Feeling overwhelmed with the thought of returning to school? I hear you. It can be tough to say goodbye to winter break (aka two weeks of lounging on the couch in your PJs, casually sipping on your coffee while it’s still hot, and binging on all of your favorite books). I’m here to make that transition from the couch to the classroom just a little bit easier! I’ve rounded up some of my favorite fun and engaging New Year’s activities for Middle School that will not only help ease your students back into the learning environment but will also help you offer that fresh reset that everyone desperately! Whether you’re a seasoned pro or new to teaching, these activities will bring fresh energy and inspiration to your classroom this January.
#1) Warm up with Two Truths and a Lie
The unfortunate truth is that, more often than not, teachers get very little time to prep before welcoming students back into the classroom unless they *cough* worked over their break while binging Emily in Paris *cough*. That’s why Two Truths and a Lie makes such a great warm-up/icebreaker activity to plug into those first 5-10 minutes of class. The low-pressure nature of the game gives students a chance to ease back into the classroom routine and share a little bit about their break. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with your students and reinforce your classroom community right from the start!
To play, have each student generate two truths and one lie about themselves on a piece of paper. Then, have them form groups of 4 (table groups, random formations based on commonalities, etc.) Their group then has to guess which statement is the lie. Don’t forget to jump in and tell a few truths and a lie about yourself!
#2) Create a Six-Word Memoir about Break
Love Two Truths and a Lie, but need an alternative? Try the “Six Word Memoir”! This creative writing exercise encourages your students to reflect on their break and share their experiences with others in just six words. It’s much more challenging than it seems! Encourage your students to be creative and think outside the box as they come up with their memoirs. Check out these examples:
- Hit the slopes, lived life fast.
- Slept in every day, best life!
- Played video games, didn’t leave my room.
- Lots of TikTok, can’t stop dancing.
- Won hockey tournament; finally, first place.
If you want to take it to another level, create a class slideshow. Give each student a slide and have them write their six-word memoir on their slide and insert related (and appropriate) images or gifs. Encourage students to go through the slideshow when they are done!
Guide your students through a reflective and opportunistic New Year classroom activity by having them “look back” before they “look ahead.” Reflecting on the past year allows students to take stock of what they’ve learned and accomplished and can help them find pride in their achievements. Setting goals for the new year helps them focus on what they want to achieve and gives them a sense of purpose. Middle school is a time of great transition, personal growth, and identity formation. By reflecting on the past and setting goals for the future, you’ll help your students foster a growth mindset and build a sense of ownership over their learning and development.
#4) Set Goals & Cultivate Growth with Found Poetry
If you don’t mind a bit of a mess the day after winter break, you might give “Found Poetry” a try. Found poetry used as a New Year’s activity can be a great way to nudge your students to set goals and intentions for the new year. To get started, provide your students with a pile of magazines, newspapers, and scissors. Have them cut out words and phrases that catch their eye. Encourage them to look for words and phrases related to their goals and dreams for the new year. Once they’ve collected a fair amount of words, or after a set amount of “scouring” time, have them arrange their words on a piece of paper to create a poem. I love using this activity to engage my visual/artistic learners!
#5) Get Organized and Get Back on Track with WIN Time
Let’s be real – middle school students can be pretty disorganized and frazzled after a long winter break. It’s no surprise they might need a little extra time to get their ducks in a row before diving back into the classroom routine (we know something about that, don’t we?). That’s where “what I need” time comes in! WIN time is a great opportunity for your students to take care of anything that might have fallen by the wayside in the holiday hustle before the break. They may need to clean out their backpack, binder, or planner, check out a new book from the library, or check in with the office about schedules, fees, grades, etc.
Whatever the case, “what I need” time is a great gift you can give your students to help them get back on track and feel more organized and prepared for the new year. Plus, it’s a great way to foster independence and responsibility in your students. It might feel like a waste beforehand, but I promise they’ll thank you for it after!
After a long school break, it’s not uncommon for students to come back feeling shy, apprehensive, excited, stressed, or even worried. (Notice how they feel many of the same things teachers feel?!?) That’s why it’s important to take some time to restore your sense of community and build connections with and between your students. And what better way to do that than with a collaborative block poster? This fun and creative quilt-like activity will allow each student to portray their identity through a small square, and once put together, the identity of the collective group is ready to display! Make the piece of art do double duty, and incorporate a positive message. This makes a meaningful, motivational classroom display to help you finish the second half of your year!
While it’s all too easy to look at the ending of winter break with sadness, I hope these ideas have given you that tiny spark you needed to start thinking about returning to school. Whether you try the Six-Word Memoir or the Collaborative Block Poster, your students will feel connected and ready to tackle the new year as you welcome them back!
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