(Note: This post is updated every year with modifications or lessons learned, by Dave and others, in using this activity. Scroll to the end of the post for those updates.)
The curriculum is completed, the last tests are taken, and, for one reason or another, you’ve got your students for 30 or 60 more minutes. You want to end the year on the right note — not cheesy, not with anticlimax, not with a “How many more seconds until you rapscallions leave?” attitude. And hey, you’re a teacher, so you’d also like to take this one last chance to teach them something.
But c’mon — the kids are ready to go! Even the best of them are coming to school that last day hoping to avoid a lesson. If anything, they want a class party — some because of the free food, and most because it’s just fun to look back on a year’s worth of work with reflection and celebration.
What’s a teacher to do?
I’d like to introduce a variation on the pop-up method that provides an interesting last lesson. The bonus is that it even allows a natural space for you, as the teacher, to give your students the last words of the year.
Your measurable goals for this lesson are to:
- Ensure every kid speaks, if not to the whole class, then at least to a partner;
- Ensure every kid practices an element of Erik Palmer’s PVLEGS when speaking;
- Share one last character tip or “life lesson” with your kids;
Your intangible goals for this lesson are to:
- Leave a lasting impression on your students;
- Create a memory for a kid that might last a lifetime;
- Share some laughter and tears.
And, finally, your personal growth goal is to boil what you’ve been trying to teach the kids — what you really hope they learn, not just about history or math or PE, but about life — down to a several minute speech.
- Some cups (I used those little Dixie bathroom cups — they worked great);
- Some soda (I went with the power combo of Faygo Orange, Faygo Cotton Candy, and Faygo Moon Mist — classy);
- An awareness of the basics of the pop-up method for classroom discussion or debate.
Ask students to quickwrite in response to one of the following prompts:
- What is one thing you’re thankful for from this year’s class?
- What is one funny memory you have?
- What are some things you appreciate about our class as you look back on our year together?
- Who in this classroom has made you laugh the most? Why is that important?
Note from Dave: This past week when I did this lesson, I didn’t do the quickwrite. Time was too tight. The problem with not doing the quickwrite is that you have less students who are going to be ready to participate. A key for making mandatory whole-class speaking enjoyable for kids is giving them a chance to rehearse their ideas one to two times before it’s time to speak. Quickwriting can be one form of public speaking rehearsal.
Have students share what they wrote — either by reading directly off the page or summarizing — with their partner.
Note from Dave: My students sit in pairs because Frank Lyman’s think-pair-share (a tool I finally saw as priceless thanks to Strebe’s Engaging Mathematics Students Using Cooperative Learning) is so money. I use it daily to ensure that every kid talks. Also, by this point in the year, your students either understand that pair-sharing isn’t optional, or they don’t. Don’t stress if not everyone participates here — it’s something to work on next year.
Mini-lesson on making toasts
Say to students:
One type of public speaking that’s almost impossible to avoid at some point in your life is that of making a toast. And guys, let me tell you: it’s a form of public speaking you’ll be so grateful for, even though it might make you nervous (it sure does that to me). Can anyone think of a situation in which they’ve seen someone give a toast?
[Field class answers.]
Right. Some of you mentioned weddings — these are formal situations where tradition dictates who gives what toast when. But then there are more informal situations where you’re sharing a great experience with a group of people and you want to communicate something about that experience — as a way of saying thanks, as a way of showing appreciation, as a way of making the moment even more special.
So today with our remaining time, we’re going to put a little twist on pop-up debate. Like normal, you will:
- When ready to speak, simply stand up and start speaking.
- If someone else stands up and speaks at the same time as you, yield the floor politely and with class.
However, unlike normal when we debate or engage in a collaborative discussion, today you’re going to:
- Stand up with your cup in hand (yes, you’ll be getting cups in a minute);
- Share something you’ve appreciated from this school year — a person, a memory, a particular aspect of our class that helped you overcome a struggle;
- End with a toast closer. Some examples,
- To X!
- So let’s raise our glasses: to X, and Y, and Z — cheers!
- To those who help us in good times and bad; may they flourish and lead long, happy lives.
Once we get our cups filled, I’ll start us out with an example — something light, a funny memory involving a student we all love to laugh with, maybe — and then I open it up to all students.
In the Pop-Up Debate Starter Kit, I talk about how, during a pop-up, the teacher should view themselves as a coach during a scrimmage. You want the game to flow and be fun, but you also want to take opportunities to coach the class when you’re seeing consistent positives or negatives.
During this last day of the school year pop-up activity, I’m trying to remind kids of what matters most. In this case, I want them to leave remembering the most transferable thing I’ll ever teach them about: character. So here are two examples of coachable moments I might look for:
If a student expresses a poignant example of gratitude, I might remind students of the research that shows why gratitude isn’t just a nice thing — it’s a performance-enhancing habit. In his book The Happiness Advantage: Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Shawn Achor shares much of the research behind this.
From the blog of Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage:
Here’s a smattering of what science has shown [about the power of gratitude].
- Our brain is a single processor. When you are focused (however briefly) on things to appreciate in your life, there is literally no brain space left for anger, sadness or worry.
- As the practice continues you strengthen those neuro-pathways that look for what’s good in your life, making it easier and easier for your brain to find things to appreciate. It’s like weight-lifting; you build your gratitude “muscle” by using it. [Achor calls this “the Tetris effect” in his book; after you play Tetris for an extended period, you start seeing those geometric shapes everywhere — in the brick wall, as the city skyline — and you start making them fit together in your mind.]
- When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.
- Practicing gratitude daily for 21 days can significantly raise your optimism even 6 months later.
If a student aptly walks the line of poking fun at a classmate (or me!) but expressing love nonetheless, I might remind students that social intelligence, one of the seven character strengths on our classroom wall, is partially the ability to build rapport with others, and, when you can poke fun with love, that’s a great way to both build and enjoy rapport with others.
The final speech
Finally, there are only moments left of class. Students are engaged; they’ve had some soda, some laughter — maybe even a few tears. It’s time for you to stand up and send them off.
Whatever you say (this year I discussed the difference between goal-setters — I experimented with weekly goal-setting this year; click here for a video of class footage — and goal-keepers), be the speaker you want your students to be.
- Ramble for 10 minutes.
- Share more than a few key points.
- Let the lesson get away from you, leaving you only one minute of class.
- Be dishonest.
- Aim for three to five minutes.
- Try to boil all that you’ve sought to teach this year into the most critical one to three points.
- Tell them the truth in love.
- End with a toast.
When you look around that classroom during your final speech, when you ask them to raise their glasses one last time, I pray that you have one of those moments when teaching is everything it’s supposed to be.
And if you don’t (I don’t always get those moments), remember: there’s always next year.
From my own end of the school year, 2015-2016:
- Make sure to explain why toast-making is such a useful life skill.
- During the toasts, I passed back students’ index cards, which contained purpose statements from the start of the school year. It was fodder from some really special toasts.
- I told students about the toasts about one week in advance. I encouraged them to prepare.
- I gave a few toasts during each class, touching on themes unique to each group of kids.
- Some of you wrote to me about your experiences with pop-up toasts this year. More of that, please. I get goosebumps.
Feedback from other great teachers:
- A highlight from Gerard Dawson’s classroom: “Cheers to Mr. Dawson, for bribing us with soda so that he can make us all stand up here and say nice things about each other. I guess it’s cool.”