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December 13, 2012 Holiday Celebrations With a Bookish Twist! By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    We teachers all know about the much-dreaded Spring Fever that runs rampant among students later during the year. But I bet that right now many of your classrooms are plagued with an equally serious case of “December Fever,” (and no, I don’t mean the flu!) So how do I turn my students’ Santa-addled brains back towards the academic? We celebrate books alongside Christmas stockings, latkes, and kinara lightings. Here are three ideas to make the holiday season book-filled as well as festive.



    Stage a Pajama Read-In

    With long nights and dreary days, who really wants to bother getting dressed in the morning? Embrace the upcoming Winter Solstice and invite your students to come to school in their pajamas for a “Read-In.” This is usually one of the most memorable days of the school year. The students wear their favorite comfy clothes, bring a stuffed friend or two, blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags galore.

    I recruit parent volunteers to make hot cocoa and snack deliveries during the school day, I put out boxes and boxes of books, and the students — well, they read! After every hour of reading, we take a five-minute stretch break, (all marathoners know that breaks are essential to keep up stamina.) My students are always shocked at how quickly the hours speed away while they are collectively lost in their books. When their parents arrive to pick them up during the early evening, my students proudly walk out into the dark night as reading superstars!


    Hot cocoa is a memorable treat during one of our reading breaks. 


    Hold a White Elephant Book Exchange at a December Book Party

    With students in my class who aren’t allowed to attend holiday-themed parties, a book party is a welcome non-ecumenical celebration that includes everyone. We begin with several rounds of “Book Bingo,” a game that builds students’ book knowledge, as well as excitement. While calling out words like “dust jacket” and “frontispiece,” why not hold up an example or slip in a definition? Winners chose from a treasure box of wordy-prizes ranging from bookmarks and book themed pencils to Scrabble games and crossword puzzle books.

    Download my Book Terminology Bingo Game.  Students create their own custom game boards by writing the words into the bingo boxes in any order they choose. This saves you a lot of time. To create bingo cards, cut apart the second sheet and toss the paper squares into a container or baggie.


    The highlight of the book party is the “White Elephant Gift Exchange.” I usually provide all of the books for the exchange, wrapped in colorful paper and stacked at the center of the rug. (I use my Scholastic Book Clubs 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.

    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. When 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 3rd graders love this game!

    Word games like Scrabble and Bananagrams make fun party games at our Book Party.


    Holiday Read-Alouds Galore!

    I guess my favorite part of December at school is the wonderfully heartwarming read-alouds that I share with my class each day. These books start lovely discussions about individual family traditions, character development themes, and they helps to celebrate my students’ cultural diversity. What are your favorite holiday books to share with your students?


    Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko

    I use this comically realistic book to begin a class discussion about the beautiful wealth of traditions and diversity among the students in my class.


    Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo

    Precious and emotional, this old fashioned Christmas story tells its tale more through the saturated illustrations than the gentle text. I always cry as I read this book aloud — in a good way.


    Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue by Heidi Smith Hyde

    This book celebrates religious freedom in an unusual context. Set in an 18th century New England whaling community, a “hidden” community of Jews light the way back into the stormy harbor when they courageously light their menorahs.


    Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black

    We celebrate the spirit of homemade giving – and recycling – with this clever tale about how one bolt of cloth takes shape as holiday gifts for many different creatures.



    Additional Holiday Resources

    • Invite your students to send holiday eCards, create cyber scrapbooks, and learn more about the winter holidays with Scholastic’s excellent Winter Holidays activities.
    • Check out Meghan’s Classroom Gift Guide for more ideas about what to give your little darlings for the holidays.

    For more teaching tips and classroom tested holiday ideas, follow me on Twitter or Facebook!


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Susan Cheyney