Beyond the




How to Plan Lessons Effectively during the Holiday Season

Female teacher sits on classroom floor reading holiday book to children.

Wondering how to plan lessons during the holidays? Focus on finding ways to help students connect to the spirit of the season.

The holiday season, especially December, can be a particularly challenging time for teachers to engage students. Many students are eager for treats, presents, and family gatherings. The holidays can also be a difficult time for some students, who may lose the stability of school, two meals a day, and the comfort of friends. Most teachers wonder how to plan lessons that can keep students on task and focused on their learning.

Further Reading: 5 Time-Management Strategies That Can Help You Beat the Busy Holiday Season

Here are some tips and strategies to help teachers plan fun, effective, and engaging lessons during the holidays.

Lean into the Spirit

When thinking about how to plan lessons, remember that not all students celebrate the same holidays. Teachers should always plan activities in both educationally and culturally responsive ways that don't focus simply on the dominant culture's holidays. Students come from many different backgrounds, so teachers should work to respect, honor, and celebrate in a way that is inclusive.

There are, however, universal themes of kindness and care to tap into so students can embrace the true spirit of the season. Students can, for example, write letters to members of the military, veterans, and first responders through Operation Gratitude. Check-in with local nursing homes, whose clients would love to read letters from young people. It's always powerful when students get a chance to write for an audience other than their teacher.

Think Winter

Even if you live in a warm climate, exploring the joys of winter can be fun. There are plenty of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities that engage students, such as asking them to examine the impact of cold temperatures and icy conditions on the environment. English language arts (ELA) students can read, analyze, and recite poems about snow and cold by Robert HaydenEmily DickinsonClaude McKay, and Robert Frost. Students can then write their own poems to explore their thoughts and feelings about the season.

Move Around

Many students tend to have boundless energy during the holidays, so it helps to plan lessons that involve some sort of movement. In my sophomore ELA class, for example, I lead a relay based on literary terms, grammar, punctuation, and other ELA skills with my students. They line up in rows and each student comes to the front of the room for their question. They take the question back to their seat, answer it, and then return it to the front of the room. If the answer is wrong, the next person must answer it. If it's correct, the next person comes up for a new question. The first row to successfully complete all their questions wins!

I often tell the students this relay is a game of both skill and speed, and students have so much fun running up and down the aisles, laughing and cheering on their teammates. When thinking about how to plan lessons, involving movement is key to helping students burn off some of that excess holiday energy.

Watch a Movie

If your school allows it, build a lesson around a movie. Analyzing holiday movies can involve activating higher-level thinking skills, and it can help students examine media in new ways. Show the students holiday classics like A Charlie Brown ThanksgivingThe Grinch, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and ask the students to examine the major themes or characterizations therein. Asking students to think critically about narrative storytelling and to connect the movie's themes to the relevant things in their lives can be empowering and keep them focused on the things they enjoy while learning.

Involve the Community

Over my 27-year teaching career, I've found students truly enjoy guest speakers. Finding a senior citizen who might want to tell students about what the holidays looked like over 70 years ago can be surprisingly fun. A local author, artist, or speaker from the historical society can bring great insights to your classroom. Students can write reflections on the experience, including what they learned and how it affected them.

Since college students are usually on break, a former student can visit your classroom to tell students about the college admissions process and college life in general. This works well at any grade level and can help students envision what their higher education path might look like. A guest speaker can break up the daily routine and provide a little sparkle to the day.

Set Goals

Since the holidays are only a few months into the school year, this is a good time for students to evaluate and write down their short-term and long-term goals (or resolutions) for the school year. Forbes notes that setting goals can promote self-mastery, trigger focus, build self-confidence, and help sustain momentum. I ask students to write out their short and long-term goals and then examine how they plan to achieve those goals, including how they will address the obstacles standing in their way. This activity is always valuable, and it helps students reconnect to their learning.

Further Reading: Last-Minute Media: Fill up Your Spare Time with these Fun Holiday Videos

Teaching during the holidays can be challenging, but if you keep these tools and strategies in mind when you think about how to plan lessons, you can be sure to keep your inner-Grinch at bay, while your students stay engaged in their learning.