Student Engagement

Finishing Strong in Elementary School

Teachers can make the end of the school year memorable for students by focusing on activities that reinforce the connections between them.

May 21, 2024
skynesher / iStock

The end of the school year can bring about complex and conflicting emotions. There can be joy and relief or some sadness or fear about the end of the school year and the transition to summer. Whatever you and your students are feeling, it’s all valid. Every single emotion and feeling matters. We can work to help ourselves and our students navigate this time in a positive way. 

It’s so important to keep students engaged during the hectic last few weeks of the school year amid special activities and time-honored rituals as we prepare to say goodbye and celebrate our time together. Thinking about collaboration, creativity, connection, and closure can help us work through this time in a productive way. 


Young students love to work together on all types of projects. A highly engaging and fun project is to embrace and embody Caine’s Arcade in the last two weeks of school. Students can learn about the inspirational story of young Caine by watching videos that share the incredible story of how a young boy’s imagination inspired a community and sparked a movement with homemade arcade games. Students can then work in teams to design and build these games with recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, paper tubes, plastic, and discarded everyday items. 

When students work in teams, their brains fire, and they’ve got even more brainpower to tap into. During the process, students can practice social and emotional learning skills such as listening attentively, working together, reaching compromise, and managing themselves through the ups and downs of a lengthy project. When they finish, students can play the arcade games and then share them with other classes, school staff, and families. I teach third grade. We will start this project during the second-to-last week of school and share our work with others during the last week. 


When we create, we stimulate brain activity and get to show and share who we are and what we are about. A great project is to have students create their own check-in chart using the animal, game, character, celebrity, or theme of their choice. I use check-in charts each day and get many of them from Edtomorrow’s daily email called “The First Five.” I also have created my own with a Green Bay Packers theme. My family and I root for the Packers, and my students learn this about me very early in the year. I love to share a piece of myself and then find out everyone else’s favorite teams. 

Another great project is to create a Which One Doesn’t Belong? activity that can be used for any subject. Traditionally associated with math, these puzzles with no wrong answer are invaluable for igniting thinking and creating great conversation and connections in the classroom. Bonus? You can use them with instruction in the next school year. Here is one I created for the solar eclipse this past April using Google Images:

photo of eclipses
Courtesy of Wendy Turner

Kids also love to make “four corners” games with themed questions related to academic topics or general interests. Math mashup puzzles use characters to introduce puzzles and stimulate problem-solving abilities across many mathematical concepts. If you have your students create any of these resources, they’ll have a blast presenting them to the class, and, again, you can use them in the next academic year. 


I have found that students love to connect with other students and learn about cultures around the world. I use Empatico, a free online platform, to connect my class with others outside of the United States. Recently, we connected with a class in São Paulo, Brazil. Students wrote each other letters to share a bit about themselves and ask questions. The teacher and I emailed the letters to each other. When I printed them out for the students, there was pure joy and exuberance in the room. 

To continue our learning, we did a premade Nearpod lesson to learn about the culture, landmarks, and geography of Brazil. We’ll find out how many miles away São Paulo is from Delaware and do some math around that data. Our next step is to use Flip to make introduction videos where we can see each other and share feelings around the end of the school year. My students were overjoyed to realize that kids very far away love to play video games, watch Harry Potter movies, and are Messi fans. This is a great project to keep interest, engagement, and enthusiasm high. 


It’s essential to engage in activities that provide a sense of closure for our students. Whatever kind of year it has been, it's coming to an end, and we have to see and feel that in an authentic way. There are lots of ways to do this: 

1. Create a collage or visual representation of the year. I print out four or five pictures for each of my students, showing them on field trips, getting awards, on pajama day, etc., and I ask them to create a visual with captions for each of the pictures. Some students choose to make a timeline poster, some a collage, and others a small flip book. One creative student created a large flower on foam board with “Mrs. Turner’s 2nd Grade Class” in the middle, and then each picture was a petal on the flower. There is no wrong way to do this! I do require that each picture have a caption to explain what’s happening, and we create a list of the dates for the pictures so that everyone can recall when they happened and put them in chronological order if they’d like to.

2. Write letters to future students. Students can practice writing skills by writing letters to my future students. They can share their favorite projects, advice for success, and favorite tools and games as well. Bonus—this is great exit data for you. If lots of students mention certain activities, it’s a clear sign that they enjoyed them and they should be repeated next year. 

3. Play a trivia game. Students can share fun facts about themselves with you to create a trivia game that can be played on Kahoot or Blooket, with Nearpod’s Time to Climb, or on any gaming site. A low-tech version would be to create a Concentration-style game with matching cards. However you play, students will love to see what they know about each other or what new facts they can learn before the year ends. Superlative awards can also be crafted from this data. 

4. Schedule special themed days. During the last week of school, I set up themed days so there’s something fun to look forward to each day of that week. It could be reading to a stuffie; reading outdoors on a towel or blanket; a summer-themed dressing day with hats, sunglasses, and island or camp shirts; a talent show; a board game day, etc. 

At our end-of-school classroom celebration, I pull out leftover snacks to be part of our feast. They include valentine conversation hearts and chocolates, jelly beans, M&Ms and candy corn. We all crack up as we eat these things “out of season” and remember our previous good times. Of course, make sure the food is safe to eat and not expired. 

5. Count up to the last day of school. In my classroom, we keep track of the days of school all the way up to the very last day. This is intentional. While countdowns to summer may be traditional and exciting for some students and adults, they can be traumatic and insensitive, particularly for those who may have to contend with difficult situations over summer break. We count up to the very last day and celebrate all of our success, fun, friendships, experiences, and emotions. We love this part of our last week of school. It just feels celebratory.

The end of the school year is exciting yet complicated. Focusing on collaboration, connection, creativity, and closure can make the journey one that’s fun and enjoyable. Working through these activities with your students can also bring you a sense of closure steeped in joy that can help you transition to summer as well. 

How do you help your students finish the year strong? Share your strategies in the comments, so that we can all learn together.

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  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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