Teachers and students alike reach winter break with a sense of relief. Finally, a break from homework, critical thinking and long days!
However, for teachers that relief is eventually replaced by nervousness. Without the every day routines and academic assignments that school provides, students start to gradually lose the knowledge they’ve been working so hard to gain through the first half of the year. For example, studies have proven that students’ reading skills regress, some as much as two months worth, during those lengthly summer breaks. A significant number of teachers also report that they have to start a school year by spending three to four weeks reteaching past material.
Fortunately, this academic slide is not as pronounced during shorter breaks but both teachers and students can benefit by providing ways for students to continue to stretch their brains over winter vacation.
To help with the planning, we’ve complied a list of winter break activities and resources perfect for every type of student in the classroom. These ideas replace the dreaded homework packet for interactive experiences that students (dare we say it) may even find enjoyable, while still giving them plenty of time to relax and enjoy the holidays.
For the sports fan…
Add critical thinking to college football: ‘Tis the season for college football playoffs and we’re willing to bet several students will be watching, whether it’s their choice or their parents’ choice. Either way, watching football can easily become a learning opportunity as long as you plan ahead.
The New York Times offers several football-centric lesson plan ideas, one of which turns the game into a writing prompt. Ask students to brainstorm descriptive words they would use to describe the game as they are watching, and afterwards have them become a sports reporter by writing their own recap using those words.
And because football, like most sports, is so heavily rooted in statistics, why not make it about the numbers? This lesson plan features four different activities students can do with sports data, from gathering it to analyzing it. Push their thinking even further by asking them to discuss why certain statistics are more mentioned than others, and how sports analysts draw conclusions from data.
For the budding scientist…
Candy science (and other easy to do at home science projects from Science Buddies): Science experiments shouldn’t be confined to the school lab. Students can easily practice scientific inquiry and the scientific method at home over the break with this easy project that simply requires some colored candy pieces and water.
Science Buddies also has a vast variety of other science experiments students can do together with their parents at home, with many of them only requiring materials that can already be found around the house. No need for fancy kits, no need for lab equipment and no need to be in school at all.
For the gamer…
BrainPOP’s GameUp: Tons of educators use BrainPop for their clear, concise animated videos that explain everything from verb tenses to metric units. However, the website’s game section is also an untapped treasure trove of educational games that’ll help students practice or recall what’s been taught in the classroom.
Students will have the additional pleasure of getting to tell their parents that they have to play games “for homework.”
For both the avid and uncertain reader…
Choose Your Own Adventure books: Some readers are able to get lost in any book they pick up. Others aren’t so easy to please. With so many things competing for your students’ attention over the break, how can teachers and parents make reading an attractive enough activity for kids to actually sit and do?
Enter Choose Your Own Adventure books, where students get to choose how the story unfolds by following prompts within each book and skipping to different sections depending on the choices they make. Since students are so used to the linear structure of books, this new and novel way to read a story will be engaging. Best of all, each book can be read over and over again as students search for all the different possibilities for the tale.
For the internet maven…
Internet scavenger hunt: Some kids just can’t get enough of surfing the web. Heck, some adults are the same way. The internet is such a treasure trove of engaging, entertaining, and weird content. Why not use this repository of information to the educator’s advantage? Once you’ve carefully vetted the places where you want your students going, the internet can become a stand-in teacher over winter break.
An easy way to do this is to create internet scavenger hunts for your students. These usually take the form of packets with step-by-step instructions on what websites you want your students to go to and questions you want them to be able to answer once there. Not only are they a great way for students to review topics already taught, but they are perfect for pre-teaching upcoming content. By having students start the investigation into the next unit, teachers are free to jump right into the heart of the content after the break.
We’ve provided a link to a list of great pre-made internet scavenger hunts, but teachers can also easily make their own, including as many interactive website elements as they want. Find a super fun game that also conveys your objective super well? Include it in the hunt, and have students discuss their experience playing it. Is there a video you want them to watch? Put a video notecatcher right into your scavenger hunt. The internet is your new oyster.
For the future teacher…
Teach an adult (and quiz them too): You can only teach someone if you have mastery over the content you are teaching. That’s the core idea behind asking a student to take a concept and explain it to someone else. In the classroom, this takes the form of projects that allow students the opportunity to present to fellow students. But this kind of experience doesn’t require classmates to be present. It also doesn’t require a teacher to facilitate. All students need is a person they can teach and with family gatherings often peppering the holidays, your kids will have no shortage of that.
Enter the “teach an adult” activity. Simply provide your students with a handout (we’ve linked one that you can download and adapt to your needs) that they will then give whoever they are teaching. After the student teaches the subject, the adult will then need to complete the handout using the info they were just told — a “quiz,” if you will. Not only will this get family members involved in their child’s education, but it gives more outgoing students a chance to be boisterous for a good cause.
And just for a bit more practice…
Khan Academy: As teachers look at class data to plan for the rest of the year, they often identify trends in mastery. Perhaps students across the board bombed the fraction multiplication question on last week’s exit tickets. Or maybe they are still struggling with using the correct verb tense in their writing responses.
Khan Academy’s huge database of instructional videos is the perfect place to go to reinforce any objectives students have struggled with during the first half of the year. The clear step-by-step videos will reteach whatever concept your students need the most, and they can be followed by practice questions for students to apply the knowledge immediately.