Think back to the last day of classes when you were an undergraduate student: what do you remember?
My memories are mixed. I don’t recall much about the last day of most of my classes–I’m guessing they involved course evaluations, and some definitely involved the teacher bringing in food. One thing I do remember is a creative writing professor distributing a list that combined life advice and well wishes for our future.
I can no longer find this list (although I’m certain I saved it), but I know one of the first pieces of advice was to invest in that which connects you to the earth: quality shoes on your feet and quality tires on your vehicle. While I still think of this particular advice every time I’m in the shoe aisle at Target, I think the list itself stayed with me because it was such a different–and therefore memorable–way to end a course. As an instructor now myself, I try to find ways to end my courses with something more memorable than course evals and food.
So in this post, I want to share a couple activities that I’ve tried over the years. They did not necessarily originate in my brain–I’m certain I got some ideas from this 2006 Chronicle of Higher Ed piece by James Lang. But as Lang mentions, last-day-of-class ideas are more difficult to find than first-day ones, and since the end of the semester is before us I thought I’d share a couple activities that I’ve tried.
Letters to Future Students
I first saw this activity in the Lang article I mentioned above. The premise is simple: ask students to write a “letter” to future students in the course describing what they will learn and what they need to do to succeed. The activity asks students to focus on their learning over the course of the semester as well as the habits that helped (or hindered) their experience. I have used this activity twice now, and each time I am struck by the insight it provides into my students’ experiences and their perceptions of me. I also think this activity is a good precursor to course evaluations, since it asks students to practice self-reflection (or metacognition, if you include the “Habits of Mind” developed by the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Writing Project in your syllabus, as I do.)
I also find that students become engaged with this activity because it asks them to help out their peers. I tell students that I plan to use include these letters as a supplement to my syllabus the next time I teach the course (which I do intend to do). Here are a couple examples of the letters I have received from students:
“Dear future student,
In this class there are a few tips I have to succeed! I really enjoyed this class and I hope you do too! Remember to explore genres out of your comfort zone and enjoy the writing process.
1. Don’t procrastinate. Do your work as it is assigned and stay on top of things to avoid stress over due dates!
2. Consider all feedback you receive, from your groups or instructor. This feedback is helpful and will allow you to become a better writer.
3. Have fun! Be creative and don’t be afraid to tread out of your comfort zone. This class is a chance for you to express yourself and you should take advantage!”
“To future students, you will find this course to be one of the most challenging yet rewarding. It will make you step out of your comfort zone and then some. But it’s a good uncomfortable feeling, because there is a great support system in this class. Some tips for future students:
– Go to class with a purpose, that is a goal to learn something. This mindset will help you learn something about your writing style, or a technique to incorporate.
– Listen to your classmates. This class is filled with intelligent people from all different majors at case. You can learn a lot from them.
– Don’t be hard on yourself. Writing is hard, but the environment created promotes taking chances and experimenting. This classroom promotes creativity.”
I ask students to post their letters to a discussion forum in Canvas, but you could ask them to submit in any way you choose–even anonymously.
Visual Representation of Learning
The other last-day-of-class activity I’ll share to day is one that asks students to visually represent their learning in the course. I used this activity during the last day of my upper-level topical writing seminar.
I started this activity with an individual free-write exercise where students responded to the question: “Think back over what we’ve read, wrote, and discussed this semester. What has changed in your thinking about food and health since we started this course?”
After students had a chance to write for several minutes, I divided the class into small groups. Group members shared their free-writes with one another and were then tasked with revisiting the syllabus’ course objectives and reflecting on the different discussions and reading/writing activities we had done throughout the semester. Then, I distributed poster board, markers, and other art supplies (I also asked students to bring their own), for each group to create a visual representation of the thinking and learning they’d done in the course. This visual representation could be anything: a concept map, a comic, a graph, etc.
Here is an example of what students created:
I also recommend this activity as a way to help students relax a bit before finals. So often, this is the point of the semester where students are most sleep-deprived and anxious, and during this activity, I was able to see students become more relaxed and happy. I say let your students get a bit playful and silly with this activity if they want! There’s something therapeutic about arts-and-crafts.
If you’re wrapping up a semester of teaching, I hope you’re able to end things on a high note! Teaching is difficult work, and in case no one has told you this lately: You’re doing a great job.