I hope this week’s post (or PODCAST episode) finds you, like me, napping after a turkey dinner and enjoying a much needed Thanksgiving break with family. It’s so easy to get into holiday mode in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we have three solid weeks of valuable instruction time! So here’s your pep talk on maximizing content during the holidays and tips to make it happen.
In previous years, I have turned on movies in the classroom and allowed extra breaks and snacking when I could have used that time more effectively for content. Kids are antsy, and let’s be honest, it’s hard for us to focus in December too.
Believe me, I get it. We need a break. We’re exhausted, and watching a movie is easy (unless you’re teaching virtually). But this time is so important for our teaching goals. Magic happens around December. We start to see our teaching since August paying off.
Why We Need to Keep Teaching During the Holidays
Pull up a chair and settle in, because I’m about to give you a pep talk. There are so many reasons we need to keep teaching before Christmas, but I’m going to give you four.
First, we have set routines in place for months, and they’re just beginning to pay off. If we can find the energy to continue in the consistencies, we’re going to see big results. It’s easy to let these slide during the holidays, but the rewards of continuing are worth it.
Second, students have a hefty break coming up. They’re going to have two weeks of Netflix binges, Fortnite, and Kids YouTube. They deserve for us to use this time wisely for content. They’ll be able to rest up over the break.
Another reason is that in January, we’ll be so grateful if we continue and push through right now. In January, you will either look back on this upcoming month as time utilized or wasted. What’s your pick?
Last, but definitely not least, in 2020 our students have already lost so much time learning due to the pandemic. They don’t need us to loosen up the reins now and quit teaching. Although that may be what they want, they NEED us to be diligent about their learning.
Now that we’ve had our pep talk, here’s how you can accomplish this without seeming like a Scrooge. Fun is great, content is vital, and the best of both worlds is when we can mix the two. I utilize Christmas joy and holiday cheer, and here are three tips on how you can teach content while letting your students enjoy the holidays.
Tip #1: Implement a new learning routine
Yes, maybe it does sound like I’ve gone crazy for suggesting a new routine at this time of year. A lot of years I’ve tried to just drift through December and not add any more work to the plate.
But get this. New routines are actually engaging to your students. It’s a stellar time to implement a new, content-related, routine. By this point in the year, if you’ve kept up routines from the beginning of the year, your students are primed to begin something new.
I’m not saying to do something new and random that you’ll never do again. For this tip to work, you need to find something learning related that will benefit your students and that you’ll carry on past December.
Here’s an example. I use many learning routines that I use consistently as part of our schedule. In reading, I’ll use Word Works for phonological awareness instruction from the very beginning of the year. That part of our schedule never changes.
In kindergarten, my students are well-primed and ready to learn a new routine. This is when I would implement Daily Write-It. This is a dictated sentence routine that teaches my students how to form a sentence correctly, and they absolutely love it. They’re so happy to be doing something new in the morning that gives them confidence, and it really scaffolds their writing skills.
Now that I’m back in second grade this year, I started a Daily Write-It routine with my second graders where they write multiple sentences, and soon they will be writing full paragraphs. They’re so engaged with the change in schedule and routine. They love this time, and we will continue this through December, into January, and for as long as they need that routine to feel successful.
Find a new learning routine that your students need, whether it’s a daily math routine or a phonics review. You won’t believe how well-primed and ready they’ll be to try something new this month. When you come back in January, you’ll be happy you added this new part to your day.
Tip #2: Find content rich themed resources
I promise I’m not a grinch! I love Christmas-themed resources, but I’m very particular about what I use. The fluffy stuff that just gets me through isn’t enough. I need something content rich that helps my students attain their learning goals.
They can still be learning and enjoying the festiveness of Christmas. Seeing themed colors and images is often enough for students to feel engaged and happy about the holidays.
Find content rich, themed activities. That way, you’re still getting content in, but your students are having fun too. For those of you who own the Word Works bundle for the full year, did you know that it includes a Christmas themed Word Works that has all that content plus the fun of Christmas? By the time you’re reading this, it will have received a full update so you can get the PowerPoint and the Google Slides version. If you’re interested, here are the KINDERGARTEN and FIRST GRADE versions.
Another super simple way to include content with a Christmas theme is writing activities. Your students are dying to tell Santa what they want for Christmas this year! Today’s free download is a free Santa letter writing craftivity that you can use to get in writing content AND Christmas spirit.
Another effective way to get in learning during the holidays is to do Christmas read alouds. Our little ones receive so much benefit from hearing a story read aloud. Choose a Christmas themed story to read every day of the month, and once a week you can make it a little more fun with a craft, writing activity, or directed drawing. One thing I love about this strategy is there’s no extra prep, and hearing Christmas stories will really touch the hearts of your kiddos.
Tip #3: Use Christmas themed classroom rewards
I know there’s a lot of controversy around rewards. Personally, I don’t use a treasure box. I like to find rewards that are motivating in different ways, and I have some great ideas for rewards that bring in holiday spirit.
You can encourage your students that after they stay focused for a certain length of time or complete a certain number of learning activities, that you will reward them with a Christmas reward. Let me share some of the rewards I’ll be using this year with my virtual class.
An easy one, and a student favorite, are Christmas dances and brain breaks. There are a lot of free videos online that have a Christmas theme your kiddos would love. After a certain length of time of content, search YouTube for a Christmas dance, and let your students dance and have fun.
Another reward is the set of Christmas cheers I’ve created. With today’s free download, there are Christmas themed cheer cards. You’ll find an elf cheer and a Santa cheer that let students get some movement and look forward to the holiday. I use cheers already in my classroom, more about that HERE. There is a set of 54 cheer cards for all year there.
My personal favorite Christmas reward is directed drawings. I use a YouTube channel to find directed drawings to use with my class. There is a huge library with every theme you can imagine, and it’s created by Art for Kids Hub. You can check it out HERE. A dad and one of his children show you step by step how to draw these pictures. Again, there’s no prep. All they need is something to draw with, and of course, crayons.
These videos come in different lengths, too. So if I have five minutes of extra time, I can find a five minute video. It can be a quick reward, and they are so engaging. There are also videos based on age level beginning with preschool. You can tell students that at the end of class, they’ll get to spend the last five minutes doing a candy cane drawing. If you’re in person, you can use your smart board, or you can screen share virtually. Directed drawings help improve students’ coordination and listening skills, so there are many benefits.
Go do some content themed teaching during the holidays!
Teacher friend, I hope you feel motivated and prepared to teach in this holiday season. Teaching during the holidays can be content rich and engaging at the same time, and our students will benefit from both. Don’t forget to grab your free download to help out!
Have you visited the Primary Teacher Friends Facebook group? There’s a giveaway going on, so head over! I don’t want you to miss this. Until next time, keep making a difference, difference maker!