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A Teacher’s Guide to Kicking Off the New Year in Secondary ELA

    a teachers guide for kicking off the new year in secondary ela

    Beat the post-winter-break blues with this list of engaging activities perfect for secondary ELA. They’re the perfect way to get students back on track and eager to learn in the New Year.

    When the holiday season has come and gone, so, it seems, does zest and zeal for learning. At least in those first days (or weeks) after winter break, that is.

    I’ll be the first to admit that the start of a new year (and new semester) can feel daunting, and getting students back into the swing of things after winter break can feel like an uphill battle. However, I’ve learned to harness it as an opportunity to spice things up, try new activities, break free of mundane routines, and set a tone for the rest of the school year.

    Whether you want to weave in reflection writing and resolution-making or want to start strong by reviewing and reinforcing vital concepts and skills, this post has plenty of ideas to help you kick off the New Year.

    Welcome Students Back From Winter Break With These Engaging ELA Activities

    Return from winter break and reignite your student’s love for learning with these New Year’s-inspired Language Arts activities. From reflection writing to creative spins on New Year’s resolutions, this list has plenty of activities to keep your students engaged.

    1. Assign Reflective Journal Prompts

    Start the new year by inviting students to reflect on the past year. Reflective journaling helps students foster self-awareness as they consider their strengths, weaknesses, and personal goals. As a big believer in failing forward, I love how this activity encourages students to learn from their mistakes while promoting ongoing personal growth and a growth mindset.

    Provide students with a variety of reflective prompts to jump-start their thought process. Here are five of my favorite prompts to use:

    • Describe a significant achievement, lesson, or moment from the past year. How will that impact your outlook going into the new year?
    • What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
    • List three personal or academic goals for the upcoming year. Describe the steps you can start taking to set you on a path toward achieving your goals.
    • Reflect on a book or piece of literature that had a lasting impact on you in the past year.
    • What is something that brings you joy and how can you incorporate it more into your life in the new year?

    2. Set Up Back From From Break Review Stations

    Welcome your students back from winter break by rotating through effective and efficient review activities. Plan each station to review a different ELA concept, from reviewing comma rules and key vocabulary to practicing literary analysis and various writing skills. This engaging learning station setup reinforces key concepts from the previous semester while engaging students in a comprehensive and interactive review experience. To really add a “New Year’s” vibe, include a station for making New Year’s resolutions or reflective writing.

    Need inspiration? Check out these 9 learning station ideas.

    3. Share New Books for the New Year

    If you’re looking to foster a love for reading among your students, it’s important to keep exposing them to relevant and high-interest texts. There are all sorts of fun activities that allow you to make book recommendations to your students, and for students to propose suggested titles to their peers. The best part? These activities not only introduce new books but also cultivate a reading culture within the classroom.

    Consider kicking off the new year with these book-sharing activities:

    • Introduce students to new titles by hosting a book tasting event.
    • Invite students to share their favorite reads of 2023 and recommend books to their peers.
    • Create a visual display of recommended reads for the new year.
    • Have students vote on their favorite books from the past year. Just be prepared—the winner will likely become the most requested book from your classroom library.

    Consider sharing these high-interest titles perfect for reluctant readers!

    4. Pick a Person of the Year Expository Writing

    Whether it’s awarded to a pop culture icon, like Taylor Swift, or a political figure, like Barack Obama, everyone looks forward to the grand reveal of TIME’s renowned “Person of the Year.” This year, let your students in on some of the fun and excitement by writing their own person of the year feature article. Challenge students to critically evaluate the impactful figures of the past year in their lives, both famous and not. Put student’s research, analytical, and expository writing skills to the test in a fun and creative way as they highlight the achievements and influence of their chosen individual.

    5. Summarize Your Winter Break in 6 Words

    If you’re looking for a quick bell ringer to kick off the new year, try this spin on the beloved 6-Word Memoir activity inspired by Ernest Hemingway. Challenge students to sum up their winter break in a concise yet expressive manner where they are limited to six words. Students must boil down a summary of their break into a single impactful statement, fostering creativity and practicing effective clear and concise communication. This minimalist approach challenges them to carefully choose their words, resulting in powerful and reflective six-word memoirs.

    Go beyond winter break by asking students to write a “year in review” 6-word reflective memoir for 2023.

    6. Read Winter-Themed Literature

    Sure, the holiday fun may be over but you can keep the season’s spirit high with winter-themed reading activities. Rather than falling into the trap of winter gloom and doom, celebrate the beauty of the season by analyzing winter-themed short stories and poems. As students explore the themes and symbolism of winter in literature, have them pay close attention to how authors use a seasonal setting to amplify characterization, conflict, theme, or tone and mood.

    Additionally, they can channel their creativity by crafting their own winter-themed stories or poems, keeping the seasonal spirit alive in the classroom.

    7. Create Word of the Year One-Pagers

    Set an optimistic tone for the start of the year with this Word of the Year one-pager project.

    Start with a classroom brainstorming session to get the ideas flowing. Then, have each student select a word that best captures their aspirations and intentions for the new year. Next, have them write a one-page reflection exploring the meaning behind their chosen word and why it holds significance. Finally, they will create an inspirational one-pager to serve as a visual representation of their chosen word. Display their final products on a bulletin board for reference and inspiration for the rest of the school year.

    Snag my one-pager project printable templates.

    8. Dive into Growth Mindset Work

    Ease into the new year with some growth mindset work. Maintaining a growth mindset is crucial for students as it fosters resilience and encourages them to embrace challenges on their journey to personal and academic success. There are a lot of ways to incorporate activities and discussions that focus on growth, from simple bell ringers and inspirational coloring pages to journaling and more involved creative projects. Whatever activity you choose, remember to emphasize the value of embracing challenges, learning from mistakes, and maintaining a positive attitude on the journey toward self-improvement and success.

    To learn more about the growth mindset in the classroom, read this.

    10. Make a New Year’s Resolution Recipe

    New Year’s resolutions can feel daunting for some students and that’s exactly why I love this activity. Tap into students’ creativity and critical thinking by asking them to pick a New Year’s resolution and then break it down into tangible steps. Mimicking the structure of a recipe, this activity prompts students to consider the essential “ingredients” and specific actions needed to achieve their goals. By turning resolutions into manageable steps, students gain practical insights into goal-setting and planning for success.

    For an extra layer of fun, have students create visuals for recipe cards. Then, put them all together in a New Year’s Resolution recipe book!

    11. Create Character Resolutions

    Looking for a fun bulletin board idea for the new year? Look no further! Have students decorate the board with New Year’s resolutions they craft for their favorite literary characters. Challenge them to step into the character’s shoes and think about what goals, resolutions, or aspirations they would have for the upcoming year. This imaginative writing activity prompts students to engage with characterization in a fun and creative way. They must think about the character on a deeper level, considering the character’s overall development. In turn, students will feel connected on a deeper level to the characters and stories they love.

    Check out 9 more bulletin board ideas for your ELA Classroom.

    Bring On the New Year!

    We’ve all felt the dread of returning to the classroom after winter break. However, I hope this post gave you some ideas that will have you feeling prepared (and maybe even a little excited) for getting back into the swing of things after the holidays.

    By incorporating these fun and engaging ideas, you can create an environment where students are not only re-energized but also eager to dive back into learning (okay, or at least dip their toes in) without all the moaning and groaning.

    On that note, cheers to a year filled with lots of learning and the continued growth of our students as readers, writers, and thinkers!

    Start YOUR year off on the right foot with these New Year’s resolutions perfect for teachers.

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