Simplified 2-MIN. READ

Five Strategies to Motivate Students at the End of the Year

By: Natalie (Nina) Henderson 06/04/2024
Learn how you can keep your students enthusiastic and focused during the last few weeks of school.
Students and their teacher stand at the front of the classroom to take a fun group photo.

Motivating third graders to focus and learn during the final weeks of school can be challenging. The state exams are behind them, and they know summer vacation is just around the corner. And because our school doesn’t have air conditioning, those hot days can make concentrating especially hard.

However, the end of the year also provides time to reflect and have fun. As your school year winds down, try one or two of these strategies to motivate students and get them excited to come to school each day.

  1. Create a Memory Book
    Looking back on the school year can remind students just how much they’ve learned and accomplished. About a month before school ends, I provide my students with a memory book template—10 Things about Me in Third Grade—that they fill in themselves. It gives them computer experience and encourages them to reflect on the year. My students answer questions like: “Name eight friends,” “List seven things you remember about our classroom,” “Write six words to describe third grade,” “List five books you loved,” and so on. When they’re finished, I print out the memory books for each student. These become a physical memento they can keep forever and share with their families.

  2. Unwrap a Book a Day
    As we count down to the end of the school year, I present one wrapped book each day to my class. I have a wheel with each student’s name and spin it to see who gets to unwrap the book of the day (no dupes on names). Then I read the new book aloud to the class. Because Rochester is a sanctuary city, and we have a lot of immigrants and refugees, English is a second language for more than half of my third graders, so I incorporate a lot of culturally responsive books. My students love unwrapping the books and adding them to our library. One of my favorite parts about teaching is the connections my students make to the books we read. They really look forward to this daily ritual at the end of the year.

  3. End-of-Year Math Party
    During the last two weeks of school, I pair up students with similar math levels and compatible personalities, but I don’t tell them who they’re paired up with. Instead, I give them each a piece of paper with a word on it, like peanut butter, who must find jelly, for example. Or milk must find cookies, and vice versa, which makes things more fun. Once they’re paired up, I present a word problem based on a specific mathematics standard we’ve covered and the games or food we’re having at our last day of school picnic. This makes the math feel relevant. To make things more interesting, I incorporate student names into the problems, which they love. The next day, I present the second word problem, which builds on the first, and I continue this for two weeks. My students learn and practice a little bit each day as a team, which gives them time to discuss, problem solve, and work together to find a solution. By the end of the two weeks, they have reinforced what they have learned throughout the year.

  4. Popping into Summer Countdown
    During the last 10 days of school, I bring in 10 balloons and pin them to our Popping into Summer bulletin board. Each balloon has a piece of paper inside, listing an activity. I use my wheel of names to see who gets to pop the balloon each day (no dupes). We pop balloon #10 first and count down to balloon #1. The activities might include a glow stick party, bubble gum and movie day, flashlight reading with a buddy, popsicles on a walk, double recess, lunch outside, chalk party, desk switcheroo, reading with another class, and last day gift where I give each student something like sunglasses with a tag that says, “too cool for third grade” and a personalized note from me. This countdown encourages my students to soak up the last days of third grade. They do not want to miss any of these final days—it’s such a great motivator.

  5. End-of-Year Awards
    My students work hard, so at the end of the year, I like to give each of them a personal award—I recognize what’s unique about them in a positive way. For instance, one of my sassy students got the Silly Goose and Sweetheart award. Another boy got the Totally Cool and Can-Do Attitude award. I print out their certificates and present them with a drumroll from the class. Everyone claps for each other. Other awards include Royally Responsible and Happy Helper, Future Teacher or World Leader, Most Polite and Always Proactive, Goal Getter and Kindest Heart, Perfectly Positive and Fabulous Friend, Math Master and Role Model. Use alliteration, vocabulary words, and fun phrases if you want, but make the awards meaningful.

The final days of school can be both enjoyable and productive. Reading outside, celebrating fun Fridays, or taking walks around the school when the classroom is hot and stuffy can help stimulate thinking in different ways because learning doesn’t have to happen at a desk. These last few weeks, feel free to break the mold and let your creativity shine. Your students will appreciate and remember you for it!

Want to hear more from Nina? Tune into her episode on the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.