10 End of Year Activities for the Upper Elementary Classroom

The end of the year is rapidly approaching and it's usually the best time of year. The class is gelling, the memories are abundant, and the warm weather has finally hit which allows you to get outside and enjoy some different activities. This year will be a little different with everyone completing online digital learning and away from the students they love so dearly, but that doesn't mean that the memories have to end.

Thematic Days

Set up a day to culminate your curriculum and have a thematic day.  My daughter's favorite day in school was Renaissance Day.  They dressed up in costume, if possible, wrote with a quill, drew pictures while laying on the floor under their desk (tape the paper to the underside of the desk), and more.  If you can't come up with 4-6 activities for a theme day, then try a fun theme week.  Make Monday favorite outfit day, and Tuesday funny socks day.  Have a sports day, superhero day, and others.  Just make sure to think about the inclusion of all kids when you do this.  For instance, twin day is hard for those kids who are socially introverted and those who may struggle making friends for any number of reasons.

Countdown the Days Together

Digital Memory Wall helps students sum up the year.
When about ten days are left in the year, create a paper chain or balloon count down.  Each day have a random act of kindness, a shared memory, or a task for your students to complete, such as doing a mathematical coloring page, or filling out a survey on their year.  Build the drama and suspense each day and make it as fun as it can be without losing all control.

Memory Wall

Place a large piece of butcher paper up on your wall and give your students a few days to start noting down all their great memories from the year.  I've found that it usually takes a few days for the really great memories to start flooding back to them, so give your paper, or this free Digital Memory Wall, some time to brew.  Make sure you leave time at the end of the year to review everything that's been written, photographed, and shared, so you can have a few more laughs together as a class.

Memory Book

Memory books are another great way to capture your student's thoughts, ideas, and reflections from the year.  Each student can have their own unique memory book, or you can do one that is more general to the class as a whole with unique highlights throughout.  I used to make beefy memory books for my students and then my digital offering "way back when" was a DVD of all our photographs set to music.  It sure took a lot of time, but it was a labor of love and boy, did I love those books and DVDs.  Nowadays you can make a digital memory book much more quickly and assemble it so much easier.  A couple of my friends have some great options if you're looking to go with paper or digital with this task this year.  Joyce & Steve, over at 1st Grade Pandamania have a fabulous paper memory book for the younger crowd.  Parents love to see kids trace their hands, write their name, and more.  While The Craft of Teaching has an awesome digital version for this year.  Each grade (3rd-6th) has a book and students make it really unique with their memories from the year.
End of Year Memory Book K-2                                                               Upper Elementary Memory Book

Field Day

Field Day is another end of year event that I just love.  We get to head outside for the day.  The kids are all relaxed and ready to have fun, and the P.E. teacher always has such a great day of activities planned.  I am all about sports and a total tomboy, so this day was always a blast for me, but one of the highlights of the day is eating a picnic style lunch together as a class and just talking about school, life, memories, etc.  We often get quite a few laughs together and it really proves to be a great bonding time.  Even though we're online learning this year, having a lunch with your kids, while online, is not out of the question.  You could even play some games online, like ArcademicSkillBuilders, Cool Math, Minecraft, or many others.  Enjoy the time you get with them before the year is over.

Class Shirts

Another thing I absolutely loved about field day was our class shirts and hats.  I would create a design, have all the kids sign it, and then take it to a local T-Shirt shop for production.  The first couple years I actually paid for the shirts and hats myself, as an end of year gift, but not too much later I started asking for the parents to chip in.  I even had a spot where parents could donate money to help those who were less affluent.  No one ever went without our class shirts.  Then later, seeing everyone all in a group, working together for a common goal, and sporting our class duds was so neat.  The pictures were pretty fabulous too.

Advice for Next Year's Crop

As the days dwindled, a great writing activity is to have your students write to an up and coming student.  Have them explain what your grade level is like.  Do classes rotate or are they contained?  What teachers do they see?  What lessons (life or otherwise) have been the most important?  What skills are needed to be a great student?  All these questions and so many more, can be answered in a letter to the new students.  Then save those papers and have one on each desk on the first day of the new year to help students feel welcomed, reassured, and ready to tackle the school year.

