Birthday celebrations are an elementary classroom staple, but they quickly fall by the wayside in upper grades. After all, bringing in snacks or creating a bulletin board for birthdays can be difficult with 100-plus students. But trust me: Secondary students still get excited for birthdays and want to celebrate!

As a first-year teacher, I wrote a personalized birthday card to each student. That came to a screeching halt when the world was shut down by COVID-19 in March of 2020. In the following years, I was so overwhelmed with the demands of distance learning that birthday celebrations fell by the wayside. My goal for this school year is to bring birthdays back! I want to infuse my classroom with the joy of celebrating the members of our community—without taking up too much time or serving hundreds of mini cupcakes. This is how I’m planning to do it.

How I keep track of 100+ birthdays

Wall space in my middle school classroom is precious. Between anchor charts, vocabulary terms, and displaying student work, it seems like there’s never enough space for everything I want to put on the walls. I can’t imagine giving up one of my boards (or a huge section of my wall) for a birthday display.

However, I can carve out a small piece of space on my whiteboard for a calendar. I got the one pictured below at my local Marshalls, but there are plenty of cute options available to print or order online. I set it apart from the rest of my front board using some DIY vinyl letters I cut on my Cricut, though regular bulletin board letters would work too. And ta-da! An instant mini birthday display!

As the pictures show, it takes up only a tiny portion of my front board, which I’m taking as a space-saving win.

Photo for how to celebrate birthdays for middle and high school students

Amy Hetherington-Coy


Photo for how to celebrate birthdays for middle and high school students

Amy Hetherington-Coy

Adding student birthdays to your calendar could be arduous if you have to individually search each student’s records on your LMS. Luckily, most platforms allow you to download and print rosters with specific details. By deselecting all options except birth date, I was able to print rosters with all of my students’ birthdays and no extraneous information. Then I went through and wrote the birthdays for each month on the calendar. In total, it took about 20 minutes to print and write 90+ birthdays. Not bad for something that will last the whole year!

It’s time to par-tay!

Now that I’ve got a way to keep track of student birthdays, here’s how I plan to celebrate their special day. This is intended to be a quick acknowledgement—something that makes the student feel special and appreciated, without taking away from class time. It’s also highly customizable, since middle school students can vary dramatically in what they consider exciting or how much attention they want from their peers.

When a student comes in on their birthday, I plan to give them a handwritten card sharing something about them I appreciate. Maybe it’s their sense of humor, willingness to participate, or the way they show kindness to their classmates. This practice might not be for everyone. But I’ve found that a task that takes me less than a minute really pays off in making my students feel seen and valued.

This is the set of cards I bought for my classroom, but there are tons of cute options to print without spending any extra money. If you’re feeling really creative, you could even design and print your own using one of these Canva for Education templates.

In addition to a personalized card, students in my class will also get to choose an object from the “Birthday Box.” If you choose to include a gift in your birthday celebration, you don’t need to spend any money to stock your box! Coupons for homework passes or borrowing the teacher’s chair for a class are plenty exciting to students. Because I’m choosing to discontinue my point-based management system in the coming year, my box will be stocked with the prizes I previously used for the winning classes. This includes Jolly Ranchers, vinyl stickers, glitter gel pens, and scrunchies.

But how much time will it take?

Giving students their cards and choosing from the box will all happen during our “do now” time in the first three minutes of class. If the student chooses to do so, they will be able to ask their peers to sing Happy Birthday to them during our opening routine. Some kids love the idea of being the center of attention, and others want nothing to do with it. This procedure gives them the option to choose how much attention they want from their peers. (Pro tip: I know a teacher who offers the birthday student the option to choose a song variation like whispering creepily, British accent, or high-pitched mice singing. That way, they can direct the ridiculousness and attention away from them but still have fun.)

And that’s it! It’s quick, simple, and shows students you care about the significant moments in their life. I was once called into an eighth grade class to cover for a coworker, and one of my former sixth graders excitedly showed me that she kept the birthday card I had written her two years prior in her binder. I had never realized this gesture meant so much to her. And remember, while relationships don’t fix everything in a classroom, they can go a really, really long way.

How do you celebrate secondary student birthdays? Let us know in the comments!

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Is it even possible to celebrate birthdays for middle and high school students when you have 100+ of them? See how this teacher does it!

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