Ultimate Guide to the End of the School Year

The end of the school year presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities to teachers and their students. In the following sections, we offer a variety of tips for navigating this difficult yet very rewarding period of the school year, covering such topics as classroom organization, fun end-of-year activities, student-curated portfolios, and some steps towards planning for the coming school year.

How to End the Year on a High Note

As school winds down and we end the year, it can bring out many emotions in students and teachers. Many of us are excited for the freedom and relaxation that summer can bring. There are also many students who, due to an unstable home life, lose their routine, structure, and the consistency of a reliable adult once the school year ends. There are a few ways that we can help students, both the overly-excited and reluctant, to transition into the summer months.

Help Students Leave a Legacy

Whether you have a class moving up to another building or just to the next grade, a great culminating event is to plan a legacy project. This could be large scale or small, but it is something that will stay in the building long after those students move on. As students enter their next stage of life, they will remember that they are always part of your class (or school) family.

Large-scale legacy projects such as collaborative artwork and gardens are wonderful, but they aren’t something you can pull off on a whim. This would be something to consider over the summer so that you can plan it throughout the school year. If you’re looking for a smaller legacy project to do at the end of the school year, some can take place without much planning or preparation, especially now that students are at the peak of their grade level. These could be completed collaboratively as a class or in small groups.

Small Scale Legacy Projects

  • Use Adobe Spark Video to create a preview of your classroom for next year.
    Have students generate a list of procedures, tips, and special events. Have students form small groups according to interest in the items. Then, each group can draft and record a short video clip about their topic. Not only will this year’s class love the fact that next year’s class will see it, but next year, your incoming students will be more engaged and comfortable while learning about their new classroom. Students can import music that enhances their video, or include a song that was meaningful to the class.
  • Create an ABC book about the classroom
    ABC books are not just for primary grades! As a class, post a huge alphabet board for students to brainstorm everything related to the school year, acrostic poem-style. Assign each student a letter, and that student is responsible for creating a page of the ABC book. (OR do less than 26 pages, and call it “Tips for Grade ____…From Someone Who’s Been There”.) This could be done with technology with the app Book Creator, or with paper and your choice of art supplies. Scour your library for the many examples and formats of ABC books to use as mentor texts. My favorite was written by Kristin Joy Pratt when she was only 13 years old: A Swim Through the Sea.

Find resources for planning an ABC book here. Make sure to scroll to the bottom of the website for free printable templates and graphic organizers.

Reflecting on Growth & Learning

This time of year is also perfect for reflecting on the learning and growth that took place throughout the school year. Teach students the difference between reflecting on growth and reflecting on grades. Without that mini-lesson (and a few more to really let it sink in) students will just look at grades, presenting how they once had a 77%, but now have a 92%. Encourage students to find growth in their actual work. At first, they notice neatness, handwriting, and spelling. As they have more practice, they begin to notice their thought process or new skills and concepts that they now know and didn’t prior. This reflection is the ultimate proof of that growth and mastery.

If you’ve been saving student work throughout the year (or even just from the quarter), pass all of it back to the students. The Seesaw app is perfect for this type of reflection no matter what grade level you teach. Students can snap a picture or make a video of their work from the beginning of the year compared to their work now, and point out the growth they notice. In Seesaw, this can be done with a voice or text caption. They can also share it with their parents or via printed QR code. While it doesn’t have the same format, this type of reflection can also be done in presentation programs like Buncee or Google Slides.  

Here’s a helpful handout to remind students how to caption their work:

Don’t Fight What’s Pulling Them

Yes, it is difficult to engage students as the weather gets nicer. We as teachers are exhausted from the pressures and demands of the school year, and we are ready for a break! This can cause even the most seasoned teacher to assign some busy work to either fill time or to keep students, well, busy. This will almost always backfire. Busy work may be a temporary fix, but will only disengage students. Students finish and need more, plus there’s no buy-in because they know it is just filler. In addition, it takes the teacher time to actually find and prepare the busy work. Why not spend that time in a more productive, best-practice effort that gives you more than just engagement — it gives your students fulfillment, which nearly eliminates behavior problems.

