Making the Most of a Modified Class Schedule Around the Holidays

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 -- Scott Sterling

With the holiday season approaching, some chaotic days in the classroom lie ahead—including shortened or modified schedules that compel teachers to get creative in order to avoid the dreaded “free day”. Here are some ideas to help keep these shortened days productive and fun.

Take time to track progress

It may not seem all that exciting, but having students keep up with the progress they are making through the curriculum is a key aspect of building greater student agency. Unfortunately, in a lot of classrooms this kind of progress tracking doesn’t receive enough time. Short days around the holiday can present a perfect opportunity to reflect on the triumphs and progress made throughout the semester, and who said it couldn’t also be fun? Have students sit down with their grades, and figure out how many objectives they have mastered and which they still need to work on. Celebrate successes and reward learning gains to keep spirits high. Then, ask them to creatively express that progress through a reflection essay, graph, chart, or any other method you see fit.

Play a review game

Shortened class periods lend themselves to activities where students can jump in without having to learn new procedures or complete a warm-up activity first. It’s great to have a few review games in your arsenal for days like this. In my experience, the best activities were those either based on existing game shows or those that allowed for movement in the classroom (or outside). Quiz show formats, like Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, are effective choices when students are preparing for an assessment. Consider rewarding the winning team with some sort of prize or extra credit on an upcoming assignment.

Start discussion with a snowstorm

This is an easy way to help your students burn off a little energy while sharing their ideas. If you’re not familiar with this activity, here’s how it works. Simply have your students write down a fact they recently learned in class, then ball up the piece of paper and toss it into the air. Students then pick up the ball nearest to them and share what’s written down with the class, adding their own knowledge on the topic and facilitating further class discussion. You may be surprised by what learning has stuck with your students.

Give a ketchup speech

In today’s always connected world, students need to be able to communicate their knowledge in as many settings as possible. This simple activity can help: ask students to pretend they are in an elevator with an important person, and have only 30 seconds to share all they know about a selected topic. Don’t feel like you have to stick to strictly academic topics. The communications classes that first came up with this activity asked their students to speak about ketchup, hence the name of this activity, but any topic works. No matter what subject you choose, students will be forced to consider what is most important about it, and state those facts clearly and concisely.

Host an ad-hoc debate

When debates are used in class, they tend to be multi-day affairs that require substantial research and collaboration. But, being able to debate on-the-spot without a lot of preparation is in many ways a more difficult (and more widely applicable) skill. An ad-hoc debate can be a great way to fill a shortened day. Start by sending students home with a short passage that contains enough information for them to be able to build an argument without “getting into the weeds”. Then, the next day in class, split your class into two halves, assign time limits, and let the discussion begin. If the topic is related to the curriculum, great. But, something having to do with the world around them can offer an equally valuable experience.

Looking for more ideas to overcome the distractions of the holiday season and keep your students learning? Check out this blog for strategies on Engaging Students over the Holidays with Classroom Incentives!