We have all seen the memes and gifs circulating social media lately about trying to survive the month of December in the classroom, and we wholeheartedly agree! December can be one of the craziest, busiest, and tiresome times in education. Between holiday crafts, parties and programs, the excitement of the students paired with the exhaustion of the teachers, it can make for one very hectic month. Oh, and did we forget that we are in year three of pandemic teaching? It’s enough to make us overwhelmed at the thought of it. So, here are 5 survival tips for December in the classroom.
My mother and I have come together, collectively having been in education for forty years, to give you the best tips and tricks for teaching elementary to middle school aged kiddos during the daunting December month. Get ready to go! (Just like that Mario Cart gif!).
Survival Tip 1: Picture Books Paired with Directed Drawings.
There are so many wonderful and magical picture books out there to read to students during the holiday season. Kiddos can sit back and relax while listening to a well-written book, while the teacher hits on various reading standards through discussion or various activities. After reading one of these books, it is such a fun idea to complete a directed drawing with the students. It makes for a simple, yet adorable activity and fabulous wall display as well. Here are our top 3 picture books and directed drawings!
#1: Olive the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold
Publisher Synopsis: Olive is merrily preparing for Christmas when suddenly she realizes “Olive… the other Reindeer… I thought I was a dog. Hmmm, I must be a Reindeer!” So she quickly hops aboard the Polar Express and heads to the North Pole. And while Santa and the other reindeer are a bit surprised that a dog wants to join their team, in the end, Olive and her unusual reindeer skills are just what Santa and his veteran reindeer team need. Colorful graphic illustrations accompany this zany dog story from the well-known author and artist team, Vivian and J. Otto Seibold. Adorable Olive and her hilarious adventures are sure to make anyone’s Christmas merry.
We pair this picture book with the cutest directed drawing of a reindeer:
This video can be played for students to copy. Be prepared to hit the pause button to give your kids enough time, or you can simply use the video to teach yourself and then turn around and direct your students.
#2: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
This is a classic Christmas book that all ages thoroughly enjoy! When The Grinch greedily steals Christmas from the townsfolk of Whoville, he is in for a surprise. Not only do the townspeople come together to teach him the true meaning of Christmas, but his heart grows literally and figuratively.
This is the perfect mischievous directed drawing of The Grinch.
If your students want to venture out beyond the Grinch, click the how to drawing above of the adorable Max.
Better yet, when all is said and done, you can then show The Grinch movie! But before showing the movie, let your students listen to the book read by the most famous storyteller of all, Keith Morrison. We just planned out a whole day for you!
#3: Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares
Publisher Synopsis: Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby, string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . . . From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love.
This picture book is one of my new favorites. It is so relaxing and heartwarming to read and the illustrations are whimsical and beautifully wintry with the snow-capped landscapes and the red cardinals against the backdrop of fluffy white snowflakes. You will definitely add this to your list of must-have Christmas reads!
Below is a step-by step drawing lesson with New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Matt Tavares. All you will need is some paper and something to draw with (pencil, crayon, colored pencil, etc.). Mr. Tavares filmed this during Covid lockdown. My mom watched him everyday. She’s fascinated with children’s books and loved the opportunity of watching many in action during the lockdown.
Tip 2: Reader’s Theater Scripts
Students come to school with so much energy and excitement in December. From their eagerness to get a break from school to their joy of celebrating the holidays, students are beaming with energy. (If only the teachers could share in some of that energy! That’s why we have coffee!)
To redirect the kids’ hyperness, ergggh, I mean energy, acting is a wonderful way to expend it! Reader’s theater scripts have been a favorite of mine for years, when I taught elementary school to even middle school now. Reader’s theater scripts expand fluency, help with reading comprehension, decoding skills, and voice projection. Here are our top 3 reader’s theater scripts:
#1: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Adapted for Reader’s Theater by Richard Swallow
A Christmas Carol details the emotional journey of Ebenezer Scrooge as he encounters three ghosts that take him into the past, present, and future. Similar to The Grinch, Scrooge makes a huge internal shift as he truly understands the real meaning of Christmas. I use the following link to this script every year for my seventh graders.
There are many activities out there to help teach the reader’s theater script of A Christmas Carol. We highly recommend this for middle school.
#2: Redhead Robbie’s Christmas Story by Bill Luttrell
Redhead Robbie’s Christmas Story is an adorable reader’s theater script specifically for elementary school. It details the story of a red-headed boy named Robbie who has difficulty speaking in public when he becomes excited or nervous. When his second grade class is chosen to tell a special Christmas story at an assembly and Robbie’s name is chosen out of a hat to do the speaking, the rest of the class is not too excited. With some encouragement and patience from his classmates, Robbie learns it’s not the quantity of the words, but the quality of them that matters most. This script has 10 roles. If you have a larger class, utilizing other students to make a mini-set would be perfect. This whole script and play preparation could take up a whole week in December and be utilized to target so many reading standards, all while the students have a blast.
