Assignment Ideas for the Week Before Christmas Break

You know it’s coming. That dreaded “week before Christmas break.” It’s a time when it’s every teacher for himself, and most educators believe that just for a few days, entire schools should be crop-dusted with ADHD meds.

What do you do? Half of your class has checked-out mentally and the other half have checked-out physically. If you are on a block schedule, then odds are that you have a few days sandwiched between end-of-course tests and Christmas break. If you only have a day or two, by all means, give your kids a break and watch a movie. You all deserve it. But don’t check out and just show something with zero educational value like Elf. Make sure it is a movie with historical content, and write a few class discussion questions on the board while you’re at it.

Sidenote: I recently was somewhat horrified to hear that some teachers the local area had students watch movies for the last TWO WEEKS of the semester because testing was over. I know that it’s hard to keep kids focused after testing, but if you automatically show movies to kill time you are telling your students several things:

  • School is about testing, not learning
  • Learning for learning’s sake is not valuable
  • It’s ok to take the easy way out

Movies in the classroom are ok as an occasional reward (be careful with this one) or to reinforce content, but they should NEVER take the place of instruction just because you don’t feel like teaching. Rant over.

What if your administrators won’t allow movies or you have more than just a day or two to kill? What then? Well, the thing to keep in mind is that you want assignments that meet the following criteria:

  • Creative (Kids are burned out from test or distracted by the coming break.)
  • Adaptable (Kids will be sporadically absent. Do something that can work with any subject matter and any amount of students.)

So just what can you do when things are crazy? Here are my assignment ideas to help get you through the pre-Christmas craziness. (Keep in mind that these can be used at the end of the year in May/June as well.)

  • Have students design a commemorative Christmas ornament about a historical figure. I just posted a very detailed version of this assignment on Teachers Pay Teachers. It will be free for a limited time. Get it while you can, and if you like it, please leave me a good review!
  • Put students in groups and have them act out historical events for the class to guess. (Each group must provide 3 clues within their skit and must give you a hard copy of the clues before they perform.)
  • Have students create a song in which they replace traditional Christmas lyrics with those about a historical event. Click here to download my stellar creation about Valley Forge called Deck the Tents…sure to be a blockbuster hit! 😉 If your students choose this option, take a picture of the lyrics and project them on the board. Have the class sing it together! Get into it and make it fun and silly.
  • Have student write poetry, create raps, or make acrostic poems about historical figures.
  • Have students plan a very brief presentation answering one of the following questions: What historical figure (that we have studied) would you like to meet and why? What historical event (that we have studied) would you like to have witnessed and why? Students should give 3-5 solid reasons for their feelings. Require students to make a bulleted list that they must eventually turn in to you, which will help them solidify/organize their thoughts. (You could make them write an essay, but the whole point of these activities is that they are low-stress for students. If you think your kids can handle it, go for it.) Then have students get in small groups and share their presentations.

The common thing about all of these activities is that they can be adapted to almost any subject, they allow kids to get creative, and they require very little planning on your part!

Good luck! You’re almost there!

*Image copyrighted and used in accordance with license agreement at Canstockphoto.com

Biography Book Cover Assignment

If a book was written about your life what would it look like? What picture would be on the cover? What tag line would be used? What would the summary on the back say?

While working on my lesson for Benjamin Franklin, I decided to have my students create a book cover for a biography about him. This would be a great idea to use with any historical figure that you wanted your students to know a lot about.

 

You could use this book cover idea to reinforce the importance of people such as:
  • Christopher Columbus
  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Civil War generals
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Teddy Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
My students have to include the following things:
  • A catchy title that reflects the life of the person
  • A picture that represents that person’s life
  • A tag line under the title that gives a little more information (A phrase or one-line summary of this person)
  • A paragraph on the back of the book that gives a summary of the book, which includes some details of this person’s life/interests/importance.  (You may want to give a specific number of details required if you think your students might skimp on the information.)
  • You could also include an optional book endorsement quote by someone who would have known the person. (If the book was about Ben Franklin, you could have something like this… “A great book about a great man.” – Thomas Jefferson)
I whipped up a quick book cover template that I thought I’d share with you.  It would be a good idea to also show your students several copies of real book covers, so they get an idea of what you want.  (Just run down to the media center before class and grab a few.)

