'Tis The Season: Four Tips for ELA Teachers to Navigate the Holidays

November 29, 2015

The holidays are a hectic time for everyone, but even more so teachers. Find ideas for engaging lessons in the final days before winter break, a meaningful gift exchange for students, and easy gifts for you to give.

The holiday season is hectic for everyone, but maybe even more so for teachers. We want to wrap things up neatly before the holidays so that we can start fresh when we can return in January; no papers or projects hanging over into the new year. We are in a frenzy to finish up grading before we head home to the holidays or we are collecting a mountain of assignments to be graded as we sip hot cocoa in front of the fireplace. Read on to find ideas for engaging lessons in the final days before winter break, a meaningful gift exchange for students, and easy gifts for you to give.

Tip #1: Make a Connection Between the Holidays & What You're Teaching Right Now
You don't have to stop what you are currently teaching to make a connection with the holidays. Use this "A Christmas carol" themed character analysis activity with any novel or short story.
Maybe you don't have time to read Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" or "Old Christmas" by Washington Irving, but you can still make a connection between the novel or story your students are currently reading, one of your choosing or theirs, and a timeless Christmas tale.

Using the structure of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens as inspiration, students will select a character and identify a character weakness to analyze. A planning graphic organizer will help students to identify and illustrate scenes that reveal the character's flaws as well as determine a message to be shared by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. After brainstorming, students will complete their final product using the template provided.

This character analysis activity is the perfect way to have students dig deeper into the connection between character and events in the plot to understand how character's actions impact the outcome of a novel or story.

Tip #2: Remind Students of the Meaning of the Season with a Nonfiction Reading
Remind your students of the meaning of the holidays with this nonfiction close reading. Rigorous CCSS-aligned questions are followed by fun after reading activities.
During the holidays, it is easy for students to get caught up in all the things they want. Inspire students to think about the ways in which they can give to others during the holiday season with a New York Times article titled "The Holidays: A Bit More Giving, A Bit Less Getting."

A close reading of the article including CCSS aligned questions followed by suggested four after reading activities will get students to reflect on their own values during the holiday season. You can select one activity to assign to the class or allow students to choose one of their own or several. Meaningful extra credit work that is easy for you to assign!

This rigorous lesson will push students to dig deeply into the text as all of the questions require text-based responses, but will also engage them in those last crazy days before winter break.

Tip #3: Share the Gift of Words in Your Classroom
Have your students give each other the gift of words this holiday by sharing a favorite poem, passage from a book, song lyrics, or quotation. Encourage creative wrapping!
Each year my students beg to have a holiday party, but classroom time is so precious that I hate to "waste" even just one day for festivities. To make holiday celebrations more meaningful, ask your students to give each other the gift of words. 

Each student should select a favorite poem, a passage from a book, song lyrics, or even a quotation and write or type it out on paper. Students can be as original as they would like with their choices of paper, colors, fonts, added images, etc. Then students should wrap their gift of words as creatively as possible: large boxes, small boxes, rolled up, folded up into origami, anything goes! The gift should be tagged with the name of the author and/or the giver. 

On the day of your celebration, have students make a pile of their gifts (you might want to have a few extras on hand for any students who forgot) and then allow students to pick a gift, one at a time. You can pick names from a hat, start with the student whose birthday is closest to Christmas, whatever works for your group of students. After students unwrap their gift, ask them to share the writing they received. You can read more about the origins of this lovely idea here.

Tip #4: Have Easy to Give Presents on Hand
Put together simple gifts for last minute party invites or colleagues you might have overlooked during your Christmas shopping. Grab these free gift tags to go with your gift.
Since the holiday season is such a busy time, I like to have a few easy to give presents ready to go. Something simple that is perfect for taking as a host/hostess gift to a party when you've received a last minute invite or for giving to a fellow teacher who you might have overlooked when doing your Christmas shopping.

In the past, I've done baggies of homemade cookies or candied nuts and even handmade thank you notes. This year, my go to gift is going to be bottles of wine with bottle stoppers (because they always seem to disappear) and fun cocktail napkins (both from Pier 1 Imports).

You can download these Christmas wine/drink gift tags for your own use in both color and black white here.

Hope these tips help you to make learning and the holiday season enjoyable!

For more holiday and winter lesson ideas and resources:

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  1. So many fabulous ideas, Brynn! I love the "gift of words" and plan to borrow this idea. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Great insights here Brynn! Love the 4th idea to have ready-to-go gifts on hand as these can be so helpful when giving opportunities arise over the next week! It's also fun to make these as you suggest - or to feel free to buy them in a busy week. Awesome choices here for busy teachers - which is why these will work especially well for all! Happy season Brynn! Ellen

  3. #3 is genius. I think students would see literature/ poetry in a new light if they gifted messages to each other.

  4. Such fun ideas! I need to figure out what I'm doing for coworkers this year!

  5. I also love the "gift of words" - so many ways you could go with this one! Thanks!


  6. Great content in this post! I'm pinning to my teaching board! Thanks for joining us on the hop!

  7. Awesome post Brynn... love the idea of #3!!

    Happy Holidays!


  8. Great ideas! Can't wait to use the gift of words idea in my classroom.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thank you for sharing this amazing gift idea. I have included it in my School Staff Gift Idea Round Up Blog Post. Thanks again! Kristy
      School Staff Gift Ideas

  10. I also love your gift of words idea. It would be fun to make students illustrate it too. Thanks!