I can hardly believe it’s almost the end of the 2019-2020 school year. I think it’s safe to say this has been one of the most wild, unexpected, and stressful years ever. Whether you have a few days or a couple weeks left, I wanted to share a few of my favorite mini-units and projects that work well at the end of the year. I hope these ideas help you finish the year strong with your students!
1. SLIDESHOWS THAT DON’T SUCK
Want to end the year on a good note with a fun, memorable mini-unit? “Slideshows That Don’t Suck” is one of my favorite projects ever. It’s purposeful, engaging, and just plain FUN. I designed this project when I was tired of cringing at my students’ font choices and hearing them read their slides word-for-word. I decided to tackle the problem of boring, unappealing presentations once and for all with a creative “Slideshows That Don’t Suck” mini-unit.
To make what could have been a pretty straightforward slideshow assignment fun, I gave my students total choice in topics. Well, choice with one tiny stipulation: Their topics had to be weird, random, ridiculous, boring, or obscure. The weirder, the better. I wanted students to work hard to bring a boring topic to life. I wanted them to curiously pursue the mundane and make it entertaining. My students were thrilled and instantly engaged by this challenge. Their topics included mole rats, milk, shoelaces, rocks, stink bugs, air fresheners, and spam accounts…the list goes on. Even the student who quite literally had completed 0 projects all year successfully delivered a slideshow on chicken wings.
As weird and fun as this project sounds, it’s actually a great way to help students practice essential literacy skills. And I promise that you will never have more fun grading their final projects and learning more than you ever wanted to know about the world’s most ridiculous topics! If you want to save yourself some time teaching about slideshows, check out my digital-ready mini-unit. It’s complete with a pacing guide, a gallery walk activity, learning stations, a rubric, and more to make teaching this a breeze!
2. INTERVIEW CHALLENGE
This speaking, listening, and writing activity is a great way to keep students meaningfully engaged at the end of the year. I originally created the interview “challenge” for my journalism students, but then I realized it was too fun and meaningful to not use with my other ELA classes. Students can easily complete this with a peer over the phone/video chatting OR with a family member in their house.
Here’s how it works: The “challenge” requires students to reflect upon a memorable moment and briefly share that moment with a partner. Then, the student creates a list of questions and interviews their partner in order to write a mini-story. The better the questions, the better the answers, and the better the stories. Students will quickly realize that taking the time to craft precise, meaningful questions will be well worth it in the end.
The best part of this writing activity is reading through the final stories. I always learn so much about my students and what has shaped their lives. For everything you need to teach this challenge from start to finish, check out my newly-updated digital resource.
3. RESUME WRITING
In the mood to teach something so practical that you won’t have to answer the question of “When will we ever use this in real life?” Teaching resume writing is just about as real-life as you can get, and it makes for the perfect end-of-year unit. You’ll feel satisfied knowing your students are leaving your class a little more prepared for the elusive real world.
But learning how to draft a resume and cover letter is about more than practicing real-life writing or becoming an employable job candidate. It’s also about growing as a human being. Writing a resume requires introspection, self-awareness, and reflection. Students will wrestle with the questions of “Who am I?” and “How can I represent what I have to offer on a piece of paper?” It’s intimidating but incredibly worthwhile and rewarding. Plus, you just might get a few excited “I got the job!” emails after teaching it, and there’s nothing better than that!
To learn more, you can read this blog post about how I teach resume writing or check out my student-ready resume writing unit. If you have the time, you can follow up resumes with a cover letter mini-unit or even sneak in some virtual mock interview practice. If your students aren’t quite ready for resumes, you can help them prepare for the real world with a career research project. Any of these options will help your students stay focused on the future, even during the chaos of the end of a wild year.
4. PHOTO JOURNAL
If you are searching for a purposeful project that will engage students without overwhelming them, give them a chance to document life through their own lens with a photo journal/essay assignment. Whether you assign it with journal writing or as a standalone project, a photo journal will help students practice essential skills while they contemplate what it means to live during this new normal. Simply ask students to document their lives, express their emotions, and make sense of the world around them.
A photo journal will look different for every student. Maybe it will be daily self-portraits, snapshots of empty streets, or a collection of the colors of nature. In any case, it will give students a chance to pause, reflect, and be present in the world around them. If you assign a photo journal or photo essay, I highly recommend checking out the app Getty Unshuttered. You can read more about it and find other unique photography project ideas HERE.
5. INDEPENDENT READING
Independent reading is a best-practice classic, and it just makes sense during distance learning. If you haven’t already assigned something like this, it’s the perfect activity to close out the end of the year. Give students choice in selecting their texts, as well as choice in the assignments and activities they do to represent their learning.
If students don’t have access to books, encourage them to download the Scribd app, which offers many ebooks and audiobooks. Currently, they are offering a free 30-day subscription without a credit card/payment information. This is what I would recommend to students. If you don’t mind entering your payment information, you can get a free 60-day trial with this link. For digital independent reading activities, you can check out my Novel Study for Any Novel bundle HERE. (It includes everything from “character Instagram posts” to standards-based writing assessments & rubrics!)
I hope these ideas make your last few days or weeks of school enjoyable, calm, and meaningful. Best of luck as you finish the year, and have a FABULOUS summer break! 🙂