The trick to avoiding aggravating busy work is to plan ahead. Create or find an authentic, arts-integrated, project-based unit that encompasses everything students have learned throughout the year, or use one of the ideas mentioned above. 

With these types of projects, most of the heavy preparation and planning occur prior to the introduction of the project. Each day during the project, the teacher’s role is the facilitator while the students take the lead. This frees you to spend precious moments of planning time completing end-of-year tasks. It’s not that it takes less time, but you can structure your planning differently. And what about the nice weather that’s resulting in drifting focus? Simply add an outside component that requires being outside as part of the project.

If you’re in need of a unit, don’t forget that we have student-ready Arts Integrated and STEAM units available.

As we mentioned above, designing projects or activities that keep students engaged is not an easy task. The struggle can be real. You, as an educator, want to provide them with experiences that enrich their lives and expand their brains, but you also must make them fun enough that students will want to participate with pure internal motivation.

We all know that without engagement, behavior problems can become an issue, and trying to be more entertaining than the idea of summer vacation, can be difficult.  Here are five ideas that will help you stay engaged all the way to the last day, followed by four fun movement-based activities. 

end of school year ideas

  1. STEAM Challenges!

These types of challenges can keep the mind active while summer is knocking at the door. Because they are inquiry-based, there are many ways to approach the problem and invite collaborative learning opportunities.

  1. Collaborate!

Focusing on a large collaborative art project can take time and energy, but the result itself can be worth the wait. In addition to providing opportunities for teamwork, these large-scale projects can be wonderful opening day displays for the beginning of the next year.

  1. Go Outside!

Embrace the sunshine and foster students’ need for play with activities that can be done outdoors.

  1. Write!

Create postcards of encouragement or advice for other students. These can be addressed to the students coming in next year or for someone over the summer. The postcards can be addressed to teachers from previous years or administrators.

Benefits:

  • Provides Student Feedback
  • Uses Design Skills with Technology or with Visual Art Skills
  • Works on Letter Writing
  1. Plug In!

Sometimes it is good to end the year with some technology play and educational roundups.

  • Gamestar Mechanic: This is a wonderful way to end the year. It is a video game creation program on the computer that is sure to entertain those restless kiddos.
  • Kahoot!: Have students pair up and create a Kahoot! for their classmates.
  • Infographics: Design an Infographic about the content you learned in class this year. Maybe it could outline for future students what the class is all about.

Body-Based Activities

If you’re looking for movement-based activities, here are some fun-filled activities that you may want to introduce to your learners as the end of the school year approaches. Not only will these creative movement activities enhance excitement about past achievements and accomplishments, they will also offer a positive and constructive vehicle for generous amounts of moving and shaking!

Victory Walks (K-8)

Anyone want to go for a walk? Well, how about going on a very special walk called a victory walk? Walking is invigorating within itself, but when you add pride, accomplishment, joy, and the end of school to the equation, walking becomes a victorious occasion!

To get started, discuss the word victory with your students and have them share their own experiences with victory. Afterwards, lead them into reflecting upon how completing another school year is an example of victory. While providing some of your own experiences, explain that people often walk the way they feel. Offer a few examples of your own reactions to victory by demonstrating your normal way of walking vs. your victorious way of walking. Be sure to explain that no two victory walks look alike. Afterwards, allow the students to explore their own victory walks. Before putting their walks on display, invite the students to select music, beats, sounds, or props that might accompany their walks. When everyone’s ready, let the victory walks begin!

