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The Final Countdown: Stress free lesson ideas for the end of the school year

If you're like me, you can almost feel the sunshine warming your cheeks. Summer is right around the corner!

Although the end of the school year can sometimes feel hectic, you and your students deserve to enjoy these final weeks together engaged in fun and meaningful learning. Here some lesson and unit plan ideas that will bring you to the end of the school year with ease. Whether you have three weeks left or, like me, you have six weeks left, below is a list of plans to get you there.

Two weeks left: A mini-research unit

Immerse your students in a meaningful mini-research project with The Refugee Experience. The Refugee Experience research project leads students to the United Nations Refugee Agency website where students can study the stories of refugees from around the world and from different periods of time.

After reading the stories of refugees, students choose one refugee to honor through further research of the circumstances that person experienced. Students build an understanding of past and current events, they practice research, analysis, and synthesis skills, and they produce a final project that is meaningful, relevant, and inspiring. One of the many teachers who implemented The Refugee Experience in her ELA classroom shared, "My students were so interested in this. You could have heard a pin drop in my class when they were reading the stories on the website."

This would make a great final-assessment of students' research skills if they've practiced research skills earlier in the school year or it would be a great way to build important researching skills as the school year comes to a close.

Need something different? Check out The Argument Games, a two week unit that will help your students to craft their final argument writing of the school year!

Three Weeks left: Passion Projects

If you've followed me for a long time, you know my passion for passion projects! Use your final three weeks to implement passion projects for independent reading and see your students reach a level of engagement you never imagined possible! My students blew my mind with their creativity and willingness to reach the highest levels of analysis through passion project work this school year.

To implement passion projects, allow students to choose their own novels, then give them time to design a project based on a single standard of their choice. For example, a student might choose the standard that focuses on analyzing how elements of a story interact. The project would reflect how one element of the story affects another.

Read more about implementing passion projects here.

Four Weeks: Literature Circles

Literature circles are the perfect way to engage students in a final text this school year. In literature circles, students do the work of learning by leading the lesson, analyzing the text, and applying what they learn to their individual work.

My students are in the midst of reading their literature circle novels as mentor texts for their writing. I didn't have specific literature circle novels. My one requirement was that students choose narrative texts (most novels fit this category) and read them in groups of 2-4 students. You can easily gather literature circle books from your library or classroom library; all you need is multiple copies of several book titles.

To implement similar literature circles start with a book tasting. I keep things simple for book tastings and simply ask my students to peruse the different choices and sample them by reading the first few pages. We determine if a book is a good fit based on style, interest, and complexity. Our complexity test is simple: students count how many words they're unsure of on the first two pages. If they go past five, the book is too hard and might not be a good choice for independent reading.

Once students have chosen their books, have them form literature circles. Next, give them a deadline to finish books by, and based on the deadline, instruct them to set a goal for their nightly reading. For example, if students need to finish book in three weeks, they will divide the number of pages in their novels by 21.

Structure literature circle meetings the same for each day: students meet and check in on their goals, students discuss a specific aspect of their novel (the author's use of dialogue, sensory language, etc.), and students apply their learning to their own writing. As we read narrative texts in literature circles, we're also brainstorming and drafting our own narratives! Our literature circles culminate with students polishing and publishing their own stories. It's a beautiful way to end the school year. Check out my full lesson plans here. Read my tips for implementing literature circles in this full blog post.

Need something flexible to fit your schedule? Try One Pagers. One pagers are the ultimate in meaningful learning tools and creativity. My students love using one pagers as a response to their independent reading. All you need to implement one pagers is a focus (a teacher OR student chosen standard) and a simple list of requirements (see below).

For more in-depth and higher-quality one page responses, try the One Pager for Any Novel project. This project can easily be cut to fill one to four weeks worth of study making it the perfect way to fill out the rest of your school year.

Final Projects and Reflections

My Standards Story is a meaningful, standards-based way for students to reflect on their learning. In this ten day culminating unit, students find evidence of their best work, match it to the standards, and write a story of their growth and eventual mastery of three chosen standards. Think of My Standards Story as students' final arguments. The goal of their argument? Prove with evidence from their work that they have mastered the standards of ELA.

Need something a little more simple? Try Reflection Stations. My students LOVE any excuse to work in stations, and Reflection Stations are perfect for the end of the year. Students reflect on their mastery of the standards in a Reading Literature station, a Reading Informational Texts station, and four writing stations. Check out Reflections Stations here.


No matter how you end your school year, I hope the final weeks with your students are full of magical learning experiences! Enjoy!


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