The time period between Halloween and the end of the year is probably the most challenging teaching time in the classroom. Classroom management strategies that worked at the start of the year may not be as effective. Your students’ minds quickly move away from content material to the bulletin board that counts down the days until Christmas (whose idea was that?!) or the Elf on the Shelf or the gathering snow clouds out the window (“I saw a snowflake!” Class over.).
Add to that the holiday interruptions that disturb the flow of your class like music programs, plays, parties, special programming, and it can feel like you are spinning your teacher wheels and going nowhere fast.
To combat the interruptions of your class, try implementing an “automatic pilot” in your classroom.
You probably already have several automatic procedures in place in your class, but if you don’t, this is the perfect time to do so. Independent reading, morning warm up, journal prompts — all help students find meaningful work to turn to when there is downtime or only a pocket of teaching time rather than a full class period. Whether it’s because of a program or change in schedule, those automatic procedures help you use all the teaching time available to you.
Another “automatic” classroom activity I love is a group project. This can be as simple as reading groups or as detailed as a cross-curricular activity.
Group projects or Project Based Learning are awesome this time of year for several reasons:
- they are social — students can talk and move around
- they are focused — students are moving toward a goal. Each day should require a task and an outcome — exit card, graphic organizer, “what we did today” report. If your looking for easy feedback forms to use, check out the “Project Based Learning: Group Feedback Forms” on my TpT store.
- they are authentic learning experiences — students work together with an end product in mind (presentation, evaluation, created product). If you need
- they are self-paced — most of the time, students can move at their own pace
- they are flexible — if you have ten or fifteen minutes of down time, students can work on their projects
- they are engaging — (or they should be!) you want this to be something your students will beg you to do. Think about the personality of your class. What is something that will really spark their interest? Create your project around that.
- the end is in sight — plan for the project to take a week or two to complete. You don’t want it to extend past your winter break.
Ideas for Putting your Class on “Automatic”
- book clubs — I love this because the students set the schedule and go. If your students are into dystopia, check out my dystopian literature circle lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers.
- cross-curricular project — one year my students were studying earthquakes in science. The project was to build a structure out of paper and paperclips that could withstand an “earthquake.” They built the structure and then created a newspaper that reported on the “earthquake.”
- character study — haven’t you always wanted your class to make life-sized characters from a book they’re reading? Here’s your chance! Add a character map with textual evidence to support the drawing.
- group research — holidays around the world, shopping statistics, primary research that involves polling classmates. Findings can be reported with graphs or a prezi.
- readers theater — there are tons of picture books for the holidays. Have students create readers theater scripts. These can be performed for the class or for other classes. Plan a “playdate!”
- introduce students to fun technology like Storybird (love, love, love!)
- Go back to your idea list from the beginning of the year or the pinterest board you’ve been adding to for weeks (months? years?!). This might be the perfect time to introduce those fun, splashy projects that you’ve been dreaming of teaching.
“Back Pocket” Activities
For a lack of a better way to describe it, I like to have a “back pocket” activity or game that you can use during down time or an insane moment (“Look! Snow!!” You do know what I’m talking about, right?!).
Games like “Cherry Pie” are wonderful at times like this. They get students up and moving, but you are also reviewing spelling words or vocabulary terms. Get your hands those Brain Quest cards. They are perfect for keeping things lively when you’re playing Cherry Pie or taking a quick break.
I wrote a post about playing Scattergories at the start of the year. That is another great game that your class can quickly move in and out of. Check that post out for a few other fun and games ideas that can relieve some of the holiday frenzy. A ten minute “game break” works wonders in getting your class ready to get back on task.
Review Your Classroom Procedures
Finally, this is a great time of year to go back to your classroom procedures. Your class can run automatically when students follow procedures. Review how you expect students to act when you play a game or work on a project, and especially review how to transition back into the lesson at hand. Hopefully, your students respond to your “settling” signal (bell, lights dimming, clapping, etc.), but it’s good to review this before you begin playing a game or working on group projects.
Think about how you can add an “auto pilot” to your class. By doing that, I hope you will fly through the end of the year turbulence free and with a smooth landing!