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Teaching Strategies

Building Better Bookends: The Last Day of Class

By Kristi Rudenga

Why focus on the last day?

The last day of class carries outsized importance in both student learning and their lasting impressions of the course. Unfortunately, given the stress and chaos of this time of year, we may end our classes with a fizzle of halfhearted farewell, or perhaps with a scramble of trying to cover 7 more topics before the end of the hour. Neither of these is pedagogically or psychologically ideal – for you or your students. Instead, we urge you to think about how to tie things off meaningfully and with intention.

What does that look like?

Beginning your planning process for your last day of class by establishing a clear goal for the session, and then developing activities that aligns with that goal, will help you to create a more meaningful and effective conclusion to your course. Below, find some possible goals for your last day, along with sample activities that may help you meet each goal. We encourage you to consider your own goals and use or adapt these activities to meet the needs of your particular context.

How to design a successful last day of class:

Reinforce long-term learning: Help students identify the most important aspects of your course. Revisit your course goals and discuss ways that you’ve seen students move toward them, and consider activities that could help reinforce this progress:

  • Sample activity: Have students work in pairs to answer this prompt: “You’ve got an interview for your dream job. The interviewer, who may become your boss, is looking at your transcript and says, ‘Oh, I see you took INSERT COURSE NAME. Tell me what you learned in that course.’” Invite students to refine and share their answers as a lead-in to a class discussion and review of important concepts (Weimer 2016).

Reflect on content and process: Ask students for written, spoken, or even artistically expressed reflections on what they’ve learned and how they’ve changed since the first day of class.

  • Sample activity: Ask students to write letters to future students in the course about what they learned, effective study strategies, or what to expect throughout the semester.

Clarify connections among sections and topics within your course: Spend time in class explicitly building connections among different elements of your course. 

  • Sample activity: In a class with new topics each week, write the topic names in a circle and ask students to draw lines connecting two topics while explaining how they connect. Students can do this first on paper in pairs, and then share their thoughts with the whole class on the board. You can add a layer of thinking about major themes of the class and how they are addressed with sticky notes or colored markers. (This is what I do on my own last day of class, inspired by James Lang’s “Minute Thesis” activity)

Make large-scale connections with other classes, life, or careers: Ask students to situate skills and content from your course within their larger curriculum and goals, and point students to related resources that may serve them well in the future.

  • Sample activity: Have students create concept maps of what they know in their major so far, highlighting contributions of the current class.

Bid students farewell: The last day of class can be usefully spent celebrating what students have learned and achieved and bidding a meaningful goodbye. If you felt connected with your students this semester, don’t be afraid to show some emotion while saying farewell. In any class, be sure to thank students for their engagement and effort, and acknowledge what you learned from them. 

  • Sample activity: In a highly interactive class, ask students to think of one thing they’ve learned from a classmate this semester. Go around the room and ask each person to share one sentence or less describing it. This can be shortened to a single word or phrase acknowledging a classmate.