Participation. Connection. Inclusion. Engagement.
We all want our students to enjoy their school experience inside and outside of the classroom. However, if our tweens and teens are not a part of the obvious clubs and groups at our schools, sometimes they really have no way of getting involved. I propose that is where teen programming comes into play: creating programs where teens can be involved and feel that connection with others. We all know how important this is because many of our tweens and teens feel hopeless with no connection to others. Offering diverse types of programs before, during and after school can help attract those teens who may not be into band, sports, academic clubs and the like. So, here are 12 programs I have planned/hosted to consider at your campus. Most of these events are completely free or you may want to offer some snacks that can cost under $20. Also, even though some of the programs have “night” in the title, many of them were immediately after school.
1. Before School Game Shows
If many of your students hang out in one area before school, create some game shows to host during that time. You can have your students sign up to participate and all you need is some organization and a mic with speakers. To get you started, you can play “Are You Smarter than a Teacher?” putting students against teachers in trivia, “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” where they try to say the next line to popular songs, “Last Comic Standing” where they can try out their best jokes while trying to make the other person laugh, a rap/signing competition, a poetry slam, and anything else you and your students can think of! Let them start creating and hosting the events too.
2. Book Clubs
Some of your students that you would never think of are avid readers. The thing about this book club is you let them choose and vote on the book they want to read. And it does not have to be traditional literature…open it up to Manga and comic books and the like! You can get copies of the books from the local school and public libraries, from online resources/electronic copies, from book publishers (sometimes all it takes is for you to ask), and using grant money/donations.
3. Straight Talk
One of my most popular programs was called Straight Talk. I gathered topics that my students told me they were interested in and got speakers to talk on those topics. It was not only a way to get my students “real” information about what they were interested in, but it was a way to bring the community into the school to get involved. I would tell our speakers that there were no canned speeches…everything they presented had to be straight talk—honest and open communication. We hosted admission officers from different colleges come and speak about what they really look for on college applications and how to avoid pitfalls. Local business managers came to discuss how to get jobs at their locations (and some students dressed up for this one to make a good impression). A local bank came to discuss money issues, how not to get into credit card debt (especially for our seniors going to college the next year), credit scores and such. Personal trainers came to discuss the right ways to stay fit and nutrition/eating disorders. Manga publishers came to discuss how to break into the Manga to write and draw. Mary Kay came to give makeovers and Men’s Warehouse came to tell them how to dress for success (and brought coupons that could help with prom). We had so many students attending these (and parents for some of them) that we had to start having sign ups or saying first come, first serve until the seats run out.
4. Movie Nights
Just having a safe, fun space to come to watch a movie that they probably have already seen is a nice haven to offer your students. Think about days when they may feel extra lonely, like Valentine’s Day. We had an Anti-Valentine’s Day scary movie night (right after school) where we showed an appropriate scary movie. So many teens showed up to just hang with friends or to have something to do. Or showing that popular teen drama as soon as it is released is a nice touch!
5. Game Nights
You would be surprised how board games bring people together. Most of us have a stash of board games, so get with a couple of other people to bring their games too and you have a party! We had special game nights for teachers and some for students. Then, we decided to combine them and have a student versus teacher game night. It was great to see students from diverse backgrounds and social cliques sit at the same table to play Uno or Jenga! We also had throwback games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders. We also set up a TV and had someone bring their Wii system to play sports games. Throw each game on a table and have the rest on a cart and the program took care of itself!
6. Trivia Nights
Think of all the different topics you can have a trivia night for and the different students you would attract! Have sports trivia, popular book trivia, TV/Movie trivia, gaming trivia, cooking trivia, and the list goes on! You can attract so many subsections of your population and have fun while doing it. Prizes can be free items such as jean days or homework passes or small items such as things from your school store or candy! You don’t have to break the bank to have fun! And you can find all your trivia questions online.
7. Get Fit Nights/Lunch
Pop in a Zumba DVD and let the good times roll! Letting your students get active and do it in a safe, fun environment is key! Do it in the gym, cafeteria or library where you have space to dance and have fun.
Do you have that group of Manga/Anime lovers? Get them involved with a Cosplay event. Let them come together to meet their favorite characters in person (each other dressed up as their favorites) and give a prize for the best costume (box of theater candy is $1 at some big chain stores). Of course, you would have rules of appropriate dress, but let them have fun and show their creativity (and have some events for them to do when they are there).
9. Poetry Slam
Let your creative writing students and rappers have their moment to shine. It will shock you how some students that you never hear from have such deep thoughts! Have them sign up, but also have some time for them to come up to do a poem if the moment hits them. Maybe even invite some local poets as well.
I did not know how much tweens/teens loved Do It Yourself (DIY) projects! Whether it was making mason jar banks, duct tape wallets, snow globes, paracord bracelets, or melted crayon art, it seems that different students were into making different things, so this program brought in many types of students. For the supplies, sometimes your students have their own, you can get them donated, or you may have to buy them. If you must buy them, know your budget and put a participation number on the event (only 10 students can sign up).
11. Physical Competitions
Think The Hunger Games! You can have students competing in teams in several different challenges! They can test their intellect (trivia), aggressiveness (musical chairs), memory (putting random items on a table and letting one team member see it for a minute and then they have to act out the items on the table so their team can write down what they saw), creativity/speed (trying to put jelly beans in a bag using a fork), teamwork/speed/creativity (have them work together to complete a task such as each person has to do something different with a hula hoop and also do what each person did before them), self-preservation (eating dirt-Oreos and pudding-without using hands), and alliances/teamwork/speed (having them hold hands and try to get a hula hoop from one side of the line to the other without letting go of hands). There are so many different examples of games online, but just have them form teams and be competitive and have fun!
12. Murder Mystery Nights
Read more about how to do these in my previous blog here: https://www.educatoralexander.com/honestly-desiree-blog/murder-at-the-library.
So, there you go! 12 programs you can plan to get your students more involved at your school and to reach all your diverse student population. Try holding events at different times since all students may not be able to stay after school. Also, you can contact for more information about any of these!