November 10

Corralling the Chaos During the Holidays

As we begin to skid wildly into the holiday madness known as November and December in the high school classroom, teachers don their adventure hats and take their stances before the restless masses of students. We all know what’s coming once the sugar high of Halloween madness begins, and we must do all we can to keep this academic train planted firmly on the rails of education. A bit much? Not if you’re the one in the front of the classroom attempting to keep all 145+ (or more) students engaged and focused on a daily basis.

So what do we do? How do we keep the kids engaged in academia when their minds and attention are anywhere but what you are attempting to teach them? (And that doesn’t even count the numerous classroom interruptions this time of year, so teaching an intensely focused unit is pretty much out the window.)

Well I’m here to help. Below are five of my very favorite go-to lessons and activities to help keep your high school students engaged in the classroom during the holiday build up. NOTE: Some of these are paid resources indicated by the dollar sign next to the link, while others are FREE indicated by the large F next to the link. All paid resources are less than $4.00.


#1) Blackout Poetry (Long’s Learners) $

This assignment can be used at any time alongside existing units of study or as a stand alone activity. Students are given a page from a book. Yes, you must muster the strength to deface and tear up an actual book in order to complete this one. I use books that the library no longer wants and are giving away to clear their shelves for new books. I have also used books from my own classroom library that students have “lovingly” read and returned in not so great shape. I suppose you could make copies of book pages and print them off as well. However, I find that giving each student a different page from a book allows for more diverse poems.

Students are asked to skim the page and circle words that pop out to them. They then go back and “black out” the rest of the page so to speak leaving behind the newly found poem as well as their artwork. My students love this one and typically ask for additional pages to create more.

#2) Pass Back Story (Long’s Learners) FREE

This one is always a class favorite as well. I typically place students in rows or small groups with desks in a circle. Everyone starts with their own piece of notebook paper with their name at the top. I give everyone in the room the same sentence starter to write on their page (see ideas below). I set the timer for 2 minutes as students quietly begin to write their story. At the end of the 2 minutes, students stop right where they are…middle of a sentence, middle of a word, middle of a letter. It doesn’t matter. They stop and pass their paper to the person on their right. I give students one minute to read what is on their paper, set the timer for 2 more minutes, and students continue the story on the page before them. They repeat this process until either their original paper is returned to them or I ask them to conclude the story before them and return the paper to the original owner. Then we read the stories out loud. I have never once been disappointed in the hilarity that ensues as a result of this fun writing activity. Students don’t even know they are learning as they write, and I’m not about to tell them!

Possible sentence starters:

The holiday break had just started when…

It was a dark and stormy night on the farm…

I turned the corner and couldn’t believe my eyes…

It didn’t seem like such a bad idea at the time…


#3) Cartoon Obituaries (Long’s Learners) $

Students will write an epitaph and an obituary for a cartoon character. I include certain items that must be included in their writing. This assignment includes directions, a rubric, and a tombstone for them to use. This assignment could also be used for any fictional character that has been studied in class.

#4) Micro fiction Stories (Laura Randazzo) $

This one is exactly as you would imagine. Students are given a genre and instructed to write a complete story (including certain elements) using only two sentences. Students are forced to examine their diction, style, a sentence structure when trying to convey an entire story using only two sentences.

#5) Character Christmas/Holiday Shopping (by Presto Plans) FREE

This one is a fun one to keep students engaged as they are asked to make a short shopping list for a character either of their own choosing or one that has been studied in class. Students must come up with a gift they would buy their character and then list the reasons why that would make the perfect gift for them. It causes students to analyze characters more deeply.

What other ideas do you have for corralling the chaos in your high school classrooms?