The time between Thanksgiving and the holiday break can be a challenging one for teachers. In fact, this period has been referred to as the “month of disillusionment” – the beginning excitement of the school year has worn off, and students, eager for their holiday break, are harder to keep engaged in their studies. Additionally, December is often the end of the marking period, and teachers may not want to start large projects. Throw in the possibility of delayed openings or early dismissals due to winter weather, and it’s no wonder that teachers often struggle to find meaningful assignments and activities. Consider the reading and writing activities below to go from survival to successful! By exploring unique opportunities for students, November and December may become a teacher’s favorite time of year.
Activities that Foster Gratitude and Kindness
Thanksgiving encourages us to think about those people and things for which we’re thankful. Teachers often incorporate this into November activities, but what about after Thanksgiving and into December? Consider projects that can lead to some awesome writing activities in any grade that can be completed in 3-4 weeks.
Gratitude Journals/Days of Gratitude Prompts
Start or end each class with a gratitude prompt, or provide time for students to write in a journal. The Internet provides a vast array of ideas for all ages, including one for teachers here.
For younger students, the prompt may be a fill-in-the-blank activity. For older students, it might be the perfect opportunity for them to create a blog post or to develop their writing skills by turning a journal entry into a short story.
This activity has become popular in many venues and is easily adaptable to the classroom. Although jars are recommended on most websites, non-breakable containers such as boxes or even envelopes can work just as well. Each day, students write on a piece of paper (with the date) one thing that they are grateful for or the best part of their day, something that inspired them, etc. and put it in a container. At the end of the time period (3-4 weeks), students read each of their “deposits” and write a reflection or poem. Students can choose to share their writing with the class.
Have students write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they would like to thank. This can provide an opportunity for students to reflect on all the people that have been helpful during the year as well as practice letter writing skills. An original poem, on special paper or decorated, is also a wonderful way to spread some holiday cheer.
Pay It Forward/Random Acts of Kindness
This time of year is perfect for a short-term holiday Random Acts of Kindness project. There
are so many ways to do this activity across grade levels and there are great free resources
available online, including numerous ideas for kids like this.
This activity can also be done to include reading that encourages kindness and sharing.
Kindness Is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler (Margery Cuyler)
Heartprints (P.K. Halliman)
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed (Emily Pearson)
The Kindness Quilt (Nancy Elizabeth Wallace)
Gifts of the Heart (Patricia Polacco)
The Teddy Bear (David McPhail)
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (Robert Barry)
The True Gift (Patricia MacLachlan)
An Orange for Frankie (Patricia Polacco)
Middle School and High School Students
What better time for a holiday reading project for older students? A “Visit the Class Book Buddy” project with elementary schools can benefit both groups of students. Reading children’s books as different characters requires practice and encourages even reluctant readers to become more engaged with text. I’ve seen struggling high school readers embrace this activity when they see the enthusiastic response from the younger students. Want to take it to the next level? Have students write the stories as well and have art students create the illustrations!
Teacher Read Aloud or Audiobooks
A fond school memory for many students was the time each day when the teacher read part of a novel aloud in class. Many elementary teachers will read to their classes and you, too, can bring a little joy to your older students and give them something to look forward to by reading a novel or playing an audiobook.
For young adult novels with a holiday theme, there are two collections of stories that may be just the thing. Try Let It Snow: “Three interconnected stories from three bestselling authors: John Green (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars), Maureen Johnson (The Name of the Star), and Lauren Myracle (The Internet Girls series).”
Another option is My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, an anthology by 12 authors of young adult books.
To save your voice and get students hooked on listening to books, click here for a list of recommended audiobooks.
After reading or listening, students can write their own short stories to be “published” as a class anthology or actually posted online at one of the free sites listed here.
Make the most of this time of year with your students by trying something new that enriches their literacy skills and increases engagement. Happy Holidays!