As the holiday season approaches and excitement builds, it’s natural for students to have a harder time focusing and staying motivated in the classroom (though it still drives us crazy, nonetheless). And as a teacher, you’re probably also feeling the stress of the holiday season and finding less time (and motivation) to plan meaningful or festive lessons. But don’t let the holiday frenzy steal the magic. There are plenty of subtle ways to bring the holly jolly holiday spirit into your ELA classroom while promoting learning and keeping engagement high. I’ve rounded up some tried-and-true holiday activities you can use to keep your students challenged up until the jingle of the final bell. So grab a cup of hot cocoa and let’s deck the halls with some festive Christmas activities for our middle school ELA classrooms!
#1) Read O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”
Could your classroom use something a bit… heartwarming & selfless this time of year? No shame. That’s why O. Henry’s classic and timeless story, “The Gift of the Magi” is my first recommendation. This touching story of love, sacrifice, and the true meaning of giving is the perfect way to get your middle school students ready for the holiday season. Pair the story with a mini-lesson on types of literary irony, then spend a day or two analyzing Della & Jim and O. Henry’s masterful use of irony to really send the message home. If you have another day or two before break, queue up Sesame Street’s or Mickey & Minnie’s “Gift of the Magi” episode and compare/contrast them. With these activities, your students will not only explore literary elements but also have meaningful discussions and make personal connections at a time when it’s most needed. Find everything you need to bring this story to life and create a memorable learning experience here.
#2) Christmas Color-by-Number
The first fun, festive, and low-prep activity you can use in your ELA classroom during the holiday season is a Christmas coloring activity involving analogies. In this activity, students work through six different types of analogies to complete a Christmas-themed coloring picture. This activity is active and engaging, and students use their critical thinking skills to identify the different types of analogies to complete the picture. Plus, it’s a great way to sneak in some vocabulary work you might not otherwise get to. Interested in adding this one to your wish list? Click here to learn more.
#3) Grinch vs. Scrooge Compare/Contrast Activity
If you have a week or longer, I’ve got an idea that you won’t hate, double hate, or loathe entirely. This activity compares and contrasts two classic Christmas villains: the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge. Read or watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol” with your students to get started. Then, have your students complete a compare and contrast activity like a Venn diagram or a T Chart in which they analyze both characters. Next, encourage students to compare the growth each villain experienced throughout the story. Wrap it up with an argument writing piece, a WANTED poster, a mock trial, an ugly sweater, or even a one-pager (always a hit). And when you settle down to sip on your eggnog that night (after school, of course), watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and decide how Cousin Eddie measures up.
#4) Not Your Typical Ugly Sweater Party
Every Christmas season, you can count on an ugly sweater party. I’d bet your school even has a spirit day for it. #Amiright? Why not put a twist on the ugly sweater idea and have your students design ugly Christmas sweaters for a character they are reading about? This activity is a fun and creative way for students to think about their characters’ direct and indirect development. As they design their ugly sweater, they will have to think critically about the character’s personality and what details, quotes, or symbols are most important to include. This activity is perfect for that last day before break. Plus, who doesn’t love a good ugly sweater?
#5) Muppet Christmas Carol
Sometimes, you need to pop in a movie while you get stuff done… and I’m not here to judge. Why not consider showing your students “The Muppet’s Christmas Carol”? This classic holiday movie is a great choice for the classroom because it’s suitable for all ages, and you can feel confident that it won’t bring up any inappropriate content, themes, or comments. Hand out candy canes and invite your students to kick back, relax, and enjoy the movie. If that won’t fly, you can have your students analyze the development of Scrooge and the other Muppet characters, complete an ugly sweater, or discuss the film using one of these thinking routines.
#6) Learn About SnowFlakes: A Nonsecular Activity
If you find yourself in a situation where you want to bring in some holly jolly but need it to be suitable for all students, regardless of their cultural or religious background, consider doing a mini-study on snowflakes! Invite students to learn about the science of snowflakes using this TED-Ed video, read about the original snowflake photographer Wilson Bentley, and create their own snowflake. This option is a great way to channel their excitement toward the winter season while learning about something new. Plus, what better way to incorporate some hands-on learning into your classroom in a festive way? Check out my done-for-you snowflake unit here.
I hope these ideas have given you new ways to bring some holly, jolly Christmas activities into your ELA classroom. Whether you have your students color analogies, compare and contrast Christmas villains, design ugly sweaters, or create paper snowflakes, there are plenty of festive and educational ways to celebrate the holiday season in the classroom. While the holiday season can bring its fair share of chaos, busyness, and stress, it also brings some well-deserved time off. So go ahead, crank Mariah Carey, deck the halls, and enjoy the magic of the season with your students. Happy teaching!