Holidays are obviously a favorite time for teachers as well as students. This month's ideas were alive with excitement and enthusiasm; each one captured the joy of teaching that can often be lost among testing requirements and classroom management routines.

Listed below are the five winning submissions, but we're happy to say that every entry received a thank you gift for this month's contest — since there were so many exceptional ideas. See all the submissions on our Winning Ideas Discussion Board.

In addition to popular holidays such as Thanksgiving, teachers submitted creative ways to celebrate special occasions in the school calendar (like graduation), the little-know Spanish festival of La Tomatina, and student-created "holidays" for schools where celebrations are not permitted.

As always, we thank all who sent in their ideas, and we invite you to submit your ideas for the latest contest topic.

  1. Thanksgiving Diversity Parade
    Submitted by Suzanne Tuttle, Grade 3, Cheyenne Elementary School, MI

    November 1st, I pass out directions for our "It's a Parade!" Diversity Float Take Home Project. The children have two weeks to complete and return their floats to school. Just prior to Thanksgiving break, I read Milly and the Macy's Parade by Shana Corey and Brett Helquist. We spend time discussing how diversity is represented in the story. The children then spend a couple of days sharing their floats with the rest of the class. This is a great way to keep the children engaged for those two short days prior to Thanksgiving break! (And I really enjoy it, too.)

    Note: I turned this into a full day of lesson plans by getting Map Skills worksheets of New York off of the Web. I also typed up a version of the "Author's Note" from the back of the book, along with a quiz to test the students' informational text comprehension.

  2. Healthy Heart Week
    Submitted by Christina Vargas, Kindergarten, Northside Baptist School, TX

    I teach Kindergarten. In 2002, I lost my mother unexpectedly to a massive heart attack. It was the day after Valentine's Day. The next year, as the anniversary came around, I tried to think of ways to help me get through what used to be one of my favorite holidays. I found that outlet in my classroom.

    We devoted the entire week to learning about heart health. I have continued that as a tradition in my class ever since. Each day of that week we study various ways to keep your heart strong.

      • On exercise day, we wear workout clothes.
      • Our math activities involve exercising for counting and addition.
      • In Science, we learn about how exercise affects our bodies.
      • One day is devoted to rest, and we wear our p.j.s and learn about how important rest is.
      • We also devote a day to coping with negative feelings and eating right.
      • On Valentine's day, we shun the usual party food. We enjoy healthy food, water, and make a healthy recipe together.

    My little ones learn so much about the heart. I try to bring in a heart model, stethoscopes, and other things that help them to understand that their hearts are much more than just a shape. This week and all that is a part of it, has provided such healing for me. I never thought I would be able to look forward to Valentine's Day, but now it is again one of my favorite times of year.

  3. The Candy Corn Contest
    Submitted by Jessica Falkenhagen, grade 3, Freemans Mill Elementary School, GA

    Reading contest jar
    Students add a candy corn cut out to jar for each book.

    This unit uses Halloween candy corn as a theme for cross-curricular lessons.

    I use The Candy Corn Contest by Patricia Riley Giff to review skill lessons that were taught so far, or it can be used to teach them for the first time. The activities include:

      • A reading competition in which students track the books they read (and pass an AR test for) with a wall poster of a jar. Every book gets entered into the jar as a piece of candy corn. With every book, they also get a chance to guess the number of candies in our real candy corn jar. At the end of the unit, the closest guesser wins the jar.
      • Character studies where students fill out candy corn patterns with character details.
      • A flip chart (shaped like candy corn pieces) that illustrates cause/effect scenarios.
      • A sequencing activity
      • A Test

    See the Candy Corn Contest Lesson Outline (PDF) for details on using Halloween candy corn to inspire readers, reinforce literary skills and even support math skills.

    The pace of the book and the activities are up to you. It took me around a week and a half to complete, but I gave the students two weeks for our reading competition. I use this unit before Halloween, but some of my colleges asked to borrow it, and they do it before Thanksgiving (which does work well because it is Thanksgiving in the book). View More Photos From the Unit.

  4. March: St. Patrick's Day
    Submitted by Melissa Walker, grade 5, Wilson Elementary School, NC

    Blarney poster
    Celebrating the gift of persuasion.

    Every March, I devote the entire month to an integrated unit on Ireland. I studied abroad there so I have a special interest in the country. Ireland is not in the 5th grade curriculum, but I am able to integrate aspects of Irish culture into the curriculum.

    One of my favorite parts of this month is when we kiss the Blarney Stone! Persuasive writing is part of the 5th grade curriculum in NC. In order to introduce this concept to my students, we talk about "Blarney Talk." I share with them the history of Blarney Castle in Ireland and the Blarney Stone. It is said that those who kiss the stone are given the gift of gab, or Blarney Talk. This gift of gab allows someone to talk in such a fashion as to get anyone to do what he or she wants. This is persuasive talk!

    I kick off our study of this writing by having the kids write persuasive topics on index cards to put in our Blarney Box. I give them examples such as: There should be milkshakes in the cafeteria every day. Or, kids should have homework every night, including the weekends. They use my examples to develop their own controversial topics for the Blarney Box. We then get to kiss the Blarney Stone to get the gift of gab! I show them examples of people kissing the real Blarney Stone on Blarney Castle's Web site. We have a special rock in our room that has our school name etched into it that we use as the Blarney Stone. I have also had students find their own Blarney Stones outside for sanitary reasons. I tell the students that once they kiss the Blarney Stone, they will be able to persuade ANYONE to agree with them. We set up a chair so the students can lean back to kiss the stone like they do at Blarney Castle in Ireland.

    After everyone has kissed the stone (I take pictures of each kid, just like a tourist!), the kids pick an index card from the Blarney Box. Using their newly found gift of gab, I have them write on that topic. We post their writing on shamrocks and hang them on our door, which says: We kissed the Blarney Stone and now we have the gift of gab! It is always a popular part of the year!
  5. Shift the Focus
    Submitted by Heidi Urka, grade 1, Franklin Elementary School, MI

    During the holiday season I try to shift the focus away from what we hope to receive, and instead focus on what we can give to others. Right after Thanksgiving, I send a note home to parents asking for non-perishable food donations in lieu of a teacher gift at Christmas. My 1st grade students take part in a school-wide philanthropy project in which we identify a community need and work together toward a donation. Past projects have included:

      • supplies for the animal shelter
      • food for a food pantry
      • pennies for a student with leukemia

    Throughout the season, as students are done with their work, they can make simple Santa napkin rings. I gather them all and deliver them to a local nursing home to be put on patient's trays. From participating in these activities, my students don't even miss the typical gift exchange at our holiday celebration!