What to do on Those “Down Days” of School

You know those days: the end of semester days, the right before/after/in between testing days, the last days of school, and those days when so much nonsense from field trips, assemblies, and pep rallies leave you in the lurch.

The “Down Days” of the school year. 

You can’t move forward in the curriculum for any number of reasons. But downtime with your students winds up with papers all over the floor, things broken or misplaced, and scuff marks on your walls where they climbed on top of the furniture.

You need to enforce productivity but understand that your students’ brains are melted (or wired up).

You can’t just throw on a movie or educational documentary because your admin/school/district has expressly forbidden movie days.

Luckily, there are some quick and easy strategies you can throw together when these days strike, that don’t involve throwing on a movie and praying no one does a walkthrough. 

Give them board games

If your kids’ brains aren’t completely melted, you can create a board game for the unit(s) you’ve covered so far this year. I like the (free) board game templates at this site. All you need to do for game cards is cut up old exams into strips, mix them up, and put them in an envelope. 

Keep your kids accountable by making them write the questions and answers for their cards and keep score. Depending on the length of your class periods, you should consider having multiple different question sets that they can trade around after a certain amount of time. 

That said, you can use normal board games too. I call this “developing critical thinking and reasoning skills.” Find the board games that will activate their mind, like Monopoly, Game of Life, Stratego, etc. 

For additional accountability here, give a quick write and ask them to reflect on the problems that they had to solve as they played the game. For Monopoly, you can ask students to keep an account of their bank balance and properties. For the Game of Life, ask students to reflect on whether doing the “college” route or going straight into a job was more profitable.

Hold a mini “Career Day”

Somewhere in the standards for my subject there’s a line about students learning about the major scientists in the field. This is a perfect standard to address for a down day or two.

Have students research someone who made a major discovery or contribution to your subject matter. Give a list of people to help them unless you want 50 posters on Einstein to grade. It’s a good chance to infuse some diversity in your classroom and include important persons that usually get short shrift in textbooks.

Ask your students to take that information and do one of the following:

  • Create a “mini poster” about that person.
  • Take on the role of “virtual assistant” and write tweets (or pins or whatever) for important events in that person’s life.
  • Write a newspaper article from the perspective of someone during that person’s time period.
  • Summarize their discoveries in a haiku (like some scientists do with Scikus)

Who knows? Maybe you will inspire a kid’s career choice.

You can also have a general “Career Day” 

With this route, you have students research careers based on their personal interests and abilities. The interest profiler from the U.S. Department of Labor is a good way for students to find possible careers that would match their interests.

Once they have an ideal career path, have them research their path further. Ask them to create a mini-poster about the education requirements and skills they would need to pursue that career. They can also research entry level salary, what types of companies they might work at, and what internship experience they might need to boost their resumes.

This is a good chance to build positive student relationships by sharing your own story with your kids, especially if you have changed careers a couple of times before teaching. 

For upper level high school, have a “College Day”

We teachers are incredible resources for kids about the ins and outs of college life. Give your counseling team an assist by helping your students navigate to the next chapter of their education (whatever that means).

College board has a great free resource with Big Future. Help your kids find a college that would be a good fit for them and their needs. Guide them through the labyrinth of financial aid opportunities that they need to pay their way through their college years. 

For accountability, have students create a mini-poster or quick write a reflection about one of their top college choices. 

If it’s the end of the year and you teach Seniors, you can expand this topic into finding housing, managing a part time job while going to school, finding student organizations that interest them, and other aspects of life on campus.

If a few of your students are not college bound, you can have them look into technical schools and the training they might need for their chosen career path. 

This is a great time to regale them with stories from your own college experience (although skip the weekend activities that might get you in trouble) and offer advice from your own perspective.

Teach them a valuable life skill

Do your kids know how to make and stick to a budget? How to shop for and buy a car? How to plan nutritious meals? How to interview for a (real) job?

These kids are going to be adults within a few years, if they aren’t already. Pick something that they need to learn. If it’s financial literacy, create sample data (or if you’re feeling brave, use your own data), and have them use it to work on a budget or buy a new car. 

Find common interview questions and have them practice interviewing each other. Teach them how to enter a room, shake the person’s hand (not to dead fish the handshake), and write a thank you letter after the fact. 

Have them analyze nutrition labels to plan healthy meals. Or, examine the nutrition information from common fast food restaurants and have them analyze their typical fast food order. 

If you’re still stumped for ideas, think back to the things you complain about to your significant other on tough days (“They just don’t know how __________ works!”). Make a lesson out of it. Throw in news stories, both tragic and inspiring, to help your point.

Speaking of news stories, turn them into a lesson

This is a great time to build in some “real world relevance” to your curriculum. Find news articles that apply to whatever you’ve been teaching. 

Your kids can do a close reading of the articles (I have a free on on my TPT store here), or break them out into groups and have them summarize their reading to the class at large.

If it’s a more controversial topic, you can spend some time in a debate or analyzing the actions/reactions of the event and determine if other options would have been better. 

It’s learning AND it’s melted-brain friendly. And you get props from your admin for bringing the real world into your classroom.

Hopefully these ideas will give you something to work with during those “down days” as the year progresses. What other activities have worked for you? Share in the comments below!

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