Clean Up & Pack Up Together

This necessary task doesn't have to be done by you alone.  Get your students to help by packing up their totes, cubbies, or lockers.  Have them clean out their notebooks, desks, and backpacks, and then wash those desks down with some shaving cream fun.  I usually buy one can for every 8-10 students.  Give them a small pile on their desk and have them draw, answer questions, or just play for 10-20 minutes.  Then walk around with a spray bottle, add a little water to each desk and have them scrub it clean with paper towels or cloths.  You'll have a clean classroom and the kids will have another great
Assortment of Awards for Upper Elementary Students

Hold an Awards Ceremony or Two

Each year as the days drew to an end, another event I would make sure to undertake and capture, was classroom awards.  I gave out awards for academics and effort, attendance and reading, and best of all character.  I'd usually do all my awards at once, but sometimes we'd have multiple award days, and you know what, there's nothing wrong with that.  Sometimes kids aren't celebrated and applauded enough.  My character awards have always been a true passion of mine.  I agonize for days over who should get which award and how to make sure everyone is included in the best way possible.  I then make certificates for my students, each with a unique quote about the character trait included.  Then usually on the last day of school I hand out my awards with a story and reason behind each and every one.  I love to share their deeds and accomplishments with them through my eyes, and have gotten teary-eyed, if not weepy, more than once.  The students are so appreciative and supportive of one another, that character awards are something I look forward to all year long.

Class Gifts

Definitely not a requirement, so don't feel obligated, but I always enjoyed giving my kids a gift at the end of the year.  Some years and some schools were more extravagant than others, but you really only need to do something small that reminds your kids that you care about them and will miss them when they move on.  I've given shirts and hats, as mentioned before, cups, water bottles, bubbles, small stuffed animals, and a mish-mash of little trinkets, but my daughter's favorite gift of all time was in 2nd grade when her teacher made her class bookmarks.  She had the whole class sign the back and then laminated them before handing them out.  My daughter used that bookmark for years to come.  1st Grade Pandamania has some adorable free bookmarks that can be used for many different grade levels, and Apple-y Ever After has some great pirate bookmarks that would make a cute end of year gift too.
Bookmarks for the K-3 Crowd
 Pirate Bookmarks

However you decide to celebrate the end of the year and the special days you've shared with your students, it will all be good.  Kids just like to know that they mattered to you and that you will remember them.  And if they can remember you in the process with a token, certificate, or even just the memories they hold in their heart, they will take that with them forever.


Distance Learning and You

We are entering an unprecedented time in our history.  Even in times of war, schools were still open and games were still played, but now we face a new challenge and one we must all face together.  We must do what is best for humanity by shuttering down our social systems and avoiding one another until this virus passes through and hopefully affects as few people as possible.

Ideas and resources to help with distance learning.

With this social distancing comes the need to perform learning from a distance, which is a challenge.  Will students have devices and Internet capabilities?  What about families with 4, 5, 6, kids and only one device?  What about families who can barely afford to put food on the table or can hardly function as a family, how can we expect them to undergo this latest challenge?  There are so many questions and so few answers right now, but the best we can do is to provide as many resources as possible.  Along with that, grace and understanding, flexibility and patience must be in our wheelhouses.  This is not going to pass without questions, uncertainty, trial and error, and many hiccups.  Be prepared to be unprepared and you'll feel less cajoled when the issues arise.

Teaching resources that are free during the pandemic.

I have compiled a short list of resources I have discovered over the past few days that are making your job as an educator hopefully a little easier during this tumultuous time.  Please use any or all of these that you can, and be sure to show them some appreciation when all this is over for helping you out.

  • Kahoot - Offering premium services for the rest of the year for free.
  • IXL - Is providing free access for 90 days.
  • Edmodo - Offering access for communication and learning during this time.
  • Discovery Education - Offering free access through the end of the year to affected schools.
  • Boom Learning - Offering free Ultimate subscriptions good through June 30.
  • Active History - Offering one month free trials upon request.
  • Kids Discover - Kids Discover Online is being offered to schools through the end of June.
  • Shurley English - Offering their program for K-8 for free, no code required.
  • Turn It In - Has a 60-day free trial.

A list of teaching resources that are free and always have been.

