It’s the most troublesome time of the year . . . engaging kids at the end

Happy Monday! Anyone have a countdown to the end of school? As we near the final stretch of another crazy school year we once again face the challenge of keeping kids excited and engaged. I thought I would share something that I discussed at the end of last school year to give you a couple of ideas to keep those creative juices flowing.

So, it’s April . . . track meets, warm weather, field trips, crazy schedules, finals, and we’re supposed to keep kids engaged?  Maybe one of the greatest challenges in education is the end of the year. How do we find creative ways to keep kids interested in learning?

One popular survival mechanism is plugging in a movie that is connected to your curriculum.  Do you really think the kids will find it much fun to watch Gettysburg and complete a worksheet connected to the movie?  Sometimes we are required to give a semester final but to ask the kids to take a long drawn out test that you may not be interested in grading when the school year is done lacks a lot of appeal. Frankly, the last month of a school year can be a real struggle and make you feel like our friend pictured above, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to inject a little creativity into your year-end routine.

So as we get near the end of the year, try one of these game changers:

Create a Museum – Have your classes design and construct a museum.  This could be centered around the final curricular unit you are studying or a cumulative project.  Divide the class into themed groups and let them design the layout. Work with local museums to assist in how to create museum displays. Go all in!  

The class time becomes an opportunity for researching, designing and building the final project. Add to the excitement by opening it to the public for a few days. (What a great way to connect to your community!)  A couple of years ago we did a “Museum of the Civil War” as the culminating assessment to this unit.

All of my 8th grade classes were tasked with completing certain themes related to the Civil War. They choose the format to present their themes and we went to work building our version of a museum.  In the last couple of days prior the end of the semester we opened it up and we charged a donation for those that attended. The money raised was then donated to the National Civil War Battlefield Trust, thus giving back in creating the project. The result was days of kids working hard to make the museum come to life.  

With the museum work, I didn’t have to worry about juggling crazy schedules and missed classes. The kids had a blast using their skills to create an awesome museum that simply amazed everyone! Several of the kids dressed in period pieces and served as tour guides and reactors to tell stories of individuals connected to the theme they were assigned.  The pictures above are just a small sample of the millions I took that day. The day after the museum closed we took everything down, had a great classroom conversation about the importance of museum work in telling stories, and the year was done.

Conduct A Social Studies Olympics
Nothing keeps kids more engaged then some friendly competition.  In that spirit I created the WMS Social Studies Olympics. The activity was conducted in the last few days of the school year with my 8th Graders that pitted 20 teams (5 from each class hour I had) against each other in a series of competitive activities centered around Social Studies skill and curricular topics.  I begin with assigning five team captains for each class, you can choose whatever format you want but I really looked for good team leaders in selecting the captains.

We then conducted the Olympic Draft that allowed the captains to build their team by selecting team members through an NFL/NBA style of draft. They could trade picks for Olympic Points and much strategy is developed in trying to pick your team.  The Olympics themselves are a series of events that I created that utilized many of the skills they used in the classroom throughout the school year (argumentation, public speaking, small group decision making) in participating in the events. So the list below became the events I created for the Olympics:

  • Hexagon of Doom (Use the Hexagon Connection Concept) Check out the idea from Glenn Wiebe’s Blog Hexagon Strategy.
  • Ultimate Timeline (Use the Timeline Series Game)  If you don’t know much about this check out the game information Timeline Game.
  • Thats A Rap! (Teams create and perform a rap to tell the story of a selected historical event.) I use Flipgrid as the platform for the students to film their completed raps.
  • Civics Pictionary (Classic take on this game, using Civics/Government concepts.)
  • Social Studies Mystery Box Of Mayhem (If you have never heard about Jill Weber’s Cut Throat History you should check it out, this is a modified version.)
  • Have A Kahoot In History (Using the Kahoot Game format I created an ultimate History Trivia game for the kids to compete.)

Basically create whatever events that you want to fulfill the Olympic Activities.  I assign point values for each event and the teams work to accumulate points for each event.  The team with the most points at the end of Olympics is the champion of the “Founders Trophy.” They get to put their name on it like the Stanley Cup and I fill it with a bunch of goodies to enjoy.  With some simple planning, a few dollars in spray paint, an old theater prop, and snacks I have kids fighting like crazy to be crowned the Social Studies Olympic Champs.  

The end of the school year doesn’t have to become an episode of Survivor.  Creative planning and just the right angle can help kids see there is still great stuff that can happen in the classroom, even in May!


About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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