Summer Olympics: Keeping Students Engaged in the Waning Days of School

Girl Reading a Book Outside

I hadn’t stopped speaking before the glares began. Angry face after angry face greeted my words.  

I was thrilled. 

Why was I so happy that my students were so angry? Because it was the last class of the last Friday before finals week began. Schoolwide, students were disengaged. If they even bothered to show up. 

But my class was buzzing with excitement. Although in this particular moment, it was also simmering with frustration.  

We were hosting the Summer Writing Olympics. This was day two of the games. I told them they could write whatever they wanted. They really should have known better. 

All year long, we’ve been engaging in weekly creative writing tasks in order to target literacy and composition skills. These lessons are called Writing Wednesdays and students know by now that they are seldom straightforward. Apparently, their summer brains have left them fuzzy. 

This particular challenge began exactly as promised. Students were offered story-generating cards if they needed them, but they were also free to create whatever story they wanted if they had their own inspiration. It wasn’t until midway through the game that the twist was introduced. The twist that found them losing their original creations and being forced to take ownership of someone else’s work instead. 

And this was when the glares began. They were frustrated. Fuming. Furious. 

And my heart soared. 

We all know that keeping students engaged in the final days of school is an uphill task. (To be fair, it’s an uphill task for teachers, too . . .) But repurposing some of the Writing Wednesday lessons from Artfulness into a Writing Olympics competition makes keeping students meaningfully engaged considerably easier. 

Yes, my students still arrive at class and immediately slouch in their seats. Yes, they roll their eyes and grumble when I tell them to get their Writer’s Notebook out. They wonder why they have to do work. They ask me if I am aware there are only a few days left in the year. But they all dutifully pull their Notebooks out and, within five minutes, they are completely engrossed in their writing. They’ve come to see themselves as writers and they take pride in their creations. They compete with one another to develop the best piece. They know who their “competition” is by now and they are hungry for their Team to earn the Olympic medals and the bragging rights that come with them. And they were not happy about having to surrender their creation. 

Once they got past their frustration, they handled the challenge like the writers they are, reading, revising, and polishing until they had a cohesive narrative that respected both contributors. As they moved into the scoring stage, I overheard them complimenting each other for the direction they had taken with the original work, finding inspiration and opportunity where they had initially found disappointment. 

It was clear, as I watched the students transition from frustration to pride that the lessons from this year have stuck with them. No longer intimidated by writing challenges that sometimes make us stumble, these students now have the knowledge and confidence to adapt their writing to find success no matter what the context. As they head off to the next step along their journey, I know that they are prepared. 

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