Looking for a meaningful end of the year activity for your high school students? This one is my favorite! It offers a sneaky way to do some content review before the final test. Plus, I find out a lot about students’ perception of the class, and of me as their teacher!
Letter Writing is my favorite end of the school year activity. During the last week of school, each student writes an anonymous letter to the students that will begin the class next year. Kids and I enjoy the process, and we both get a lot out of it.
I tell my students that this is a sacred tradition. The letter is their legacy. It will be shared to the next group of students taking my class, and perhaps for many years to come.
What to Write About?
I ask that they choose at least three of these prompts to write about:
- Their favorite part of the class.
- Describe their favorite lab or activity: what did we do, what was it about?
- Pass on advice to the next class, what do they wish they had done, or are glad they did.
- Talk about the topic they most enjoyed. What new thing did you learn?
- What the next group can expect.
Great for End of the Year Review and Reflection
Writing a Letter is a great way to do some end of year review. Invite students to compile a list of the Units you learned. Then make a list of topics that were covered under each unit. Finally, fill in some of the memorable activities and learning experiences that were involved in various topics.
How To Do It:
This part of the activity can be done individually, in a group, as a whole class, or a combination! I like to start as a whole class and make a list of every unit. Kids write the units on their own paper in columns. Then they work individually to come up with as many topics as they can remember for each unit to fill out the columns.
Then, they get into groups and share topics, filling in their columns with anything left out. Finally, we come back together as a class and I call on one group to give me a few topics. The next group gives me topics not already named, and so on, until the last group that can give me a topic gets…something! Candy, extra credit points, bragging rights…?
The final challenge is to recall activities we did that helped us learn various topics. For time’s sake, we usually end up doing this together as a whole class.
This list is one part of the letter’s magic – it gets them to think critically and remember the whole year! Consider doing this activity a day or two before a final cumulative exam, it really helps students think through everything that we have learned, and every way we learned it, the whole year through.
Writing The Letters
Now that their memory is jogged, let them loose to write! I provide a single sheet of white paper. They are not to use their own names, it is anonymous. This way they feel more free to be honest and thoughtful, rather than trying to impress their peers or ham it up. They can sign the letter “former Biology Study” or however they would like.
Encourage them to be creative, draw pictures, or write with a colored pen! Resist the urge to be too intrusive while they work (do not read over their shoulders!). You want them to be honest and heartfelt.
End of the Year Reflection for the Teacher
Read every letter. Some will be great, letters you will save for your new students to read next year. Some will be not so great – negative attitudes, or giving bad advice, or foul language – just throw those away!
You will learn a lot from these letters! Students truly open up (for better or for worse) when writing anonymously to their peers. Sometimes I wonder if they think I don’t read them! I discover what students really think about the class, the classroom environment, the activities we do, and of me as a teacher.
Letters are often encouraging, with student’s expressing how much they enjoyed the class. I am impressed by how much they remember about particular assignments. If many students write about the same lab, I know it was a good one!
Sometimes the truth (or students’ perception of the truth) hits hard. One semester I read a letter that advised students to ‘ignore Mrs. Parker when she threatens to take your phone – she won’t. It’s a great time to text and check snapchat’ Well….that insight led to some big changes for the next year! Take a look at this blog to see how I keep cell phones in check now – it has made a big difference!
The End of the Year Activity Connects to the Beginning
The next year, on the first day of school, my new students read these letters. It is a great way to introduce them to the class! I like each new student to read two or three different letters. To have enough for your first year, you may need to make photocopies of the good ones. Save the good ones every year, and after a few years you will have a collection of great letters.
Then we discuss as a class what we learned from the letters. “What should you expect? List the labs and activities do we can look forward to. What advice did you read?” If we have time, I will have a volunteer student compile a list on the board as we talk.
Of course, I let my new students know that in just a few months, they too will be qualified to write a letter. By the end of the year, students are excited for their turn! It offers a sense of closure and completeness – the pride of having accomplished something, and passing it on to the next ‘generation’ of students.
Check out this article for 24 ways to add fun to the end of the school year!