Lip Sync Celebrations (K-12)

Who doesn’t like to lip sync? Lip syncing is an incredible way for kids to use natural movement, creative movement, and dance to interpret their favorite songs. After showing students some examples of people performing lip syncs, explain to them that the end of the school year signifies a time to celebrate the many things they have studied, learned, and achieved! Then, assign them to choose one of their favorite celebratory songs. Something like “Celebrate Good Times” by Kool and the Gang is an intergenerational celebration song and could be used as an example.

Once they’ve selected their songs, ask students to practice how they want to interpret the songs to entertain their class members. Encourage them to use costumes and props, but first and foremost, emphasize that body language is one of the key ingredients in a great lip sync performance. When the magical moment for performances arrives, encourage students to fill the air with laughter, cheers, and applause! Why? Because it’s a CELEBRATION!

Embodied 5 Line Storytelling (K-12)

I’m sure you may have heard the song, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday! Well, this song title encompasses the mixed emotions so many students feel as they approach the end of school year, so why not sweeten their goodbyes a little with 5 line storytelling? For starters, ask students to imagine that they are famous dramatic storytellers who bring their stories to life through exaggerated gestures and movements. To give them some ideas, you may want to show them one or two clips of professional storytellers who focus heavily on body movements.

Instruct students that they will be telling a 5 line story about something awesome that took place during the school year. Prompts such as “OMG, I couldn’t believe it when”, “Does anybody else remember when?”, or “I’m so glad I’ll never have to do this again” can be used as hooks to stimulate thinking. Remind the kids that the story should be only 5 lines long, that they must use their bodies to accompany their words, and finally to have fun! After a bit of practice, it’ll be time to take it to the stage and let the stories begin!  

Farewell Tableaux (K-12)

Tableau, the depiction of a motionless scene or story, is a great way for students to use their bodies to demonstrate their feelings about the end of the school year! It’s also an outstanding vehicle for students to share their plans for the summer! To begin this activity, show students examples of tableau variations, then give them time to create scenes in small groups. As students are working out details of their group’s tableaux, remind them to incorporate elements that will enhance their end products. Such elements might include the following: the use of low, medium, and high body levels to add variety, the incorporation of appropriate facial expressions to increase authenticity, and the infusion of different layers of focus (looking right, left, up, down, etc.) to bring about intensity and depth.

To make their tableaux even more flavorful, you might allow one person in each group to incorporate a small, measured movement. For example, if you have a student who appears to be swinging a bat, the student might swing the bat forwards and backwards, very slowly within a 5 second time frame every 10-15 seconds. After each 10-15 second movement, the student would return to a motionless position. Once students have created and presented their group tableaux, invite the rest of the class to guess what the scenes depict, and of course, you’ve got to take photos for keepsakes!

How to Curate End-of-Year Student Portfolios

More often than not, a year’s worth of learning ends in an abrupt, unorganized way. However, with a bit of time and thoughtfulness prior to the last day, teachers can help students curate their work. Then, students will leave with a beautiful portfolio that samples their work from throughout the year. Not only is it a great way for students to reflect on how much they’ve grown, but it makes the parents’ job easier too.

There’s no tired like end-of-the-year “teacher tired”

No matter how well you plan, the end of the year is a challenge. Everyone is done. You do not need to add the work of sifting through student work from the entire year for an entire class to create something to send home with your students. Your time is much better spent planning and preparing engaging classroom experiences to counteract the pull of summer vacation. With some explicit instructions and expectations, handing the task of portfolio creation to the students gives them a meaningful activity to culminate their year.

Using a Student Created Portfolio to Empower Students

Portfolio creation allows students to be content curators of their own work. John Spencer, author of the fantastic book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, says “If we want students to be critical thinkers, we need to teach them to become curators.” While he is referring to the curation of digital resources and content, this can also be applied to the student-led selection of portfolio items.

Tip for Teachers:

Curation of portfolios is easier if you have been planning with the end in mind. While it is not impossible to do this at the end of the year, the process is easier if you start guiding students to think about curation in September. Tuck this article away for next school year… or build in extra time throughout the year so that students aren’t overwhelmed by looking back through work at the end of the year.

