The school year is about to end, and you'll be saying goodbye to students very soon. Over the past 10 months, this group has spent more time with each other than with anyone else in their lives, and next year, they'll be in different schools or separated into different classes. That's a significant adjustment for everyone, including you. Creating a sense of closure before saying goodbye to students is important for everyone, so honor the unique journey you took together with one—or all!—of these activities.
Further Reading: 5 Tips to Stay in Touch with Students and Beat the Year-End Blues
Have students think of a memory from the school year; it can be about themselves, someone else, or the class in general. Then have them choose an image to represent the memory. It can be an actual photo of the memory, a drawing, or a picture from a magazine, newspaper, or online. Depending on their grade level, they can also write about the memory.
These memories can be deeply personal or a single moment that was important to the student. After teaching my class to play soccer throughout the school year, one student chose the memory of a classmate, who had never played soccer, proving their skills by kicking a winning goal in a class scrimmage. Another chose when they passed a quiz on addition after their third try.
Once everyone has an image to represent their memory, display them in your classroom. I like to create a gallery walk—students quietly walk through the classroom like they're in an art gallery, looking at the work independently. After, they can share the story of the memory they chose with the whole group. You can also take the memories and make a photo album for students to keep.
Everyone has played a role in the classroom community and that should be acknowledged. On individual pieces of paper, write down each class member's name and have students choose one—they just can't choose their own! Give them a day or two to think of something positive and memorable to say about the person whose name they chose. It can be about something they did in class for someone else, an assignment they did that was special, or anything that highlights an achievement during the school year. If certain students are struggling to think of something, they can come to you for help, but they shouldn't share the name of their student with anyone else in the class.
Then, on the designated day, sit in a circle and have each student share one thing about their specific classmate with the entire class. It's a simple yet very important lesson on the power of words. To make it a collaborative task, you can do this exercise in small groups of three with each group saying something positive about three other people.
Whether you're having a graduation celebration or not, a gift-giving ceremony is a good way to acknowledge the end of the school year and the breaking up of the community that was 10 months in the making. Again, have students randomly choose a classmate. Have them make a small gift for that person or let them buy a small gift (I like to set a $5.00 maximum) that he or she can use in the next school year. Then set up a gift exchange. You can either have kids guess who gave them the gift or simply have them share one at a time.
The gift should have something to do with the student receiving it. For example, for the kid who never had something to write with, a pack of brightly colored pencils would be a funny, useful gift. Or, for the student who always loved to make art, a pad of beautiful paper to draw on would be well received. One year, a student gave an extremely disorganized peer colorful paper clips and hand-painted clothespins to help keep their papers organized. Everyone laughed, especially the student receiving it.
One Word or a Letter
At the end of the year, I choose a word that describes a unique talent or characteristic for each student. I write it on an index card and slip it in an envelope with a letter explaining that this is a word that describes a talent or characteristic I think is a gift. This is a simple takeaway that is nice to share with your students. You could, of course, write each student a full letter, but if you have 135 students, you might be hard-pressed to find the time.
Further Reading: 5 End-of-the-School-Year Activities to Finish Strong
With any of these activities, be sure that a majority of your students are present. Find out if any students are leaving for summer vacation a few days early or if some kids might need to attend graduation ceremonies for siblings, cousins, or close family friends. Recognizing the powerful, supportive community you all have been a part of for the school year will help everyone feel more confident and ready to move on, so you'll want a full house. And maybe a full box of tissues.