Note: This is an updated repost featuring some of my favorite end-of-the-year lesson ideas.

You’ve wrapped your last major unit and final exams are still a week away. You could spend five days playing Review Jeopardy (uh…no, thanks) or you could grab some of these tried-and-true resources that’ll keep kids focused until finals. Click on the lesson title to learn more about each item. Some are free and some cost a few bucks.

1. Words to Live By
Compare and contrast the advice adults give to teens by using Polonius’ speech to Laertes in Hamlet, Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” and the famous “Wear Sunscreen” newspaper column that went viral a few years ago. 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. This video also makes a charming post-activity supplement:

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 techniques Jobs uses to reach his audience.

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 usually 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
The 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
#5 – The story of racism and heartbreak at a high school senior prom
#6 – The case of a woman who claimed she could communicate with the dead
#7 – The story of a 9-year-old girl who survived a shark attack and info/research on attack prevention

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!

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Laura,
    You are so generous. Thanks for being such a giving and talented professional encourager. You inspire me to be a better giver. Theses are some valuable ideas here, even though my last day (cringe) was May 17th!!! YAAY. Hang tough if you’re still in class.


  2. Thanks, Debra, for your kind words and note of support. So glad you found me. Happy summer! 🙂


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


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