Last Class Ideas: Make It A Memorable Learning Experience

Black background; in foreground is a squirrel with fur standing up erratically; words say "Did someone say 'Last day of classes'?" It’s almost the end of the academic term. You and your students have just about made it. Congratulations! But how will you be sure that your last class is meaningful, as opposed to just one more class? Let’s talk about some ways to help students see their progress and cement their learning.

There may be a few “housekeeping” tasks which you need to accomplish, such as announcing the time/date/location of final exam (if you are giving one) or alternately, similar information about a paper or culminating assignment. And then it wouldn’t hurt to offer one last explanation of how final grades will be calculated. And depending on how your institution handles student evaluations/opinions on instruction, you might either take time out for students to complete it or to encourage them to do so online. I would also take time on the last day of class to thank the embedded peer tutor and graduate assistants who worked with me that term and usually gave them a card and small gift on behalf of myself and the class.

But hopefully, that still allows you plenty of time for a more meaningful ending to the class. You have several possible goals for this last class:

-To review for comprehensive final

-To review for a non-comprehensive final

-To learn what part of your course students feel were most meaningful to them and why

-To review key concepts students will need from your class to their next class (this occurs most frequently in sequential classes)

-Allow students a way to converse and say goodbye to each other

-To have some fun

-Or some combination of the above

Picture which states "The Most Important Thing"The Most Important Thing Learned

Ask students to think about what concept, theory, etc., will stay with them beyond this term. Then gather this data. Here are just some ways to do that:

-On a class blog or discussion board. Students could add their contribution in advance of the class and then the class could analyze the results. This could easily  transition into a live discussion of why individuals selected what they did. You might broadcast the results using a word cloud.

-As students enter class (face to face class), have them briefly write the 1 item on the blackboard before taking their seats. Then analyze the results together.

-If your class uses some sort of polling technology, you could pair up two concepts and ask students to select the one they feel is more important to learn about, until you have a “winning” concept.

-Set up “stations” in the classroom based on the major content sections of the course. Have sticky notes available for students to list concepts under those sections. You might ask them to write down the concept/theory in that section of the course which was:

-Hardest for them to understand

-Most meaningful

-Still most confusing at end of course

-And so on

Don’t forget that you could analyze the results of the “most important thing I learned” pedagogical strategy and use the data, for example, to write up a scholarship of teaching and learning research article or to strengthen your course for the next time.

Gamify the Review

This requires faculty to spend some preparation time in advance of the class period. You might also want to decide what the “winner” might receive, if anything. There are several games which could be used as a review strategy:

Blank "Jeopardy" blue game board-Jeopardy. There is software (see Resources section at end of this post) which allows faculty to write questions, write the answers, and even get the sounds which are a part of the television show

-A version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire,” which allows the student who is playing to “Phone A Friend” to help answer the question correctly (works best in smaller classes)

-A version of the “Pyramid” game show

-You could even work this gamification into the structure of your class by requiring students to write questions and answers throughout the course, for credit. The instructor could then input them into the software throughout the term, in  preparation for the final day review

Think about if you will release all the presentation slides with questions, after class. What about the answer slides? Do you want students to be able to see that data or do you want them to seek the answers for themselves?

Use An Application or Case Study

Words "Case Study" on grey background; also has magnifying glassStudents want to know that what they learned can help them in future careers. So either create or use one of the many case studies available online or in textbooks. The learning objective for this application would be to have students identify how theories, concepts, skills, and course learning objectives they learned could relate to the application. You might want to share the application’s facts in advance, so that all students can think about those facts, how to use what they have learned and will come prepared to class. Depending on the size of the class, you might assign groups of students to be assigned roles or statuses in the case study. This can ensure that the content you hope for students to “see” in the case study is more likely to be noticed, if you can ensure that all parts of the case study will be studied.

Have Time for Goodbyes

Large group of students, celebrating. Some on ground, others standing up. All are happy.All of you have been together for many weeks. So leave time for students to talk about their future plans, etc. This is especially important if you are teaching seniors who are about to graduate. Let them celebrate their successes not just in your class, but in college.

Have Students Write a Letter to Future Students in This Class

What advice would they offer? Ask them to think about everything they have learned this semester. What concepts and theories were the most troublesome to master? Students will often have study ideas about how to learn difficult concepts and would be happy to share them with future students. For example, I have had music majors who created songs to remember the steps involved in Mead’s socialization theory and one of my first graduate assistants created an anagram—which I shared with students for the next decade—to help students learn the types of leaders versus styles of leadership. Remember, their tips don’t have to make sense to you, so long as they might help other students.

I used a version of this letter idea for 15 years in my Introduction to Sociology course. I asked students on the last day of class to take out a sheet of paper and write down “tips for success.” I promised to share them all (even ones that criticized me) with students who would enroll next term. I had a “Resources for Success” section in the course’s learning management system (it had lots of URLs about notetaking, how to read scholarly material, how to study with roommates who don’t study the same way, paper writing tips, etc.) and under that, a discussion board where I would put the tips from earlier semesters’ of students and then students could ask questions during the semester about them and post their own additional comments at the end of the term. The only changes to their tips I made, would be to correct any spelling as I typed them up. I agreed with probably 95% of the tips, including ones that said “Listen to Dr. L, if she said something would be on the test, believe her!” or “She’s fair, but keep up with the work or else you are doomed, and I mean doomed!”

So how do you make the last day of class be meaningful and pedagogically-oriented? Share in the comments.

Picture of lit candles in a row; all in wooden bowls. Word "de-stress" also in picture.And don’t forget…once you are done with grading and all the end-of-term bureaucratic tasks, rest and celebrate!

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

Resources To Help:

For Jeopardy or Similar Games

For Word Clouds


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