Five Lessons That’ll Save Your Sanity

Fast forward to next Friday, mere hours before our two-week winter vacation begins. What are many teachers throughout the school doing? Pressing “play” on their DVDs, white-knuckling it to the 3:00 bell. You know it’s true. Last year, when my fourth period freshmen arrived, they bragged that they’d spent the morning watching Elf and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and then they asked which movie I was going to show. Sorry, kids, I’m not that teacher.

Even though my brain is the consistency of figgy pudding right now, I know I can bring at least a little academic value to my winter break-eve classes. Here are five ready-to-go lessons that’ll “sleigh” our students:

whiteelephant1. Host a white elephant gift exchange and use the party as a segue into a lesson on proper thank-you note writing. With this free handout, students will be introduced to the idea of a white elephant, receive a small bit of the idiom’s background, and bring a curious 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 the step-by-step instruction sheet. You can read more about this idea and grab the free materials by clicking here. (Timing: Announce it on Monday. Host the party on Thursday. Write the thank-you notes on Friday.)

2. Use “The Gift of Magi,” O. Henry’s classic Christmas tale, to entertain your classes with a story of sacrifice and inspire a little creative writing of their own where they update the premise with a modern context or create a flipped version of the story from the husband’s perspective. (Timing: Read and analyze the story on Thursday. Complete the creative writing activity on Friday.)

3. If you’re feeling particularly spirited, you could set up the Poetry Rotation Stations that I used with my freshmen last December. You can read more about those stations and grab the printable instructions here. (Timing: If you want all students to cycle through all five stations, you’ll need two 45-minute class sessions. Please note that this option requires more prep and material gathering than the other four options.) micro

4. Want some creative writing without much prep at all? Introduce students to two-sentence storytelling with Micro Fiction. Start with a quick Prezi intro. that presents two strong examples from the genres of drama, romance, horror, and sci fi. Then set students loose to create their own two-sentence tales. Grab those materials here. (Timing: One 45-minute class period.)

5. Finally, I do understand that some days we all just need to sit and watch a video. Instead of zoning out during yet another viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, give students something far more valuable. Billions in Change is a high-quality, 43-minute documentary that’ll inspire a great conversation about the importance of creating positive change in the world through innovative technology. This standalone lesson is one of my favorites because it works with every class, grades 7 through 12, and can even be left for a sub. (Timing: One 60-minute class period.)

Here’s hoping your week is flooded with Starbucks gift cards from appreciative students. (A teacher can dream, right?)

Teach on, everyone.

11 thoughts on “Five Lessons That’ll Save Your Sanity

  1. Jennie L Hanna says:

    I am all set to do the White Elephant exchange on Monday. Students are very excited and having a hard time not telling others what they plan to bring in on Monday. I saw this lesson before the school year began and made sure to find time for it just before semester exams – something fun before I ask them to take such a difficult exam. Thanks!

  2. When I was a kid, I always enjoyed Sesame Street’s Bert & Ernie modernization of “The Gift of the Magi.” I remember being surprised later in life (5th grade, ha!) after I’d finally read O. Henry’s original story, that the Muppet folks hadn’t come up with the story themselves. Ah, the allusions we miss as a child…

  3. So glad you’re set for a fun day next week, Jennie. Have a good time! 🙂

  4. Ah, yes, Andrea. And my students are always quick to tell me about the Mickey and Minnie Mouse version, as if I didn’t know. 🙂

  5. I did this white elephant exchange last year, and EVERY student was engaged. They had so much fun with the gifts–especially when one of the “jocks” unwrapped a Cinderella picture frame.
    I will definitely be using all five of these activities the last few days of break. Thank you!
    Have a relaxing and peaceful winter break. 🙂

  6. Love “picturing” that Cinderella moment, Michelle! Thanks for the share. Hope you also have a wonderful, restful break. 🙂

  7. Your resources are absolutely amazing – they are both engaging and relevant! I love reading “The Gift of the Magi” with my students during the month of December. My students did the white elephant gift exchange last year, and everyone had a blast. You have created a great lesson on the importance of writing a thank you card, a form of writing that is a skill that will last a lifetime. Our exchange this year is happening tomorrow, and I am SO looking forward to it again!

    Wishing you and your family happy memories for your first holiday in the new house and happiness and health in 2017!

  8. Ah, thanks for this lovely note, abrahamangel! I’m so glad you’ve able to adapt these ideas/materials to be useful in your classroom. This year has been a joyful one, full of great and stressful changes. I’m definitely looking forward to settling into my new home state in 2017 and finding my new groove. Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season for you and your family, too! 🙂

  9. I’ve been following you for years, but this is the first year my classes have participated in a white elephant gift exchange. It was a blast, and they learned how to write thank-you notes, which is a dying but completely necessary skill! Thanks so much for brightening up my holiday!

  10. Yea, ChristinaGrande! So glad this worked for you. My classes are all set for our white elephant exchange on Thursday, but they don’t know yet that it’s actually a real-world writing lesson in disguise. Love being sneaky! 🙂

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