Running · Teaching

What to Do With High School Students at the End of the Year

Here it is- the highly anticipated slog to the last of day of school. State and AP testing is just about completely over and your students are checked out for summer. But, we still have how many weeks left?!

Here’s some ideas(and some free resources!) from a high school English teacher to help you switch gears and keep your students’ heads in the classroom during these last few days and weeks until freedom.

Go All-in on Creative Writing

The general ELA classroom (sadly) doesn’t allow a lot of room for a heavy focus on creative writing if you’re sticking to state standards and preparing your students for various required testing. After testing is over, jump right into a really different kind of lesson to keep your students’ attention.

I discovered this book, Eunoia, several years ago when I was still a substitute. A colleague of mine was immersed in it and gave me an unsolicited rundown on its content. This book is incredible, and if you love creative writing, you should probably own a copy of it.

The book makes a masterful use of a technique called univolcalism. It consists of five main chapters- one for each vowel. Those chapters are written only with words which contain the chapter’s given vowel. It’s a gem. I am in no way affiliated with the author, nor do I receive any commission for purchases of this book. I just REALLY love it, and I love exposing students to it because it just blows their minds that this type of writing exists and is possible. You can read a little more about the book in the Wikipedia entry here.

Here’s how I make a fun lesson out of the ideas in the book Eunoia:

First, I introduce the idea of constrained (restrictive) writing with the lectures slides below. Feel free to download this PowerPoint and use it! The slides have notes that guide you into the main activity for your students.

You’ll then need to break your students into five groups- one for each vowel. Give each group a copy of one page from Eunoia so each group has a piece of writing that features only one vowel. Each group should have one page from a different chapter. You don’t let on what makes this writing unique, but instead, ask the groups to examine the writing and see which group can identify the “quirk” first. It is always surprising to me how long it can take a group of students to realize that only a single vowel is being used. (You will need to get a copy of the book for this part- I cannot provide that part of the lesson for you, but it is worth it to own this book!)

Then, give your students the planning sheets (download them below) so they can begin creating a list of words that contain their assigned vowel.

Once, they’ve compiled a decent list, have each group compose a few lines or sentences using only words that contain the vowel assigned. The lines must make grammatical sense! Students end up creating some really neat bits of writing this way!

Now, have each group write their finished product on the board so everyone can see each group’s result. This is where students should examine each piece of writing and come to some conclusion about the “personality” of each of the five vowels. Each student-created passage will have a distinct “feel” because of the restrictive nature of the use of a single vowel.

As a side note, I was doing this activity during an observation one year. My admin thought it was amazing because they saw something they have never seen before and the students were completely into it. Every single student. Even the ones who normally roll their eyes at every word that escapes my mouth.

Financial Literacy- Mortgages

Finance is a great topic for the end of the year. Students always complain that they aren’t learning “real-world” skills in school (even though they actually are, but that’s another story) so switch it up and give them some highly applicable lessons to close the year. The great thing about English courses is that you really can take any topic and make fit comfortably within the course. I’m especially fond of financial literacy lessons for my seniors who are always beyond checked out at the end of the year. They are the ones who can actually walk away from your class with some great tidbits about personal finance since they are already shifting from the high school mindset to the truly independent mindset. Before I was a teacher, I worked in the world of finance and mortgage for a time, so I’m pretty comfortable with making a lesson out of most money-related topics. I love running through the actual steps of applying and being approved for a mortgage loan. The process is complex and messy. Most adults don’t really know what the process entails until they find themselves in the thick of the process for the first time! The best part of a mortgage lesson is going over the different loan types and down payment requirements. Down payments are something that delay a lot of people from homeownership because they think they need a huge chunk of money. I’m working on polishing up my high school mortgage lessons, so give me a follow on TpT here if you’d like to get updates on these new releases.

Financial Literacy-Retirement

The subject of retirement may not seem like one that would resonate with high schoolers, but you’d be surprised. If you frame the lesson properly and demonstrate how early investing can lead to drastically compounded wealth over time, you’ll have your students’ ears. It’s no secret that students are money-centric (and maybe now more than ever given the financial doom and gloom that’s constantly in the news) so showing students routes to financial stability can actually be really engaging. The bonus here is that by doing this through an English class, it’s not a math lesson so we aren’t dealing with hypothetical people and numbers. You can just show students what directly affects them. I do a lesson that covers social security, pensions, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Roth IRAs, and traditional IRAs. You can find the complete lesson and supporting activities here if you want to brave this topic with your students. I stress to my students during this lesson that if there’s one thing I wish I had known when I was their age, it’s this. Investing in retirement starting in your 20s versus starting your 30s can literally be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I like to have my students draft up what kind of lifestyle they’d like to have in retirement and when they would like to retire so they can get a rough estimate of how much it would really take to achieve that.

These are my favorite lessons to fill that is-it-summer-yet space at the end of the school year. Good luck, teachers. We are almost there!

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