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Teaching Elementary School: Harness Holiday Energy for Learning

By Sandy Fleming

Get excited about teaching lessons and activities with a holiday focus and learn to see learning opportunities in annual festivities as well as obscure celebrations like “Elephant Appreciation Day” (which is September 22 if anyone is curious).

Put the Calendar to Work in Class

Take advantage of seasonal excitement by connecting learning with holidays.There are huge windows of educational opportunity to teach about each holiday, and you can build lessons connected to reading, math, language arts, social studies and science with just a little bit of advance planning.Follow these simple steps to liven up learning for any subject or age level.

  • Choose lesson objectives.Any good lesson plan starts with a clear idea of what you are trying to teach. Reference scope and sequence charts or state standards to find learning objectives for the holiday lessons. Break these objectives into manageable, observable and measurable chunks, then write them in the format that works best for you.
  • Look at a calendar for upcoming holidays that you’d like to connect to the curriculum. Nearly any well-known holiday is fair game, and the Internet is full of resources listing lesser-known celebrations from the unusual, to the humorous, to the downright bizarre. Pick a holiday that interests you, ignites your curiosity and fires up your imagination.
  • Do some quick research. Search your favorite educational sites or even the entire web for related lessons and materials. You might find worksheets, coloring pages, puzzles, or game ideas.Many are free to use and of professional quality.
  • Add your own spin to the holiday. Jot down your great ideas in lesson plan format and try them out.

Ideas to Get Your Creativity Flowing

Here are some examples to use within each content area, regardless of your class size, its focus, its composition or the type of holiday that you choose to celebrate:

  • Reading: Gather related literature and reference books to create comprehension activities. Have students develop games and materials for one another. Pose questions or riddles and encourage students to find the answers.
  • Writing: Have students create a museum exhibit for the holiday that includes historical notes, celebration information, and other details. Develop holiday-themed brochures, greeting cards, and press releases or advertisements. Design ad campaigns to convince others to join the celebration.
  • Math: Have students survey a group about some aspect of the holiday, such as who celebrates it, who’s heard of it before, or who thinks it’s a fun excuse for a party. Graph the results.Cook related foods, using measurement. Modify recipes on paper by halving or doubling, or cooking the right amount for a certain number of guests based on yield information. Create story problems related to appropriate skills that involve the holiday.
  • Social Sciences: Have students research the holiday’s origins and history. What countries celebrate? How? Do different regions of our country celebrate differently? Many of the unusual commemorations are actually declared by various governmental groups, such as state legislative bodies or even the Federal government. Connect these holidays with lessons on how bills become laws and how lobbyists work with elected representatives to get legislation enacted. Find out why special interest groups might want a commemorative day.
  • Science: Design experiments related to the holiday, its celebration, or its theme. Environmental lessons could focus on the area of the world that the holiday commemorates, or on the effects of manufacturing on the world. Try measuring, weighing and quantifying items related to the celebration.