On my campus, teachers are not supposed to host class holiday parties. Like Bob Cratchit earning each and every pence, we’re told to hold the line until the 3:00 bell on that final pre-vacation day. Rather Scroogish, no?

I say, let’s live a little! As long as we tie our class parties to a Common Core writing standard, certainly we can justify having some fun before leaving for winter break.

In this work-hard-play-hard version of a winter party, students are introduced to the idea of a White Elephant gift exchange, receive a small bit of the idiom’s background, and bring an item from home to donate to the class gift exchange. Then, after the fun of the swap is over, have students learn to write a properly formatted thank you note to their fictional “Aunt Ethel,” following a step-by-step instruction sheet.

I usually introduce this lesson on the last Wednesday before Winter Break. On Thursday, I host the White Elephant exchange (depending on your class size and the procedure you choose, this may take most of a class period) and have students begin writing their thank you notes. On Friday, allow students time to finish their thank you notes or collect any that you assigned as homework. I’ve found that many students are so laden with real gifts for their friends on the Friday before the holiday break that they enjoy this White Elephant exercise more if it’s a day or two earlier in the week. Click HERE for a FREE copy of the student handouts.

Also, I always bring extra wrapped White Elephant gifts from home so those students who forgot or weren’t able to bring anything don’t feel left out. The gifts don’t have to cost you much. I’m always able to scavenge a bunch of random things from my home (previous gifts I’ve contributed have included an old karaoke machine, a grab bag of discarded Halloween candy that nobody in my house wanted, a package of Ramen noodles, a 4-pack of out-of-date AAA batteries, and a roll of toilet paper) and my T.A. has fun wrapping them in colored butcher paper a few days before the big swap.

There are many, many ways to organize your non-denominational White Elephant gift exchange. Some people like to allow participants to “steal” a gift from someone else, but I’ve found that this becomes much too cumbersome in a class of 34 kids. I usually just run a lottery, pulling each kid’s name out of a hat and allowing him/her to select from the pile of remaining gifts. If you enter “how to white elephant” into Google, you’ll find plenty of variations on this classic party game. Have fun!

Want a more traditional lesson plan on the greatest story of love and gift-giving? Click HERE for my lesson materials to use with O. Henry’s classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi.”

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