How to Limp through the Last Month (And How Not to)

The end of the school year.


Right about now, it feels like looking at the moon through a telescope... "Wow, it's so... close! I can almost touch it!"

Then you remember you are looking through a telescope. "Hmm, still thousands of miles away."

Don't worry. I've collected some tips and ideas to help you limp through the last few weeks of school, to help make this stretch feel even more like wading through a pool of sludge with 26 flies buzzing around your head.

These ideas should really keep the classroom atmosphere dull and you feeling drained.

Oh, and I also tacked on some ideas to not let all that happen: easy, versatile ways to keep you and your kids energized and engaged in the things you still need to get accomplished down the home stretch.

You know, just in case.

Limping: "Okay boys and girls, please take out the practice packet on Greek and Latin roots that we started yesterday. Work quietly until... JOHN! I'm giving directions here!... until lunch."

Not Limping: "You know how we're learning about Greek and Latin Roots, boys and girls? Well as you can see, I've lined up ten glue sticks along the whiteboard tray, standing side-by-side, looking exactly like old Greek columns. Anyway, each time I ask a question about one of our roots, I'll call on someone randomly. If that person answers my question correctly, he/she gets one of my crumpled up pieces of paper. At the end of the lesson, whoever has a crumpled paper gets to take a shot at the glue-stick columns. And if we get all the columns knocked down, we get to wear togas tomorrow. Ha! Kidding. But we do get to wear slippers, how about that?"

Turning a lesson or task into a game doesn't have to take a ton of thought and planning. Give kids a chance to knock something over, throw things, beat the clock at something, do exercises, roll dice, flip coins, rip paper, move seats, find something hidden, ... anything that turns it into a game of some sort. And there normally doesn't have to even be a prize either. Here's another example: Use a coin while you are teaching. Every time you'd normally pose a question to the class to think about or respond to, flip a coin: heads, you call on a student to answer as usual; tails, YOU answer your own question for the class. Little things that change up the pace or routine can help keep kids (and you!) engaged.

Limping: "Okay boys and girls, turn to page 962 in your reading anthology so we can read an article and complete this worksheet about text features."

Not Limping: "Boys and girls, grab your reading anthology and line up at the door. It's a nice day so we're going outside to read an article together and learn about a new type of text feature. What? No, you don't need a pencil or a notebook. I'm taking this jug of sidewalk chalk. You'll recreate the new text feature on the pavement and make notes about it there. Huh? No, John, I haven't lost my mind."

Learning outside can sometimes have its drawbacks: ants, wind, honking cars, other classes at recess, kids who don't like nature, etc. But an occasional, short lesson or activity outside is fun and comes with an unlimited supply of fresh air.

Limping: "Okay boys and girls, I'll see you tomorrow. Unless I don't get out of bed. Oh wait, never mind, that would mean I have to type up sub plans. Ain't got no time for that. So yes, I'll see you tomorrow. And don't forget we have our Social Studies test tomorrow."

Not Limping: "I'll see everyone tomorrow. Oh wait! I want you to bring a stuffed animal tomorrow, okay? No, you didn't do anything special today to deserve it. I just want you to have one tomorrow. We have a Social Studies test tomorrow and I thought your stuffed animals might be interested in sitting on your lap while you take the test and seeing what we've been studying. And maybe it will help you relax a little, too. Is that okay with you? I thought so."

And suddenly your students are smiling, skipping to their bus, even excited to come to school tomorrow. Sometimes giving students an unearned privilege, "no strings attached," has surprisingly positive effects on the classroom mood and overall energy. Of course there are certain expectations that need to be maintained regarding the perk. We're not running a circus here. And you have to be careful not to do it too often or else students will start expecting something from you, which cancels the entire premise.

Limping: "Okay boys and girls, please get out your reading anthology and read the next story quietly. Try not to fall asleep today. But if it happens, it happens. I'm probably going to be at my desk checking my email anyway."

Not Limping: "I talked to Mrs. Lopez across the hall this morning. We got into quite an argument about which class would better understand the next story in our anthology, our class or her class. It got pretty heated. We almost came to blows, frankly. But then we had an idea. Do you want to hear it? We're going to hold a competition tomorrow between our two classes to decide for sure. It will be a little like a game show. So we need to be prepared, right? Let's get started reading!"

