Inexpensive & Educational Holiday Gifts

By Brent Vasicek on November 3, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5

It's the holidays, and you love your students.

It's the holidays, and you love your students. You want to share in the spirit of the season, but you don't want to buy them a piece of junk that will be forgotten as soon as the first Xbox, DS, or iPhone is unwrapped. Anything of value will probably break your budget, especially at this time of the year. What to do? What to do? For $30 or less you can do a vocabulary lesson, test your students' abilities to follow directions, and find them the perfect educational gift.   

Photo courtesy of Francesco Marino.


I was excited to get the November Scholastic Arrow Book Club order form last month. Usually it offers a few books for $1 that I can buy in bulk for my students' holiday presents. This year there were ten books for $1! I went straight to work developing my vocabulary quiz. This quiz is designed to look like a quiz, but it has an ulterior motive. My goal is to discover which book a particular student likes best. (At the bottom of this quiz I paste icons of the book covers and descriptions cut from the book order form.)

With the information gleaned from the faux quiz, I place an order to Scholastic. While the books are being shipped, I have each student draw the name of another student out of a hat (boys draw boys' names and girls draw girls' names). This is their "secret someone." Each student must design a homemade bookmark (I provide them with a piece of poster board cut to size) for their particular secret someone. On this bookmark they are to include pictures, graphics, or words that (a) describe this person or (b) represent this person's favorites. Each student has a goal to make the perfect bookmark for that secret someone.

When the books from Scholastic arrive, I give each student the favorite book of their secret someone.  They place the bookmark in the book and wrap it up. On the outside they put the name of the person it goes to, but not who it is from. The day before the holiday break we gather in two circles (one circle for boys and one for girls) and pass out the gifts. As the students open their presents one at a time, the makers of the bookmarks will say "Merry Christmas" (or the equivalent) to their secret someone and give them one of the "three Hs of appreciation" (a handshake, high five, or hug).

The students seem to really enjoy this. I find that this activity brings the class closer as a team. Many students are surprised by how well their classmates know them and how meaningful the bookmark is. To add to the magic, most of the students wonder, "How did Mr. Vasicek know that I would like this book?"  Usually one or two keen students figure out that the books given in the circle match the books on the mysterious vocabulary quiz given weeks earlier. 

This year I will most likely use my Scholastic bonus points to purchase Bridge to Terabithia for each student as a present before the holiday break. When we return from break, we will arm ourselvesBridge to terabithia with highlighters and pencils and read the book as a group. It is the one time students have permission to highlight or write in a book that I give them. They enjoy putting their connections in the margins and circling tough words right in the text itself.

Tip: I tell the students they must EARN one dollar to buy their secret someone a gift. They are not allowed to just ask for the money from their parents. They must EARN it themselves.

What sort of holiday gift giving do you do in your class?

The frugal teacher,

Brent Vasicek



Hi Brent--

I just stumbled upon your posts. You have some great ideas here.

In reading the comments related to this post, Kate mentioned the "video game activity". I tried looking through old posts to find what she was talking about, but didn't find it. Can you direct me to what she is talking about?

Elizabeth It's in my post on Differentiated Instruction. Check out this link The post has two videos to help capture the essence of the lesson. Have fun with it. ~Brent



HELP? I cannot find the one dollar books in the Arrow November book order. I only found 'The Dog Who Thought He Was Santa" What am I missing? I love this idea and want to do this asap. Thank you.

Try looking on the inside front cover that contains all the flyers for the students. All the one dollar deals are not available to students, only the teachers. ~Brent

I am a first year teacher teaching third grade and I was going to buy the $1 books from Arrow for my students for Christmas! I was struggling with deciding what books to get which students. I was going to base it off of level but I really like this idea! I printed off the quiz and I'm going to use it tomorrow! Should I not worry about the level of the book each student gets then? What if they choose a book that is too difficult for them? I don't want them to be frustrated with it and not like it because it's too hard, but I also want to get them the book they want.

You can design the quiz so they rank the order of the books. Then try to pick one of their top 3 choices. If you really think they will struggle with all of their choices, feel free to choose one for them. You can then ultimately decide the best fit for each student. Thanks for reading, Brent

This seems like a very meaningful activity! By the way I've used the video Game activity in my class several times. I was so excited about it I shared it with other teachers at my school and we all love it so much! My students get so excited about this activity. It is truly amazing to watch them! I just watched your videos on the morning and afternoon routines and I can't wait to try it in my class. Any way to sneak in N'sync into a daily routine makes me happy! Your blogs are very inspiring!

Sweet! I am glad some of these ideas are working out so well for you. N'sync is a great way to end the day. I just play a small portion of the song...about the last 30 seconds. It starts with the phrase, "I don't want to be a fool in this game for two, so I'm leaving you behind." Bye Bye Bye, Brent

I love this idea! I can't wait to try it out this year.

Christina, Let us know how it turns out! ~Brent

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