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How to Host a White Elephant Book/Gift Exchange

By Alycia Zimmerman on December 3, 2014
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

December is a special month at school. Our classroom activities take on festive tones as we celebrate community, cultural traditions, and generosity. We end the month with a multicultural feast and class party. Always looking for another opportunity to promote reading, I add a bookish twist to our holiday party in the form of a "White Elephant Book Exchange." These books are my holiday gift to my students, and the book exchange is a fun party game that gets the kids buzzing about their new books. 

Interested in hosting your own White Elephant Gift Exchange at a class party? Watch the video below for tips as I prepare for my upcoming White Elephant Gift Exchange, and to observe the book-swap in action in my classroom. 


White Elephant Book Exchange Tips

For the White Elephant Gift Exchange, I provide all of the books for the exchange, wrapped in paper lunch bags and stacked at the center of the rug. (I use my Scholastic Book Club bonus points to get a fun selection of gift books.) If your students' families are able and willing, you could ask each student to bring in a wrapped book, either new or used, to use for the exchange. I put all of the students' names in a container. I've used labeled candy canes and holiday candies to make the proceedings even more festive!

The fun begins after the first student unwraps a book from the pile. The second student can either choose a wrapped book — or to “steal” the unwrapped book from the first student. If the book is stolen, the student who went first in this game chooses a new book from the pile. Once the game is in full swing (by student number two) whenever a book is stolen, the student who is now bookless can either choose a new book, or chose to steal a different book. Swapping, stealing, alliances, and silliness ensues as books get traded around the circle until everyone has a book. The first student to pick a book gets to make the final “trade,” if he or she wants, at the end. To prevent tears and outrage, make sure to warn your students about the fluid nature of “possession” in this game, and that they shouldn’t get too wed to any of the books at the beginning. Duly warned, my third graders love this game!


Other Holiday Party Ideas:

Holiday Pals and More

I love Genia Connell's "10 Quick Ideas to Spread Holiday Cheer in Your Classroom." Her "Secret Pals" activity has been a hit in my classroom for the past several years!

A Secular Party Idea

If holiday parties aren't de rigueur at your school, I absolutely love Meghan Everette's "Class Christmas Party Alternative: The Wonka Party." Who doesn't love Roald Dahl's chocolicious book? 

Gifts for Everyone on Your List

Meghan also created a budget-conscious, creative "Classroom Gift Guide" for homemade or low-cost student and colleague gifts, and Allie Magnuson shares "Low-Cost Winter Crafts" ideas for younger students.

Book-Based Holiday Party Ideas

For ideas beyond the White Elephant Book Exchange, check out my blog post "Holiday Celebrations With a Bookish Twist!"


What traditions do you have for your class’s holiday party? Do you share a special gift with your students? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!

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