Creating the End-of-Year Student Portfolio

First, decide what type of portfolio students will create. It could be as simple as a folder that contains work from the year. However, there are many simple options for digital portfolios, too. Whatever you choose, adding a caption with a rationale for the item’s inclusion in the portfolio is imperative. This gives some students the needed accountability for this curation task. It also provides students with a guided way to reflect and practice their communication skills. This is the captioning poster that I use with a Seesaw portfolio (see below), however, the tips can be applied to any type you choose to use.


Here are a few digital options:

Google Drive

Students can pull special digital files together using Google Sites, Slides, or Drive. If students have a mixture of digital work and hard copy work, have students take photos of their hard copies to be included in the digital portfolio.

Seesaw

Seesaw is also a great app to use for portfolios. I use this as a learning tool throughout the year. At portfolio time, I create a new folder with Seesaw labeled “portfolio”. This way, students can save as much as they want throughout the year. Later, they go through the calendar of items they have posted and curate certain ones into that folder. Connected parents can easily download the student portfolio as a pdf file.

Book Creator App

Students can use the app Book Creator to add portfolio items in a polished, end of year digital book. This book can be printed, saved as a pdf file to share with parents, or can be added to iBooks on an IOS device.

Explain the purpose of portfolio creation to students. As a class, create guidelines for saving work. Coming up with a student-generated list of questions helps kids decide to toss or keep a piece of work. This gives students an organized way to evaluate what goes into their portfolio. If you have been saving student work since the beginning of the year, spread out the task of passing out and determining portfolio items over the course of a few days. If you haven’t been saving work, have students go through their work from the current marking period and create their portfolio based on their end of the year work.

Integrating the Arts Through Cover Design

Have your students pull their work together in a polished way. Whether digital or in a paper folder, ask students to design a personalized cover using the Illuminated Initials unit. After the initial instruction for the cover, students can flexibly go back and forth between the task of cover creation and selecting and captioning work for their portfolio. This helps to break up the task of gathering and providing rationales for work. It also allows the students to creatively take ownership and pride in their portfolio. Flexibility and choice in the task allow students to work for longer periods of time to build their portfolio without losing stamina.

This year, as you share the final good-byes with your students, send them off with an organized book bag. It will be filled with just the right amount of memories to celebrate their accomplishments as a learner. Students will leave confidently after reveling in their growth. And, their parents will thank you for eliminating the task of weeding through (or trashing!) the typical end-of-year haul.

How to Start Planning for the Next School Year

At the end of the school year, many teachers get so caught up in the hustle that they neglect to start planning arts integration lessons for the coming year. By taking the steps described below, you will be able to rest easier over the summer and still be set up for success when the new school year starts.

Plan out Your Major Arts Integration Lessons

There’s no need to plan out the full curriculum via pacing guides and curriculum maps. That would be way too much to tackle at the end of the year. Instead, focus on your biggest and most significant arts integration lessons.

Try to plan out one lesson per grading period with the understanding that opportunities to use the arts pop up much more often than that. Ideally, the arts should be embedded in everything a school does and teachers will still plan lessons throughout the new school year that use the arts. It just really helps if there’s a plan in place for at least one lesson per grading period, especially if the teachers or schools are new to using arts integration.

This will help you make sure the arts don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of the school year. 

What to Plan

You don’t have to write an extensive lesson plan by the end-of-year. You can add this into your written lesson plans as you are writing them next year. However, here are the three key pieces you need to plan out right now:

Skill

You need to know what skill you want to address through the arts. Look at one that is traditionally hard for you to teach or one that is always difficult for students to grasp. For instance, if a school has always struggled with theme in English Language Arts, then theme would be a perfect choice for planning ahead for arts-integrated instruction.

