10 Easy Ways to Engage Students Before Winter Break

by | Dec 3, 2019 | Educational Resources, Holidays, Teaching Resources | 0 comments

The days before winter break can be a drag for both students and teachers.

Everyone is ready for a holiday, and it is a struggle to motivate both adults and students.

Teachers should plan to wrap up units a few days before winter break begins to have a chance to input grades and prepare for returning after break. 

But if teachers do that, what can they do to keep kids engaged?

Show a movie? Especially in upper elementary grades, a lot of kids are tired of watching the same G-rated animations.

By the end of this blog post, you will have ten easy – and free or low cost – ways to keep students engaged and learning until break begins.

Play Review Games

Spiraling standards is never a bad idea. Adding in review time right before a break is a great way to refresh some previously learned skills.

There are many different review games, so teachers can mix things up instead of using the same game over and over.

My classes enjoyed playing Jeopardy and Jenga, but use whatever games your students enjoy.

TeachHub.com has a lot of review games suggestions if you are looking for some new ideas.

Teach Students To Play Board Games

My family loves to play board and card games. I believe that is why I did so well in school.

Games teach and enforce many basic skills. My kids played Pokemon – which involves a lot of writing and math skills – before they could even read, and they were always advanced in math in school.

Sadly, a lot of students no longer play games – other than video games – at home.

My advice is to gather multiple copies of different games and teach them to your students before giving them time to play.

Start with short games that have little set-up and are age-appropriate: Battleship, Yahtzee, Uno, Guess Who, etc.

If you ask, parents may donate a game or two. I found a lot of mine at thrift stores and yard sales – just make sure they have all the pieces before you purchase them.

Do An Art Project

Students today do not get nearly enough time to create art.

Worried that your administration will complain? Focus on the lack of fine motor skills in your students.

In 5th grade, I had a large number of students who struggled to cut basic shapes out – and many told me they did not have art supplies at home.

Students are more heavily involved in sports outside of school, and that fact, coupled with a focus on “testing” in schools, has led to weak fine motor skills in a good number of students. Art Projects For Kids has a lot of terrific project ideas for elementary grades.

Arrange A Guest Speaker

My students were often the most engaged when I had a guest speaker.

Over the years, I had so many parents and community volunteers come in, and they were always a hit.

We read a story that involved woodcarving, and one of the parents practiced it as a hobby.

When we studied economics, a dad came in with his extensive coin collection. One of the all-time popular speakers was when the forensics team brought their van during our mystery unit.

Don’t know where to start? Ask parents if they have a hobby they’d like to share, and see if you get any volunteers.

Have A “Study Hall”/Reward Period

My teammates and I arranged a study hall for students who had to make up work.

The students who had everything in participated in a “free” period, where they played games, had extra recess, etc.

We divided the students among the teachers, and some of us held the study hall while the others kept the other students.

Make A Gift For Parents

I am always careful about focusing on Christmas before the holidays.

However, all students enjoy making a gift for a loved one. My favorite gift to make with students is Solo Cup ornaments/suncatchers. (You need the clear cups for suncatchers.)

The decorations are cheap to make and take very little prep time. I would hole punch and melt the cups at home, and then students would decorate them in class.

We always had student photos back by then, so I allowed students to use one of their extra sticker photos on the project. If you would like directions, please see my Solo Cup blog post.

Do A Community Service Project

Students can do many things to help their community. Some projects might involve leaving campus, but there are other things students can do right in class.

A lot of holiday service projects focus on children, but many senior citizens are in need. If students can’t donate goods, they can always create cards or pictures for nursing homes. Contact local nursing homes or rehabilitation centers for information on what people might need 

Another idea is to make cards for veterans. Sending cards late in December means the troops would get the letters after the holidays so students could focus on Thank You cards rather than holiday cards. For more information, check the website, Operation We Are Here.

Buddy With Another Class

Older students enjoy working with younger students and vice versa. Use the days before the break to read together or complete a joint project. Older students could also play review games with their buddy class. 

Hold A Minute To Win It Contest

We played Minute to Win It against another class, but you could also divide your class into teams and have them race each other.

Some of the activities require a lot of supplies, but many of them are pretty simple to set up.

My teammates and I would reserve a larger room to play, like the cafeteria.

These games are tons of fun – but make sure you have a few people to time events. Adults need to both supervise and time, so it is better to have multiple adults. Happiness Is Homemade has a lot of ideas for Minute to Win It games.

Work On A Genius Project

Genius Projects allow students to research a topic of their choice.

Choice = High Engagement.

These projects would be great when you have a few days to fill before break. Students could research their topic for a few days, then present what they learned to the class.

 For more information about Genius Hour, check out the official Genius Hour website and this blog post from Cult of Pedagogy.

Enjoy spending time with your students these last few days before break begins! 

How do you engage your students? Let me know in the comments! 

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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