No doubt, my students will be the first to claim that I ask them to work hard in English class. I assign 30 minutes of reading and vocabulary homework each night, including weekends! I expect time in class to be used for learning, so there is very little “down” time in our 90-minute class periods. However, along with the expectations to be sedulous and studious, I think it’s appropriate to have fun on occasion.
Learning should be engaging and joyful; that’s what makes it memorable. I especially enjoy creating activities and events which celebrate the end of long units, or after standardized testing and around the holidays. Here are two celebrations that I love!
1. For several years, when I taught middle school and
younger high school students, I organized a “Read-a-Latte Café” celebration. For the read-in, guest speakers joined my students in reading aloud from favorite books/poems/etc. and discussing the importance of reading in their work and personal lives. Some of our guests included Sherman the Shorebird (the mascot from our local Minor League Baseball team), the local mayor, a deputy sheriff, and a fire captain. Of course, parents and school staff participated, too, including the principal and varsity football coach. To make it extra fun, we decorated the classroom to create a coffeehouse atmosphere and served hot chocolate, tea, and pastries (food always makes school more fun). This activity works well for any holiday season or Read Across America Day.
2. I also like to celebrate the end of our reading of classic novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. For To Kill a Mockingbird, I host a tea party (read about it here) and when I teach The Great Gatsby, we create a Roaring 20’s Party (really, this assignment could be adapted to almost any novel). Besides being fun, these lessons incorporate essay assignments that require narrative and literary analysis writing. Students write from the viewpoints of characters and connect their characters to novel themes. When we do this, I guide students to a more complex understanding of the characters and their situations.
My drama students love this, too, because with the help of costumes and props, they “become” their characters and engage in role-play, joining the rest of their classmates who are also characters from the books. At the parties, students interview one another and use their reading of the novel to infer one another’s characters. They can also evaluate one another’s abilities to portray characters, judging whether each student has used dialect, dialogue, facial expressions, or body language fitting the assigned character.
I also expect students to contribute to the party, and many display their baking and crafting talents. They can bring hor d’oeuvres and desserts, research appropriate music, or make invitations and decorations. We also engage the rest of our school community, inviting other teachers, school staff, and administrators.
In addition to celebrating our learning, the holiday season is a perfect time to encourage compassion. A fun Instagram activity gets students researching about people who are inspirational, have made personal sacrifices, or have demonstrated other #actsofkindness. Now, more than ever, it’s important for students to research historical figures, local heroes, and others who exemplify kindness, tolerance, and generosity. You can download this free activity to use in your classroom also!