Enter to Win a $10 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card

TPT is having a big sale this week, and I have a promotional $10 gift card to give away!  Just fill out the contact form in this post (which will add you to my e-mail list), and I’ll enter you in my drawing!  (Don’t worry, I won’t share or sell your e-mail.)  The TPT sale takes place on February 14th and 15th.  I’ll draw from the entries by 3:00 p.m. EST on the 15th and e-mail you the gift card code if you’ve won!  Good luck!  While you are at it, check out my TPT store to see what you could get with that gift card!


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 Make sure it is a movie with historical content, and write a few class discussion questions on the board while you’re at it.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.)

Visual Syllabus – A Fun Way to Deliver the Boring Stuff…and More!

While prepping for my American Inventors class (I’m teaching one for my local homeschool co-op), I decided that I wanted to spice up my syllabus.  I stumbled across this simple but neat looking visual syllabus.  It’s only $1.75 on TPT. I’ve never used one before, but I decided to try it.  It was very easy to edit, and it looked pretty cool afterwards.  I did make a few changes and tweaks to fit my needs.  It’s much more visually appealing than a regular old syllabus.  I will say, however, that while you can give the basics on this syllabus, you STILL need to make sure you give out a copy of your procedures (which definitely won’t fit on this).

You could also use this syllabus for notes.  Change out some of the clip art and you can add note content instead of syllabus content.  It wouldn’t need to be anything fancy, but sometimes delivering content in a different manner helps break the monotony.  You could use it to create a broad overview of a war.  Have the dates in one box, the good and bad guys in another, important battles in another, and important people in another.  Oooooh, even better, give the blank template to your students and (as a review) have THEM create a “cheat-sheet” about the war!  That would be a great way to review the basics about a war or other large topic.

Here’s my syllabus that I created for my class.  I blacked out some top secret stuff that I didn’t think you needed to know…stuff I could let you read, but then I’d have to kill you!  This syllabus is doesn’t include all of the stuff that I would put in if I were teaching a large class full of 30 students, but it still has the basics.  Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t paid or anything like that to write about that syllabus product.  I just like sharing neat and useful things I find!



LTH 016 – How to Plan and Pace Your US History Course

In this episode, I’ll show you a way to quickly plan out your entire US History course.  I’ll also discuss a few ways to get caught up if you are behind, and you’ll learn why it’s not the end of the world if you don’t cover all of the content in the book.


Show Notes and Resources:

How I Organized My Units

Random Acts of Kindness:  True Stories of America’s Civil War – Book on Amazon


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