Want to know my tried-and-true secret to surviving the last few weeks of school?
I love theme days for two reasons.
- They keep the kids engaged.
- They make planning easier.
We call these our D.L.I.T.E Days. D.L.I.T.E stands for Differentiated Learning and Integrated Theme Experience. You can call them Theme Days or whatever you want!
If you haven't done a theme day before, you might think that there's no way fun activities can actually make the end-of-year easier, but it is true! Let me explain.
What are Theme Days and why should I do them?
A theme day is just what it sounds like. We have learning activities (and, okay, a couple fun activities) organized around a theme. The novelty of a theme is what makes it so successful.
You may be doing the same activities you do most any other school day, but calling it Ice Cream Day or Camping Day hooks the kids right in. They're engaged and excited to participate. And busy kids means fewer behavior problems.
Because you know how it is in those last few weeks! The kids are burned out. They're ready for a break and management becomes a daily struggle.
But on a theme day–provided you keep some sort of routine and behavior guidelines–the kids are eager to dive in!
And yes, theme days do help with planning, too.
Those last few weeks can be killer! You've wrapped up the core, you're coming to the end of your textbooks, and the very last thing a worn out teacher wants to do is come up with a bunch of lesson plans. Who has the energy for that after 9 months of school?? Not me.
So a theme day comes as a little moment of peace dropped from the teacher saints above.
It's true, there might be some initial investment of time and resources. You might need to track down a few books or print a few things. But then it's done!
Next year, you're ready. And the year after that, and the year after that…All you have to do is pull out your file in May or June and you're ready to go with meaningful, engaging, peace-restoring activities!
Can you tell I love theme days? I really, really love theme days.
So what goes into a theme day?
- Decide how immersive you want your theme to be and how long you want the theme experience to last.
It can be as immersive or as simple as you need it to be. Any theme you can make/find/buy/borrow enough activities for works. Some of my favorites are Space Day, Camping Day, Chocolate Day, and Quiet as a Mouse Day.
You can stretch one theme for a week or do a week of different themes. You can rotate classrooms with other teachers or do it all in your room. Whatever works for you!
- Decide how much you want to stray from your everyday schedule and how to incorporate your theme activities into your normal routines.
For me, I tried to stick to my schedule as much as possible because routine helps keep kids calm. But I tweaked the activities a bit.
I didn't mess with the morning routine at all, so the kids still came in, started morning work, and then we had morning meeting.
After that, if it was writing time, for example, we'd read a book about visiting the moon and then practice writing friendly letters as if we were writing from the moon. Lots of fun on a space themed day!
Instead of a phonics lesson, maybe we'd play a whole class review game like a going on a bear hunt flashlight review game on a camping themed day. Instead of our usual centers, I'd try and rotate them through some themed stations. And I loved working in art or PE activities, as well.
- Determine what your learning goals are for the day.
Sure, we're having fun on our theme days, but there's a way to have fun and still meet learning goals at the same time. Because my theme days usually happen in May, I like to review a few ELA and Math topics on each theme day. Just because testing is over doesn't mean it's time to quit practicing what we've been doing all year. Giving your students more opportunities to retrieve previously learned information will help them retain that knowledge in the future.
- Consider a “packet” to review concepts.
One key thing that made my theme days successful was THE PACKET. Remember those learning goals I mentioned? The packet is one component in meeting my learning goals on a theme day.
I know worksheets can have a bad rap, but just because it's copied on paper doesn't mean it's a worthless activity. At the end of the year, I really want to solidify the concepts I've worked so hard to teach. So a theme day makes a perfect time to review.
I put together packets covering our 2nd grade math and language topics. And I threw in a couple fun pages just to keep things interesting. Kids love a word search!
Tip: I always printed at 50% and then I old school cut-and-paste (with literal scissors and glue) to assemble a new master with 2 half-sized worksheets per page. These I copied back-to-back, so I got 4 pages worth of activities on a single sheet of paper. Gotta save those copies at the end of the year!
I stapled the copies into packets and distributed them the morning of our theme day. 2nd graders had no problem writing on the smaller lines of a reduced page, but if you teach 1st grade you might want to try it out with your kids before making a whole stack of copies!
I set aside anywhere from 30-60 minutes for working on the packet. I included enough activities that the kids won't be finished during that time, but they've had a chance to make a good start. The unfinished packet stays on their desks and becomes a handy-dandy fast finisher for the rest of the day. Win-win!
Tip: During those blissful packet-filled minutes, I start tackling the list of end-of-year tasks. Cleaning out cupboards, grading, updating files, sorting through the mountain of paper…all that fun stuff that you can start chipping away at when you have a few quiet minutes here and there.
- Gather up some themed books
I don't know about you, but I read several books to my class everyday. It's just a part of our classroom culture. So when I can pull out some books about our theme, it's a fast way to get buy-in from my students. I use the books to introduce the different activities we're doing throughout the day. And if I have a lot of books on that topic, I may put them out for some individual reading time as well or put them into one of my center rotations.
- Decide how you can add in some fun.
The fun can come from lots of places. Themed centers are always a hit with students. Whole class around the room activities are one of my go-to activities on a theme day and a great way to work in some review too. You can never go wrong with some themed brain breaks. And my students are always happy to do some art or a craft. Even better if you can find ways to tie these fun activities into your learning goals.
To help you on your way to theme day excellence, we have a couple things to get you started.
First of all, if you're ready to get started planning your own theme day, grab our free theme day planning template below!
But if you want to just get started with theme days and don't have time to get one planned, you can grab one of ours! Our DLITE Theme Day sets are little to no prep and you can download tonight and use right away.
Starting with The Packet, we have a set of differentiated themed review worksheets on 3 different levels covering 4 language arts and 4 math topics and 4 just-for-fun pages (not differentiated). The level is marked by stars in the bottom right corner. The number of stars correlates to level of difficulty.
You may find that all your kids need the 2-star pages or you may need to mix it up. Maybe on some topics they're working at a challenging 3-star level, but for others they need the support of the easier 1-star pages. You can also differentiate among the individual kids in the class. Some of your kids may get all 3-star pages and some may get all 1-star pages.
All of the math and language arts pages cover the same topics. This allows you to assign work at your students' individual levels, but they're all still practicing the same concept.
We also include resources for a whole-class review game that reinforces the same language arts and math topics covered in the packet. Then we have a quick quiz you can give if you want to assess where the kids are with the concepts.
In addition, we have a themed writing activity. After the introduction, you can do this as a whole-group activity or let kids produce their own writing pieces.
And because reading comprehension is so important, we've provided a themed close-reading passage on 3 levels of difficulty. You may want all of your students to work on the same passage, or you may want to differentiate based on reading ability.
Last, but not least, we have some themed brain breaks to give your kids a little extra wiggle and giggle time on your theme day.
Check out our DLITE Day resources below!