It’s nearly the holidays, and in classrooms everywhere, students are “bouncing off the walls” with excitement. It’s one of the most challenging times to keep young minds on task. But it’s not the only time. After the holiday break, the long winter months loom ahead. When students are cooped up, and darkness descends early, this is another difficult time to teach.

Here are some tips and tricks that have been used successfully by veteran teachers. Try these creative ways to keep students engaged before the holiday break and during the winter months.


Tip #1: Choose seasonal content and themes.

You don’t have to ignore the holidays in order to teach quality content. In fact, acknowledging them lets you in on the fun. Choose holiday-themed books for literature circles, and writing prompts that spark imagination like this primary grade example, Trapped in a Snow Globe. In social studies, introduce diverse winter holiday traditions from Christmas to Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, and more. Focus on common themes of family, sharing, and light. In math class, challenge students to budget and “buy” items for the holidays. Extend seasonal themes into the winter months by inviting your students to study the geometry of a snowflake, write a poem about snow, or research its insulating power. Don’t forget, decorate your classroom for your winter-themed lessons!


Tip #2: Add a seasonally-themed reward system.

You have your year-long reward or incentive system, but during the holidays, consider including an added incentive to keep students focused. Reward good behavior with snowballs (cotton balls). Students place them in a jar, and when it’s filled, the class earns a hot cocoa break or extra recess time. You also could hold a holiday raffle using items from the dollar store. Reward good behavior with raffle tickets and a chance to win. Importantly, don’t ditch your primary reward system. Think of this as additional positive motivation.


Tip #3: Introduce new experiences and activities.

Grab students’ attention with an experience or new activity. Scavenger hunts and escape rooms are engaging games that can be used to review curriculum content. Plays and skits developed by the students are great vehicles for learning. Google’s 3D animals can bring the zoo to the classroom. Presentations created with shared Google slides reinforce digital literacy as well as core content. Invite a guest speaker to talk to students about a topic they are studying. These new and exciting activities will help focus students during the busy holiday season and the long winter months.


Tip #4: Get students moving and out in the sunshine.

Part of the challenge of teaching during the winter months is that everyone is cooped up inside. It’s tempting to fall asleep or lose focus in a warm, comfortable classroom. Lessons that get students up and moving will keep them energized. Set up stations around the room and have students circulate. Post student work on the wall and do a gallery walk, where everyone can review it. This works especially well for group projects and posters. Schedule time outside so students can soak up some sun, which helps to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Bundle up, and make an outdoor excursion a regular part of your week.


Tip #5: Create engaging lessons.

This is the time of year to pull out the most popular lessons—or create new ones. Think about hands-on lessons that extend beyond the textbook, such as STEAM activities that stretch young minds and are truly engaging. Build a snowman out of toothpicks and marshmallows. Build a snowball catapult to launch marshmallows. Ask students to design their own toys. Incorporate sensory elements such as writing in shaving cream on their desk. Analyze the phases of the moon through Oreo cookies. Being able to eat the project afterward is a definite bonus!


Tip #6: Incorporate service learning.

The holidays and winter months are ideal for community service projects. Consider a class project that incorporates the curriculum but also gives back to those in need. Partner with a nonprofit in your community. Chances are they would welcome the help with fundraising, awareness, and more. Fundraising projects involve literacy, math, and art. Awareness campaigns can help students build research and presentation skills. Service-learning promotes teamwork and provides students an opportunity to create meaningful change.


Tip #7: Keep it consistent.

The holiday season can be especially disruptive for teaching. Holiday concerts, special activities, classroom celebrations, and school breaks make classroom time feel disjointed. That’s why it’s important to stick to the routine as much as possible. Do what you can in the classroom time allotted. Importantly, don’t try to cram things in before the holiday break. Give children the time to learn and the space to learn it consistently. There will be plenty of time during those long winter months. Thankfully, we add a couple of minutes of light each day following the winter solstice, December 21. That means spring can’t be far ahead.

Do you have a tip that isn’t on this list? We’d love to hear it. Share it with us and other Educators in the comments.


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