This post originally appeared on the blog Gil Teach.
The weeks before Christmas break are not exactly a teacher’s favorite time of year. Students are tired and restless; some might be excited about their vacation plans, while some might be dreading extended time with their families.
It’s a challenging time to teach, to say the least.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s time to throw in the towel and stream endless videos or give students meaningless busywork. It is a good time to try something different, and to get students excited about what they’re doing so that you don’t have to hover over them every second of the day. It’s a great time to get them working in groups or independently since the last thing that you want to do at this time of the year is try to maintain complete silence in your classroom while you lecture. (Herding cats, anyone?)
With a little creativity, you can teach effective, creative holiday lessons.
Here are 5 things you need to do to survive the weeks before Christmas break:
Get thematic without being overly religious. If you teach in a public school or any school with a diverse student body, you know the importance of not preferencing one religious or ethnic group. On the other hand, there are many similarities among different winter holidays which anyone can appreciate — celebrations of light, spending time together with friends and family, showing love by giving gifts or preparing special food — those are all universal themes that are easily discussed in the most diverse classes. So teaching a unit that explores and celebrates the many common themes of the season is a great idea.
Make your lessons low-key but sufficiently rigorous. This isn’t the time to introduce a new unit that will demand hours of homework or memorization of technical terms, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t push students to stretch beyond their comfort zone in some ways. If they can be tricked into believing that they are just having fun, or that they aren’t really doing “work,” then you’ll have an easier time for sure. As long as you are still teaching to the standards, it’s okay to take it easy for a few days.
Get students to work cooperatively and independently. In my experience, students often see group work as more casual and therefore “easier” since they can still chat with their friends on and off as they work on their assignment. So giving them a task they can achieve cooperatively is a good idea when you are low on energy at this time of year. I have also observed many students who are so tired and burned out by this time in the school year that they really appreciate some quiet time in their hectic day. If they are going from class party to loud movie back to another noisy celebration, they often crave some alone time to read, write, or reflect.
Plan for an easily graded assessment in the end. I really appreciate being able to wrap up a unit before vacation — both so that I can start fresh in January and also so that I don’t leave any loose ends that will most likely get forgotten. On the other hand, I definitely don’t love going home for vacation with a stack of essays or papers to grade. So if I can get students to present their work and grade it on the spot, using a well-though-out rubric, I can give them a final grade for their work without having to suffer through my vacation. Planning ahead for this is key — you can’t come up with a rubric on the last day of the unit; students need to know the expectations far in advance.
Teach a unit that’s as much fun for you as it is for the students. I know that I am just as tired and burned out as my students are during those last long weeks of the year. I want to take a break and do something that I enjoy too. But I don’t enjoy endless class parties. (Who likes eating a plate full of Doritos at 9am anyway!?) And I definitely don’t enjoy making my classes sit silently, watching meaningless movies so that I can babysit them for a while. What is always fun at any time of the year is getting to know my students on a deeper level and watching them get to know themselves a little better at the same time. So units that involve getting kids to tell stories of their own lives are perfect for this time of year.
The lessons included in this resource are great choices for those dreaded days before break for all of the above reasons and more. Your students will improve their public speaking skills, spend some time sharpening their storytelling skills, get to know themselves and their peers a little better, and spend plenty of class time having fun, all while fulfilling common core requirements.
Christina Gil was a high school English teacher for 16 years, but she recently left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an ecovillage in rural Missouri. She blogs about empowering students to find their own answers at GilTeach.com.
She believes that analyzing a poem with 20 17-year-olds is a fabulous way to spend an hour or so, that teenagers should celebrate the epic battles of their lives, and that Shakespeare is always better with sound effects.
When she is not busy milking goats or working in the garden, she can be found homeschooling her two kids or meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village.