#3: Arthur’s Christmas by Marc Brown
Arthur, D.W., and the gang learn that the true meaning of Christmas is not found in mere store-bought gifts, but through the heart of making a home-made present.
This reader’s theater script contains the familiar characters from the Arthur book series by Marc Brown. It has ten roles, and the words are perfect for 2nd-4th grade readers.
Tip 3: Projects
Think about what you’re currently teaching at the moment. See how you can incorporate a hands-on project that lasts a couple of days, if not all week. Research shows that projects increase student buy-in and learning outcomes. Students enjoy projects as they tend to use their creative outlets more. Projects are also related more to real-world issues and help students apply standards in a different way. They are a chance for students to chat a little and for you, the teacher, to get some other work completed when students are not needing additional support.
Right now, in my 7th grade Social Studies class, students are learning about the legislative branch, so they wrote a bill that they wanted to turn into a law and made a Google Slides presentation all about it. This lasted for three class periods.
My 7th grade English class just finished our novel, Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan. A core theme in it is how the characters’ lives are made up of mountains and valleys. They are currently creating a Mountains and Valleys poster, sequencing the highs and lows of the main character’s life.
Because of students’ intrinsic motivation to work on something that interests them, they tend to focus really well and become excited about learning. Projects are an overall win-win in the month of December.
Tip 4: Writing Units
The writing process can take a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on the writing assignment at hand. Since students are particularly energetic in December, it may be harder for them to sit and focus during lessons, but if given the opportunity to use their creativity, they may be more excited to write instead.
Normally when I complete a writing unit with my students, I spend one class period explaining the expectations of the assignment and we focus on prewriting activities.
For the next one to two class periods, students write their rough drafts. We spend another class period peer editing and self-editing. Another class period is utilized with one-on-one conferencing, and then one to two class times are used to finalize and publish the project.
Some simple holiday writing prompts include:
#1: Create a brand-new toy. Describe your created toy in detail. Convince me, the owner of Wal-Mart, to purchase your toy to sell.
#2: Design an ugly sweater for an ugly sweater contest. Describe it in detail and convince me, one of the judges of the contest, that your sweater is the ugliest.
#3: What are your family traditions in December? Describe them in detail and use sensory words.
If you are interested in a more comprehensive and seriously fun writing activity through Google Slides, we have some perfect ones in our store for winter.
#1: Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner Writing Activity
Description: Contains the following: 2 Exciting Writing Prompts, Cover and Illustration Activities, Make Your Own Snowman, Copy and Paste Google Slide Activities or PDF Cutouts, 4 Create Your Own Story Graphic Organizers including Character Development, Setting, Plot, and Problem/Solution. Also contains 5 Writing/ Publishing Papers.
#2: Gingerbread Friends, written and illustrated by Jan Brett.
Gingerbread Friends, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, is one of my favorite books to read to my students during the Winter Holidays in the library.
Gingerbread Friends Writing Activities is packed full of different writing activities and holiday papers for you and your students to create lots of fun and adventurous stories during the month of December. Included in this packed Gingerbread Friends Writing Activities are: Fun and Engaging Gingerbread Baby’s Friend Craftivity, Beautiful Large Create Your Own Gingerbread Book Craftivity, Gorgeous Medium Create Your Own Gingerbread Book Craftivity, 8 Exciting Writing Prompts on color and B/W papers, 5 Gingerbread Baby Create Your Own Story Graphic Organizers, and 32 Writing Papers.
Tip 5: Grace & Games
Teachers, parents, and kiddos alike are all exhausted and counting down the days until break. If allowed by your administration, show a movie! Plan for a free period in which students enjoy some technology. My mom calls it Indoor Technology Recess. She puts a bunch, and I mean a bunch of coding, mathematical, and ELA games on a single assignment and let’s the children choose which one they would love to play. They seem to love coding the most.
You can also choose a pre-made game from Kahoot, Blooket, or GimKit so students can test their trivia abilities, learn some new things, and have some fun. You can even make your own quizzes on these websites to go along with what you’re studying.
Math games or grammar games are readily available online. Some basic math games I have played with students are Zap, Around the World, and Race to Midnight. Grammar word sorting with cards or dissecting sentences relay races are popular time-fillers as well that also review material. Another grammar game I love to play with students is Scoot which is also available in many math games as well. Laugh, play, and enjoy your class. But, if all else fails, pop in that movie for some quiet time.
The last few weeks of December can be tiresome, but with these tricks we hope you are able to not only survive but thrive in the classroom. From picture books with paired directed drawings to reader’s theater scripts, these ideas let students use their energy and creativity. From projects, writing units, and games, students are sure to love the independence, autonomy, creativity, and fun displayed. If all else fails, give yourself heaping upon heaping of grace while you manage this December in the classroom.