4 Christmas Alternative Activities for the Classroom


christmas alternative activities for kids

December can be a tricky time of the year in the classroom. Besides planning lessons that are sure to engage students during the most exciting month of the year, being sure to include and represent all students in my lessons and activities is always on the top of my lesson planning list. Since this is a top priority for me, I love to focus on seasonal topics instead of one specific holiday. In December, we work on all things winter themed!

These lesson ideas, resources, and tips will help you engage students with Christmas alternatives this December. And the best part is that these activities and ideas can be used all winter long. So if you do not finish a project before leaving for the holiday break, you can just pick it back up when you return! 

Celebrate the Season of Giving with Kindness

kindness challenge activities for kids

The holiday season is the season of giving, so use this time and month to focus on being kind! It is the perfect time to issue a Kindness Challenge to your students! I love using kindness challenges in my classroom. These rip off kindness challenge tasks will keep your students spreading good cheer all month long...and all year long, too!

These are so easy to use! Simply print, hang in a high traffic area, and encourage your students to rip off a kind deed and put it into action. There is also a blank page so that you (or your students) can write in kind deeds that you would like to be done in your classroom community. Grab this Kindness Challenge for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Since this is a great month to spread kindness these ideas and FREE resources can help!

Celebrate the 12 Days of Winter

winter countdown activities for kids

December countdowns are so much fun to do, but how about a winter-themed countdown instead of one filled with Christmas goodies and themes? My kids love completing these 12 winter-themed activities to help countdown before holiday or winter break. Since activities are generic winter activities like blizzards and building snowmen I know that every child in my room can participate and feel included. #teacherwin

And bonus...they make perfect bulletin board displays that can be left up for all of the winter months! Yay!

Get Cozy Reading with Winter Titles

winter picture books for upper elementary

Getting cozy in a reading corner is the best way to spend December days with students. My favorite winter-themed read alouds are perfect to share during reading and writing lessons, during snack, after recess, or anytime you want to share a good book! Read my top five list of winter read alouds and grab some fun free activities to use with each book!

Looking for fun and engaging video read alouds to rotate into your reading time? Head over to Storyline Online and find some fun winter read alouds like this one: Henry Holton Takes the Ice.

Seasonal Topics to Motivate

winter writing activities for upper elementary

There are so many fun and engaging seasonal topics that your students will LOVE learning about that have nothing to do with holidays, yet are perfect to use during December and all winter long! 

Get kids writing...

My favorite hands-on December activity involves wrapping gifts! Bring in some material and have students figure out how to wrap a gift! This non-holiday gift wrapping how to writing project always has my kids laughing as they write and try to figure out how to wrap the perfect gift! It is perfect for the week before school gets out. Other fun winter writing topics include:

Get kids reading...

Reading seasonal material is another great way to get students engaged! I love to use informational reading passages to tie together science and close reading strategies, and when it is December we read all things winter! Activities like these make me feel confident that we are meeting standards AND having fun at the same time! These are my class favorites:

Get kids thinking...

Problem-solving projects are a great way to keep students learning over a few days. I love giving students projects during the month of December. It keeps engagement high and students excited to come to school each day. These real-world projects are always my students' favorites!

Who doesn't love a December freebie...

Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, these FREE resources will save you time and keep your students engaged and critically thinking all month long!

Make December a time of inclusivity for all of your students by celebrating events and topics that all students can appreciate and be included in! Celebrating kindness, family traditions, and all things winter make it easy for all students to feel important and included in your classroom.

Want to celebrate Christmas in your classroom?
Be sure to teach about other popular December holidays, too!

christmas around the world for upper elementary

Suggested Reading:

valentines day activities for kids

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Kindness Ideas for Teaching in the Classroom

Teaching Kindness in the Classroom

Looking for ways to bring kindness into your classroom so that it just becomes a part of your classroom culture? I can help!

There is nothing more important to me than setting the tone right at the beginning of the year that kindness is an important part of our classroom community. These tried and true kindness lesson ideas, classroom tips, picture book list, and teacher freebies will surely get you started.

Click each image to learn easy-to-implement ways to make kindness a priority in your classroom.

