time figuring out just the right quote for each student. Then, I designed the quote to fit on the size of a business card so they could stick them in their wallets.  Finally, I added a personalized message on the back of the cards and laminated them.  On the last day of school, I gave them each an inspirational quote card.  They were simple, but they all had special meaning.

Fast forward 6 years.  I'm in an airport and I see a familiar face.  It's one of my former seniors.  We started chatting and then he stopped me mid-sentence.  He pulled out his wallet and showed me the card I gave to him years earlier.  He said, "Look, I still have this."  It was so sweet!  Then, he added, "When you first gave this to me, I didn't understand what it meant.  Now I do.  It's something I think about all the time."  Those are rare moments for us teachers:  moments when we get proof that something we've done matters. 

That's why I've put together a few ways that you can give a little gift to your students at the end of the year or semester.  Each is designed to be simple and motivational.  Check them out.

Inspirational Quote Cards
Designed to fit inside your wallet, these cards let you bring a little inspiration with you everywhere!

Of course, I made a set of 24 quote cards that you can cut up and share with students.  They can fit right inside students' wallets.

Or, you can add a business-card-sized magnet to the back to make it easy for students to hang them anywhere.

I've even designed an envelope that the cards fit into perfectly that you can customize for students.

The idea is that they can leave your classroom with a little inspiration that they can carry with them always.

Motivational Posters

Perfect for students who need inspiration on the go, these motivational posters make the perfect gift!

I found the idea for this poster on Pinterest.  It was a poster reminding students that they are beautiful.  I figured I could take that same concept and turn the message into a motivational one.  The idea is that you'd give each student a poster. Then, they'd cut along the dotted lines of the poster to create 8 tear-away messages.

When a student needs an extra bit of confidence he or she can tear off one of the messages and carry it around with them all day.

Students could hang the posters anywhere:  their school binders, their locker, their bedroom...the options are endless.

Note Cards and Pockets

Give the very best kind of gift to students this year.  Just write a sweet note to each student and place it inside a sweet note pocket.  Easy and so meaningful!

Sometimes the very best gift is a kind note.  These pockets are designed to make a personalized note a bit more special.  Just use the template to write a personal note to each student.  I like to copy the note on patterned paper to make it more fun.

Then, assemble a pocket for each student.  

After you assemble the pocket, you can stick the note inside.  The pocket and note are a perfect end-of-the-year keepsake.

Check out these easy, inspirational, and super inexpensive gifts for students.

All of these ideas are designed to be simple to create and meaningful to receive.  If you're inspired by them, I'm sure you can craft some of your own.  Or, if you'd love to have a set of the 3 End of the Year Gifts ready to print-customize-and-give, then you can find everything you'll need (all 26 pages) HERE.

Thanks for stopping by,
Mary Beth

3 Secrets of Fantastic Writing Instruction

What to learn the 3 best ways to get your students to produce their very best writing?  Learn all about them and easy ways to incorporate the secrets into your own writing lessons.

Since today's post is all about secrets, I thought I'd start with one of my own:  I didn't always enjoy teaching writing.  It's true, while I had high hopes of being an amazing writing teacher when I first started my career, I found that despite my teaching attempts, my students were producing pretty lame writing pieces, and it wasn't their fault. Early on, even though I was following the writing process just as it had been prescribed to me, my students were failing. 

Teaching writing was no fun....until, I discovered the 3 secrets of fantastic writing instruction.  Once I figured out the 3 critical ways to turn my reluctant writers into enthusiastic authors, my entire outlook on writing changed.  These days I love teaching writing, my students produce amazing writing pieces and it's all thanks to these 3 secrets... 

Secret #1 - Mentor Texts

The first secret to fantastic writing instruction is reading!  Expose students to mentor texts to help them build a true understanding of the genre.

The first secret to fantastic writing instruction is reading!  That's right, great readers become great writers.  That's why I love exposing students to mentor texts BEFORE they begin writing.  When teaching a unit on Memoir Writing, I love to gather a huge collection of memoir children's books.  Then, during the first days of the unit students read a bunch of different books and answer guided questions about memoirs.  

Start the Memoir Writing Unit with a student of memoir mentor texts.  Students answer guided questions about the memoirs so that they have a true understanding of the genre before writing their own memoir.

Next, they work with a small group to determine unifying characteristics of the memoirs that they read.  Finally, we discuss the genre as a class and students' develop a huge list of critical characteristics of memoirs.  Their exploration into mentor texts provides an extremely strong basis for their own writing.  If you're teaching a Memoir Writing Unit you might consider exposing students to the children's books by Tomie dePaola.

Sometimes, I write my own version of the mentor text.  I actually progress through the entire writing unit myself, first, and then create a writing piece that includes everything I want students to include in their own piece.  At the start of the unit, I have students review the sample that I wrote and chart examples of critical elements of the genre on a graphic organizer.  I include the mentor text right in students' writing packets so that they can reference it during the unit.

