Search form

Use These Activities to Wind Up Learning as the School Year Winds Down

calendar pages

The last few days of the school year are upon you, and you're at a loss for what to do. Do you emphasize fun or attempt to squeeze in some last-minute learning? Education World offers suggestions for keeping kids focused during the last hours of the school year. 

As days grow warmer and summer beckons, quite often the kids are tired and restless. What's a teacher to do? 

A couple of years ago, a teacher posted the following idea to an email list I subscribed to. I admired that teacher, whose project for the last days of school was not only fun but also challenged students to use what they had learned in the previous months.

These last two weeks of class, my kids are working in groups on a "final exam" project. Each group is given a latitude and longitude coordinate. The students create a culture for the coordinates. They need to describe the climate, geography, shelters, clothing, food, economy, traditions, values, and so on of their imaginary cultures. They need to consider a multitude of variables that draw on the work we've done during the year. During the last two days of class, the students demonstrate their cultures.

Fun and learning—that's what many teachers think the last days of school should be about!

More Learning Activities for the "Winding Down" Days

Are you looking for other project ideas for the last days of school? Your students might get a kick out of some of these.

  • Produce a TV Commercial. Challenge students to create their own new breakfast cereals. Each student will create packaging and a TV commercial pitch to go along with it. Record students as they present their TV commercials!
  • Alpha Autobios. Invite students to create their own alphabetical autobiographies. Here's an example: "A is for Arkansas; that's where I was born. B is for Bonnie; that's my sister's name. C is for Cub Scouts; That's my favorite activity."
  • ABC Books for Days! Adapt the ABC book idea, and challenge students to learn about a topic they want to explore. For example, students might be interested in the Civil War, music, authors, Hawaii, sports, or plants.
  • [This Grade] Scrapbook. Gather samples of student work that you've been setting aside all year long, and invite students to make a Second-Grade, Third-Grade, Fourth-Grade (or any year, any subject) Scrapbook.
  • Egg Drop! Water Balloon Drop! (Other Outdoor Physics Experiments). Many schools save the last days of school for their annual "egg drop" activity. Each student works within guidelines to fashion a container for an egg so that the egg won't break when the student drops it from an established height -- the school's third-floor window, for example. 
  • A Little Drama! Another idea for fun and education—put on a play! Students might write their own script, or you might use a script you find online. If you're looking for a great resource, see the Education World story All the Classroom's a Stage!
  • Reading Theme Days. Keep kids reading right up to the last bell by offering special classroom or schoolwide reading theme days. You'll find tons of ideas in the Education World story Reading Activities for Read-In!
  • Scavenger Hunt for Info. Plan a scavenger hunt for information! Develop questions for books or websites--make sure each student in the class has access to a mix of resources. Give prizes to the teams who come up with the greatest number of correct answers!


Still More Fun Ideas!

Maybe you're looking to put a little more emphasis on fun during the last days of school. A few more ideas follow.

T-Shirt Memories
When Donna Thomas, a teacher at Heritage Prep Middle School in Orlando, Florida, was teaching first grade, she had each of her students bring a white T-shirt to school on one of the last days of the year. Thomas painted each child's hand with bright-colored paint; then each student pressed his or her handprint onto the T-shirt. The students signed their names under their handprints. Finally, students went around to one other's desks and collected autographs. They used thick, pointy-tipped, permanent black markers to sign the T-shirts.

"I still hear comments from the children," Thomas told Education World. "They say things like 'I dream about my friends in my shirt' and 'I remember all my friends from first grade, even the ones who've moved away, because their names are on the shirt.' The parents really oohed and aahed about the shirts since the kids wore them home on the last day of school," Thomas added. "I felt it made a great lasting and positive impression about their year."

Tin-Can Ice Cream
Cara Bafile, a former classroom teacher and an Education World writer, shared one of her favorite activities -- making tin-can ice cream. Of course, ice cream is good any time of year -- but this activity is a great small-group activity for the last days of school!

"I got the recipe for tin-can ice cream from my mother, who got it from another teacher," said Bafile. "It's one of those teacher hand-me-downs with no particular source. I have seen some similar recipes using self-sealing plastic bags, but I can vouch for this one -- you'll make the best ice cream you'll ever have!"

This recipe makes about 3 cups of ice cream, Bafile noted. Teachers might adapt the recipe, depending on the size of the group or whether they want small groups of students to make their own batches.

Tin-Can Ice Cream
(Ice cream without an ice-cream maker!)


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (pure vanilla extract works best!)
Other materials needed:
  • 1 small coffee can
  • strapping tape (It's the only tape I've found that will hold the lid tightly in place.)
  • 1 large coffee can
  • 1-1/2 cups rock salt
  • crushed ice (2 bags)
  • a rubber spatula
  • spoons, cups, and bowls
Mix the ingredients in the small coffee can and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Tape the lid on the can securely with strapping tape. Place the "filled" small coffee can inside the large coffee can. Pack the large can with crushed ice around the smaller can. Pour at least 3/4 cup of rock salt evenly over the ice. Place the lid on the large coffee can and tape securely with strapping tape. Roll the can back and forth for ten minutes. Then open the outer can. Remove the inner can. Remove the lid and stir the mixture with a rubber spatula. Scrape the insides of the can. Do not allow mixture to become liquid. Replace the lid on the small can. Tape securely again. Drain the ice water from the larger can. Insert the small filled can. Pack it with more ice and salt. Roll it back and forth for five more minutes. Enjoy!

A Penny for Luck
Finally, if you're looking for a positive message to leave for your students, teacher Robert Courtmanche agreed to let us share his end-of-year message to students.

"Each year we have an awards banquet, and I give the seniors a little gift and a penny with a message attached to it," Courtemanche, a teacher at Galena Park (Texas) High School, told Education World. The wording of that message, penned several years ago by Courtemanche, follows:

My graduation gift to you is a penny, but why?

Look at the penny and you will understand.
The year is 2014—so you will always remember this time.

"Honest Abe" Lincoln is on the front—always be honest with yourself and others.

The word LIBERTY—as they say in the Navy, you are now "at liberty," and that means you are free to do as you like. Don't waste that freedom.

IN GOD WE TRUST—you must trust in someone or something; you can't go through life alone. Trust in yourself, trust in God, trust the life you make.

A penny may be worth only one cent, and you can't buy much with a penny anymore. However, every dollar is made up of 100 pennies, and every kid's piggy bank starts with one penny. The penny, like each of you, is not made of pure silver or gold—but surely if you put enough pennies together, they will amount to something.

I ask that you go out into the world and amount to something. Set your own value on life, set your own standards and goals.

And, in case you need it ...

Here's a penny for luck.

Feel free to use the poem as-is or adapt to students in your grade level or adjust to reflect your personal style. This is just a stepping off point for ideas to make the last days of school memorable. Please share your own ideas in the comments below.


Education World®

Copyright © 2000, 2015 Education World

Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World