In addition, these great resources have always been free and continue to be so during this stressful time.
  • Big Blue Button - Webcams, whiteboards, and posted curriculum made for online teaching.
  • Zearn - A K-5 curriculum.
  • Khan Academy - Online lessons in a variety of subjects.
  • Wonderopolis - Short videos and readings that answer questions for students.
  • Xtra Math - Math fact practice.
  • Typing Club - Typing practice.
  • ReadWorks - Reading passages and lesson plans for students from K-12.
  • Math Celebrity - Math tutoring.
  • Quizlet - Practice and master content with quizzes.
  • HippoCampus - Free videos in 13 different subject areas.
  • Phet - Science and math labs.
  • PBS Learning - PreK-12 digital learning materials.
  • Fiveable - Free resources for AP students which includes trivia, study guides, and reviews.
  • No Red Ink - An online curriculum that builds better writers.
  • Go Noodle - Movement and mindfulness videos.
  • Dreamscape - Reading game for grades 2-8 that combines strategy, engagement, reading passages, and a game.
  • Class Tag - Communicate with parents and send home lessons and assignments.
  • Classroom Cereal - Grammar practice.
  • Collisions Chemistry - Digital games rooted in the rules of chemistry.
  • Arcademics - Arcade like games for math, language arts, and typing practice.
  • Museum Tours - Tour 12 museums for free with virtual tours.
  • Kids National Geographic - Geography, history, and science information.

A list of self-care ideas to help when you are practicing social distancing.

While you're busy taking care of your students, don't forget to take care of yourself as well.  It can be daunting to feel trapped inside or to have little social contact with others, so make sure to take some time for yourself and do what you need to do to protect yourself and your health and emotions.  Here are some suggestions.
  • Go for a walk - Even though we're supposed to be practicing social distancing, it is okay to get outside and get some fresh air.
  • Take a bath or shower - Freshen up and get clean with a soaking bath or a rejuvenating shower.
  • Read a book - Too often we don't have time to get lost in a novel.  Pick a book off your shelf and dive in to a great story.
  • Watch a Ted Talk - Whether to learn something or just hear some words of inspiration, a Ted Talk can give you a break and put you in just the right mood.
  • Meditate - Get a subscription to Calm or Headspace and partake in some meditation.
  • Pin It - Explore Pinterest and reconnect with your hobbies. As a teacher you rarely have time for you and your hobbies.  You may have even forgot what hobbies are.  Now is the time to reconnect with what you like to do.
  • Complete a Gratitude Journal - During hard times it can be difficult to remember to be grateful.  Completing a gratitude journal will help you to remember all the good there truly is to be thankful for.  I have this one and love it.

I hope these lists provide you with some resources that you able to use to make your days easier as we all walk this new unknown together.  



Are You a Genius When it Comes to Geography?

GeoGenius is a new line of geography magazines that allow you and your students to become experts in the field of geography.

With maps, interactive activities, fun facts, and more, GeoGenius aims to get students interested in geography again.  It aspires to show students a link between the fun and zany side of the world and just how that connects to our knowledge of geography.  In addition, students are given real world activities to complete that give them a glimpse inside the country or continent at hand.

The first GeoGenius features the continents and oceans.  You can get this free 22-page activity packet and lesson simply by signing up here.  GeoGenius Continents and Oceans should download immediately upon your confirmation, and then once every quarter, new free issues will arrive.  Expect to see issues on Australia (the continent), South America, and Europe.

As a partner to GeoGenius, are GeoJuniors.  GeoJuniors are short 10 to 15-page magazines that focus in on a specific country of study.  Each GeoJunior includes a location sheet, a guess the country game, maps, fun facts, and an infographic bookmark to help students retain the information that they've learned. 

GeoJuniors are meant to be taught all in a chunk or in small short bites, like a snack.  They're easily adaptable to fit your classroom and your lessons and are fun for kids with crazy facts, interesting maps, and cute graphics. 

Filling the gaps in between the GeoGenius magazines, GeoJuniors will arrive every two weeks.  You can expect to see issues on Albania, Bolivia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Greece, Honduras, and others, as we jet-set back and forth across the globe, learning about the various nations that make up our world. 

All six permanently inhabited continents are covered, and GeoJuniors provide a great way to learn about other cultures as well as introduce other regions and new material.  Save a country until you're going to cover it, or use them to have a multi-cultural fair.  Encourage your students to make travel brochures on their favorite countries and explore more of what each country has to offer, or just use GeoJunior as a quick break from the curriculum from time to time.  The opportunities are endless.

Whatever you decide, GeoGenius and GeoJuniors, will help you become a GeoWizard!


Starting the New Year off Right

As you head back to school after a long winter's break, it's a great time to handle some much needed items in your classroom.  Teacher materials may need reorganization, classroom routines may need a redo, and your students will definitely benefit from a refresher.  I've compiled my years of experience into this blog post which I hope will get your new year headed in the right direction.

Starting the New Year Off Right

Organizing your Teaching Life

When headed back after winter break, the schools I worked in routinely had a couple days of professional development before the students showed up.  Usually one of those days was taken up by meetings, planning, and new requirements and procedures, but one was given to us to work in our rooms and accomplish what we needed to before the semester got rolling.  Here's what I recommend for that day.