A little friendly competition between classes can be a fun motivator. Or maybe something between table groups, or even a teacher vs. student situation. Keep it positive and good-spirited, of course. No need for trash talking. Okay, maybe a little. Mrs. Lopez is goin' down!

Limping: "Now that I've showed you how to do multi-digit multiplication, let's practice more. Divide your paper into eight sections so we can...what? Yes, John, we are dividing the paper so we can multiply numbers. Hilarious. Now, copy the problems I write on the board. Then let's do each step together at the same time for all eight problems. No, you may not work at your own pace. This should only take us 45 minutes or so."

Lots of easy-to-implement ideas to get through those last few weeks of school! From The Thinker Builder

Not Limping: "I know we just learned the steps to do multi-digit multiplication, and it's going to take some practice for us to get good at it. But to help, I want you to work with your table group to create a song to help us remember the steps. Something catchy, maybe with some rhyme. It can follow the tune of a song you already know, or you can create it from scratch. Just be sure the multiplication steps are clear and in order. Then we'll try using your songs to help us practice a few problems."

You don't even have to get complicated. Playing a little music in the background during work time can help kids get in a groove with their thinking.  Or have students pause their reading to express their feelings artistically, through a drawing or even simple doodling. (You'll be amazed at the depth of thought that comes from the follow-up discussion.)

Limping: "Okay boys and girls, please get out your vocabulary list. Maybe write them twenty times each? Wait, you know what, I'm feeling nice today. Just ten times each. Then use each one in a sentence."

Not Limping: "Get out your vocabulary list, boys and girls, quick. HURRY!! I just got a text from the Giant. You know, from Jack and the Beanstalk? He's on his way to our school right now. He says he's going to nab a few tasty-looking students and take them back up to his home. Whoa, did you just feel the ground tremble? He must be getting close. Our only chance is to reason with him. Write a speech using five of your vocabulary words that will convince the Giant not to eat any of us."

I love using a scenario to bring something to life a little more. Your students will know you're full of it, which is actually not a bad thing. If you're too convincing, they're going to freak out, or call you a liar afterward. Kids have great imaginations, so tap into them. Try creating scenarios in math to give meaning to all those numbers being crunched. Or make up a background story to go along with that science experiment. Or, like with the Jack and the Beanstalk situation above, attach an out-of-the-blue scenario to a mundane task.

Limping: "Okay boys and girls, when you finish your novel, you need to complete these three response pages. I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy one of them. Let's see, hang on. Nope. Forgot to copy the fun one. Anyway, go ahead and get started. I'm going to go refill my coffee mug."

Not Limping: "We're winding down our novels, aren't we, boys and girls? I want you to be thinking about how you want to respond when you finish. Of course you can write me a notebook entry about your thinking. But you could also do something else, like a poster, a presentation, a pretend interview with the main character or author, a newspaper article, you name it. Be sure you run your idea by me before starting so I can make sure it's going to allow you to really show off your thinking.

Add a little more choice throughout the day, especially during the last few weeks of school. Giving students choices lets them know you trust them and gives them more ownership of their learning. As long as the choices available meet certain criteria that you still have some control over, it's a win win. Even if you question whether or not your class can "handle it," give it a shot. Choice doesn't have to come in the form of a huge project, either. Maybe during math, you give students the choice of completing all ten math problems, or completing three but explaining the mathematical processes for each one. Or maybe you give students choice in where they work: at their desk or at a spot around the room. You could give students choice in the order in which they accomplish a set of tasks, too. A small dose of choice each day is a wise investment.

If you are looking for some fun and fresh activities to do with your students at the end of the year, be sure to check out my sets of "End of Year Activities: Fun & Fresh!" (Good name, huh?) Click below for details:

I also have end of the year Memory Books available for first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade, that I bet you'll think are awesome ;)

How else do you drag yourself to the last day?

(Actually, a confession here: I'm a tad more interested in you thinking about how else to keep  motivated, excited about learning, and working hard. I know, I know, I'm so wishy-washy.)