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.
We begin today’s lesson in the computer lab. Yesterday, each student chose a winter holiday to research and began collecting information on it. Students completed the first page of their holiday packets with basic information such as important vocabulary, the people who celebrate it, and when and where each holiday is celebrated.
I tell students that today our focus is on attention to detail and higher-level thinking. The second page of our packet contains four questions. The first, “When did it get started?” is seemingly simple. However, for several holidays, it isn’t quite so easy. For example, one could say that Christmas started 2,000 years ago. But, this isn’t the case. Yes, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, which happened over 2,000 years ago, but the holiday itself did not begin until hundreds of years later. I explain that I’m looking to see that students pay attention to the details they read so that they can answer just what the question asks.
This page also asks students to think a little more critically. Questions such as, “What makes this holiday important?” and “What is the most important part of this holiday?” require students to analyze what they’ve read in order to determine importance. I don’t model this part for students, but allow them to work through this on their own. Although difficult, any struggle involved here is necessary for true learning.
Students have half an hour to work on their research today. I explain that we have extra time tomorrow should they not finish. While they work, I walk the room offering support as needed and check in on student progress.
Before leaving the lab, I ask students to share a fact they found interesting about their holiday with a member of their group. Once everyone had a chance to share, we gather our materials and head back to class.