How to Keep Seniors in High School Engaged on Their Very Last Friday of English Class Ever

The noise of desk legs scraping the floor as they moved into a circle filled my room today, the last Friday I would share Room 110 with the seniors in English 12.

“Here’s your final quiz,” I said, as I passed a two-sided paper out to students. It didn’t count for anything, but they didn’t know that.

Some students rolled their eyes while others sighed loudly to convey their displeasure, but after 25 years, I have learned to tune it out. (Ohmygosh, this is the end of my 25th year! Where did the time go?)

The quiz included questions about the last five Heisman award winners, the World Series champs, American Idol winners, and Nobel Peace Prize recipients.  Students always grumbled and stumbled through the answers, usually trying not to look at each other’s papers and asking, “Is this really for points?”

Just when I started to sense real frustration, I told them to turn the paper over and complete the other side. Name a few teachers who aided your journey through school, people who have made you feel appreciated or who have taught you something worthwhile, friends who have helped you through a difficult time. I never heard a peep while they answered these questions.

The lesson? Award winners of yesterday are quickly forgotten, but those who made a difference in your life are not. It was a great way to end the year, one last terrific discussion to remind students who was important in their lives right before they graduated.

“Okay, now choose a person from any category that you’d like to tell us a little something about. Who wants to go first?” I asked.

One by one, students went around the circle, sharing the people who had impacted their lives, sometimes offering brief reasons or stories.

When it was Gaven’s turn, he tilted his head to the side, looked at me, and read, “A hero whose story has inspired you? I said you.”

“Me?” I asked him.

“Yes, you,” he answered.

I have been keeping my students in the loop this year while writing my book, because 1) I can’t help it, that’s just who I am, and 2) writing, editing, revising, and publishing the book are all real-life English skills at work. But now I knew that sharing my story might have been doing even more than I had hoped. I was touched.

“Wow. Thank you,” I said.

We finished the activity with them writing 10-minute thank-you letters to someone of their choosing, and my wonderful son, who I had commandeered into joining us, happened to write his to me.

I was still fighting back tears from reading it as the bell rang and those seniors shuffled with their backpacks out the door, their last Friday’s English class finally over.

End notes: What a great activity—and I’m willing to share. Email me at aimeeross14@gmail.com if you’re interested. Also, how far back have I been doing this activity? I’m curious. If you remember doing it with me in class, or with Mr. Dunlap, who started it, let me know!

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