What to do with a half day? Symposium!


Does your school have those quirky days where students come for just the morning? Do half days pop-up just before a holiday break or for extended professional development in the afternoons?  At my former school we struggled with how to use this day effectively. Cutting classes down to 25 – 30 minute whirlwinds was crazy but at the same time we wanted to make sure we maximized learning time. A couple of my colleagues and I came up with the idea of conducting mixed grade level reading, discussion and writing seminars called symposiums.

Because our school is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school we centered each symposium around one of the IB Learner Profile traits:

We selected Risk-takers as our first trait and then crafted a central question to frame the readings and discussion within the symposium: What is a good risk? We wanted to build a session that started with an ice-breaker, included both collaborative and independent reading time, whole and small group discussion, as well as independent writing time. We choose the following texts for our Risk-takers symposium:

Text Genre Synopsis
“The Road Not Taken” Robert Frost Poetry The famous poem about taking “the road less traveled by”
“Woman Hollering Creek” Sandra Cisneros Short Story A young woman leaves her family in Mexico to get married to a man in Texas; he treats her terribly and she is faced with another decision
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter King defends his decision to come to Birmingham – even though it landed him in prison
“Reviving Ophelia” Mary Pipher Nonfiction Pipher explains her research that shows how girls become less and less confident in school when they enter middle school
“After Long Decline, Teenage Pregnancy Rate Rises” Tamar Lewin Newspaper This article looks at the trend of increased teenage pregnancy and interviews experts on the subject(see link below)
Frieda Kahlo Artwork  Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940 and Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940

If you would like the full teacher and student guide for the Risk-takers symposium it can be downloaded here. The discussion with my group of 20 9th – 12th grade students was lively, fun and informed by the texts. It was a great way to incorporate both fiction and non-fiction texts into a source-based discussion and writing experience for students. It also allowed students to get to know kids from other grade levels which helped get at some cross-grade tension we were experiencing. I enjoyed watching my 12th grade students take the lead on answer and posing questions during our discussion time as well as help clarify misunderstandings during group work.

The downside was us teachers spent from 8 – 12 without so much as a bathroom break; however, I have had years where my planning period isn’t until the last period and I run that schedule anyways. The upside was one collective planning effort served as lesson plans for the entire high school. At any rate, it was a whole lot better than movies and class parties!

Anyone else have an innovate approach to half days?



2 thoughts on “What to do with a half day? Symposium!

  1. Nik says:

    This is fantastic! Going to share this with DSST and get the ball Rollin with this 🙂

  2. Heather says:

    We have minimum days every Wednesday, so as an elementary teacher my mornings are normal, but I only have about 45 minutes of teaching in the afternoon. I often use that afternoon time for selecting/revising work to put in our portfolios.

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