By Shannon Anderson, author of Coasting Casey
Each May, I wonder how another school year could be over already—just when I’ve bonded with all of the kids and watched them grow so much, and just when we’ve become a big, crazy family. It takes time to build strong relationships and a climate of trust and compassion. When it’s all over, how do you send off these special little people?
Similar to how you start the year with those all-important and nonacademic character-building activities, it is worth your time to end the year with activities that remind kids how far they’ve come, how hard they’ve worked, and how much they mean to you.
I like to have a culminating project at the end of the year, and as an author, I love to have kids do some kind of special writing task. I use a company called Studentreasures Publishing to turn kids’ writing into a book. Here is what we do:
- Purchase the publishing kits for each student. (When I taught first grade, I bought one kit and the kids each wrote a page and illustrated a page for one class book.)
- Decide if kids will write an original story, an autobiography, a collection of poems, or research and write about an interesting topic.
- Go through the entire writing process over the course of several weeks, including revising, editing, and illustrating.
- Send off the kits to Studentreasures and wait for your big box of hardcover books to arrive.
These books are a wonderful way to end the year and a spectacular showpiece for a spring open house. (I have taught long enough that many of my students have finished high school. When I attend their graduation open houses, I often see the hardcover book they made in my class on display.)
This year, I was able to secure a grant to add an extra-special touch to our book project. Students all submitted a full-color illustration of their main character, and I sent the drawings to Budsies, a company that transforms kids’ artwork into plush characters. We enjoyed a big reveal when the stuffed toys came in. I can’t begin to tell you how excited students were to see their animals and people.
Cool culminating projects are fun, but on the last day of school, it’s nice to have some time to reflect on the year. I usually make a slideshow of the many pictures I took throughout the year and set it to music. If you have permission to post pictures on social media from all of your students, parents, you can even put the slideshow on your teacher website so kids can watch it over the summer, too.
We have a traditional awards program for attendance and academic achievements, but it’s fun to make up some personalized awards for your class, too. For example, “Most Likely to Burst into Giggles,” “The Next Picasso,” or “Most Creative Hair.” Try to come up with an award for each student.
I also have my current students write to my future students. They each compose a letter to one of my next third graders. The kids can write about what they liked best about the classroom, the things they learned, and what to expect. It’s a great tool for reflection and gives my current students a sense of closure. For me, besides the enjoyment I get from reading every single one, passing out these letters on the first day of school is a great way to begin the bonding process with my new crew.
Last, each year I compose a personalized poem for my class. I include memories we’ve made, successes we’ve shared, and my hopes for their futures. I guess this is my way of experiencing closure and letting my students know one more time that they are a special group of kids.
Shannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is currently a third-grade teacher, high ability coordinator, and presenter, and a former first-grade teacher, adjunct professor, and literacy coach. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.
Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:
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