Inspire Students With The Texts You Read
If you want to get your students thinking more about giving than getting this holiday, set the tone with literature. A classic choice would be The Gift of the Magi," a short story by O. Henry about a young couple who give up their most cherished possessions to buy gifts for each other. It's an easy text for introducing or reviewing plot or irony and perfect for discussing theme. You can find my lesson on "The Gift of The Magi" here.
Another short story option, which had no connection to the holidays, but emphasizes the theme of how we treat others, would be "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst. In it, the narrator struggles to accept his brother's differences, which leads to a tragic ending. The story can be used for introducing or reviewing plot or symbolism and also perfect for discussing theme. You can find my lesson on "The Scarlet Ibis" here.
If you are looking for a nonfiction choice, search the news for a recent article focused on the topic of giving rather than getting this holiday season. I often use a New York Times article titled "The Holidays: A Bit More Giving, A Bit Less Getting." It's a great reading to get students thinking about their own values during the holiday season whether they celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. After reading, students use evidence to answer text-based questions, which cover many of the Common Core Informational Standards. Students also have a choice of engaging after reading activities. You can find this close reading activity here.
Find Ways to Give Inside the Classroom
Even if you don't have time for any kind of project, have students use Freerice to study vocabulary for an upcoming quiz or test. The free website, which supports the United Nations World Food Programme, allows students to donate 10 grains of rice for each response they give correctly.
An easy project option is to bust out the construction paper and markers and have your students make holiday cards. Send Kids The World and Cards for Hospitalized Kids are two organizations that allow you to send cards to hospitalized children, many with chronic or life threatening illnesses. Send Kids The World allows you to select a specific child to personalize your note for, while Cards for Hospitalized Kids asks for generic ones.
Students can also send mail to deployed troops and veterans through Operation Gratitude. You can find a guide for letter writing to service men and women here. These letters are included in care packages sent to troops. To do more than just write letters, check out these nine other ways to help.
If you have a little more time to dedicate to a service project, try one that incorporates recycling and doing good for others by hosting a Sole Hope Shoe Cutting Party in your classroom. Students can bring in old pairs of jeans to help make shoes for children in Uganda so that they are not affected by painful jiggers.
Another option is creating a no-sew fleece blanket for a child through Project Linus. The organization's mission is provide warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need. Find instructions for a no-sew fleece blanket here. Both of these projects would also be a perfect opportunity to invite parent/family volunteers into the classroom.
Engage Students in Volunteer Work Outside of the Classroom
There are likely endless opportunities already existing in your community that your students could take part in. Check with your local homeless shelter, food pantry, soup kitchen, Salvation Army, churches, etc. to see how your students can help with their holiday efforts. You can also use VolunteerMatch to find volunteer opportunities in your area.
If you are looking for a way for students to volunteer during the school day, Meals on Wheels' "America, Let's Do Lunch" campaign would be a perfect option. Students could help to prepare lunches, or if old enough to drive, help deliver lunches to homebound seniors.
If your students want to raise money to donate to a cause during the holiday season, partner with a local store, i.e. Barnes & Noble, which will allow your students to offer gift wrapping for a small fee.