If you’re here looking for festive ELA activities to teach the week(s) before holiday break, I got you.
I know the days (let’s be real—weeks) before holiday break can be some of the most challenging of the year for teachers and students alike. While it might be tempting to simply pop in a movie, there are better ways to spend those days before holiday break.
The “Before Holiday Break” Teaching Struggle
It’s weird to think that such a jolly time of year could be such a challenge for teachers. Sure, you can find all sorts of holiday-themed activities online. However, finding ones that are fun and festive without missing the opportunity to learn something new or reiterate what they’ve already learned is another story. It’s all about striking a balance between engaging and effective.
The good news? It turns out there are many ways to engage students in meaningful activities that promote learning and play upon holiday cheer. Keep reading for 8 festive ELA activities to teach the week(s) before holiday break.
8 Festive ELA Activities to Teach Before Holiday Break
These fairly simple activities (read: limited prep work) will have your students embracing their holiday spirit while engaging in effective learning experiences right up until that last bell rings and the holiday break officially begins. (Hallelujah!)
1. Read a Holiday Short Story
I’m a big fan of teaching short stories all year long. However, the days leading up to holiday break make for the perfect opportunity to include more short stories in the classroom.
Between O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” here to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” there are plenty of high-quality holiday-themed stories to share with your students. They’re fun, festive, and filled with valuable learning opportunities. From reviewing literary elements and practicing literary analysis, there’s a lot you can do with a short story. Read them aloud as a class or have students work in groups to unpack the holiday magic hiding between the lines.
Check out my list of Christmas short stories perfect for secondary students here.
2. Hold a Holiday-Themed Debate
I’ve never met a middle or high school student who doesn’t love to argue. So, why not turn those skills into a valuable (and festive) learning opportunity?
Crafting a clear and well-supported argument is an important skill for students to learn. Better yet, students are often eager for any chance to start a debate in class. Why not get your students in the holiday spirit by giving them various holiday-themed topics to discuss? You can set up speed-debating stations or hold a whole class debate. Either way, challenge them to craft a clear argument with strong and supporting evidence. Here are some of my favorite holiday-themed topics students love to argue:
- Is it better to give gifts or get gifts?
- Should holiday celebrations be banned in schools?
- What is better: Yankee Swap or Secret Santa?
- Team Real Tree or Team Artificial Tree?
3. Write a Personal Narrative About a Holiday Tradition
Switch it up from the classic five-paragraph essay and ask your students to write a personal narrative around their favorite holiday tradition.
One of the reasons I love this pre-holiday break activity is due to the diversity it acknowledges. Remember, not all students celebrate Christmas. The open-ended nature of this assignment allows students to focus on traditions that mean the most to them, no matter what holiday they celebrate. Besides, students will love the freedom to write about something personal and special to them. Give students a chance to share their work to help spread the holiday cheer.
This personal narrative activity is perfect for getting students to dive into descriptive writing and practice their ability to show vs. tell.
4. Christmas Story Starters
Want to engage your students in creative writing ahead of the holidays? Christmas story starters are always a hit.
While the day before holiday break can be a real challenge, these silly Christmas story starters are a perfect way to keep your students engaged. Encourage them to bring their stories to life with descriptive writing and strong diction. Give them a list of figurative language and other literary elements and challenge them to incorporate and identify them throughout their story! These short stories are a fun and festive way to review plot elements and literary devices they’ve learned thus far. To make it really festive, invite students to gather around and share their stories as they sip on some cocoa!
While these story starters are perfect for getting a story going, I like to give students the freedom to include the sentence anywhere in their story.
- “Ho – ho – help me!” came a voice from the chimney…
- I opened the oven to take out the Christmas cookies. “Uh oh,” I cried…
- ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for…
- I looked out through my frosted window, and I couldn’t believe my eyes…
- It was a normal Christmas morning until…
- Let me tell you the story of the year [Santa/the elves] went on strike…
5. Get Everyone Involved with Snowball Writing
Think of this activity as story starters—with a twist.
Snowball writing is a fun activity that gets everyone involved—including your most reluctant writers.
