Classroom practice - The sky's the limit for summer-term learning

27th June 2014 at 01:00
Instead of bowing out with an exhausted whimper, use the end of the year to experiment and refresh yourself and your class

The end of the school year is, for the most part, not like a Hollywood film. It does not come neatly packaged with all the loose ends tied up. There is no dramatic moral resolution. There are no explosions or stand-offs, ending in a sweaty, victorious, freeze-framed salute at the camera. There isn't even the abrupt, teasing ambiguity of a random last scene that cuts to the credits leaving questions unanswered.

No, the school year tends to drift languidly into summer, an exhausted hand on the rudder, with the last day stumbled upon almost with surprise. The pressure is off, the energy low and thoughts are not on pedagogical experimentation but the promise of being able to wake up without a series of lesson plans dictating every movement.

In this environment, it is easy for teachers to coast in the last few weeks, to turn on autopilot and get lost in the haze of the post-exam comedown. And yet this period of relaxed expectations should instead be seen as an opportunity to really test the boundaries, shake off the shackles, try things out and develop new ideas. The bonus is that this will increase your energy levels and motivation, which will quickly rub off on the students you teach.

So how exactly can you conduct end-of-term activities that will develop you as a teacher, engage students in productive learning and ensure that all involved are having some fun, too? Here are five ideas:

1. Home shopping channel

In this activity, students are required to "sell" products or ideas to an imaginary audience of shoppers. Start by dividing the class into groups of three and give each group an object connected to the topic you are studying. Set the following task and success criteria:

  • Produce a 60-second home shopping channel feature in which you try to convince the audience to buy your product.
  • Highlight the features of the product.
  • Explain its importance in the context of the topic of study.
  • Use persuasive language to appeal to the audience.
    • In preparation, it will be useful to show students an example of a home shopping programme and revise common persuasive language devices. Give students sufficient time to practise their presentations and draw up a running order. Ask groups to set up in different areas. You can then take the lead and pretend to be a roving cameraman, drawing the class's attention from one performance to the next. If possible, invite other members of staff to watch the performances and to make judgements about which are the most effective.

      2. Role play

      Dressing up and teaching as someone other than yourself is sure to get a reaction from your students and make a lesson memorable. By taking on the role of a historical or fictional character, or a representative of a certain group of people (such as a political party or artistic movement connected to your subject), you give your students an opportunity to question you directly about a topic in an innovative way. Once in character, you then have licence to behave unusually. This allows you to teach differently and gets pupils interacting and thinking in a way that's out of the ordinary. You could even take on the role of a being who has no existing understanding of a topic, such as an alien or a robot. Students will therefore have to work hard to explain and define things to you, reviewing their own understanding as they do so.

      3. Treasure hunt

      Who doesn't love a treasure hunt? Before the school day starts, try placing a series of clues or riddles around the school. In your lesson, split students into groups and tell them that they will be taking part in a treasure hunt. You can then give them their first clue and send them off around the grounds.

      With an activity like this, it is important to lay down rules for behaviour in advance, including any sanctions that students should expect if they do not comply. For example, students should not be allowed to run from one clue to the next and must not make noise that will disturb other lessons.

      To make things easier, you might want to send just one group at a time or to stagger the first clues so that groups will not all be heading for the same location at the same time.

      As an alternative, you might like to plan a treasure hunt that takes place only within your classroom, or one that involves searching for the answers to clues by looking in books or on the internet rather than searching in physical places.

      Your hunt should eventually lead to a small reward that students receive by being the first group to answer all the clues successfully.

      4. Team challenges

      The end of term is an excellent time to try out activities that are not specifically connected to the curriculum but have worth in other ways, such as team-building or problem-solving. Below are some activities that call on students to work in teams to complete a task while in competition with one another.

      • Challenge students to build a bridge out of newspaper and sticky tape. Put students into teams and set a time limit. The team whose bridge can hold the heaviest weight wins.
      • Ask students to construct the tallest tower possible out of a piece of A3 paper, some tape, paper clips and five straws. The winners are the team that makes the tallest structure that can stand without additional support.
      • Using three sheets of A4 paper, a paper clip and some tape, teams have to create a paper aeroplane. The winners are the team whose aeroplane flies the furthest.
        • 5. Swap lessons

          Knowing your students well is a great asset for a teacher, as is understanding your subject inside and out. Yet familiarity with a subject and a class can also mean falling into patterns of teaching that begin to feel repetitive and uninspiring - both for you and your students.

          One way to shake things up is to try swapping lessons with a colleague. You can either plan your alternative lessons together or really go out on a limb and see what you come up with on your own. Once you have taught each other's classes, sit down over a cup of tea for a chat about how it went and what both of you might be able to take away from the process to use in the future.

          You can choose to swap lessons with a teacher from your own department or, if you want a more dramatic change, someone who teaches a completely different subject. Not only will this activity provide you with a change of focus and an opportunity to look at teaching and learning afresh, the students will also have the opportunity to be taught by someone who is looking at them or the subject from a completely different perspective.

          If swapping lessons with a colleague feels too extreme, why not try some team-teaching instead? This involves pairing up with another teacher and leading a lesson together. It can be done in pairs or in larger groups if you are merging more than one class.

          Far from being a period of winding down, the summer term has the potential to be the richest part of the year for developing and reflecting on our practice. The benefits we can draw will flow through into September, when we will be able to bring them to bear (albeit in slightly reduced form) on our new classes, helping them to engage more meaningfully, to achieve more and to enjoy the process of learning.

          Mike Gershon is a teacher and trainer who has published a number of books on classroom practice. He shares his resources on TES Connect and expands on this article in his booklet Time-Saving Tips For Every Teacher, available to TES Pro subscribers at www.tesconnect.com

          What else?

          "There wasn't much educational benefit to be derived from Ms Deacon's word-searches": one Scottish teacher ruefully recalls end-of-term madness.

          The pick of TES Connect's end-of-term resources to guarantee a fun few days.

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