Fun, Free Quizzes to Use as Fillers at the End of Class

There are five minutes left in class.  Your students are tired.  It’s too late to start anything new and you don’t have an exit ticket idea to fill the time.  What do you do?  It’s always a good idea to have some quick, fun “filler” activities up your sleeve for just such a time.  Here is a great one…

For years I’ve been using Encyclopedia Britannica instead of Wikipedia.  (I want a reputable source for my information, rather one that literally anyone can edit.)  I have NEVER noticed, until today, that they have a tab at the top of their page called “Quizzes.”  I clicked on it and, what do you know, they have a bunch of free quizzes.  Wouldn’t it be convenient if they happened to have some about US history?  Well, they do!  These quizzes are usually around 10 questions and are graded immediately after you answer each question.  The only catch is that each question must be answered within 10 seconds or it is counted wrong, and those 10 seconds go by really fast!  The faster you answer, the higher your score is.  On the score page at the end of the quiz, you can scroll down for detailed answers to each question.

How can you use this?  Bookmark these quizzes and put them in a folder in your browser labeled “Filler” (or maybe something less obvious to your students, like “5 Minute Fun”).  Then, you can pull one or two of these up on your projector or interactive board and let your students try them.  Since this is a filler activity, you can let the kids just yell out the answers and quickly decide what they collectively think is the correct answer..  If that is too loosey-goosey for you, have them answer silently and keep track of their points on a scratch sheet of paper.

There are over 150 history quizzes!  (They also have a Geography section.)  I’m providing links below to the ones that I like best.  You can also click here and scroll down to browse all of their quizzes.  One other thing to note: you don’t have to do a quiz that is associated with the content you are currently covering.  Sometimes it’s good to throw some random knowledge out there and remind students that any learning is good, regardless of whether it will “be on the test.”

US Presidential Elections

US Presidential Firsts

First Ladies of the United States

John Adams or John Quincy Adams

Salem Witch Trials

Republican or Democrat

Abraham Lincoln

Soldiers in Petticoats:  Fact or Fiction

US and Cuba

19th Amendment and Women’s Suffrage

US Presidential Nicknames

The Titanic

World War I or World War II

Pirates:  Fact or Fiction

The US: Fact or Fiction

Which of these quizzes is your favorite?  What’s the highest score you or your class achieved?  Let us know how you did in the comments below!

 

Blank Newspaper Worksheet: 4 Assignment Ideas

Have you ever found a cool news article that you want to make sure your students read and understand?  This sheet, covering the 5 W’s of a newspaper article, was created to be used with the NY Times, but it can be used with any news article.  It’s a fillable PDF, so students can fill it in online or you can print a blank copy.

Classroom Uses:

  • Give students current event articles relating to historical discoveries or events and have them complete the sheet.
  • Give students old newspaper articles about historical events and have them read the article and complete the sheet.
  • Have students read a news article from this list and fill out the form.
  • Use the form as a planning sheet to help a student write their own fake news article about an important historical event.

What other ways could you use this in the classroom?  Share your ideas in the comments section below.

 

Tips for Remembering Constitutional Amendments

Do you know about ALL of the amendments to the Constitution?  Can you tell me what each one changed or added to the Constitution?  I can’t (gasp).  I’m betting your students can’t either (and probably you neither, unless you’ve been teaching Civics for a while).  Well, I found this video that gives some quick pneumonic devices to help you remember some of the more important amendments.  You don’t necessarily need to show this to your students, but I would watch it and go over these tricks with your students (and use them yourself).  The tip about the Reconstruction amendments is pretty helpful.

The one that he didn’t cover, which I think is super-important, is the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.  I actually scoured the internet (ok, I looked for 10 minutes) to see if anyone else had tips for remembering the 19th, and I couldn’t find anything useful!  I used to tell my students to imagine a bunch of women standing in line to vote wearing t-shirts that say “19” or imagine a bunch of girls jumping up and down squealing, “I’m 19!”  You know, that would be a good extra credit assignment; have students come up with easy and creative ways to remember the some of the important amendments.

Do you have any neat ways to remember amendments?  Leave them in the comments below!

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