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May 1, 2020

End-of-Year Activities for the Distance Learning Classroom

The end of the year is always a delicate balance between hurrying to wrap things up and pausing to find ways to keep students engaged. This balance is harder to strike than ever as teachers try to figure out how to handle the end of the school year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools out for an indefinite amount of time, state testing up in the air, and many classes attempting online learning for the first time, it’s hard to know how to keep students involved, much less how to bring a satisfactory end to the school year.

In this article, we’ll review some fun end-of-year activities you can bring to your classroom to help you and your students wrap up the year.

Turn Students Into Teachers

The digital classroom is new for everyone, so in many ways, you’re discovering together the best way to learn and communicate online. That’s why now is a great time to give your students the opportunity to lead the class for a lesson.

Start by assigning your students to groups and giving them a topic to teach the rest of the class. Each group will then research the topic, prepare teaching material and an activity to present to the class, and then assess their classmates’ learning and provide feedback afterward. Depending on what grade you teach, you might want to provide some ideas or structure for the types of activities your students might try. And who knows? Maybe your students will surprise you with some good ideas for how to teach a lesson online.

Check out Teachers Pay Teachers for free and low-cost resources for this activity.

How to Succeed Brochure

Your students might not realize it, but they have a lot to offer kids a year younger than them who are about to enter their grade. The end of this school year might be disrupted, but your students still have the most thorough knowledge and experience of what it’s like to be in their grade and be a member of your classroom.

Have your students apply this knowledge by creating a brochure for next year’s incoming students. They can share tips for the best ways to tackle assignments, their favorite lessons from the year, and how to overcome the things they might’ve struggled with. This activity is a great opportunity for students to review what they’ve learned and to think about their learning on a metacognitive level.

Teachers Pay Teachers has printables that can help your students get started creating their brochures.

Student Awards

In this time when everyone is so isolated, it’s more important than ever to help your students feel seen and appreciated. That’s why an Oscars-style awards ceremony might be just what your class needs.

Take a little bit of time to think about your students’ strongest qualities. Who’s your class clown? Who’s your tech genius? Who’s your musical savant? Although an awards ceremony might feel a little silly at first, making a point of encouraging your students and praising them for their talents and hard work will make them feel great in an otherwise lonely and frustrating time.

To add some creative flair, you might name the awards based on your subject area (e.g., different authors or historical figures, different elements on the periodic table). You can even create digital award certificates with this free resource.

Résumé Building

Your students have accomplished a lot this year. Help them review their accomplishments by challenging them to create a résumé, cover letter, or portfolio that details their triumphs and milestones over the year. These accomplishments don’t have to be limited to the classroom either; encourage students to include personal, athletic, technical, and artistic feats as well.

In an online setting in particular, students can take a multimedia approach to this project by incorporating pictures, videos, social media posts, and personal blogs. To add some interactivity and creativity, you can also host mock interviews in which students present their résumés and portfolios as if they’re applying for their dream job.

For older students in particular, this activity is a great opportunity for them to practice as they prepare to apply for colleges, jobs, scholarships, and internships. ReadWriteThink has put together a detailed lesson plan for doing this activity with high school students.

Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) puts the problem of capturing students’ interest into their hands. With PBL, students identify a real-world problem that interests them, brainstorm and test possible solutions, and then present their findings. According to Faculty Focus, PBL has the following benefits in the digital classroom:

  • PBL helps with motivation and retention. When students choose topics that pique their interests, they have inherent personal drive to find the answer. In the present circumstances, when student engagement is harder than ever, this is an enormous benefit.
  • Online PBL makes it easy for students to have an audience. A key element that makes PBL stand out among other types of learning is that students are investigating real-world problems, not theoretical ones. The online environment allows students to easily find a real audience for their project, as they can post their investigation and findings on a blog or class wiki.
  • PBL gamifies learning. PBL gives students a long-term goal to work toward (i.e., solving a problem or answering their initial question). Because of that, students won’t get hung up on short-term “failures” or dead ends like they might on a “normal” formative assessment. Instead, their thinking is more long-term, encouraging them to explore new avenues as they try to find a solution, like they would in a video game.

PBL will look different for every subject area. For science classes, you’ll have to guide student inquiry toward experiments and research they can do with common household items. For history and English classes, you might have to be more creative. For example, Mud and Ink Teaching suggests having students identify an existential “problem” presented in a story or historical account and then research real-world solutions to that problem.

Top 10 Moments in the Digital Classroom

Learning to navigate the digital classroom has no doubt been an adventure for you and your students. You might have had unplanned visits from pets or younger siblings, funny incidents when someone’s screen froze, or an exciting moment when a shy student spoke on camera for the first time.

Capture these moments by having your students nominate their top 10 moments in the digital classroom. For the rest of their lives, your students will remember the year COVID-19 canceled in-person classes; help them remember this time fondly by embracing the trials and foibles of online learning.

More on Motivating and Connecting With Your Students

Nothing could have prepared you or your students for the challenges of COVID-19, but the principles of pedagogy and engagement are the same no matter what medium you’re teaching in. The activities in this article will help you make a positive end to a strange and difficult year, and send your students into the summer with a sense of closure.


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