Art Form

Next, think about what art form should be paired with the skill you want to address. Many times the arts vocabulary overlaps with other content. This vocabulary is a great access point for planning an arts-integrated lesson. Looking for this overlap will help you decide which art form would work best for the skill you want to teach. From there, you can find a specific project or lesson to use.

We recommend any lesson seed you find on the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM website, and you should most definitely look into the IntegratED lesson packs for comprehensive lesson resources. 

Supplies

Once you have the previous things in mind, you need to make a list of supplies. This is crucial because you don’t want to wait until the last minute to try to round up the supplies you will need. If you go ahead and figure this out before school gets out, you will have time to determine what supplies you already have access to and what supplies you will need to acquire. Once you know what you will have to acquire, you can figure out how to do so. The first place you should look is within your school. Ask your principal for help. Then, check out this informative article on funding. The article mentions Donors Choose, but if you go that route, you need to go ahead and get it going right now. It takes time for those to get fully funded, which means you can’t wait until the last minute!

Set Yourself Up for Success

When you, the teacher, are successful, your students are successful. (We call that a WIN-WIN.) Take a few moments before the end-of-year and do this one thing: plan your arts integration for the next school year. You will be so glad you did!

End of School Organization Tips

All that pre-planning aside though, we all know that at the end of the school year, whatever doesn’t get done before that final bell, doesn’t get done. It is also a time fraught with field trips, assemblies, performances and any other number of things that disrupt your usual routine. As much as you may want to head straight out the exit door on the last day of school, additional time spent on closing out your classroom is a must. Most, if not all teachers go through this year after year. We try our best to keep well organized throughout the entire school year, and yet all of our art supplies and peripheral materials end up everywhere. Try some of these end of the year organization tips to help you leave for the summer prepared for the fall ahead.

Give It All a Good Scrub

Clean those caps!  Wash out and scrub those paint containers. Tube caps, and glue bottle caps should be cleaned and organized. All like materials need to be gathered, housed, and stored.  Essentially, the clutter needs to be addressed. Throw out anything that’s either being replaced or has worn out.

Quick tip: as you throw out any items, keep a list of what you’re throwing out, the brand/color/item number, and how many. This way, you’ll know exactly what needs to be replenished or replaced.

Also, use this cleaning session to sort out your stuff. What do you really need to teach? Consider the possibilities that you may either need to move your classroom or share it with another teacher. If that happens, what’s the stuff you need in order to quickly move to that teaching possibility? You might decide to box up stuff you don’t really need and place it in storage. Doing this now will save you a lot of stress for an uncertain future.

Take Your Filing Digital

Another question to ask is, which among the materials you need to keep can be digitized, either by scanning them or simply taking pictures? These can then be uploaded to your preferred digital filing service like Google Drive or Dropbox. For documents like tests, rubrics, worksheets, etc. this is easy. But also consider taking pictures of your bulletin board items and classroom decorations. You can always save them either as ideas for your next space OR create a digital classroom using pictures of those items.

Take this opportunity to organize your digital filing system so you’re ready in the fall. Consider using part of this summer to watch a few videos on how to organize your digital files and get everything in order. You’ll feel so grateful for this in September.

Plan Ahead

Start to think ahead now. Keeping art supplies, and everything else for that matter, organized inside the classroom begins with setting up well-defined usage and storage procedures at the beginning of the school year. While this may take additional up-front time, clearly communicated procedures will be your best friend when it’s time to close shop. Once you get everything cleaned up, think about writing out a procedures list for using materials that you can share with students at the beginning of the fall.  By doing this, overall clutter is kept to a minimum and classroom clean-up shouldn’t pose a major hassle.

