We often pause at the end of the school year to celebrate as a school community and reflect on the year. Right now, it is especially important for students to have opportunities to connect and process before heading off for the summer. According to a CDC survey, teenagers are reporting more mental health challenges than in past years. While many teens’ mental health was already suffering before 2020, the disruptions and trauma caused by the pandemic have further eroded many young people’s sense of wellbeing. On a positive note, the survey also found that schools can play a vital supporting role, and that students who feel “a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging at school” report feeling much more hopeful.
This Teaching Idea contains six activities that can help students reflect on the past school year, celebrate their school community, and look ahead to what comes next. Each activity can be used on its own, so choose any combination that will work well for your class.
Education theorist John Dewey wrote, “We don’t learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Journaling is an important method for students to process their experiences and connect what they learn to their own lives. Journaling can be especially helpful for students to process their thoughts, feelings, or uncertainties around the changes in their lives or in their world.
Ask your students to write a final journal reflection as a way to process the events and learning of the past year. They can choose from the following list of prompts or write their own prompt:
If your students have kept a journal for your class throughout the year, ask them to read through all of their entries before they write their final journal reflection. As they read, they should mark passages that will help them with their final reflection. Finally, ask students to send their journal reflections to you or to share excerpts from them with the class.
Note: Our tool Student Journaling During the Coronavirus contains journaling tips and a collection of journal prompts you can use with your students.
To help students reflect on what they have accomplished this year, ask them to choose three assignments they completed for your class that helped them learn something about themselves or about the world. Remind them that what they learned through the assignment is more important than the grade they received. If they have copies of the assignments, they should take a photograph of each.
Then, ask your students to write a reflection on why they chose each assignment. The following prompts can help guide students’ reflections:
Finally, ask students to assemble their portfolios by placing the photos of their assignments and their reflections into one document, along with a title page. Students can include illustrations or images on the title page that connect to the class.
Ask your students to create notes of appreciation for members of their class and school community. You might ask each student to write three notes: one for a classmate, one for a teacher, and one for a staff member. This is a chance for students to thank mentors and members of their school community who may have helped them over the last year.
Assign each student one of their classmates, and ask them to write that person a note that expresses something they appreciate about them, a positive contribution they made to class, a time they helped the writer, etc.
Ask students to choose a teacher to thank in writing, maybe for reaching out to them during a difficult time or helping them learn something important about themself or their world.
Send your students a list of staff members and ask them to choose someone who is a mentor to them or who helps the school function. Remember to consider coaches, nurses, counselors, maintenance and custodial staff, cafeteria staff, librarians, the registrar, and security team. It can be meaningful for staff to have their work recognized by students.
Finally, either ask students to give you their notes to distribute or provide them with school email addresses for the recipients so that they can send their notes directly.
Create a Goodbye Graffiti Board with memories, stories, and reflections from the year. To create a physical Graffiti Board, post a large piece of paper in your classroom and ask students to add written notes or images. Alternatively, you can create a virtual Graffiti Board, using a platform such as Padlet, Flipgrid, or Google Docs. Brainstorm a list of prompts as a class or share a list with your students. Some potential prompts include:
Encourage students to take a picture of the Goodbye Graffiti Board when you are finished to keep as a memento of the community you built together. Devote one class period to reading the items on the board and commenting on what you notice.
Students may have a range of emotions moving into the summer break. Time away from school can be exciting. At the same time, some students may miss the community and routine of school or face other challenges during the break. Ask students to make two lists, one with things that they are looking forward to this summer and one with things that might be challenging.
Then, ask students to reflect:
For students who are returning to school next year, ask them to write an encouraging email to themselves to read before they start the next year. Many email applications (such as Gmail) will allow users to schedule an email to send on a different date. If students are able to use this function, ask them to schedule the send date of the email for the day before the next school year begins.
Students can use the following questions to help them write their emails: