Senior Year: Strategies for Success

Teaching seniors can be so rewarding!

Graduation day approaches…

However, senior students present many challenges…

On any given day of the school year, seniors may be:

excited to be the upperclassmen

invincible in their final endeavors

anxious to graduate (aka senioritis)

sad to leave the security of a school

concerned about becoming adults

frustrated by being confined to rules

nervous about the future

unsure of what comes next

That is a lot of emotion for one human… one might think students could explode from all that… and sometimes they do have an occasional explosion of emotion. 

But senior year is so many things for so many different students…

  • It can be the last chance to bump up that GPA for college.
  • It can be the last sentimental year for activities.
  • It can be the last chance to make up credits needed for graduation.
  • It can be the last opportunity to build those lasting connections with classmates.
  • It can be the longest-shortest 10 months of their life.

In supporting them through this roller coaster of feelings, teachers have the opportunity to be part of the final influence and push into adult life. We get to challenge them in coursework, discuss future plans, help them with college and job applications, give them a preview of what college and adulthood will look like, and help them to reflect on the years they have spent in school.

Getting to be a part of this monumental year helps me to remember the true rewards of teaching and value being a part of my amazing students’ lives.

The roller coaster of senior year

My favorite lessons with seniors:

1. Life Infographic 

We live in a very digital world and as an audience for this world, we really have short attention spans. Infographic use is becoming more and more popular as a way to communicate information.

In this activity, students create an infographic on a real world process of something they will need to know how to do in their future… perhaps something they have not yet learned about.

Resources Used: a) Piktochart–for creating b) Blogger–for sharing c) Google –for research

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Infographic by student on “Job Interviews”

2. Vacation Research Project

In this activity, students work cooperatively to research a country’s history, culture, and tourism; then they plan a vacation to visit. They need to use internet research skills, organizational skills, and budgeting skills.

Students were engaged in learning about the history and culture of other places and had some quality discussion on how they should budget their money and what they should do on the vacation. Finally, students presented their vacation to classmates in an effort to persuade them to participate in the vacation.

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for creating/orgainizing b) Google –for research c) Google Slides –for presenting 

Students work in groups to research and plan a vacation to a far off destination!

3. Student-Choice Research Paper

While the “senior paper” has in the past been dreaded and overwhelming for students, I’ve found that really preparing students with the essential research and writing skills, in small doses prior to assigning it, helps the paper run more smoothly for students. But the most important concept that helps students to engage is by allowing them some choice in the subject of the writing and research. Allowing this choice also makes it more authentic and relevant for students. Read more about student choice…

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for creating/orgainizing b) Google & Google Scholar–for research c) Purdue OWL–for formating and style d) Turn It In–for submission & revision

-Research Paper  Day One   Google Docs
Research topics can vary for students’ interest!

4. Where Have I Been: TimeLine Project

My favorite part of teaching seniors is giving them the opportunity to reflect on their past, present, and future. While they do not yet fully realize it, they are about to enter the next part of their lives and it will be VERY different from their life so far. As a final project, students create a timeline of their lives. This is often a project that brings students and parents together to remember the years that have passed and to discuss the years that are to come. It is amazing to hear some of the reflection that occurs on the last day of class, as students walk around and remember times they’ve had with family and classmates and reflect on their life experiences thus far. (I tend to play really cheesy reflection music to enhance the mood.)

Resources Used: a) Google Docs–for planning/orgainizing b) Google –for research c) posters and other supplies

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Students often have a true sense of pride when these projects are complete.

And finally…. when senior year comes to an end… there I am in the audience at graduation with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. The roller-coaster of senior year has ended and it is time to get off and head to the next ride. All I can hope is that they are ready for it!


Thumbs up for senior year! 

Read more about teaching seniors:

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you engage seniors in your classroom?
  • What do you do to help prepare seniors for college or adult life?
  • What challenges do you find in engaging seniors in the classroom?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!


Student Choice: Strategies For Making It Work

Student Choice: Strategies For Making It Work

Why Choice Matters

As adults, we enjoy the days where we get to choose how we spend our time. We chose a career we were interested in. We chose friends who make us happy. We chose hobbies that challenge and interest us. Whether it is photography, reading, or fishing… the best part about adult life is the choice. 



Realistically, though, there are times where we do not have a choice in how we spend our time. We may have to attend a meeting we do not want to, have a conversation we would like to avoid, or complete a project that does not interest us.

Sometimes we have to do things we do not want to.  This is part of life.

However, we are obviously more engaged in things that we CHOOSE to do, rather than things we have to do.

So often students walk into our schools and are given limited choices as to what they do with their time. It is not surprising that they are often disengaged.


Our goal as teachers is to engage students in learning. It only makes sense that allowing students choice in that learning would increase engagement in our classrooms.

This is not to say that students should get to choose whether or not they learn… but rather that by allowing them some choice in the classroom, they will be more engaged in what you want them to know and learn.

There is tons of research supporting student choice in the classroom, but my intent is not to regurgitate it for you. It is one Google search away if you are still doubting the impact of student choice in the classroom.

See Student Choice Leads to Student Voice via @edutopia

Instead, I want to show you some ways that I have successfully integrated student choice in my language arts classroom.

How I Make It Work

I begin by deciding what it is that I really want students to know or to be able to do. Then I think, how many different ways could they show me this skill or this knowledge?



In 12th grade Language Arts, we use a unit on novels to cover varying reading and writing skills. Students are given a choice (between 6-8 predetermined novels) in what they read to practice and demonstrate these skills. Students then work in teams (of other students reading the same book) to discuss and practice these skills. As students have chosen the reading that most interests them, the conversations that occur in these teams are richer and more meaningful.


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Unit Book Choices



In another unit, students do a variety of research projects. These projects may include researching other countries, current events, debateable issues, etc.  I use knowledge about my students’ interests and hobbies to suggest 5-10 varying topics for these different projects and allow students an opportunity to choose which topic they want to pursue.


-Research Paper  Day One   Google Docs
Topic Suggestions for Research



Whether students are studying a novel, a research topic, or a current event, whenever possible I allow multiple options of “projects” for students to demonstrate their understanding. This can be different presentation platforms, video or audio recording, journalism type writing, information in an infographic, an academic paper, etc.


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Project suggestions for demonstrating understanding



  • Too much choice can be tough for students so it is a good idea to have “options” for them rather than being too vague or broad with your activity.
  • You might also consider having “specific ideas” for students who you know are likely to struggle with the skill or may be overwhelmed by the choice. Gravitate towards these students during the “choosing” and guide them in a direction that will be most beneficial to them.
  • Remember to keep yourself and students focused on what it is you want them to learn. Allowing student choice can sometimes create products that lose sight of the main focus of the lesson.


Students in my classroom are always more engaged when they have the opportunity to choose.

Read more about student choice: 

Keep the conversation going…

  • Do you find that giving students choice in the classroom promotes student engagement?
  • What opportunities do you give students for choice in their learning?
  • What problems are there with providing students choice in the classroom?

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Connecting with Students: Be a Jack-Of-All-Trades

If students struggle to connect with you… they may struggle to connect with your content.


Teenagers are often piled into one rebellious and technology-obsessed category. But teachers know that students are eclectic… they have lots of ideas, interests, and hobbies. 

Some students are so passionate about football that they spend hours a day checking scores, learning statistics, and watching game videos.

Others will perk up in class only when you are discussing politics or current events… they are ready to share their knowledge, opinions, and ideas only when it comes to this.

And still others are just suffering through class until the moment after school that they can reconnect with friends on Call of Duty.

Connecting Can Be Tough

Naturally, as a person, you will connect with some students more than others.

For example, I love watching basketball. I can easily have a conversation with a student about the NCAA tournament or a questionable referee call in the big game against a rival school. 

Or as an avid Harry Potter fan, I can instantly connect with the student who is wearing a Hogwarts shirt or has a Marauder’s Map phone cover. Got a wizard trivia question? Throw it at me.

Unfortunately, not every student is going to share the same passions I do… particularly as I get older and so do my interests.

Yes, as a person, you will connect with some students more than others… but as a TEACHER, you must connect with them ALL.

Connecting with a student is key to getting them to engage in your classroom.



As teachers, we must be Jacks-Of-All-Trades!

Does this mean striving to stay up to date with the most current teenage culture all the time? Absolutely not. Please do not try… it will not be successful.

You can’t be expected to know everything about everything. However, you should know something about something. Or at least, be prepared to ask questions and show interest.

For example, when students begin talking about working on their trucks… I ask questions. My knowledge of vehicle repair and maintenance is limited… I know how to put gas in my Malibu and use the windshield wipers. And although I do not necessarily have an interest in learning how to change brake pads or work on a transmission, I can easily ask questions to show interest in what my students are doing or talking about.

Not only will your students love that you are genuinely interested in them and their hobbies… but it will give you “insider information” on how to make your content engaging and relevant to them.

Students enjoy talking about themselves. Making them comfortable enough in your classroom to talk about what they love is a step in the right direction to getting them conversing about your content!

Strategies for Connecting with Students

  • Make connections about things you know.

Do you have a similar hobby or interest? Talk about it with students! Draw connections between the things you enjoy and why you enjoy them. Allow students to see your interest.

  • Make connections about things you don’t know.

Do you notice a unique hobby or activity that your student is involved in? Get them talking about it! Let them educate you on the details. Allow students to see your interest.

  • Ask questions.

Do you know nothing? Start with some probing questions! (What did you do this weekend? Where do you work? What plans do you have for after graduation?) When they respond, allow students to see your interest.

  • Research.

Are you really struggling with getting a student to open up? Ask around to your colleagues… someone must know something. Check out what kind of courses a student seems to enjoy or excel in. Take particular notice of what a student is doing on his or her phone… social media? Sports websites? Playing a video game? Start a conversation! Allow students to see your interest.


When students see that you are interested in them, they are more likely to be interested in you and the things you are talking about (your content). Use these improved relationships and this knowledge to create relevant and engaging lessons for your students.

You don’t have to know everything, but you should certainly know something.

Keep the conversation going…

  • Do you find that connecting with students improves your classroom culture?
  • How do you connect with your students?
  • What can be some obstacles in connecting with students?
  • What strategies would you suggest others try in connecting with students?

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P.S. This is leading into my next post… Student Choice: Ideas for Making It Work. Keep an eye out for it this week!
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