This time of year, it seems one question is at the forefront of everyone’s mind: What are we going to do with our students after “the test?” Whether “the test” is an AP Exam or your state’s high-stakes standardized assessment, testing season is in full-force around the country and teachers are scrambling to figure out how to keep students engaged in meaningful instruction after “the test.” Even if your specific class doesn’t have a big test this time of year, there is a good chance that your students will be absent on fluctuating days as they sit for lengthy exams in their other classes.

So what can we do with our students this time of year when their attention—and attendance—may be a bit inconsistent? 

I’ve found that writing menu boards provide an easy solution to a variety of instructional challenges this time of year. Rather than ask students to read an entire book—they don’t have enough time for that—or spend weeks creating a series of likely disjointed short lesson plans—you don’t have enough time for that—integrate writing activities that both capture students’ imagination and serve to review and target previously learned skills instead. 

In my classes, I’ve taken to employing seasonal writing menu boards. I love writing menu boards because they are both easy to employ and highly versatile. Depending on your needs, you could ask students to select one prompt from the full list of options, you could provide them with a specific prompt on any given day to target discrete skills, or you could even turn the menu board into a writing competition. 

The Writing into Summer Menu Board overcomes two of the biggest challenges we face in the final weeks of school: attention and attendance. 

  • Attention: The creative writing aspect engages students in academic ways that rarely feel like work to them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overheard a student who just wrote five or six thoughtfully drafted pages exclaim how they loved that they could “just chill” during class. It’s like sneaking vegetables into a meal and convincing the students it’s dessert. Although they don’t realize it, the creative writing tasks are engaging them in a variety of core-aligned skills including organizing ideas for writing, utilizing narrative techniques, and employing literary devices to shape meaning. 
  • Attendance: Menu boards address fluctuating attendance by providing students with meaningful, but not necessarily mandatory, work to complete during testing season. With six options to select from, it’s easy to instruct students to complete a smaller number of prompts—say three or four—allowing them to miss a class or two and still be able to complete the required number of writing prompts without being assigned homework outside of class to make up for missed days. And for students who are not testing and therefore are present more regularly, they will have several options to select from when deciding which of their writing creations to submit for review and scoring. 

In addition, giving students choice allows them a sense of control over their work. As a result, they often produce higher quality writing than when the prompts are assigned to them directly. With six options to select from, all of which are designed to function both as stand-alone daily writing prompts and to harmonize with each other under a unified theme, the choice menu boards are flexible enough to work with whatever scheduling hurdles the end-of-year throws our way. 

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About the Author

Andrea Yarbough is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of Artfulness: Formula-Free Creative Writing Explorations for Secondary ELA Classes. Trusted by major organizations with curriculum design and professional workshops, she has extensive experience developing meaningful, effective instruction for students and teachers, resulting in better outcomes with less work. 

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