Are you facing the Dead Zone? You know, that end-of-year slog where you’ve wrapped up your last major unit and reviewed for finals, but still have a week before exams? I’m right there with you, but we have no worries. Here are some tried-and-true resources that’ll keep our kids focused until finals. Click on the lesson title to learn more about each item. Some are free and some cost a couple bucks, about the same as an iced coffee from the campus Snack-Shack. Mmm, that sounds good…

1. Words to Live By
Compare and contrast the advice adults give to teens by using Polonius’ speech to Laertes in Hamlet, the famous “Wear Sunscreen” newspaper column, and Kevin Spacey’s super-cool reading of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” to honor David Ortiz’s retirement from the Boston Red Sox last year:

The lesson also includes a creative writing activity where students flip the script and build their own Guide to Life, giving advice to middle-aged adults about how to live a full and satisfying life.

2. Toughen Up, Snowflake
View the commencement speech given by David McCullough to the graduates of Wellesley High School where he calls into question the selfishness that’s bred when children are raised to believe they are special and unique. The video went viral in 2012 and the speech often gets students riled up, thinking about not only the way they and their classmates were raised, but also the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of McCullough’s rhetoric.

3. Steve Jobs’ Advice to Grads
Another great graduation day speech comes from Steve Jobs, who skillfully uses Aristotle’s rhetorical tools as he addresses the crowd at Stanford University. Kids enjoy the speech and I like hearing them discuss my questions about the specific elements that Jobs uses to reach his audience. I already used this lesson with my freshmen (prep for To Kill a Mockingbird) and sophomores (rhetorical reinforcement during Julius Caesar), but my juniors haven’t seen it yet and I already have a class set of copies made. Winning!

4. Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.
The day after I use the McCullough or Jobs speech, I’ll take my students to the computer lab and have them choose another commencement address from NPR’s site of 350+ “Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.” Kids will probably choose celebrities they know, such as Jim Carrey, Katie Couric, Barack Obama, Andy Samberg, and Ellen Degeneres, but there are also great writers on that list that you could assign as a bridge to a book you’ve studied this year, such as Elie Wiesel, Toni Morrison, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Kingsolver, and John Green.


5. Two-Sentence Storytelling

One of my all-time favorite single-day lessons is Micro Fiction, where kids play with the idea that an entire story can be told using just two sentences. Genres covered include Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi, and Romance.

6. The Power of Earbuds
My new Listen & Learn series has been a hit with my classes. I give them a narrative non-fiction podcast – each about 20-30 minutes, high-interest, school-appropriate. My students love listening to these compelling real-life stories and I love the lively post-listening discussions the programs have sparked.


So far, here are the topics available:
#1 – The case of a live endangered tiger kept on display at a Louisiana truck stop
#2 – The story of an LAPD officer who dove into La Brea Tar Pits as part of a criminal investigation
#3 – The case of a woman whose identity was stolen when she was 11 years old
#4 – The story of an 11-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of an airplane crash

7. A Video that Could Change the World
Billions in Change is a high-quality 43-minute documentary that focuses on 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava and his pledge to use 99 percent of his $4 billion empire to help solve the global problems of energy, fresh water, and disease prevention. In this lesson, students are given questions to answer while they view the film and deeper-thinking questions to complete once the video has finished.

8. 10 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know
Add real-world relevancy to the last week of school with this free lesson where kids read a New York Times article that summarizes 10 important Supreme Court decisions that directly impact their lives. The lesson includes a small group presentation option that usually allows the activity to fill two days.

9. How to Read Editorial Cartoons
Let art meet logic with an overview of four persuasive tools used by editorial cartoonists (symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, and analogy) with real-world examples of classic political cartoons. Then, use modern cartoons to help students see how these same tools are used today. Finally, have students analyze a specific cartoon and even create one of their own.

10. Show a Movie and Still Learn Something? Inconceivable!
We analyze text all of the time. This time, let’s analyze one of the best films ever made – The Princess Bride. Viewing of the film is spread out over four days (about 25 minutes per lesson) as students also engage in supplementary activities, such as examining a debate on the merits of fairy tales, applying the Chivalric Code to four main characters, sharpening their pencils for creative writing tasks, and diving deep into an analysis of Rob Reiner’s film.

There you are. These are my favorite high-interest, low-prep lessons for this time of year. All also work as emergency sub materials, as planning is minimal and answer keys are included. If you need even more activities to soak up just parts of a class, be sure to give these sponge activities a look:
Worksheet designed to work with any TED Talk
Worksheet designed to work with any online or print current events article
Father’s Day poetry card activity
Just Give the Word game worksheet
Word ADDiction game worksheet
Brain Teaser slides

Teach on, everyone. Eight days to go here in Idaho…

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Great ideas!
    I am envious. We’re semestered here so Semester 2 (February until the end of June), is ALWAYS a race. Semester 2 ends up with more field trips, more assemblies and more “last-minute” missed classes due to [fill-in-the-blank]. I don’t remember the last time I had “extra time.”

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  2. I’m sure you hear this on a daily basis, but I love all of your stuff! I eat it up like candy. Thank you for making the last days of my school year bearable. We just started the Princess Bride lessons and my students are loving it!

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  3. My pleasure, Shari! Hearing thanks NEVER gets old. 🙂

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  4. Yeah, Vanessa, the block schedule threw me off my game a little this year. My freshmen are actually fine with our timing on Romeo & Juliet. My 10th and 11th grade classes, though, got all turned around because I had to cut a major unit from each course’s spring semester. I stretched the remaining units, but not far enough. Happily, I have a hard drive filled with good stuff for weeks like this one. 🙂

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fun stuff, high school English, middle school, non-fiction, print and teach, sub plans, Uncategorized

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