George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Meaningful Learning to End the Year Strong

These end-of-year activities for elementary and middle school can help ensure that all students continue to learn while having fun.

May 2, 2024
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As we approach the end of the school year, it’s important to continue to provide students with rich learning experiences. While the weeks are winding down, every minute counts to deepen learning and relationship building for all students. We need to keep offering high-quality instruction to accelerate learning while holding high expectations and beliefs that all students can reach grade-level standards.

UnboundEd is an organization that partners with teachers and school districts to improve instructional approaches with a focus on historically marginalized students, so that all students are successful and thrive. In this article, I use UnboundEd’s GLEAM to offer suggestions for activities that encompass Grade-Level standards and are Engaging, Affirming, and Meaningful and can add much to the end of the year. 

The GLEAM framework hypothesizes that if teachers collaborate with a certain mindset to plan grade-level instruction that’s engaging, meaningful, and affirming, teacher and student actions lead to impactful learning experiences.

Teacher mindsets encompass a knowledge of how to incorporate students’ identities and experiences into rigorous grade-level learning. Teachers hold a belief that all students can meet or exceed grade-level standards and are empowered by choosing from a variety of ways of showing their learning. Here’s how GLEAM instruction helps accomplish this.

GL: Is designed toward grade-level standards and rigor.

Engaging: Encompasses students’ interests and hopes and dreams. 

Affirming: Acknowledges and honors students’ identities.

Meaningful: Has a purpose, including helping the community and the world.

In the suggestions that follow, I incorporate the elements of GLEAM instruction to promote ongoing learning at the end of the school year.

Class Book

My students find great excitement in designing a class book at the end of the year. I begin this project by inviting each student to write a piece for the book: a poem, song lyrics, an annotated illustration, a story of a favorite or meaningful activity during the year, etc. Because they have a choice of what to write for their contributions, they find the project empowering and engaging. This is meaningful and relevant because it celebrates our year together and will be shared with the entire class, so the audience is authentic.

To meet grade-level standards, I provide (or we co-create) a rubric with four to five success criteria; students know the expectations from the beginning so that they can self-reflect, receive peer and teacher feedback, and revise. When the project is finished, we have a celebration to share each student’s contribution and provide a copy of the book for every student. During the celebration, it’s important for students to reflect on growth and what worked well in their writing/creation process.

Getting Outside 

Spring weather provides an excellent opportunity to go outside for some fresh air, exercise, and learning. One easy way to incorporate outside time is to have a “Partner Walk and Talk” where student partners walk and discuss an academic or social and emotional topic with a focus on speaking and listening standards.

One year, students planted a perennial garden outside our school to create a space for students for years to come. Vegetable gardens are another option. Garden projects provide an opportunity for students to plan, collaborate, and learn about plant growth, which encompasses social and emotional and science standards.

Another activity is to infuse math standards into playground study: Students can measure and map the playground, plan their dream playground considering use of space, or measure time by engaging in races or obstacle courses on the playground.

Still another outdoor activity revolves around birds. This year, our first graders are extremely excited about a bird study. They’re learning about birds and bird nests through observation, discussion, reading, and watching videos; then they will write opinion pieces about why we should care for birds. 

Standards as a Passion Project

Is the end of the year rapidly approaching and you still have standards to cover? Select three to four key standards, and develop success criteria for them. Then have students, alone or in pairs, select an area of interest to infuse into the project. Students write a proposal for their projects, receive teacher and peer feedback, and then begin working on the project. A celebration could include inviting other students, families, or community members to show off the learning.

For example, a student with a passion for animals may decide to design a zoo by creating a map and describing the habitat and food needs for a variety of animals. Another student might wish to write a song to demonstrate their expertise in playing the piano, using symbolism in their writing, a recent topic in the classroom.

This is an excellent opportunity to invite younger students in to see what they can expect in years to come; for example, a second-grade class can invite first graders in to see their passion projects. This provides an authentic audience and helps first graders feel excited about transitioning to second grade.

I have found the GLEAM framework useful in designing experiences for students throughout the year and feel that it is a lens through which end-of-the-year planning can be as impactful as possible. I am asking myself: Instead of expecting students to be engaged, how will I develop experiences that are meaningful for them to engage in?

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  • Teaching Strategies
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School

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