Holidays in the Classroom
Thanks for visiting Share2Learn!
Holiday Inquiry Lesson
~ Jan Sanders
There are many holidays throughout the year. With the inquiry method students can learn about those holidays or the people they celebrate. The activity described below was done in a 4th grade classroom. The students were highly motivated and learned many unknown facts.
When the Presidents' (Washington and Lincoln), birthdays were near numerous books would be gathered from the library about Washington and Lincoln making sure to include reading levels from 2nd to 6th grade.
Before looking at the books, the students write down facts they know about Washington and facts they know about Lincoln. Then the class would share some of those facts.
If the class is in table groups (or make groups), each group picks one of the presidents. As a table group they share their facts with each other to see what information they have. At this time if someone challenged a fact they mark it knowing they would have to check for accuracy. Students also note if someone else has the same fact.
Each table group is then given a set of books (making sure the levels fit the students) and they find facts or interesting information about their president. They are guided to look for facts not commonly known, or information that would surprise others. They are to go beyond what they already know. They research (be sure to include how to use the table of contents, index, captions, etc...) their topic extensively, writing down a minimum of ten facts. They also check the accuracy of a fact if necessary.
Each group is given a large piece of paper (18 x 24 or 24 x 36) where they draw something that represents their president or some of the information learned. They write the "facts" on the back.
Each group then "reports" information to the class. The students hold the poster up so the class can see the picture and they have their notes on the back to help them share what they learned about the president. Each student in the group is expected to share at least one fact.
Other holidays you might want to try: Martin Luther King, Valentine's Day, Veteran's Day, Columbus Day, Black History Month (could be specific people), St. Patrick's Day... etc.
I don't do a program or play at Christmas. The holiday is hectic and I choose to make caroling the focus in our room. The children use Carol Books that I made up years ago and tweak yearly. They are typed lyrics to very familiar Christmas songs along with some we learn together. There are Christmas coloring pages to illustrate. Twice daily we sing from the books and the kids (especially this year!) often buddy read them during our two independent reading times. Sometimes the classroom sounds like backstzage at the met! Every year, without fail, there have been several children whose reading level has been significantly impacted by music and I can think of three child I know -without doubt-learned to read with Frosty and Rudolph. Then we end our month, as we will today, with a family caroling party through shops and offices downtown (consisting of two blocks). The parents help prepare a spread that leaves the rest of the building envious! We get good family turn out and true participatioon (you can hardly go caroling with your kids and not sing along).
One of our Social Studies units is called "Celebrations" and is supposed to focus on why, how, what, when people celebrate things. I used to think it was a fluff unit, with no meat until I put in a section about traditions. We sent a letter home asking parents to tell their children about a family tradition and then to answer a few questions about it. The answers that come in are so fantastic they give me chills! The families take this very seriously and their pride comes through in their written answers. I share them with the kids and together we decide if we want to display them somehow so others can read them.
During this unit we create charts and matrices comparing holidays and celebrations around the world, read and discuss Byrd Baylor's I'm in Charge of Celebrations, and integrate art, music, math, writing and poetry into all activities. I have come to enjoy this required unit a lot more.
Often, all my students celebrate Christmas regardless of religious background. This year, we did a review of math concepts since September. Working in cooperative groups, teams had to design a Christmas tree using geometric shapes. They then had to design ornaments using geometric principles (intersecting shapes, etc.). Each team then had to place a fact family in the middle of each ornament. Finally, they had to write a report on the process of design as well as describing their projects. They also had to describe how well their groups worked. They presented their projects to the class. It was fun combining math, literacy, art and cooperative learning into two fun afternoons - especially as the snow was falling.
I do house/tree/night in the weeks before Christmas. We read about houses around the world and make our homes from construction paper. Then we write descriptions and use the address number as a "key." For trees we study deciduous/coniferous, do a lot of graphing, continue our year-long study of our "class" tree by visiting it, drawing the "winter" tree and then writing about it. We plant (and read) paperwhites and begin a class observation journal.We also cut deciduous and coniferous trees in a directed lesson and add to the houses. We make a bird-feeder out of pinecones. Rigby has a great step-by-step non-fiction (level 6 or 7, I think.)The last week we study NIGHT. We do some star and planet stuff, I teach them to draw a five pointed star which we add to the winter neighborhood, and we read a reader's theater about the planets. We also have a pajama party and invite in oral reading models with whom we have relationships (family and friends). So we end up with a winter neighborhood in the hall. I (and others)get to read Christmas/Hanukkah /Kwanzaa literature as appropriate. I teach first-grade.
With our traveling journal, I ask each family to share a family tradition or celebration. They write about it as a family, and the kids draw pictures. Sometimes a parent will even come and do a presentation for the class. Last year a Mom with family in India, told how the new year's celebration is done. This gives everyone a chance to share something, from birthdays to family gatherings to traditional holidays.
We combine all the journal entries into a big book that we call "Celebrations."