Keep control in the countdown to freedom

11th July 2014 at 01:00
How do you retain a semblance of authority in the last lesson of the year? We reveal the assets and pitfalls of some popular options

It's the last day of term. The prospect of six weeks of freedom lingers tantalisingly close for 30 hot and bothered students. And they are impatient to grab it. One wrong move by you and it is all over: they will seize their opportunity and your lesson will quickly become merely a holding pen before the animals are released back into the wild.

So you need to make a decision: how are you going to play the final lesson of term to ensure you remain in control? Do you take your headteacher's directive to teach to the bell literally or do you give in to student pleas for "fun"? You have a number of options. Let us wander a typical school corridor in its last few hours of the year and find out what they are.

Room 1: Screen saver

In the first room, we come across the outcome of the high-risklow-reward Classroom Democracy approach. The best thing to be said about this option is that the children are "in charge of their learning". It works like this: the teacher lets the class vote the week before on which film to bring in for this last lesson. One influential group in the class all vote for the same film. Surprise surprise, the chosen feature turns out to contain a number of rather unsettling scenes and allusions. "Exactly what kind of 12-year-old did the censors have in mind?" the teacher (probably me in my less experienced years) quietly wonders in a dark corner.

The pupils may behave, but the fallout will include a phone call from the parents of precious young Izzie, at the very least.

Room 2: Arthouse agony

Next door in Room 2 (or Multiplex Screen 2, as we might call it), the teacher has chosen the movie himself. This is the Everyone Must See My Film approach normally favoured by certain male teachers. Profoundly affected by the story in his youth, the teacher wants his classes to be similarly taken by it.

One member of staff I know always opted for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (suitably fast-forwarded and after parental permission). Another (now retired) for some reason favoured the Ingmar Bergman classic The Seventh Seal. This is an obscure tale from Sweden about a knight taking on Death in a game of chess, filmed in black and white among bleak landscapes shrouded in mist. Bewildered classes moved from waiting patiently for a recognisable plot to sinking inexorably into deep slumber or anarchy.

Room 3: Questions, questions

Further down the corridor we leave the cinema and come across versions of the classic quiz approach, teachers mixing up subject questions with light-hearted trivia.

It is important to get the quiz right. In a rowdy Room 3 we have the traditional Class Divide, where the left half of the class are pitted against the right, while a series of questions are bellowed out by an increasingly hoarse teacher. We need not even go into this classroom - we can hear it from some way off.

The problem with this approach is that quieter or more easily waylaid souls will soon switch off. Attention will wander and behaviour will unravel to riot. This is the wrong type of quiz.

Room 4: Time, gentlemen

A much better option is found in Room 4, where we find the Pub Quiz format. Here, pupils are seated in at least six huddled teams, and each round of 10 questions necessitates their whispering answers to a team captain who writes them down. This may take a little more planning but is definitely the way to go for classroom quizzes - it keeps everyone involved and there is more to play for. There are, of course, countless resources on the web to help provide for such an activity (see sidebar).

Room 5: Saved by the bell

We then reach the last room on the corridor and our last option. All seems calm in here, as usual. Here is the Learning until the Bell approach with a teacher who plainly views the final session as an opportunity to demonstrate just how much they value their subject, andor how firm they are. The lesson is no different from any other and - by way of a grand finale - may even conclude with a formal test.

This rather hard-nosed approach is not to be derided. It avoids many of the risks and drawn-out agonies of some of the so-called "fun" lessons. Besides, most children - deep down - respect the commitment.

For optimum behaviour, you should go with one of the latter two approaches. Or, like me, you could opt for a combination of the two: a short, punchy mini-lesson (15 minutes) followed by a pub quiz to send the students into the holidays happy.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

What else?

TES behaviour expert Tom Bennett gives his view on last-day behaviour management.


Call time on the school year with this engaging literacy pub quiz.


This colourful chemistry and biology quiz tests the appliance of science.


Count down to the end of term using a quick-fire maths challenge.


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