Keeping engagement high the last day before a big break from school (like Thanksgiving or Winter break) can be difficult. Students can barely contain their excitement, teachers are beyond exhausted, and you’ll still find yourself surprised after all these years about exactly how many families decide to begin their breaks a day early.
Here’s what I do…
Typically, I try to end a unit before going on a large break. I really don’t like having a week (or two!) off in the middle of a unit, so I’ll always try to test before going to break. That being said, I always try to avoid doing it the very last day before break, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the number of students who are absent the day before a big break is astounding. I don’t want to have to go through the hassle of before/after school makeups for 10+ students–plus, the odds that they’ll do as well with a week+ in between is highly unlikely. On a more personal note, I also refuse to give a big test on the last day before a big break because then that means I have to spend my break grading. Teachers deserve breaks, too! Do yourself a solid and plan to give the big assessment the second to last day before a break that way you actually have time to grade.
So, that brings us to the big question…what do you do with that last day before a big break?! I always try to use it as an opportunity to review essential past skills in a game-like format or incorporate in other activities that I normally wouldn’t be able to fit into a unit. For example, before Thanksgiving break, I like to play my Domain & Range of Continuous Functions Connect4 activity with my Algebra 1 class. Domain and range is such a critical skill for success in high school algebra courses (both Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Pre-Calculus focus heavily on it) and is typically a trickier topic for students, so reviewing it at key points throughout the year has really helped improved my students’ long-term skills. We review with a fun Connect4 game, which is essentially like BINGO but 4×4 instead of 5×5. It’s incredibly low prep for us teachers, and the students can never get enough!
Right before Winter break, I typically review solving one-variable inequalities because we move onto rearranging/graphing two-variable inequalities and systems of inequalities right after we return from break. Having a firm reference is a total plus and makes the future lessons go off much, much easier! To review, I normally use my BINGO game with some individual student whiteboards. Again, as a teacher, this activity is just about as close to no-prep as you can get (just print out a few BINGO cards and you’re set!), but students love it!
In both cases, since these are topics students have seen before, they think it’s an “easy day,” and are SO into it. What they don’t realize is how important it is to interleave practice and spiral back to core concepts, so this ends up being a total win-win situation.
This is also a great opportunity to do some of the non-content related activities that you’ve been dying to use all year long. Team-building and perseverance-building activities are perfect for this time of year! Here are a few ideas:
- Play 31-derful (a team-building, strategy/perseverance activity). Here’s a digital version. (NOTE: this activity is pronounced “thirty-wonderful”). You could totally play this game with a regular deck of cards, too!
- Spend a class period doing Number Challenges. Here’s a full blog post with free downloads! This activity is great because it reviews order of operation skills, group work norms, and focuses on building perseverance.
- Play Petals Around the Rose. This is a free online activity where students must figure out the rule for getting the score of a roll of 5 dice. This game is AMAZING! It is a total testament to perseverance. Students will both love it and hate it all at the same time, but they’ll hate it in the best of possible ways–trust me, they will ask you to play it again. Don’t give them any spoilers! They may not figure it out in one class, so keep them waiting. If you have an extra 2 minutes at the end of a class period a week later, play Petals Around the Rose. Everyone finish their quiz early? Play Petals Around the Rose. The only thing you can tell them is that (1) the name of the game is Petals Around the Rose, and the name of the game is everything, and (2) the score is either zero or even.
- Do a team-building activity like The Maze. This activity is super-low prep and gets your whole class to listen and work as one. Plus, it’s super fun!
Since this time of year is so hectic, I wanted to treat you a bit, so I’m participating in a giveaway! There are two ways you can win:
****Giveaway Open W 11/21 – Su 11/25****
- Leave a comment below telling me (a) what the hardest part of the holiday season is for you as a teacher, and (b) what product you’d most like to win from my store (<$10). I will randomly select a winner, and you will be emailed the product of your choosing.
- Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a chance to win a $50 gift card to amazon.com! Again, a winner will be chosen randomly and contacted by email. Make sure to enter the gift card giveaway here!
For additional chances to win, check out these fabulous ladies’ blog posts! I’ve teamed up with each incredible woman, below, to write posts about keeping engagement high and students motivated at this difficult time of the year. Each blog post will have another opportunity to win, so make sure to check them out!
- Jean from Flamingo Math is writing all about how to keep your students motivated mid-year! Read her tips here!
- Kristin from Samson’s Shoppe is sharing her top three tips for how you can survive the holiday and testing season! Read her three tips here.
- Carolyn from Engaging Science Labs shares a super hands-on activity for making a periodic table! As a math teacher, I got a bunch of ideas from per post about how I could apply it to my own classroom!