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End of the Year

10 Meaningful Graduation Gifts That Will Make an Impact

End of the Year, Reading

Graduation season is upon us, which means you’ve likely been invited to graduation parties for former students. No matter your philosophy about attending graduation parties, you most likely will find yourself in search of the perfect graduation gift for at least one special graduate. Of course, you can give money or a gift card, but it’s unlikely to make a lasting impression and the cost can quickly add up if you’re attending several (or many) graduation parties. One meaningful graduation gift that can make a true impact is a book picked specifically for that special student. With a personalized inscription in the front cover, the student will not only remember you when his or she picks up that book, but if you choose wisely, the meaning behind the book selection can become a special treasure. Plus, you’re a teacher, so books are kinda your thing!

Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!

The following list describes 10 books that are perfect for every student in your class. These books not only match with a particular interest, but they are really meaningful books for any reader (even you!). Most of them are so cost efficient you could even pair the book with another special trinket (as I explain for a few of them).

*Thank you to my husband (a social studies teacher) who helped me compile this book list!

For questioners:

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins

Written by famous evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, this nonfiction book is the perfect gift for a student who asks insightful questions. I call these students “questioners” because they simply don’t stop questioning. To encourage them to keep asking those tough questions, give this book, which highlights many fascinating and challenging questions and their scientific answers, and rest assured their questions will keep coming.

For organization-fanatics (or students who need to become more organized):

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Mari Kondo

Taken from the title, life changing is just about the only way I can sum up this book! It is perfect for any organization fiend, like myself, or any student who needs a push in the right direction. This book would be perfect for a student who is ready to pack up his or her belongings and head to college. Need proof? Check out this post by B’s Book Love. She talks about how this book inspired her and her husband to downsize, and while you’re there, you can learn about how to apply it’s magic to your classroom.

For leaders:

Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success by John Wooden and Jay Carty

I read this book for the first time in one of my doctoral classes. The basic principles outlined in Coach Wooden’s pyramid can be applied to just about any life situation, which makes it a great gift for a graduate on your list, especially those leaders who may want personal and professional development.

For athletes and/or soon-to-be soldiers:

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by John Krakauer

Pat Tillman is one of my heroes, and his story, though tragic, is inspiring on so many levels. He was an NFL star who left the game (and millions of dollars) to respond to his personal call to serve his country after 9/11. His story will inspire your graduate to follow Tillman’s free spirit, patriotism, and heart.

For poets:

Poetry 180 by Billy Collins

This poetry collection by former American poet laureate, Billy Collins, is a collection of 180 contemporary poems that are accessible and impactful. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Animals” by Miller Williams. This short poem that relates the lives of our pets to periods in our lives is just one example of the finely selected poems that are likely to engage new graduates.

For nature lovers:

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Your students may have touched upon transcendentalism in their American Literature class, but it’s not until they read Walden in its entirety will they understand the “truth in the quiet of nature.” As a bonus, this classic work is only $5, so you could pair it with a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a small plant.

For adventurers:

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This classic novel is touted as one of the best adventure stories. As a bonus, it’s really cheap (like $3 cheap), so you could pair it with a compass as both a practical and meaningful gift to symbolize finding your way. Credit goes to my dear friend and colleague, Mrs. Mortimer, for the compass idea! She also makes beautiful t-shirts blankets that make beautiful graduation gifts and would be perfect for keeping warm on a chilly night by the campfire. You can find her on Instagram here.

For class clowns:

Connect Using Humor and Story: How I Got 18 Laughs and 3 Applauses in a 7 Minute Persuasive Speech by Mr Ramakrishna Reddy

This book is a great addition for anyone. It contains practical advice and step-by-step directions for using humor. Though it tops the list in price, it is worth it. Not to mention, you usually only have one class clown!

For future lawyers:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I got this idea from one of my former students. She loves this book so much that she asked me to read a chapter of it before I had even heard of it. When she stopped back the next period to talk about it, I had tears running down my face. It’s that good. Civil rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, will make an impact with this book.

For aspiring educators:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum

What I like about this book is that it is a great first book to build a classroom library, and it contains important fundamental life advice.

Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!

