Keeping your students engaged during the final weeks of school can be a challenge. The Free Spirit Advisory Board members are here to share their best advice for reengaging kids who have checked out for the school year.
“Keeping kids engaged in school, especially after spring break, is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. As a mental health case manager, my focus is to empower my adolescent clients in their own choices, give them space to talk through their feelings about school, and guide them through problem solving any barriers. The last thing kids want is another adult telling them what they need to be doing; partner with them, don’t shame or punish. On the same note, I encourage students’ engagement in after-school clubs, activities, or sports they are interested in—this creates an incentive to go to school and a positive experience in the school environment, and helps them build positive relationships with peers and school staff. If that doesn’t work, keep students’ eyes on the prize and have them make goals and plans for the summer. Provide incentives when possible. Teachers: If your students have a final project or paper due in a class, allow and encourage them to pursue topics that interest them. Get your students up and moving as often as possible. As the weather gets nicer, open the windows and have impromptu lessons in the sunshine!”
—Michelle, children’s mental health case manager
“The final weeks of the school year are always a challenge. As an elementary school social worker, I have found the best way to keep students engaged is to meet their needs and still be clear about expectations. Are the kids itching to get outside? Is it possible to allow for an extra recess? When a teacher agrees to give an extra recess, it often increases student engagement. An alternative might be knowing when you can take the learning outside. Are students learning to write descriptively? Might that happen outdoors?
“Finally, it might be more than feeling restless and wanting to play. Many children will be leaving the predictable structure and routine of the school year for a summer of the unknown. Giving these children a place to process their fear and anxiety about the unknown is crucial. They need their feelings validated, and it helps them to know they aren’t isolated. Our school is in a community where poverty is masked. When I work with these children, they feel a little better when I tell them, ‘You’re not the only one, and here is how I can work with your family.’
“Good luck, everyone!”
—Meg, school social worker
“I encourage good behavior by giving the kids a few minutes to use GoNoodle (music and dancing website) if they complete the goal for the day. I keep track of positive and negative behaviors using Class Dojo, and give students a reward for the most positive points earned during a class period. I try to write more engaging or hands-on lessons at the end of the year.”
—Gina, music teacher
“I have found that my end-of-year student engagement strategies vary by grade level. For early elementary students, I start calling them by their future grade level (second graders when they are still first graders). For older elementary students, I have a reader share-out update every morning in which students share updates about what they read the night before (personal reading, news, or homework). In middle school, activity tends to be the attention grabber, so I try to have unique activities throughout the week that I use as breaks in our routine. (I am known to use ideas from Classroom Warm-Ups In a Jar® from Free Spirit Publishing.) Though important at all levels, I have found that it is more of a challenge at the high school level to maintain systems, routines, and high behavioral expectations. I revisit those as necessary. I also allow time for students to have short discussions about upcoming matters concerning them (graduation, college, prom, summer jobs, etc.). It alleviates outside stressors and allows students to then focus on the content work.”
—Gail, district quality compensation program coordinator/teacher
“At our agency, we like to keep our clients engaged in school during the last few weeks by encouraging them to attend school daily to earn an incentive gift card, pizza parties, and games. Another motivator is to make education fun and exciting by using group activities and assignments. Lastly, keeping parents involved is essential to a student finishing the year strong—encouraging parents to come on field trips, assist in the classroom, and help with homework assignments.”
—Bianca, clinical supervisor
“Now is a great time of year to encourage students to reflect on themselves, their learning, and their futures. I often spend time during the last month of school having my high schoolers reflect on their year. One of their favorite activities is writing letters or advice columns to next year’s students. The key is to show that it’s still learning time. As soon as the teacher is ready for summer, so are the kids!”
—Angela, AP English literature teacher/curriculum coach
“What I do to keep kids engaged as the school year is winding down is discuss their larger life goals. I try to help them focus on what they really want out of their lives. Then, I relate those goals back to the choices they are making today that can either take them one step closer to their goals or one step further away.”
—Wanda, guidance counselor
“What we do to keep kids engaged in learning is try to reduce wait times. We also pay attention to the children’s interests.”
—Jeni, director of an early learning center
“I teach seniors, and many of them have already checked out the last few weeks of school, so I find topics that are interesting to them to read about and discuss. If we are working on something they think is interesting, they will participate. I usually find an article that we read together or a cool podcast that we listen to together and discuss, then allow students to work together on questions.”
—Dana, high school English teacher
“Summer is on every student’s mind this time of year, so why not turn this thinking into planning! Have students lay out their desired summer experience on paper using art, poetry, or prose. Explore how finishing the school year strong will lead to less stress and more earned freedom during the summer. Next, practice (or teach) backward goal planning. Ask students to envision themselves the last two weeks of school, one month out, and this week—what does success in those moments look, feel, and sound like? What habits must they practice in order to achieve success? Keep a copy of students’ plans and use them for check-ins throughout the final academic quarter.”
—Tia, LICSW, president, School Social Work Association, Washington, DC
“I recently did a Breakout EDU lesson and was amazed at how engaged the students were as they ‘broke out’ of high school! I knew they would have fun, but was pleasantly shocked at the end of the activity when the students had retained most of the information that was in each puzzle. (They didn’t even understand how they knew so much!) I will definitely be incorporating more games and brain teasers into my lessons.”
—Stephanie, school counselor
Bonus! Download a free printable SMART goals worksheet to help students set goals for summer.
The Free Spirit Advisory Board of Educators is a group of professionals who provide feedback that helps make Free Spirit books be even more beneficial for kids, teens, and the adults who care about them. Interested in becoming a member? Recruitment is ongoing! For more information about the benefits and responsibilities of membership, download our Free Spirit Advisory Board flyer and our Free Spirit Advisory Board application.
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