It’s the end of the school year. We have about two weeks left. The students have finished end of instruction testing, and are beginning to act like squirrels with A.D.H.D. School days are filled with activities like the seniors versus faculty basketball game, awards assemblies, choir trips, field trips and other things that take students out of class on a regular basis. It is, as Taylor so eloquently put it in The Planet of the Apes, “a madhouse.”
The question every English teacher should ask is “what can I do with my students that is educational but will not bore them to tears now that they are tired of school?” I have a few ideas that may help. These are things I have done over the years since the EOI testing came into effect and since I started using the test score as a final exam grade.
1. Critique a Film – Pick a film, any film within your school’s rating rules and show it, but first give them a handout with criteria for a movie review like the one at this website. Spend a day explaining how to write a movie review, show them how to use movie reviews such as reviews found on rottentomatoes.com. The purpose of this lesson is not just busy work, it is designed to help students not only make informed decisions about things other than movies. We discuss doing research about a car, a house, and colleges. I usually pick a film that is very horribly made so that students can write a nasty review. Somehow it helps them release the angst they feel for being made to stay in school after testing is over. Be careful showing films without having any type of lesson attached to it. Be sure to read what the law says before deciding how you use a film in your classroom.
2. Creative Writing Project (Prose) – Walk students through the process of writing a short story. Tell them that the short story need not be of any particular length, but it must be about something that happened to them at school this year. Students must also write the short story eliminating “to be” verbs from their narrative. Have students keep their work in the room. They are not allowed to take it home. Students who care about their work will use the time away from their text to think about ways of improving it, and they will be anxious to get back to the room to work on it. This will also give you time to read their progress and make comments as they go. The due date is flexible depending on when the last day of school occurs. The rubric should focus on the student’s ability to re-write their short story to remove “to be” verbs, grammar and spelling, and whether or not they created a good narrative.
3. Creative Writing Project (Poetry) – Give the students a copy of three poems: “Sestina” and “Villanelle” by Elizabeth Bishop and any Shakespearean sonnet. Review the specific forms of these poems so that students are familiar enough with them to write their own. The best scenario makes use of a physical handout that they can mark up. Take students on a walk around campus. Have them sit outside and find some object to write about. Have them free-write about whatever they see as they walk around the campus. When they come back to the classroom, their assignment is to write a sestina, a villanelle or a sonnet about something they observed or whatever topic they wish to write about. Keep their poems in class so that you may comment on their progress. Students can only use class time to write. Make the due date flexible, but the final due date is the last day of school.
4. Guest Speakers– The military, businesses, colleges and police departments love to come to schools and talk to your students. They usually have awesome presentations that will last a class period and they can usually stay all day. High school students need to see the immediacy of graduation and that they will have to develop a plan. Many times these speakers can talk to students in a way that makes them see how important it is to be ready for the day after graduation. This is what I call a “blinder blaster” activity. It blows away the fog of teenage short-sightedness and makes them face their future.
5. Read a Play and Act It Out – We usually will read Death of a Salesman or another play that requires several people and act it out in front of class. Grades are participation, and it usually takes up the time we have left in school. We stop throughout the play and let students discuss anything they notice as interesting or any issues that the playwright is trying to express through the dialogue or stage directions. I don’t assign any writing assignments in conjunction with the reading of the play. It is a way for them to experience a play without having to go on a field trip, and they get to stop reading when they feel like discussing it. I have had some fantastic discussions with some of the lowest achieving students with this activity. They see the lives of these characters played out in front of them and it becomes more visceral. I can no longer count the students who get visibly upset at Biff Loman.
I’m sure there are some master teachers reading this article. If you have any other ideas, please post them below. I am sure all of us would appreciate finding new ways to educate our students after the state has deemed to give our students an “end of instruction” test three weeks before instruction is scheduled to end.