I hope these ideas can help you give a special gift to your special graduate. You don’t have to be a teacher to give these books either! Don’t forget to write a special inscription in the front cover so the student knows why you picked that particular book for him or her.

Happy summer!

5 End-of-the-Year Activities to Go Out BIG

Digital, End of the Year
The end of the year is like a curtain closing on a long, dramatic play. Like any good playwright, we want to go out big! But, the end of the year poses it’s own challenges: wrapped up curriculum, checked-out attitudes, and lots of paperwork. What end-of-the-year activities will keep your students engaged until the end while also providing meaningful closure? Fear not! I have five great activities so you can rock your final curtain call. And, if they request an encore, I have some backups for you too.

The end of the year possesses many challenges, but this year, finding meaningful closure won't be one of them! Check out this post for five engaging end-of-the-year activities for your secondary students, so you can go out BIG!
This is an awesome digital resource for the end of the year, but you might even want to use it for yourself anytime of the year. To use this free service, you simply write an email to your FutureMe and pick a date in the future for it to be delivered. It’s a perfect wrap up the school year because it includes both reflection and prediction. Here are the directions I give: Write a letter to your FutureMe to be delivered on [this day] exactly one year from now. In your letter include these four things: 1) A reflection on this school year, 2) a prediction on your future, 3) a piece of advice to your FutureMe, and 4) a reminder to email or visit [your name] at this time next year.
It really works too! At graduation this year, I had many students tell me to expect an email from them next year. What a great way to keep in touch with your former students! This is a one-day lesson, so it would be perfect as a meaningful one-day filler or a last-day activity.

2. Podcasts

There are podcasts for just about any area of interest or expertise. I found three engaging and meaningful podcasts from The Chalene Show to play for life advice at the end of the year, and it’s worked out really well. What makes these three podcasts really great is that they all include some type of interactive component, list making, reflecting, and taking a quiz. This makes the podcasts interactive, and it helps the students stay engaged so they don’t zone out while listening. In addition, the three topics are really important for getting organized, finding your purpose, and checking your attitude. I suggest you listen and follow along too!
  • Episode 227 The Key to Getting Organized: For this one, they will be asked to get out a piece of paper and pencil and follow along to prompts.
  • Episode 147 What the Heck is Your Purpose: They will also be asked to get out pencil and paper for this one too.
  • Episode 155 Oh No! Your Attitude is Showing!: There is a quiz for this one.
These episodes are all around 30 minutes, so for me with 40-minute periods, we have time to discuss the content. The podcasts work great independently or as a group of three.

3. Email etiquette

Again, credit goes to my husband for this awesome lesson. He found an excellent article called, “U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This” by Molly Wharton. Wow! This article is so pertinent to our high school students as they prepare for post-secondary education and the real world. As a part-time college professor, I know all too well how my college students lack email etiquette.
  1. Start off by reading the article as a class. You could use this article analysis guide to analyze the modes of persuasion and the tone.
  2. Discuss the article as a class.
  3. Review this website, linked in the article, to discussion email etiquette.
  4. Then, give several scenarios and ask students to compose an email based on that scenario, e.g. your digital gradebook says you have a zero for an assignment you know you completed, you missed class and you can’t find the homework, you are sick and can’t attend class, you are unhappy with your grade on an essay, etc. You might even ask a few students to intentionally write unacceptable emails so you can point out the flaws.
  5. Instruct students to read their emails to the class and ask the class to critique the emails.
This process can be a lot fun, and more importantly, it can teach real-world 21st century skills that our students so desperately need. Students need to learn these skills, and the end of the year is a great time to fit it in your curriculum.

4. Charades

Really, who doesn’t love charades? This one is so simple, but it’s really a ton of fun! All you need to do is come up with a list of terms, concepts, ideas, vocabulary, etc. that relate to your class. Write them down on slips of paper and then play charades. I like using charades as a review game (shown below), but you can use it as a standalone game.


Follow me on Instagram @doc_cop for more teaching tidbits!