Here's an example mentor text that I wrote for a Descriptive Writing Unit.

 I like to couple writing units with my reading units.  So, after we study Native American myths, I have students write their own myth.  Once students have compared and contrasted multiple variations of fables, they write their own fable

Another way to expose students to mentor texts is to read aloud samples throughout the entire writing unit.  I like to start each of the lessons during the Memoir Writing Unit with a short memoir from the book Guys Write for Guys Read.  It's filled with funny stories that showcase the genre and craft of writing.  

When students have a true understanding of the genre they will be writing, they have a solid foundation for the unit. Oh, and don't forget to save student exemplars.  They make the very best samples.  My students LOVE when I share poems written by former students before they write their own poems.  It shows them that if others can do it, so can they!

Secret #2 - Planning

One of the key elements to fantastic writing instruction is providing students with lots of opportunities to PLAN their writing.

Rather than hop right into drafting a writing piece, I love to give students a ton of ways to brainstorm topic ideas and plan their writing.  With a solid topic and plan, the actual writing is SO much easier for students...and we all know that when it's less of a struggle, it's way more enjoyable.

I like to spend a class period or two devoted to giving students an opportunity to determine a topic and begin to plan out their first draft.  It's important to me that students spend time flushing out ideas for what to write about.  I want them to have a strong topic before they begin writing anything. To generate topic ideas I like to have students...

--- Make word webs or lists
--- Meet with peers and chat about potential topics
--- Sketch scenes from their past
--- Chart and graph significant life events
--- Conduct mini-research projects
--- Interview family members

Help students develop topic ideas for their Memoir with this fun activity.  Students create a map of their memories.  They even label significant places from their childhood.  This planning activity jogs students' memories and provides lots of ideas for their Memoir.

There are so many fun ways to get students thinking about writing topics.  I also love providing students with writing journals filled with engaging prompts that they can complete before starting their own writing piece.  The prompts are designed to get students thinking and to jog their memories.  Then, when it's time to think of significant life events, they can review their journals and find a ton of ideas.  This works particularly well for Narrative Writing and Memoir Writing.

Help students write an incredible narrative essay with lots of planning resources.  Guide students through planning each element of their narrative writing piece.

After students have a topic idea, I have them PLAN even more.  We spend at least a class period gathering and collecting more details about their topic ideas.  Often students complete graphic organizers about the sequence of events, plot, setting, and theme.  In the Persuasive Writing Unit, students complete "because statements" and plan out propaganda techniques and figurative language before starting the rough draft.  

I've found that planning is one of the most critical elements to fantastic writing instruction.  When students have a strong topic, a solid plan, and a list of ideas, the rough draft spills out of them.  There's no more, "I don't know what to write."  Instead, there's a whole lot of, "This is so fun!"

Secret #3 - Mini-Lessons

Don't you just love a mini-lesson?  I do!  They're the perfect way to teach students critical skills without taking too much time...and they're the final secret to fantastic writing instruction.  I fill my writing units with mini-lessons for students during the REVISING stage of writing.  I've found that the real writing happens when students start RE-writing and revising. 

However, often students don't want to rewrite their work.  Many are happen to claim their first draft as perfection.  That's why I force their hand, so to speak, with revision mini-lessons. Each mini-lesson addresses a particular writing skill anything from transitions to voice to word choice.  During the mini-lesson they learn about the skill and then practice it with their own writing.  Finally, they're required to go back to their first drafts and insert their new and improved writing.

Mini-lessons are the key to getting students to take their writing to the next level.  If you pack your writing instruction with revising mini-lessons it won't take long for the culture of your classroom to change.  Revising has become one of my students' favorite phases of the writing process.  In fact, when students share their improvements they often try to outdo each other.  We celebrate a culture of improving.  Mini-lessons make revising manageable and the impact on students' writing is astounding.

There you have it, 3 secrets of fantastic writing instruction. However, I think there's one more secret. The ultimate secret is this:  MAKE WRITING FUN.  The very best way to do that is to set students up for success.  Provide them with a solid understanding of the genre with mentor texts.  Help them select the very best topic and create plans for their writing.  Guide them through improving their work.  The end result will not only be amazing writing pieces, but a classroom full of students who are genuinely proud of their work.

Thanks for stopping by,
Mary Beth

P.S.  As you can tell, teaching writing is my jam.  If you'd like some turn-key writing units for your classroom, you can find a wide selection HERE.

Here's just a few of my favorite units:  Narrative Writing Unit, Myth Writing Unit, Persuasive Writing Unit, Memoir Writing Unit, Speeches Writing Unit, Expository Writing Unit, Biography Writing Unit, Descriptive Writing Unit

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