Also, a perhaps counterintuitive aspect to planning ahead involves giving yourself some wiggle room. You have so much to cover and so little time. Your natural tendency might be to plan every minute with no room for error but you are working with human beings within a dynamic organization called a school. If you want to end the year with less stress and more meaningful learning, better to end the year with something memorable like an integrated project where the students get to deep dive than to push students through the curriculum. You may get to check curriculum off the to-do list but your students will likely not learn much.  You are a teacher – creative by nature.  How could you wrap some of those skills and concepts up into an integrated project?  Cover what you can leaving lots of room for interruptions, curiosity, and reflections on learning.

Embrace Storage Containers

Learn to embrace the bin, the crate, and the container of any size. These storage units become a saving-grace when it’s time to organize. For art supplies, there is no better way to manage and organize all of the miscellaneous objects with their frequent oddball sizes.

Teachers already spend a lot of personal out-of-pocket money on everything from bulletin boards to lesson plans. Purchasing bins for managed storage can quickly become very expensive. The good news is that you don’t always need to purchase expensive plastic bins for your storage needs. While at home, take a look around for potential school storage units.  They’re everywhere! Think about the consumable products used at home on a daily basis.  Cereal boxes, or cardboard boxes from home mail order delivery can become useful storage units that don’t cost additional money.

There are so many potential storage containers around us and we often just throw them away.  Using typically disposed of containers as classroom storage units is also a great way to help relieve our overflowing landfills and help the environment as well.

If you find that a particular storage bin is handy, ask for storage donations from your students and parents. Cardboard boxes of all sizes are great! While your request may result in more than you need, at least you will be able to pick and choose.

Enlist Students

At this crunch time of the year, teachers really need to be creative with schedules so that we can alleviate additional legwork. Assign students to particular tasks wherever possible. Many students love to help out and organize. This is also a good way to help students understand that we are all part of a community and we all have responsibility for the items we use. Have a plan for them to help you organize and store materials. It is important for the students to take ownership of the care of materials and if you can get them to help you in the clean-up and storage, you will have more time and psychic space to organize your own materials so you can start ready in the fall. Best to make notes and personal reflections now so that the lessons you learned this year don’t fade over the break.

Select Professional Development Sessions

Now is the time to pick PD that fills in your gaps and helps you become more confident for fall. You know what these gaps are and don’t need someone else to tell you!  Perhaps you need more ideas for running remote learning smoothly. Maybe you want to pick up some new classroom management ideas. Or perhaps you want to take some time to dig into culturally responsive teaching.

Our biggest tip for PD? Don’t take more than 1-2 sessions, if possible. Cramming your summer full of PD will only burn you out. So be selective.

And remember, PD doesn’t have to just be courses or conferences. There are so many ways you can grow. This article from John Spencer has a great list of 16 ways to own your PD. Look at the whole range before picking the ones that will be most meaningful for you.

Make Organization Simple

A simple checklist always comes in handy! Try this one for cleaning and decluttering your classroom.

You can modify the checklist to your needs and then use it to help you stay on an organizational track as the school year comes to a close. This checklist may even become the catalyst for you to create your own checklist that is completely tailored to your needs. The point is, to get and stay organized while maintaining sanity, working with everything that the end of a school year brings.

In a nutshell:

  • Gather as many ‘free’ containers and bins to house your materials
  • Assemble all of your supplies in one place, clean and organized
  • Be sure to clean all supplies before storage
  • Solicit student help
  • Use a checklist to keep on track
  • Feel confident in your organization process

Teachers are doers and our school day is driven by the bell schedule. We want to get things done. We like to accomplish tasks. Checklists are helpful for those of us who like to cross things off our list and monitor our own progress!  Staying organized is simply what we do. Time to allow ourselves access to the same tools we tout and provide for our students.

The school year is quickly coming to a close, so make the most of these last few weeks. Your students are at the most independent and knowledgeable point of their year. Take advantage of that and end on a high note. It will leave you and your students happier, more fulfilled, and it will make time fly.

Additional Guides

Looking for more helpful ideas, strategies, and tools? Try one of our other resource guides:

creative thinking
Connecting with Community
sel resource guide