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 by coming together in the meeting area. I ask students to bring their holiday packets and pencils with them. We talk about our work in the computer lab over the past couple of days and the information we’ve collected. I conduct a short “debriefing” about how the process went and I listen to their ideas for improving the site and working in the lab.
I explain that today they will meet in their groups for the first time. First, they will share the information they collected and make any necessary changes. They should look for any “holes” in their research or any important pieces that might be missing. I encourage them to share their research with their group mates adding facts as they discover them.
I assign each group to a work area and ask them to begin sharing. While they work, I walk the room listening to their conversations.
After groups have had a chance to share, I ask them to turn their attention to the front of the room as I explain the next step. They will work together to write a summary of the facts they've gathered about their holidays. I stress that I do not want them to write all that they’ve learned about their holidays, but remind them that summaries include only the most important parts. I ask them, “What if Mr. Tyler (our principal) walked into the room and asked you what you were learning about? What would you tell him? Think about the facts that would be the most important to share.”
I ask students to look at the first two pages of their holiday packets. I explain that one strategy to determine importance is to code. By assigning a code, or marking, to the facts they feel are most important, they can visually determine what to include and what to exclude in their summary. I encourage them to try this strategy if they struggle as a group to agree on what is important and what is not.
After they’ve decided what to include, they will write these facts in paragraph form on page three of their packets. While they are working together, each person should complete the work in his own packet.
As the groups work, I circulate the room offering help where needed. Once I see that most groups have finished their work, we move on to theme.
We recently finished a fiction unit where we spent a great deal of time working with theme. However, this is still a topic with which students struggle. I included a portion on theme in this unit to both keep the idea fresh in their minds and to see what they would do with it.
For this section, I gave students very little direction. I simply explained that I wanted them to think about all they had learned about their holidays so far. If each student could come up with a general statement about the message his holiday spread to others, what would it be? I asked students to first talk with their groups to discuss their ideas before writing anything on their pages.
While they talked, I walked the room to listen in on their work. I caught this group having a truly thoughtful conversation and wanted to capture it on film. I’m filming behind them without most of them seeing me. You won’t see everyone’s faces, but I’ve learned that this group can be camera shy sometimes. I thought it more important to hear what they were saying rather than capture their faces and potentially end their conversation!