By Shannon Anderson, author of Coasting Casey
Transforming our classrooms into winter wonderlands for the month of December spreads good cheer and sets the mood for the upcoming holiday festivities. It can also spark the onset of so much excitement that it’s difficult to focus kids on the content you are trying to wrap up for the semester.
This year, I have been working to keep this time exciting and productive in my third-grade classroom. Here are two ideas that have worked for me. It may be too late for you to try them this year, but I recommend planning to try them (or similar ideas) next year.
Invite Students to Decorate Over Thanksgiving
Something new I tried this year was to invite students to come in on the last day of Thanksgiving break to help decorate the room for the season. My mission had many objectives:
- Encourage students to have ownership over the room and their space by letting them play a part in their surroundings.
- Bond with students in a nonacademic way, which is important for establishing relationships with them.
- Give students a chance to check out all the decorations and get over the newness before they return from their Thanksgiving break, creating a smoother transition back to school.
I simply set up a time on that Sunday afternoon for parents to drop off students for an hour. I took out all of the holiday lights and other decorations and spread them out on tables. With holiday music playing, the kids set to work beautifying the room for the season. When we finished, I got out my bag of soft stuffed snowballs, and we concluded our time with a magnificent snowball fight.
Assign a Big, Fun Project
Another challenge during this time of year can be covering or reviewing the last of the semester’s objectives in a way that keeps students engaged despite the shorter days, frequent inside recesses, and longing for winter vacation. One solution I like is to assign a big, fun project—my students create a curriculum-based game that is due before break.
You can purchase game boards and other game parts here or have students create their own boards out of pizza boxes or other materials. It is up to you if you want to provide game parts, such as dice, pawns, index cards, spinners, and so on. I personally like to let the kids use their own creativity to come up with materials for their games. Academic content and skills can be incorporated into playing cards (answer a question before moving), challenges on the board itself (complete a task before moving past), or even involving manipulatives such as a spinner. I went through my grade level’s standards and chose three different skills that each student would have to incorporate into his or her game.
I don’t give a lot of daily homework, so this is one of my three take-home projects for the year. Be sure to give students and families plenty of time to work on this project if you want it to be a good experience. I provide specific instructions and a rubric up front so that expectations are clear. Then in the week or so leading up to break, four or five students present their games to the class per day. They must review their assigned skills and teach everyone to play their games. Then we play that day’s games in stations. This is an intentional way to review skills, have full engagement, and have a lot of fun—all wrapped up in one nice package.
Of course, on the last day before break, we have celebration parties for goals achieved during the semester and a holiday party in the classroom with activities and treats. Until then, have yourself a merry little December, and best wishes to you and your students in the coming year!
Shannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is a literacy coach, high ability coordinator, adjunct professor, and former first-grade teacher. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.
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