Have you ever noticed your students get a little more excited than usual during the days leading up to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas? Do I even need to ask?
It’s inevitable really…and who can blame them? For many of your students, the weeks at the end of the calendar year are filled with special activities with family and friends, stores filled with holiday goodies, and commercials reminding us of the festivities to come.
So, how do we channel that excited energy and continue with productive learning in the classroom? Here are a few of my favorite tips.
Consistency is Key
Stick to your consistent classroom schedule. During years when I’ve abandoned my regular schedule structure to try a theme day or to create longer blocks of time to work on a special project, I’ve found my students become overwhelmed and struggle to focus. With all the excitement and special activities they are participating in outside the classroom, they need consistency more than ever inside the classroom.
You will be so impressed by the level of productivity and the quality of work your students can maintain when consistency is present. If you have the mindset that they will be checked out before a school break, then check out they will.
Instead, let them see you have the mindset that school is still in session, and learning is still the priority. They will take your lead. In my experience, the days go by faster and break arrives so much sooner when taking this approach.
Make Festive Fun a Highlight, Not the Focus
While maintaining a consistent schedule, it is still possible to weave in a bit of festive fun. I try weaving one festive activity into our schedule for each of the final three months of the calendar year, rather than making the holidays and seasons the main focus of our curriculum. Content that helps students achieve mastery of their grade-level standards is still our focus during this time of year.
After our curriculum has been plugged into the calendar, I assess what room I have left for special activities. Some years, there is more time than others, but core curriculum is never pushed aside for anything holiday-related or seasonal.
You will notice the activities mentioned here are not focused on holidays but rather on the fall and winter seasons so an inclusive classroom environment is maintained. You can read more on making inclusion a priority in the section below.
During the week leading up to Halloween, I have students create imaginary creatures using fallen leaves and write a poem about their creature. This art project takes one session and brings the beautiful colors of fall into our classroom in a creative way. Our creatures hang on the wall through the end of November and serve as a fun “I Spy” game, which is perfect for any indoor recess sessions we may have as the rainy season begins.
Letters of Thanks
During the week leading up to Thanksgiving break, students write a letter of thanks to their parents/guardians, thanking them for their most treasured intangible items and for everything their family does to make life special. We then design a turkey envelope for the letters, which are sent home to be shared during Thanksgiving break. During years when I teach students who do not celebrate holidays, all students design a custom envelope instead of using the turkey envelope.
Snowmen at Night
During the week leading up to December break, the book Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner serves as an inspiration piece for a quick winter-themed drawing and writing project. After the read aloud, students create a three-panel drawing that demonstrates cause and effect. They then exercise their descriptive writing skills as they illustrate the scene with words. Hanging these on the wall during the month of December is always a win because they are still relevant when we return to school in January.
Winter Wonderland Array Architects
During the three weeks leading up to December break, the magic of winter is also incorporated into Math Workshop. The structure of Math Workshop remains the same, but students work to be hired as Array Architects for Snowflake Valley rather than completing problem solving task cards during the At Your Seat rotation of workshop. Having a little chunk of time to work on this festive math project each day is the perfect dose of winter excitement students are longing for while still maintaining a focus on rigorous math learning before our longest break of the year.
Create an Action Plan
Rather than trying to stifle students’ excitement during the months of October, November, and December, I like to fully acknowledge it and help them take ownership of their behavior during this special time of year.
When those inevitable holiday jitters start to make an appearance, try talking about them during morning meeting and have students brainstorm strategies for staying focused when feeling excited or distracted. You may even want to create anchor charts with your students’ ideas so there is a visual reminder of the conversation.
- Here are a few conversation prompts you can use during a class meeting on the topic:
- What is making you feel excited about this week?
- What can you do to share your excitement in a responsible way?
- What can you do to stay focused even while you are excited?
- What are some challenges you might face the week before a school break? How might you overcome these challenges?
Students also find comfort in knowing you share that same excitement they are feeling. Telling stories from your own life is a great way to provide examples of how to make responsible decisions even when excitement is in the air.
Talk about how you felt distracted during the staff meeting when you started thinking about seeing your sibling at Thanksgiving and exactly how you refocused your attention. Share your plan to come to the classroom early on Friday morning to prep everything for the school day on Monday so you can go home right after the bell rings at the end of the day to make gingerbread houses with your friends. Your students will love hearing these little tidbits about your life, and they will feel more empowered to make responsible behavior decisions alongside you.
Recognize Strong Leadership
Leadership is needed more than ever during the holiday season, so I like to make it a special focus in the classroom through the use of Holiday Helpers Leadership Awards. I typically use this classroom management tool during the week leading up to Halloween and the two weeks before our December break. Some years, I only need to use it for one of those two occasions. Other years, I use it for both. Here’s how it works.
First thing in the morning at the beginning of the week, I have one of our adorable Holiday Helpers sitting at the front of the room, waiting for students to notice. The stuffed toys I use in my classroom were both gifts from students, but you can find similar toys here. If students begin to ask about the helper, I tell them I’ll introduce it during morning meeting. When morning meeting begins, we discuss our feelings of excitement using the prompts shared in the section above.
Once students have an opportunity to brainstorm an action plan, I tell them this little helper will keep an eye out for students who show strong leadership skills and demonstrate responsible behavior throughout the week. When the helper sees someone acting as a leader, he will visit that person’s desk and hang out there until he spies another leader in the room. I always wait until recess to make the switch so there’s something special to look forward to when walking through the door.
If strong leadership skills are a bit scarce, the Holiday Helper will sit up at the front of the room looking at our brianstorm notes rather than sitting on a student’s desk. This is to emphasize the fact that students have come up with strong ideas for how to be responsible leaders during this special time, they just have to put their ideas into action.
It is amazing how quickly those holiday jitters disappear at the simple mention of the Holiday Helper. Students sit taller, smile brighter, and focus harder in hopes of having him appear on their desk after recess or lunch.
The leaders who have the honor of enjoying a visit from the Holiday Helper also get an award certificate so they can share their leadership accomplishment with their family that evening. I’ve added these Holiday Helper Leadership Awards to my TpT store as a free downloadable gift for you. I hope you and your students enjoy the opportunity to focus on peaceful, respectful behavior.
Create an Inclusive Classroom Environment During the Holiday Season
Before incorporating these tips in your classroom, I encourage you to take a moment and think carefully about the students you teach this year. Do you have students in your class this year who do not celebrate holidays? If so, please consider the following suggestions so your classroom environment feels comfortable, safe, and inclusive for all.
Host morning meeting conversations that use inclusive language. Rather than asking, “What are you looking forward to doing tonight for Halloween?”, you could ask, “What are you looking forward to doing this week?”
Introduce leadership awards that are not holiday-related. During the years when I teach students who do not celebrate holidays, I use the Leadership Award template included in my freebie, and I place my Corgi stuffed animal on student desks when recognizing strong leaders in the classroom.
Make sure your special activities are not holiday-themed. As you saw above, I like to opt for special projects that focus on the seasons, rather than the holidays. Therefore, the only modification I make during years when I teach students who don’t celebrate holidays is to remove the turkey envelope component from the Letters of Thanks activity.
It is also important to keep inclusion in mind when planning any class parties. If your school has a Halloween parade, then talk with your administrator about the action plan for students who don’t celebrate Halloween. If you have a class party before December break, then make it a winter season theme, rather than a winter holiday theme.
Give These Tips a Try in Your Classroom
If you are longing for a little less crazy and a lot more productivity in your classroom during those last months of the calendar year, then give these five tips a try. I’d love to hear which tip is your favorite in the comments below. If you have any tips to add, please don’t hesitate to share.