Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA

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Struggling to Make it to the End of the Year? Try this.

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If you’re currently seated dead center on the struggle bus, or your seniors are waving senioritis flags, you’re not alone. As summer beckons and the buildup of busy from the year weighs on you (and your students), the last six weeks can be a tricky time.

I know you want to acknowledge that the end of the year is close, you want to do something a bit lighter and extra engaging, but you don’t want to wag any flags of your own. Plus, you don’t necessarily have the energy to invent a wheel and start riding it like an educational unicycle.

Know what I mean?

Today on the podcast, we’re talking about unit and project ideas for the end of the year. Whether you need something to light up engagement for your students (and for you) for a week or for six, you’ll find plenty of ideas. Plus, we’ll get into why relationship building is still a key player in the buildup to the end.

Basically there are going to be two key points – keep focusing on those relationships that can help sustain you and your students to the end, and teach something that you really enjoy, and that kids enjoy learning about! I’ve heard from so many teachers this week who feel their kids are checked out, their seniors are already in summer mode, and they themselves are exhausted.

You can listen in to this episode 178 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

End of the Year Community Building (yep, it’s not just for the first 6 weeks)

OK, let’s start with some community building. Building relationships tends to be something we focus on more at the start of the year, but strengthening them in the final weeks will only help everyone stay focused. Plus, a few minutes a day in class to get to know each other better is a fun way to bring everyone into a focused space. It’s a great time to use your attendance questions, asking students something silly or serious each day that they can answer quickly. Sure, you probably don’t need to call roll, but you still can.

You can sign up for some of my favorite image-based questions below so it’s easy-as-PB&J (because let’s face it, pie is really hard) to roll out this fun daily activity.

This could also be a nice moment to pause in the year and do one-word goals. Now that one-word goal for your students could either be how they want to feel/act/be in their last six weeks of school, OR (with seniors) you could challenge them to choose a word that shows what they want their legacy to be at the school or how they want to feel about their last weeks of high school as they walk across the stage.

For all ages, perhaps you can invite conversations about ways to honor students’ friendships as the year closes, ways to reach out to teachers that have meant something to them during the year, ways to use the time to create a helpful transition toward their summer or future goals.

This is also a great time to bust out some of the fun relationship-builders C.J. Reynolds shared on the show back in episode 165, like popping a post-it note on a student’s desk while they’re working that says “cool shoes” or “great comment earlier, I was impressed.” You’re probably wishing someone was cheering you on like that at this point, but hopefully you’ll find the increased positivity around you turns out to be a mood booster for yourself too!

Finally, if there’s any way to build a special event into your final weeks, that never hurts! Whether it’s a poetry slam, a play performance, a gallery night with parents invited, or something else, your special event can help build community AND keep kids interested in the curriculum.

Speaking of which…

End of the Year Short Curriculum Options

Next, let’s turn our attention to some shorter curriculum options if you need something to help re-engage kiddos at this time.

How about a podcast unit? There are so many options for choice, depending on your students’ interests. You could create podcast clubs and get them listening to learn more about topics that really matter to them. Seniors might be interested in shows like Life Kit or The School of Greatness, true crime junkies in Serial or Limetown, storytelling buffs in This American Life or The Moth. For middle schoolers, provide options like Smash, Boom, Best (it’s so good) or The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. (Or just teach a unit on Smash, Boom, Best – it’s amazing!) Check out this post to learn more about podcast clubs.

How about a careers unit? Especially for older students, this can be a great way to honor the fact that they’re thinking beyond school. Invite them on a careers scavenger hunt to see what kind of careers surround them every day (it’s amazing how many there are, when you start to think about who did the work to provide every single thing/concept/screen they interact with). Let them research start-ups they admire and present back. Consider inviting them to interview someone in a field they’re intrigued by. Check out this post to learn more about building an easy careers unit.

How about a Ted Talks unit? This one can be as long as you want it to be, depending on how many talks you want to show. At this particular moment, talks about AI could make for a particularly engaging springboard for conversation, debate, and writing. But of course, there are talks on EVERYTHING! Maybe you want to culminate the year with kids giving Ted Talk shorts of their own on some topic near and dear to their heart. You could make the structure clear and concise – five amazing slides, 90 seconds of talking, one big special event when students will give their talks to the class and all the guests they want to invite.

How about a podcasting unit? You know how I feel about student podcasting. It’s a rapidly growing medium where you can teach a ton of ELA skills while letting kids do the real work of the real world. Such a great combination! As the year closes, invite your students to podcast on a subject they love. They can practice researching, outlining, and public speaking on any subject, and they’re likely to be a lot more engaged with a topic they love than with an assigned topic. They can create covers in Canva, use Vocaroo to record, and publish their audio files in Drive and link to them on Google slides. (Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it right here).

End of the Year Longer Curriculum Options

Genius hour is a great go-to option for re-engaging at the end of the year. It gives students a lot of leeway to explore something they’re fascinated by, while still exercising a whole lot of ELA skills. Let students explore what they’re interested in and document their process through a blog, vlog, podcast, or Instagram-style combination of images and captions. Maybe you can even figure out a way to incorporate TikTok if your students are still obsessed. Check out this post for a full walkthrough of genius hour if you want some serious step-by-step help.

Another great end of year option is a book club unit with a group of titles you know will engage your students. Maybe you choose a set of novels-in-verse, or graphic novels, or really compelling memoirs. Keep the titles accessible and exciting, and let each group move through different creative activities at their meetings, like silent discussions, hexagonal thinking, creating one-pagers or sketchnotes, and finally crafting book trailers. Check out this post for a full walkthrough of running literature circles (also known as book clubs) with older kids.

This could be a great time to dive into a final exam project that is really meaningful. Here’s one idea – have students write graduation speeches about why reading matters, using things they’ve learned from the books you’ve read throughout the year as evidence. But first, spend time watching and analyzing stellar graduation speeches by leaders and celebrities your students connect with.

Once they’ve seen and heard some strong speeches, have them use your class texts (and any others they might want to use) to address three of the following four ideas:

  • How literature helps people understand their own lives.
  • How literature helps people understand the lives of others and empathize with other people.
  • How literature makes it easier to understand history.
  • How literature illuminates issues of morality.

Have the students present their final speeches during the exam period. Meet outside somewhere beautiful on campus, or reserve a special space like the school theater or library if you have that option. Then either have all the students read their speeches or divide into groups and have them read to their small groups. I like to give them a listening handout for this day, in which they nominate the best speeches and defend their nominations. 

Graduation Speech project full curriculum available on TPT

OK, my friend, I hope you’ve found an idea you’re excited to run with! Just keep in mind these two big ideas – keep pouring into the relationships end of things, and try to choose something to teach that you and your students can really enjoy, like novel-in-verse book clubs, podcast clubs, or genius hour.

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I'm Betsy

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