Ways to have a kind classroom

how to use kindness quotes in the classroom

kindness read aloud picture books

Looking for even more ways to bring kindness into your classroom? Try these!

kindness bulletin board for the classroom

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Kindness lessons for the classroom



4 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into the Classroom

4 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into the Classroom

Teaching students to express gratitude goes beyond just being thankful or simply saying thank you. I teach students that gratitude is a positive emotion that makes us feel good. It helps us to appreciate both big and small things that we have in our lives that sometimes get taken for granted. When students think about things that they are grateful for, I always encourage them to think about non-material items like spending time with family and friends, having food and water, and attending school.

While any time of the year is a good time to teach students about gratitude, November is perfect! Thanksgiving is in the air and feelings of being thankful are all around. Students are open-minded and ready to express feelings of gratitude. Try these easy to implement ideas to help bring gratitude into your classroom.

Classroom Gratitude Pumpkin

Each year, we take a leftover Halloween pumpkin and turn it into a gratitude pumpkin. We simply write gratitude pumpkin around the stem and carve out time each day to write one thing that we are grateful for in our classroom community on the pumpkin.

4 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into the Classroom

By keeping our gratitude notes on the pumpkin focused on our classroom community, students begin to recognize all that we have in one another. Morning meeting is a great time to take a few minutes for one student to share something that they are grateful for in our community. We talk about how good it feels to recognize one another too. You will be amazed at the ideas that your students come up with!

At the end of the month, I always send the gratitude pumpkin home with one student. You can raffle off who gets to bring it home or select a student who exemplified gratitude this month. My kids love doing this and it helps to build our classroom community even stronger.

Gratitude Jar

I love having my students create their own gratitude jars. We discuss how our gratitude jars are personal and are not shared with others before beginning this project. By keeping these jars private, students feel comfortable and know that they can write anything, even small things like spending time with their parents, in their jars.

gratitude jar for kids

While we discuss gratitude I make sure that students know that by expressing our gratitude we feel good! Even writing down our feelings helps us to feel good. I encourage students to revisit these gratitude jars when they are having a bad day. The simple act of rereading what they are grateful for always helps them to feel better. 

Gratitude Journal

There is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. I love to encourage students to express gratitude by modeling it to help them feel comfortable writing about their feelings. During the first week of the month, I share with students different things that I am grateful for each day. I make sure that I include things from different parts of my life, like being a mom, a teacher, a friend, and a sister. I show them how I record it in my journal and instantly they want a journal, too! 

To avoid simply having students create a list, encourage students to write why they are grateful for that item. What brings them happiness about it? Once your students get the hang of it, they will begin to write more about each thing that they are grateful for.

You can encourage your kids to keep their own gratitude journals with this print and go template. Grab it for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Gratitude Read Alouds

Put the Thanksgiving read alouds on hold, and kick off November with read alouds that have characters that are grateful for the small things in life! The characters in these books lend themselves perfectly to meaningful classroom discussions about being grateful for the things that really matter.

gratitude read alouds for upper elementary

Try one of these and grab the FREE printable activity to use with any of these books below.

  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble written by William Steig This sweet story emphasizes that we all need to appreciate what we have in the moment. It also perfectly illustrates that you do not appreciate what you have until it is gone. Watch it here!
  • A Chair for My Mother written by Vera B. Williams I love this book! It is perfect for so many lessons, but with a gratitude lens, it is easy to discuss how the characters appreciate their family. Even after all their possessions are lost in a fire, they are grateful for one another.
  • Knots on a Counting Rope written by Bill Martin Jr Another classic story, this one tells the story about a blind boy who appreciates his relationship with his grandfather and enjoys his time with him as he navigates life through his other senses. This one is great to point out that we should stop and be grateful for things we sometimes take for granted, like our health and the sense of sight. Watch it here!
  • Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch written by Eileen Spinelli I know this book is just perfect for Valentine's Day, but it is also so perfect for gratitude discussions and feeling grateful for our friendships. This touching story tells about Mr. Hatch, who feels alone and sad until he thinks he is loved. Watch it here!
  • Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge written by Mem Fox This book has many life lessons that you can discuss with your students, especially how valuable our memories are. I love reading this book during gratitude lessons because it allows students to be grateful for things that they have experienced and to hold on tho those memories, too. Watch it here!
  • Those Shoes written by Maribeth Bolts This book covers it all! Gratitude, kindness, appreciation, and friendships. Definitely a must-read during any gratitude lesson.

