Sunday, November 30, 2014

My 5 Favorite Holiday Classroom Traditions!


My personal favorite Christmas activities for school.  Christmas crafts, gift ideas, and activities your students are sure to love!  (The Polar Express activity is my favorite)



I am seriously like a big kid when it comes to holidays!  Some people dread this time of year...



Where this is what I am doing when I hear my first Christmas carol...



Every year, so many of my "Upper Elementary" colleagues decide not to do anything related to the holiday because "The kids are getting too big for that stuff".  Well, as a big kid myself, I believe you are never too old for a little holiday fun!

Here are my 5 favorite holiday traditions for my classroom...


1) Book Exchange

My personal favorite Christmas activities for school.  Christmas crafts, gift ideas, and activities your students are sure to love!  (The Polar Express activity is my favorite)

I ask each of my students to bring in a book that they have already read this year.  On the big day of the book exchange, students place their books on a table.  One at a time (random order), students get to come to the table and pick any "new" book of their choice.  I even give my students some time to meet with the original owner so they can talk a little about their new book.  You would not believe how excited my kids are for this one!


2) Gift Exchange


A classroom gift exchange works pretty much the same as the book exchange, except there is an element of surprise with this one!

I ask students to bring in a gently used, age appropriate, wrapped toy (or anything they think their classmates would want).  I always make sure I have a few extra small items I can wrap up just in case a student isn't able to bring something in.  On the day of the exchange, I separate the gifts into 3 groups; boys gifts, girls gifts, boys/girls gifts.  One at a time, students' names are called to pick a gift.  Once everyone has their gift, they all open them to see what they picked.

This has always been a big hit with my class, but I do stress a few key points before doing an activity like this.  1) This is just for fun, so don't take it too seriously. 2) Use your manners! Say thank you! If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything.   Also, I do make sure gifts are appropriate before setting them out.


3) Pancake Breakfast

On the last day before winter break, I bring in my skillet, and all the ingredients I need to make my students a pancake breakfast.  I specifically use a mix that only requires water.  Not only are they extremely convenient, but they are super light & fluffy! :)  In addition, I add my secret ingredient...white chocolate chips! UN-BE-LIEVABLE!  Oh, and red and green sprinkles for fun. :)

I really think this "tradition" is most special to me because I have always taught in a Title I school where most of my students haven't experienced yummy homemade pancakes.  This one is just as awesome for me as it is for them!

4) Compliment Cards



Compliment Cards is something I have been doing since my first year of teaching!  This activity is FUN for students, and builds self-esteem like you wouldn't believe.  Did I mention it is also FREE!  You can download it in my TpT store. :)

Here is how they work...
1. Assign each student in the class a number.
2. On a sheet of paper, students will write one thoughtful compliment about each student in their class.  Students will write the compliment next to the students' numbers. (Make sure you discuss what a thoughtful compliment looks like).
3. Collect the compliments and compile them onto the editable templates. Here is what the templates look like.

***Many of the compliments repeat, so you will probably only have about 10 different compliments per student.  

Once you are done, give each student their very own personalized compliment card.  They will get to read, and keep, all the wonderful compliments their classmates gave them.  



5) A study of The Polar Express


The Polar Express is a movie my students watch EVERY YEAR!  Once they get to Upper Elementary, they start to not enjoy it as much as they used to.  My Polar Express Unit gets my students to start thinking deeper about the book and movie, and see it in a whole new way!

Beginning just after Thanksgiving, I use the last few weeks before winter break to complete my Language Arts Unit on the Polar Express.    I could seriously write an entire blog post about this unit, so I will try to just stick to the basics.

I begin this unit by reading the text. We then fill in a story map and discuss all the elements of fiction we notice.  Next, we reread the text and analyze any figurative language we notice.  This text is rich in figurative language! 

Next, we watch the movie and use a list of questions to have great discussions about things like theme, characters' actions, predictions, motivations, perspective, etc.  

After watching the movie, we fill in another story map and compare & contrast the book and movie.  Often I will complete this as a whole group activity using a large Venn Diagram and LOTS of sticky notes. :)

Finally, I end this unit with a writing activity.  Students choose a prompt related to The Polar Express, and we spend about a week going through the writing process.

Example Writing Prompt

Imagine you are the main character of The Polar Express, and you just returned home after meeting Santa.  Write a letter to your best friend telling them why they should believe in Santa too! 

This unit seriously saves my sanity every year! It helps me teach the standards while keeping my students highly engaged!


I hope you have enjoyed reading about my FAVORITE holiday traditions.  I am always looking for new ideas, and would love to hear from you about YOUR classroom traditions.

Check out my Christmas Pinterest board for even more ideas!