Organizing your Teaching Life

     1. Declutter your classroom

Go through your cabinets, closets, and shelves and make it a priority to start fresh and clean.  Get rid of old papers, books you're not going to use, those old VCR tapes that can't be put into any of the televisions at school, dead markers, glue sticks with no caps, and your well-intentioned snacks you're never going to actually open.  Look for ways to re-purpose or reorganize your materials to get the most bang for your buck and definitely don't forget to go through your desk or teaching table too.

     2. Prepare your planner

If you didn't complete it at the beginning of the year, go through your planner and finish writing in all the dates, upcoming events, scheduled meetings, testing days, and long range plans for the semester.  Make sure you also get all those holidays and PD days penciled in as well.  Get as much of the first month planned out as you can now, because those first days back are long and exhausting getting used to routines and schedules all over again.  Build in that grace you know you'll need.

     3. Leave time for copying

Lastly, make sure you leave time to copy all the things you'll need for as long as you have planned or mapped out.  Don't forget those things you know you'll need down the road.  Just remember to put them where you'll remember them.  More than once I've copied things over because I couldn't find or remember what I had done with the copies I had made, or I just plain forgot I copied them at all.

Reflect on Your Systems and Routines

Reflect on your Classroom

Take a moment or two and reflect on the first semester.  Are there routines in your classroom that need some reorganization?  Are there new systems you need to put in place?  What can you do to build morale, introduce more writing, encourage more teamwork, develop a passion for reading, set up more time for practice, or whatever it is that you want to accomplish with your kids and your class?  If you weren't brainstorming and dreaming up ideas over the second half of break, which is usually when my brain started to kick back in, take some time and some quiet space now to think about your true goals and objectives and how you can maximize potential and reach new heights.  It sounds cliché, but new years is the perfect time to reevaluate and make new goals.  Once you've decided on what you want to accomplish, begin to make the plans to make those goals obtainable.  This will probably take up the majority of your day.

If you're struggling with ways in which to set a positive classroom culture, I've got you covered in this blog post.  Although written from the first of the year perspective, it has ideas and tips you can implement at any time to help you make a positive transformation in your room.

Also, for those who struggle with classroom organization or those dreaded seating charts, I have a couple blog posts to help you in those areas as well.  If there's something else, let me know in the comments, and I'll see what assistance I can give you.

Give Those Students a Refresher

Refresh Those Routines

     1. Connect with the Students

When the students get back, don't dig in and get going too fast.  Take some time to connect about what they need to talk about.  Some might have had a great break, but others may have been longing for the security and structure of school.  Allow a chance for those who need to talk to you to do so, and make sure you're aware of those who seem to have something to say, but are too shy or concerned to voice it in class.  Check in with them later, when you can, one-on-one.  Also, let the students have a moment to decompress from the holidays, prepare for the new year, and evaluate where they want to head as well.

     2. Tour the Room

Give the kids a tour of what's new and different.  Perhaps during your reorganization you restructured their supply area.  Did you get any new furniture or decor items over break?  Maybe you're introducing a new behavior management technique or system.  If so, take time to explain it, how it will work, the benefits of it, where they can monitor their progress, and more.  This shouldn't take long, but helps to set expectations, new procedures, and alleviates surprises down the road.

     3. Review the Basics

Also make sure to take time to review important rules, procedures, and routines.  We can all forget what side is up over break, so try not to assume that the kids will just remember how to accomplish things.  Set them up for success by giving some time for this important crash course.  It will also greatly help any students who moved over the break and are new to your school or classroom.

     4. Make the Last Moment Count

Finally, leave time to bond with your kids as they depart from your room.  There's a lot of discussion about morning greetings, in fact I have a blog post here where you can read more and get a freebie if you're interested, but I don't think enough is said about sending off our students right as well.  Give them a high five, a fist bump, or a handshake as they set to leave.  Send them off with some encouraging or motivating words. Let those kids who need it, know you'll connect with them later.  This sending off time gives teachers a unique and important opportunity to have one more moment and impact on each student's life.  How cool is that!

Hopefully when all this is said and done and you're a few days into the new semester, you'll realize the fruits of your labor and be glad for your new approach, outlook, and daily inspiration.  If not, keep at it.  New habits take at least 21 days to take hold, and it can be difficult to start a new procedure or management technique.  The great stuff always takes time!

I hope you have a wonderful semester ahead of you.