Bring Joy into Your ELA Classroom


joy in school

Assessment, rigor, data analysis, text complexity: These are the buzzwords in education today. All of this emphasis on accountability can unfortunately make learning dreary and tedious. But joy makes learning memorable, and students often look back fondly on creative activities. After the stress of the past two years, enjoyable learning is more important than ever, and it’s up to teachers to send the message that sometimes it’s okay to have fun in class!

The holiday season is a perfect time to incorporate something out of the ordinary in your classes.

1. Do a literary cookie exchange with your students.

Make eating cookies a literary event! After reading a

cookie exchange

novel or story, have students make cookies that symbolically represent literary elements. For instance, a student can make a cookie in the shape of momma’s plant from A Raisin in the Sun.  Let students bring in their homemade or store-bought cookies to exchange with one another. During the exchange, they can explain how the cookies connect with their selected literary elements. Use these free handouts to guide their planning and presentations.

literature activity

As a modification, if some students can’t make cookies, offer other ways for them to participate.  Maybe they can design cookies with illustrations or online programs and write descriptions of their cookies.  Of course, be sure to check for food allergies so no one makes cookies that could make other students sick.  And don’t forget to bring in hot chocolate or cider for students to enjoy on the cookie exchange day! 

2. Lead students on a “writing walk.”

writing walk

Get your students to use sensory details with this free activity.   Students not only improve their writing but also get out of their seats for place-based writing. Take them to write at various locations such as the stage, cafeteria, locker room, and media center around the school (or, weather permitting, go outside to a park or other place in walking distance).  Handouts include guiding questions to help students write words and phrases for each sense: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.  Then students write poetry, stories, or other reflections with their descriptions. While this activity can be completed any time of the year, the sights, sounds, and scents of the holidays make it a delightful experience during the winter season.

3. Design Secret Santa Stockings

Give your students an opportunity to display their artistic talents. In this activity, students illustrate stockings for characters in their reading. It requires them to analyze characterization and to provide a written rationale for their gift selections. 


Easily adaptable to the needs of your curriculum or students, this activity could be done for authors, historical figures, scientists, artists, or others being studied in secondary classes.

4. Show Gratitude

Use this YouTube video to help students see the connection between sharing their gratitude and feeling happy. Even better, have students call and thank someone who has had a positive influence on their lives. Before calling, they can write out what they want to say. Not only will this activity increase the happiness of your students, but it will likely make the days of the people whom they call a lot cheerier, too!

5.  Celebrate with a Special Event

english-language-artsOrganize a poetry slam, read-in, or other activity that revels in appreciating the language arts. For years, I organized a “Read-a-Latte Café” celebration. For the occasion, 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. We added hot chocolate, tea, and pastries to make it extra special for the holidays.

6.  Play Games

Play games to make learning engaging in the days leading up to winter break or other holiday occassions.  You can find many pre-made activities at online sites such as Kahoot or Blooket.  You can also create your own twist on classic games such as Jeopardy, Bingo, or Jenga.  My students love to play trashketball, and I’m happy to get students who are stuck inside out of their seats.  

What do you do to make learning special in your classroom?  Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that you have wonderful holiday season!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

hello there!

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher and curriculum designer. I like to make learning active, relevant, and fun while encouraging students to think critically about the world around them. With 24+ years of teaching experience, I also want to empower educators – in the classroom, online, and at home- so they can provide the best lessons to their students!


Sign up for an exclusive freebie!