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Getting Creative Before Spring Break: How to Make Class Time Count
Planning class time in the days leading up to a break is tough for teachers: students are excited and twitchy, making it difficult to ascertain whether they are able to invest in content. While some teachers stick to their regular schedule during this time, others break from their routine and loosen the rules.
Ingenious ways to make class time count before spring break
The week before spring break can be an opportunity for teachers to try new learning strategies. Here are a few creative ways to keep students engaged before they get a break from school.
Review and preview with Jeopardy and new challenges
Because a long vacation typically falls at the end of a unit, the days before a break can be used to review the last unit in creative ways: a Knowledge Bowl or Jeopardy-style competition can get students excited about thee material.
After reviewing current material, Teachhub.com recommends previewing the next unit by letting students experiment with new skills and ideas — without grading. A stress-free preview of new science, math or language material is a great opportunity for students to work on critical thinking and persistence skills.
Pre-break weeks can also be an opportunity for class projects that focus on integrated learning. Consider partnering subjects like math and music or science and art to inspire students to examine an idea from multiple points of view. If projects are assigned to students in groups, they can work together to divide workloads and set and work toward goals. This can help distracted learners stay on task and provide an opportunity for leadership.
Single-day projects: Debates and mock trials
Projects students can complete in a single day are another good way to keep students focused before a break. Conducting a series of point-counterpoint debates or even a mock trial gets students excited about articulating ideas. Faced with a debate, students could explore critical thinking aspects of their studies reaching beyond what they’ve gotten from content training. For example, students could debate the most important medical invention or alternate outcomes to historical events.
In a particularly valuable pre-break week, I once presented my composition class with some preliminary evidence from the infamous McDonald’s coffee trial. Students split into teams to be judge, jury, prosecution, and defense, then did research and preparation for their portion of the mock trial.
Everyone enjoyed this activity and we learned about creating and supporting arguments in the process. Although the McDonald’s case works best for older students, younger students can conduct a mock trial based on a book like “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” or a fairy tale.
Inviting a guest speaker to class can give students a fresh perspective on the subject they’ve been learning about all semester. I was once the guest lecturer at a single-day high school poetry workshop just before spring break. Students were too excited to listen to their teacher, but the young performance poet in their midst was an attention-getting change of pace. Guest speakers are compelling — and they give teachers a little down time from lesson planning.
Reflection and goal-setting
Perhaps one of the best ways to sign off for spring break is to have students engage in self-reflection and set goals for their post-break period. Students are often quite good at assessing their own strengths and weaknesses, and this type of learner-directed activity allows students to take responsibility for their success. At the end of class time, have students identify some of their goals for the rest of the semester or next trimester.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.
Preparing for Spring Break, UC Berkeley
Kim Haynes, One Day Wonders: Great Activities for a Single Class, TeachHub.com
Philip T. Gray, State v. Alexander T. Wolf aka the Big Bad Wolf: An Introduction to Our Legal System of Justice, North Carolina Bar Association
Katrina Schwartz, What Keeps Students Motivated to Learn, KQED.org