This writing activity has three rounds (outlined below), but it all begins by giving each student a different story starter specific to Christmas or winter in general. Once each student has their story starter, set a timer (I suggest 10-15 minutes) and let the first round begin. After each round, the writer must crumple up their paper (creating a “snowball”) and toss it to the front of the room. Then, each student must grab a snowball, unwrap it, and continue the story by following the round two rules. The process repeats until round 3 is completed. Finally, the story is returned to the original author. I guarantee you and your students will laugh as they read their stories aloud.
The requirements for each round are as follows:
- Round 1: The writer must introduce the setting, the main character, and inciting incident
- Round 2: The writer must develop the plot, introduce a new character, and establish a conflict
- Round 3: The writer must resolve the conflict and conclude the story
6. Make a Case for Their Favorite Holiday Movie
Ask your students what their favorite holiday movie is, and I’m sure you’ll get several different answers. However, I’m also willing to bet they’ll all have reasons why their choice is truly *the* best. So, why not make them prove it?
Having your students make a case for their favorite holiday movie is a perfect way to get them to practice argumentative writing while harnessing their holiday spirit. Challenge students to persuade you of what the best holiday movie is and why—including at least three supporting reasons. If you’re really looking to amp up the competition, you can hold a “Best Holiday Movie” tournament, where students volunteer to face off by reading their written responses to the class. Then, the class votes on a winner, who then takes on a new competitor. It’s always fun to see which movie wins!
As a fun homework assignment leading up to this activity, ask students to watch their holiday movie in preparation!
7. Holiday or Winter-Themed Poetry
Due to its concise, yet beautifully complex nature, teaching poetry is a great way to fill the days leading up to holiday break.
Help your students embrace all the beauty winter has to offer by diving into the figurative language and flow of poetry. There are plenty of winter and holiday-themed poems to share with your students. (Some of my favorites include “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens and “Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams.) After exploring some mentor poems, encourage students to write their own. Challenge them to describe the perfect snowfall, capture Christmas cheer, or convey their image of a winter wonderland—all in the form of poetry. Let your students play around with form and figurative language, and watch the magic come to life.
Looking for something to stretch over a few days? Turn a poetry day into a poetry mini-unit! Spend a few days teaching a handful of poetic devices before diving into reading and analyzing a curated selection of poems.
8. Create a Character Snow Globe
I saved the best—and arguably most fun-–for last. Creating character snow globes is the perfect day-before-break activity when you feel like your students are hanging on by a thread. It’s just the right mix of creativity and critical thought, yet it feels like pure fun!
Character snow globes are a fun way for students to express their understanding of literary characters through a visual art form. Have students select a character from any novel or short story read in class so far. Then, they must determine ten images to represent the character. Provide students with a snow globe template to fill with their chosen images, either hand-drawn pictures or ones cut from magazines. These images might represent character traits, conflicts, relationships, important events, etc.
Want to take it one step further? Have students write an explanation for each of the items in their snow globe and how they represent their chosen character. Alternatively, students can complete this activity for a whole novel by filling their snow globe with images to represent essential characters, themes, conflicts, symbols, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good school vacation as much (if not more than) my students. However, that doesn’t mean I want to wish away the days we have before the break. Instead, I’ve learned to make the most of those moments, building in opportunities for learning and festive fun. I’ve found heading into the holiday break on a good note helps take the sting out of coming back for both teachers and students alike.
With that said, I hope these activities can help you make the most out of the days (or weeks) leading up to the holiday break.
(Bonus)Christmas Digital Escape Room
Need something fun and engaging to do right around the holidays? Your students are going to love solving puzzles in this festive, 360° Christmas escape room. This activity is designed to work for a laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Students will solve a series of clues and riddles based on Christmas! It’s a great way to get students to work collaboratively and practice problem-solving skills.
This activity is not only great for the typical classroom, but it can also be used as a team building activity for clubs and groups, or even for staff during a professional development day.
Included in this download are teacher instructions, student instructions, the master lock graphic organizer, answer keys, and a reflection sheet (optional).