No matter which holidays your students celebrate this month, they are sure to be somewhat preoccupied with merrymaking and counting down to the winter break. And so are you! Tap into that mindset with these classroom activities that capture the holiday spirit and often connect to the curriculum.
Invent a December Holiday
After sharing and learning about the holiday traditions your students enjoy during winter, invite them to research how holidays are celebrated around the world. Then, have the class create its own special holiday by brainstorming their favorite symbols, dress, colors, foods, and traditions. "Ask students to decide what they would like to call their invented winter holiday and what traditions they will observe," says Denise Frasca, a teacher in Katonah, New York. "Set a date, and hold a celebration with the decorations, food, dress, and merrymaking all chosen by the class."
A Dickensian Christmas
"As part of our curriculum, we study Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol," says Faye Ainsworth, a teacher in Livingston, Texas. As an extension activity, she has students do a research project on the period and its customs, crafts, and gifts, which culminates in a Victorian tea hosted by the class. "Wassail, tea, finger sandwiches, and tea cakes are prepared, and simple gifts such as wreaths, sachets, and wooden pull toys are created to share with family and friends." For more on A Christmas Carol, check out the December Bookshelf Bests for middle school.
New Twist on "The Twelve Days of Christmas"
Ranell Cox, a teacher in Ponte Vedra, Florida, challenges her class to develop a new theme and lyrics for the familiar carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas." She reports: "You can change it to fit almost anything, even different holidays around the world." One of her favorite adaptations is "The Twelve Days of Florida," which begins and ends with a particularly catchy line: "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a coconut in a palm tree!"
ELLs Practice Skills by Hosting Holiday Open House
The Friday before winter break, Sue Nixon, an ELL teacher in Prescott Valley, Arizona, and her students host an open house for all members of the school staff. "It gives my English language learners a meaningful way to interact with teachers and practice greetings, questions, goodbyes and informal talk," says Nixon, pointing out that it is also "a great pick-me-up for the staff." Nixon and her students provide munchies and drinks throughout the day. They also craft small ornaments and give them to their guests as a way of saying happy holidays and thanking them for dropping by.
Holiday-Themed Newsletter for School Community
"In my yearbook class, we review interview questions and formats and create polls to find out how the student body celebrates the holidays. Then we write about them," says Kathrine Ewers, who teaches in Lapel, Indiana. We ask about foods, gifts, games, songs, and traditions." In addition to featuring the results in the yearbook, the class also uses the information to create an entertaining and fact-filled December newsletter for the school. The idea is easily adaptable to language arts lessons about news writing, as well as math and science lessons about creating surveys and graphs.
Teaching Literary Elements With The Nutcracker Ballet
Kristin Ashley usually makes it a point to incorporate the ballet The Nutcracker into her December teaching curriculum. "We read the story, talk about the dances, watch the movie, and make a class book about it," says Ashley, who teaches in Green Bay, Wisconsin. "The students truly enjoy listening to the music while knowing what is happening. A wonderful culminating activity is to go on a field trip to a performance of the ballet." Whether you focus on the book, the movie, or a live performance, discussing The Nutcracker creates numerous opportunities for students to gain a deeper understanding of literary elements such as plot, characters, climax, theme, and point-of-view. For more ideas on connecting literature to the holidays, turn to Bookshelf Bests.
Produce a Holiday-Themed Reader's Theater Production
Try an impromptu reader's theater production of The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard. The Baker's Dozen works well because the script is straightforward and takes no more than ten minutes to perform. "I bring in simple props — Santa hats for narrators, a chef's hat and apron for the baker, and a kerchief and shawl for the old lady who casts a spell," says Margie Markarian, who runs Reading Is Fundamental programs in Franklin, MA. "I hand out scripts to performers that morning and give them a chance to read it through together once or twice. Then, they line up across the front of the room with their hats, and the show goes on."
"I try to give kids who like to ham it up the lead roles because it makes it more fun," she adds. "I've also changed the number of narrator parts from two to four to give more students an opportunity to participate." But whether they perform or watch, the kids love the change of pace, and it's a creative way to keep them engaged in an ELA activity. A Reader's Theater edition of the book is available from the author's website. If your school allows it, consider distributing holiday cookies to everyone at the end of the performance. It reinforces the theme of generosity and good will. For an overview of the story, check out Bookshelf Bests: Holiday and Winter Themes for Elementary Students.
Many of these ideas were adapted from articles in Teacher magazine, published by Scholastic.