Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Using Real-Life Skills in Your Classroom for the Holidays

 Happy Tuesday, everyone!

It's certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go! Whether you celebrate the holidays in your classroom or not, there's no denying that the excitement is contagious. Why not capitalize on that eagerness and add a little festive fun to your learning environment!

We all know as educators that learning is especially meaningful and engaging if students see the relevance in it. Add a spark of holiday spirit to the mix, and well, the days just seem to be a little smoother...and sweeter.


Today I'd like to offer five tips for incorporating real-life skills into your classroom during the days leading up to the holiday break.

1. If possible, find a holiday tie-in. It is almost Christmas after all, and what better way to be relevant in students' lives than to focus on what they are currently interested in! 

  •    *Incorporate reading and writing assignments around the season.        
  •       Design and describe a gingerbread house, ugly sweater, elf, present, etc.     
  •       If a character in your book gave a present to another character, what would it be?   
  •       If you could give a character in your book a gift, what would you give him/her? 
  •     *Make math meaningful and merry!
  •     Instead of a page full of addition problems, have students use sale flyers. 
  •     Create a North Pole map using distance and scale.
  •     Create a Winter Wonderland theme park.

 Do you have students that don't celebrate the holidays? No problem! Find a theme that interests everyone and tie your classroom work into it. It's all in the presentation...if you're excited, they'll be excited!
  • *Possible non-holiday themes
  • Winter Wonderland
  • Gnome
  • Yeti for Winter Break
  • Practice with a Cactus
  ....You get the idea!

Don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel or create a bunch of new assignments to accomplish this. Check out sites like Teachers Pay Teachers or Boom Learning℠ for ready-made resources--many of them are FREE!

2. Use recipes for reading and math assignments. My kids love anything to do with eating, cooking, or reality TV. Given the number of cooking shows there are, I know they're not alone in this. During math intervention time this month, we have our own friendly group competition that the kids have nicknamed "Chopped." I have the kids broken up into small groups, and then I give each group copies of my favorite recipes. (They are holiday recipes for December, but they don't have to be.) They then work together on dry-erase boards halving the recipes (hence, the "Chopped") or doubling, tripling, or quadrupling them. Oh, what fun they have! 

After class, many of the kiddos ask if they can take the recipes home so they can make them. Umm...YEAH! Cooking at home with their families is another great math lesson and they don't even know they're doing it. See what I did there? My evil plan to sneak in homework and extra math practice worked! Muhahahahah!

Recipes are also great for my reading intervention class. They teach sequential (or step-by-step) order, and students need to read details very carefully. Sometimes students will ask if they can bring recipes from home to add to my files, and of course, I say YES! What a great way for students to share a piece of their lives and their culture with the class!

I have also noticed that recipes are a great way to expand vocabulary. Students learn the names of ingredients they've never tried before, and they discover some new cooking terms along the way, too. The cookbooks I added to our classroom library last year have quickly become a big hit!

3. Have students generate lists. This is kind of like number one, but with a different twist. I find that many of my kiddos who don't like to write are actually fabulous list makers. I also discover that my students who aren't very organized writers benefit from this greatly. Because after all, most pre-writing is just list making and organizing your thoughts. 

Plus, making lists is a life-long skill that keeps all of us on track, no matter what our age.

Examples of lists we create in December:
  • Christmas list (obviously)😉
  • Santa's Nice List (nope, we don't do naughty) Haha!
  • Shopping list (either gifts we want to give OR grocery shopping based on a recipe)
  • Character traits of a character in one of our novels
  • Things we're grateful for
  • Qualities we admire in others
  • Things you would have to pack to go on a trip
  • Favorite songs, TV shows, books, etc.
  • Things we have have to do today, this week, this month, etc.
Lists are an excellent way to organize our thoughts and our lives! 😊

4. Play games. Games are a great way for students to learn social skills such as taking turns and losing (and winning!) gracefully. They are also a terrific way to reinforce and review academic skills because they're FUN and our minds remember fun things. Games can be the most engaging link students have between school and home. Often times parents will comment that their child learned a game in class that they are so excited for their whole family to play. How many worksheets can we say that about? 

My students think that BINGO is the greatest thing ever. We play multiplication BINGO to celebrate everything--birthdays, Christmas, everyone turning in their homework--you name it, we celebrate it! Learning multiplication facts is fun when it's presented as a game and a class tradition. Trust me, if I forget to get the BINGO set out for some occasion, I hear about it. 

We also play Around the World, Hangman, 20 Guesses, Who Am I?...and many more. I hope that my students will always reflect back on our year together as a time of FUN and learning.

5. Give more time for independent reading. During this hectic time, I try to work in a little extra downtime for my kiddos so that they can unwind reading a book of their choice. To me, this is a life-long skill. I don't want my kids to think reading is an isolated activity that you only do at school. I want them to know the thrill of finding those extra moments to sit quietly and inhale a good story. I want them to get into the routine of reading every school day so that they continue it throughout the winter break.

During the years I've taught middle school, I've given my students the first fifteen minutes of class for this treat. My elementary kiddos get the first fifteen minutes following lunch recess to settle in with their books. Those who might complain about it at the beginning of the year usually are the ones who want more time by Thanksgiving.

In December, I dim the lights slightly and project a virtual fireplace on the screen. There's something about the sweet crackle of a fire that just lulls everyone into the reading mood!  I dearly hope that this is a real-life practice that many of my students take to heart well into their adult years.


I hope that you have found a few helpful hints that you can incorporate into your classroom. May the next two weeks be some of the merriest of the year for you and your students!

Until next time!

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