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.
I start by directing students’ attention to the names I have posted on the board (Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, and Chinese New Year). I ask students to turn and tell their partners what they know about these words. I walk the room listening to the chatter. I’m hoping to hear lots of comments about holidays. Even if students aren’t familiar with some of the terms, they should know at least a couple.
After a few moments, I ask students to “come back.” I explain that as they probably guessed, the words on the board are all holidays. And more specifically, these are holidays that are typically celebrated during the winter season. I explain to students that their task this week is to become an expert in their selected holidays and use that knowledge to teach others.
I ask students to sign up for the holiday of their choice and challenge them to choose the holiday they know the least about. Most of the students in the room celebrate Christmas and I’m sure it’s everyone’s first choice. However, I encourage students to be bold and try something new!
After everyone makes their choice, I have holiday groups sit together. I want students to know who their “traveling buddies” are as we work this week. Although much of our research is completed independently, students will work in small groups at various times throughout the week. Also, I want students to know who they can go to for help if they need it.
Each student gets a holiday packet that they will use throughout the week to collect facts, make connections, and determine importance. After writing their names, date, and holidays at the top, I explain today’s task. Soon we’ll go to the computer lab and begin researching our holidays. Once there, I will demonstrate how to navigate the website and find information for their topics. Our goal is to complete the first page of the packet with basic facts on the holidays.
Once in the lab, I show students how to access the website. At the bottom of the main page are tabs labeled with the holiday names. Students simply click their holiday’s tab and begin reading. Each page is set up similarly. Pictures are connected to links that take students to appropriate sites about each holiday. I made sure that each link was specific to the information needed for the task to limit the time students spent searching. I quickly show students how to click on important links on the page and explain that they will need to write down facts as they come to them. The first page of our packet asks simple questions such as who celebrates this holiday, where and when is it celebrated, and important words to know. I explain that this page is our focus for today.
Once I feel students understand today’s task, I set them to work. We have about thirty minutes scheduled for work today. I explain that students may not finish today, but we will continue our work in the lab tomorrow.