How do you mark the end of a year when this school year has been anything but ordinary? Masked up. Through a screen. Outdoors. Six feet apart. Switching models and routines every few months.
That said, End of the Year is a special time. Our students find so much connection in the right end of year traditions. And the year-end goals always remain the same: say goodbye to students who are leaving, wrap up loose ends, celebrate learning, and connect as a classroom community. That last one is my favorite!
Finding a meaningful way to accomplish that, no matter the year, can feel a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry: as your virtual teammate, I am here to take figuring this out off your plate! I’ve got five strategies for you to make this End of Year just as unforgettable as the year itself.
End of the Year Read Alouds
When in doubt, drop everything and read! And at the end of the year, make it a read aloud! Read alouds are such a valuable tool to support our students’ social and emotional growth. Here are a few reasons why they can be even more important at the end of the year:
Read alouds are excellent for helping kids go through major transitions. About 25% of my class moves to new schools and new cities every year. With all of that moving, you can bet that there are always a lot of emotions. Books such as Before I Leave, by Jessixa Bagley, touch on the complicated emotions humans go through when they move and all of the steps that go into the process of moving. This is an excellent activity starter too! (PS: you can check out all my favorite books about moving HERE).
Many read alouds can help kids talk about and ease the scaries and sadness about leaving their classroom community. When It’s the Last Day of School by Maribeth Boelts and Last Day Blues by Julie Danneberg show how worries about summer and what it means to leave a classroom you love can make you behave in funny ways. After reading, students often share the many ways they can relate!
I also love using end of year read alouds to sneak in a review of information from throughout the school year. One of my favorites for this is The End by David LaRochelle. This book takes a fairy tale and reverses it! Starting from the end, the book rewinds and takes us back to the beginning. I love using this book to prompt our own reverse story of our school year together. Starting with the Last Day of School, we work our way backward through the school year. We list our favorite moments and big things we learned about.
Another great use for end of year read alouds is to remind students how loved they are in our classroom community. Breathe by Scott Magoon is a gorgeous book that encourages students to stop and reflect. I love using this book to think about how we have become more of a family this year and think of ways we have supported each other. Another favorite for this topic is The Invisible String by Patricia Karst. The Invisible String shows that no matter where you are, there is always a connection to those you love. This is especially important for students who developed a strong bond with you as a teacher.
You can find a list of some of my favorite End of the Year Read Alouds HERE
End of the Year Celebrations & Countdowns
In all of my years of teaching, I have never seen students get more excited than they do about a celebration. Truthfully, when I first started, my year-end celebrations were a bit chaotic. But time has taught me well. Here are my best tips for creating an end of year celebration that your students will love:
- Plan in advance! If you’re able to go somewhere with your class, set that date early and make sure you give families plenty of notice. Chaperones, please!
- Make the celebration specific. What do I mean by that? Use the celebration as a way to highlight learning or growing. Perhaps you celebrate with a classroom showcase of learning. Or, celebrate the huge amount of reading students have done by having a book character-themed party!
- If you can, have two celebrations: one that includes families and friends (if allowed) and one that is just for your classroom community. In my experience, my students love showing off their learning to members outside our classroom community. But, there is nothing more exciting than having a class party that is just the class. When time and admin allow, I do both! Especially at the end of the year.
Whatever you choose to do, count it down. Count down the last ten days of school. Count down to your celebrations. Revv kids up each morning by showing the count down in a visual way (on a chart, on the SmartBoard, etc). I love including a clue or challenge with each count down day to give a sense of purpose to the count down beyond waiting for the end of the year.
End of the Year Memory Books
If you’re lucky, you’ve got a box of elementary school artifacts collecting dust in a box somewhere. When you dig through those artifacts, what kinds of things did you keep and find? For me, I find a lot of paper mache, a couple of class photos, dusty dioramas, and end of year goodbye books.
Memory Books are my go-to end of year activity and year-end keepsake. I love using memory bookmaking as a way to encourage students to think about the year from beginning to end. Each student makes a memory book and fills it with what matters to them that year.
There are over 20 different pages to pick from and I don’t use the same pages each year. I like to tailor it to fit the kinds of memories that make sense for our classroom and our year. One thing I’ve noticed other teachers do with the memory book pages is to give students options of the different pages they want to use. We all know students thrive on choice!
No matter the year, I always make sure to include a page for signatures from everyone in the class. What kid doesn’t love signing year-end books?
Reminders of Our Unique Class Community!
When I polled my Instagram audience recently, I was in awe reading the many incredible ways you are all building community and class identity each year! Some of you write class songs. Some of you have pictures and superlatives of your students hanging prominently in the classroom. Other teachers build anthologies of student writing that is treasured by the class.
No matter how you unite your class throughout the year, keep doing. Especially at the end of the year. Bring back old classroom chants. Put class writing on your read aloud shelf. One of the most powerful ways to end the year is to remind your classroom how they have worked independently and communally to become a unique, loved group of students.
One fun way to reignite classroom community at the end of the year is by bringing my beginning of the year community builders. Did you make some friend-wanted posters? Make friend FOUND posters and place them side by side! Did your students write about their hopes and dreams for this school year? Have them read their writing and respond to it. Make your year feel full circle.
I know that some of you are already counting down to that last day of school. If you’re like me, living in New England, you’ve got at least six weeks left until the end of the year. My school district usually goes until late June. On that timeline, I’ve had the most success when I start my end of year preparations in May.
For too many years, I made the mistake of waiting until two weeks out to start end of year festivities. Everything felt rushed. Students who needed extra time to think and write their memory books felt the pressure. It felt like a pretty crummy way to end the year.
So as you’re wrapping up your units, start sprinkling in some read alouds with end of year themes. Start planning your end of year celebrations and get the kids involved in the planning! Review classroom chants, songs, or activities from the beginning of the year.
I hope these tips help you in your end of year planning! Have a great suggestion I didn’t include? Drop it in the comments and share it with us!