Autograph Shirt Day

What You Need: A plain T-shirt for each child, fabric markers

What to Do: Vicky Moore likes to make the last week of school as fun as possible for her first graders at Helen Hunt Jackson Elementary School in Temecula, California. “Autograph shirt day has been a favorite among my students,” she says. Moore sends a note home asking each student to bring in a solid-colored T-shirt. On autograph shirt day, students are asked to write a special memory on their classmates’ shirts. After kids have autographed their classmates’ shirts, Moore also records a special message on each of them. “I have students from years past,” says Moore, “who tell me they can’t fit into the shirt anymore but they still have it in a special memory box.”  

Blast Off to Summer

What You Need: Poster board, markers

What to Do: Lyssa Sahadevan, a first-grade teacher at East Side Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia, encourages students to “brag about how much everyone learned this year.” First she reads aloud the book I Knew You Could! by Craig Dorfman. Then she divides her students into small groups. On a piece of poster board, each group writes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Blast Off to Summer! Working collaboratively, students record five things they learned in reading, four things in math, three things in science, two things in social studies, and one thing they plan to learn over the summer. Alternatively, you might ask each group to focus on one subject area. For example, a group that reflects on reading might record five comprehension strategies they learned, four new word families, and so on. Posters can be hung in the hallway to share with other classes. Sahadevan says the activity also allows her to reflect on the most powerful lessons of the year: “It was helpful to see which activities they really loved.”

Portfolio Party

What You Need: Collection of students’ work from throughout the year, poster board, markers

What to Do: You’ve made it through the school year—it’s time to celebrate with a portfolio party! Ask students to collect their best work, choosing from writing samples, tests, experiments, and projects. Some students might reflect on what made a particular work sample outstanding or what they might do differently if they were to complete the project again. Others might compare a piece of writing from September with one from June and talk about how they’ve grown as writers. Then, have kids create giant portfolios by stapling two pieces of poster board together, decorating the outsides, and putting their work inside. To engage families, send portfolio-party invitations to parents and guardians. Each family can bring a snack and listen as students share the fabulous work they’ve done throughout the year.

Memory Books

What You Need: Prewriting graphic organizers, such as webs or mind maps; writing paper; photos or drawing utensils

What to Do: Stephanie Whittle, a first-grade teacher at Annie Wright Schools in Tacoma, Washington, has her students write books titled My First-Grade Memories. Each page includes a prompt for students to reflect on the year, such as “My favorite unit of study…,” “The best field trip of the year…,” and “I loved first grade because.…” There’s also a space on each page for pasting a photo or drawing a picture. Whittle’s students complete a full cycle of the writing process with these books. First they use graphic organizers such as mind maps to brainstorm and flesh out their ideas for the prompts. They write a paragraph for each prompt, then work with a buddy to revise and edit. After responding to four or five prompts, students illustrate and assemble their books so they’re ready to take home—with a personalized teacher note at the end.

Our Year in Pictures

What You Need: Digital pictures from the school year, tablet device, free Pixntell or Animoto slide-show apps

What to Do: Second-grade teacher Kate Peila of Arrowhead Elementary School in Billings, Montana, has a creative way to wrap up the year using technology. Peila has one iPad for her class. She stores pictures of her students throughout the year in the camera roll. Come year’s end, the class makes a slide show using the Pixntell app. (In a class with more tablets, students might make their own individual or small-group slide shows to share.) Each student chooses one photo to contribute and writes a suitable caption. Students narrate their captions using the app’s voice-record feature. You can even add a musical soundtrack to play in the background. And voilà! Students have a memorable digital keepsake. “Teachers can upload the video to Dropbox, e-mail it, or burn it to a DVD for each child,” says Peila.


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Image: Roger Hagadone