5. Film study

Of course, I couldn’t write about the end of the year without including some movie suggestions. This seems to be the go-to for most teachers. It keeps your students entertained and out of trouble. But, we’re not talking about watching a movie just to keep them busy and fill time. A film study requires a focused and thoughtful analysis of the film. Here are two ideas for you that could be applied to humanities classes:
  1. I use Life Is Beautiful, the Italian tragicomedy, for my end-of-the-year film study. Because my students dive deep into tragedy, like Macbeth, and comedy, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, this film acts an engaging denouement to the year. As a bonus, the film is in Italian so they have to read subtitles. You can find my film study unit here.
  2. My husband who teaches AP Government and Politics and senior government shows 12 Angry Men, a classic courtroom drama starring Henry Fonda. He asks students to write a reflection answering the following prompts:
  1. Explain what each character represents.
  2. Explain which character you most identify with and why.
  3. Analyze the film’s message about democracy and the legal system.


As your curtain closes this year, I hope you can use these ideas to take your final bow with pride knowing you went out big!

The end of the year possesses many challenges, but this year, finding meaningful closure won't be one of them! Check out this post for five engaging end-of-the-year activities for your secondary students, so you can go out BIG!

Happy (almost) summer!

6 Tested Strategies for Successful Summer Reading

End of the Year, Reading
My first attempt at a summer reading assignment required all students to read The Hobbit and write an essay. It was a major fail! We had a lot of grumbling and poor outcomes. In an anonymous survey, I discovered that only about a fourth of students said they enjoyed the book; only a third said they read the whole book; and just about all of them hated writing the essay. I blamed the students for their lack of commitment and their blatant laziness. Then, once I got over my initial disappointment and frustration, I realized the problem was not with the students, but with me.

Check out these six tested strategies to engage your students in successful summer reading! Plus, download a free editable summer reading assignment and book list! As a bonus, this book list has teacher must-reads too!

I had good intentions, but I let them down. I set them up for failure. I was deflated. But, that was five years ago. I didn’t give up, and neither should you. It took two pilot studies, lots and lots of researching, and collaboration; nonetheless, in the end, I have a summer reading philosophy that not only works, but one that makes me proud. I hope to save you time and energy by sharing exactly what works for me (hint: choice reading is the key!). Plus, I’ll share one of my editable summer reading assignments to help you get started, so keep reading.


1) Explain your objective to the students in a positive light.

What is your purpose for assigning summer reading? If you start with, “If you don’t do this reading you’ll be kicked out of AP,” or “You have to do this reading to pass your standardized test,” or “If you don’t do it, you’ll start the year with an F,” most students will associate these negative attitudes with reading. Truly, if your purpose is to force your students to read or to “weed out” students from upper-level classes, I caution that you may want to frame it to the students differently.
It’s really all about wording. To me, and probably to our students, those above objectives sound punitive. There is nothing worse in this case than assigning summer reading that actually make students hate reading.
If you frame the objective to your students with positive language, students usually will be more open-minded, and at the very least, it makes us sound more positive to parents and administrators. Here are some examples of objectives I might communicate to the students:


  1. The objective of this assignment is to encourage you to make summer learning gains.
  2. The objective of this assignment is to inspire you to find something you love to read.
  3. The objective of this assignment is to motivate you to enjoy reading.
  4. The objective of this assignment is to help you get ready for class next year.
Notice the use of positive words? Encourage, inspire, motivate, and help are positive words to associate reading with positivity. If your students know the objective up front and understand how it will benefit them, they are more likely to start the assignment with positivity.
Although wording is a good start, it alone does not determine the success of the summer reading. The reading material and the assignment are where the success comes in.

2) Give them choice!

This is SO important! I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write about it over and over because I can’t stress enough how beneficial this has been for my students. One of the biggest fails of my first attempt was that I tried to make all students read The Hobbit. It is such a specific genre that I completely shut out more than three-fourths of my students who don’t like fantasy. Duh! How could I have overlooked this? My revelation came when my husband who is an avid reader commented that I could never get him to read that book. He hates fantasy. It makes sense! If I had to read a 600-page book on George Washington (which he is currently doing and loving by the way), I would hate reading too. We can’t expect students to love a book just because we love it. That’s where choice comes in.
Since you do have an objective and focus, I recommend choice through a well-researched book list. Giving 100% free choice can be done, but it’s risky. There are a number of things that could go wrong, such as students reading books that are far below their reading level, unrelated to your content, lack merit, or are inappropriate. To combat these issues, a well-researched book list will give options while making the choice focused to your objectives.

