It’s very easy to want to fill the last few days before holiday break with cutesy activities that do little to extend students’ learning. This year, I pledged to make sure those hectic last few days were full of meaningful lessons that students enjoyed and from which they learned a great deal.
This holiday mini-unit can last one week or two depending on how long you choose to spend on each lesson. To accompany this unit, I’ve created a student packet and holiday website.
Students begin by pulling out their holiday packets. We review the work that we completed yesterday, which was to summarize all that we had learned about our holiday. I explain to students that the focus of today’s lesson is to compare and contrast their chosen holiday with another holiday. There are several steps in today’s lesson and so students will be busy and moving during the entire session.
The first step is to choose interview questions students will use to learn about a new holiday. In their packets, “Day Three” provides space for students to list up to six questions that they will ask a member of another team about his/her holiday. Students can ask any question they would like about the holiday, but they must keep in mind the topics we’ve focused on in our research. I encourage students to ask questions that not only help them learn about the holiday, but also require some thought. While I want students to learn interesting facts about another holiday, I also want them to be reflective about what they’ve learned, how holidays might be similar to each other, etc. Students meet with their small groups to choose their questions. As they work, I walk the room listening to group discussions and making suggestions as necessary. After about ten minutes of work time, I ask students to come back together and be ready for the next instruction.
Step two is to conduct the interview. Each student is paired with another student from a different holiday group. Each writes the name of the person he will interview on his packet, finds her in the room, and begins the interview. Students decide within their partnerships who will begin asking their questions first. During the work time, I again walk the room and make sure students stay on track and listen for opportunities to help. I begin by giving groups about 20 minutes to work. If at the end of that time, most aren’t finished, then I give them a little extra time to complete their work.
After completing their interviews, students will use the information they gained to compare and contrast the two holidays. For this part of the lesson, students work independently. Page six of their packet provides direction for the task and a space for their work. During the previous units, we worked a great deal on compare and contrast and so this should be a skill with which students feel fairly comfortable. Students have learned multiple methods for writing about how two topics are the same and how they are different including using a Venn diagram, two column chart, or in paragraph form using key words. Students choose their preferred method, “analyze their data,” and begin to write.
For the final step, students meet again in their small groups. They will discuss what they’ve learned and write a statement about how all five holidays are the same. I think it’s easy to pick out how people, places, or even events are different. In this activity, I want students to recognize how holidays that are seemingly so different could actually be similar. While this may take some effort and critical thinking, it’s the perfect topic for students to practice.
Each student will read what he wrote in his packet about how his holiday is the same as another. After each member of the group has shared, the team will work together to construct a statement that shows how all five are similar. Once they have a statement, then they write a second sentence that tells how they know. When explaining their answers, they can use specific examples from what they learned about each holiday during their research and interviews. Groups write their sentences on sticky notes and post on the classroom chart when finished.