Last year we surveyed readers of our weekly newsletter The Big Fresh requesting suggestions for literacy activities for the final days of school. Hundreds of teachers wrote back. Here are literacy suggestions for closing out the school year with more keepsakes to carry home.
Bobbi Claytor of Evanston, Wyoming finds both she and her students cherish “Compliment Quilts”:
I once read an email about a teacher who had her students write their name on a blank piece of paper. The paper was then passed around to all the students and each student wrote something nice about that person on it. Whether the email was true or not, I decided to have my students create “compliment quilts.” Each student wrote something nice about each of his or her classmates on a 3 x 3 post-it. Once all students had written their compliments, the student compliments were arranged on a 12 x 18 piece of construction paper. I take the middle 6 x 6 square on which I place the student’s name, a class photo, and my compliment. Each quilt is then laminated and given as a final gift to the student. Many past students tell me their quilt is still hanging in their rooms.
Music is a potent tool for sparking memories. Fran Duntzee of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania likes the song “100 Years” to launch conversations and writing about the year:
At the end of each year, I play the song “100 Years” by Five for Fighting. I have my 5th graders listen for all of the ages mentioned and what occurs at those ages. We talk about their own families, from babies to great-great grandparents and what those family members’ lives are like. We then talk about the fact that no matter your age, you always have time to dream about things you’d still like to accomplish . . . you’re never too old. The students then write their own 100 years story describing what they are doing at many stages throughout their life. I then publish all of the students’ works and compile them into one book. Each student gets a copy of the book. When my students come back to visit, they always talk about “100 Years” and if their lives are following their dreams.
What could be a better literacy keepsake than a book? Paulina Levy of Crystal Lake, Illinois plans ahead for her gifts:
I teach middle school students. I have collected books at various reading levels that I think my students will enjoy. I have spent hours at the secondhand bookstore in town to find a variety of books. Each student will leave for the summer with a book I am confident they can read and my email address. I ask the students to email me about books they are reading. I am hopeful that not as much learning will be lost if the students are actively engaged in reading, and encouraged to discuss the reading with me over the summer.
Slideshows have given way to high tech alternatives. Selena Horrel ofLondon, Ontario uses Animoto to create videos from photos:
I take all of the photos that I’ve taken throughout the year and compile a video using Animoto. I burn a copy for each student. Then as a class, we do a “rock ritual” – to bring us full circle, as in Ralph Fletcher’s novel Flying Solo. We pass rocks around our community circle, where we place our hopes, memories, and positive thoughts “into” the rock. Each student gets a rock to bring home with them, with all of the good memories about our class “in” the rock.
Tammy Hutchinson of West Jefferson, North Carolina has her students create a keepsake that inspires her all summer long:
Creating a classroom mural to reflect a “deep study” is my favorite way to end the year. We read, write and create a wall to show our learning. I tell my students that our room seems so empty over the summer without them, so we decorate a wall to reflect our deep study of a subject. Topics most popular with my students have been an ocean study and a rainforest exploration. The students use much construction paper to craft the land or ocean, and the flora and fauna found there. It’s a great way to use up all the scraps of colored paper I save all year, and to allow students to show off the great collaborative skills they’ve developed. During the summer, I have a beautiful mural to remind me of the talents of the students now gone.
For kindergartners, life-size silhouettes are a magical gift at the end of the year in Sara McNinch’s Palo Alto, California classroom:
This activity takes a bit of pre-planning but it is well worth it. I trace a black silhouette of each child and mount it on a large white piece of construction paper. Then we choose one or two kids a day and give them compliments. I teach kindergarten, so in the interest of time and neatness, the kids generate compliments for each person and I write them (in three or four different colored markers) in the white space surrounding the silhouette. The child’s name is written below the silhouette and of course, since this is kindergarten, the child also thinks of a compliment about themselves. It is a beautiful keepsake, and truly celebrates what is special and unique about each student.
Sonja Kitchings of Goldston, North Carolina uses a final keepsake activity to build writing skills and the classroom community:
First, I take a picture of each child. Then I write each student’s name on a slip of paper. Next, students draw names from a hat. I make a big deal about it being their “secret.” The students then write about the person whose name he/she drew. The children sign up for conferences during writer’s workshop. I confer with each child about his/her writing. After we have edited together, I type the paragraphs. The student picks out the color of paper for the background of their writing, and we glue a photograph of the friend on the bottom. I display these outside the classroom. It is amazing how many students from other classes stop to read them! On the last day of school, the students read their paragraphs and present them to the parents of the friend they wrote about. The students write and read their work for an audience, and the parents have a nice keepsake of their child.
Compliments on beach balls are the perfect segue to summer in Susan Costello’s St. Paul, Minnesota classroom:
I have an inflatable beach ball for each student. We set them out around the room as stations, each person has a sharpie, and we go around and autograph each one, as a keepsake. I use mine during morning meeting the last week or so. I toss it to someone and they share a memory about or give a compliment to one of the the people their hands touch when they catch the ball. I record these on a chart to make sure we have a “positive” for each student, and so that they can be read again and again during center time. I have also cut up the chart and given each child their strip of memories and compliments on the last day.
Shelley Fenton of Wilton, New York enjoys helping the “elders” in her school transition to middle school through the efforts of first graders:
Ballard Elementary School is a K-5 building. On the last day of school there has been a tradition to honor all fifth grade students with awards, music, an iMovie and much more. Our school has grown and now the primary students watch the presentation in their classrooms on their smartboards. Several years ago we thought it would be nice for the first graders to do something special for the fifth grade students. We started our own tradition of having the first graders right special messages and poems to their fifth grade friends to wish them the best as they move to the middle school. When the fifth graders go to buses they are able to read the messages and also the first graders blow bubbles as they get on the buses. It has been a fun way to end the last day.
Puzzle pieces are a concrete reminder of everyone’s place in the classroom community in Jan Mekkelsen’s Burlington, Vermont classroom:
I create a large poster sized puzzle on foam board with velcro on the pieces so they will attach to another piece of foam board. On each puzzle piece, students draw and write images that represent various aspects of their lives. We then put the puzzle back together and talk about each person/piece as we work alongside each other. Then each person takes their piece home on the last day. It’s about being an individual, having personal perspective, as well as being part of our community and many others.