3) Collaborate to make an awesome book list.

It can be challenging to come up with these options because let’s face it, we don’t all have time to read every book option out there; however, you don’t have to go at it alone.  Talk to your teacher friends who love reading too. My go-to helper is my husband. He helps me come up with cross-curricular options for students who are going to be in his history classes and who love to read historical and political works. For this reason, I strongly suggest to speak to your history and science teacher friends. This way, you don’t have to read every book, but someone from your school did. (As a side note, you do have to be careful with this. I trust my husband’s opinion and I know he won’t steer me wrong as far as appropriateness goes. Just make sure you trust your collaborators.)
Although I don’t have a standard for you, I try to offer at least eight different categories with two options each. If your goal is nonfiction reading, try to base it on topic. If your goal is fiction reading, go with genre.

4) Align your assessment to your objective (and be savvy).

Your assessment should guide students to mastery (or growth) related to your objective. Your instinct might be to go straight for the essay, like I did. This might be a good option depending on your objectives. Say for example, one of your objectives is to form a baseline for student writing. Then, the essay might work. While this is one of my AP objectives for the first weeks of school, writing an essay at home is different than writing an on-demand, timed essay, like they will write on the AP exam. Therefore, this objective doesn’t match my summer reading objective.
You also have to consider yourself when assigning your assessment. This is where the savvy part comes in. To me, there is nothing worse than starting the school year by collecting 100 essays. That’s the mistake I made my first year. If you’re into doing all that grading to start the year, that’s cool too, but it’s not for me. I felt like I was starting the year in the hole, and I didn’t like it.
Here are teacher-savvy, non-traditional ideas for assessment:
  1. Sticky note scavenger hunt–Give them literary items (mood, tone, irony, author’s purpose, etc.) that they have to find and mark with a sticky note. This is easy to assess through conferencing when the students come back to school.
  2. Creative thinking project–Check out the details here.
  3. Journaling–Ask them to journal about their reading. Give them length and page requirements and topic suggestions and tell them to have at it.
  4. Discussion boards–This is the one I’m doing this year, and I’m excited about it! Essentially, the students will log in to our LMS (Learning Management System) over summer break to participate in asynchronous discussions about their books. You can read all of the details of this assignment by downloading my Summer Reading Assignment Example and Book List below.

5) Send reminders and due dates over the summer months.

I use RemindHQ and Google Classroom to remind students over the summer. This is an easy way to send reminders. If you use Remind, they will receive a text message directly to their phones. I find this to be a really important step because it is so easy to get consumed by the summer slide. Sending out short and sweet reminders will give them a push to stay on target. It will also help you field questions.
Now, I do want to add that I don’t advocate working without pay over the summer. The way I justify it is that it saves me a TON of grading time once the school year starts. It makes my life easier! Plus, I’m willing to do it. I enjoy it, and it’s meaningful for my students. Though, you most likely are under no obligation to answer messages over the summer, I don’t mind because it prevents problems when we come back to school. So, in that way, I do feel like I’m getting paid.

6) Create a backup plan.

What if you have a student who is enrolled in the class (or district) right before school starts? Should the student be exempt from the assignment? Is this fair to the other students? What happens if a student doesn’t have internet or computer access? What if a student can’t acquire a book (for financial or other reasons)?
Only you can answer these questions for your situation, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a back up. It will save you time and energy to have this ready to go. My suggestion is to include at least one option that the students can check out from your room that way the kids who don’t have the money or time to purchase or borrow their own book will still be able to complete the assignment. You usually only need one classroom set to do this. I also have an alternative assignment in case a student enrolls late. You can read about my back up in my example assignment.

Please feel free to use my example summer reading assignment in part or in whole! If nothing else, I hope you’ll enjoy our book list for your own summer reading. It has some of our absolute favorites! Although it’s really hard to pick just one favorite from that list, I have to go with The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. Check it out!  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at
Check out these six tested strategies to engage your students in successful summer reading! Plus, download a free editable summer reading assignment and book list! As a bonus, this book list has teacher must-reads too!
Happy reading!

Doc Cop