Take the time to welcome gratitude into your classroom this season. The lessons and activities that you do this month will last throughout the year.  You will not only strengthen your classroom community but also strengthen your students' understanding of how and why we should be grateful each and every day. 

Related post: 4 Thanksgiving Activities You Never Thought to Do

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gratitude activities for upper elementary kids

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4 Thanksgiving Activities You Never Thought To Do

4 Thanksgiving Activities You Never Thought To Do

What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving? What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving in the classroom?

Thanksgiving originally became a holiday in 1863 when President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a holiday for all Americans to give thanks for the general blessings that they had in their lives.

The original concept of Thanksgiving was gratitude. Somewhere over the years celebrating Thanksgiving in classrooms moved away from gratitude and appreciation to Pilgrims and the Mayflower.

This November, bring back the concept of gratitude and what the holiday originally was created for in your classroom with these Thanksgiving activities that you might not have thought to do!


What better way to continue to build community in your classroom this fall season than by celebrating Friendsgiving! Friendsgiving is a new "holiday" or concept and dates allllll the way back to 2007. It celebrates friendships and the relationships in our lives that we are thankful for.

You can celebrate Friendsgiving in your classroom by decorating for the holiday and celebrating students' friendships and the community you built with your students. Try these ideas:

  • Try one of these read alouds: Friendsgiving or Be a Friend
  • Create a Thankful Tree: Grab a large tree branch and plant it in a planter. Have students right on leaf cutouts what and who they are thankful for in your classroom throughout the month. Grab FREE thankful leaf printouts right HERE.
  • Acts of Kindness: Celebrate and encourage kindness in your classroom. Try these ideas and these read alouds to get started!
  • Thoughts of Gratitude: Have students create personal gratitude jars. Have them fill the jar with everything and everyone that they are thankful for. When they are feeling down, revisiting their gratitude jar will pick them up!
  • Celebrate Classroom Friendships: This one is fun and easy! Copy a bunch of Venn Diagrams and throughout the month pair up different students. Have them get to know each other a little bit better and fill out a Venn Diagram about how they are the same and different, making sure to discuss why they make a great pair! 
  • Write Procedural Writing Pieces about How to be a Good Friend These are fun to write and display around the classroom and serve as a year-long reminder!

Friendsgiving in the Classroom Display and Activities and Bulletin Board

Letters of Gratitude to Staff

Have students recognize and celebrate the staff at the school who helps them grow. Have students write letters to custodians, the nurse, former teacher, special area teachers, and anyone else that they like. 

In my classroom, we kick this activity off by brainstorming a list of staff members that they can write to at the board. One at a time the students select who they would like to write to and place a tally mark next to their name. This helps us spread the love and allow many different people in our building to get a letter of gratitude.

I love this project because kids can use any paper and get super creative with the cards they make. You can also have students write a poem, write a friendly letter, or fill out thank you note cards

Grab some quick tips on how to teach the art of writing thank-you notes and download these FREE thank you templates for your students to use right HERE.

Gratitude Activities in the elementary classroom

I Wish Poetry

Most Thanksgiving activities have students write about what they are thankful for. Those are great for students to reflect on the thanks part of Thanksgiving.

But I love to go a step further and have students write I Wish Poems. This gives them the opportunity to make a wish for the world and encourages thoughts of giving during the Thanksgiving season.

An I Wish poem is a free verse poem that allows the poet to write what they wish for others. In my classroom, we discuss the popular tradition of breaking a wishbone and how the world would be better if we all give our wishes to others.

My students blow me away with the wishes for the world that they write about and they truly make the most meaningful bulletin board display.

Thanksgiving Bulletin Board and Writing Activity

Celebrate Native American Month

November is Native American Month. Celebrate and honor our country's Native Americans by teaching students about their heritage. 

  • Read picture books to celebrate Native American culture. Try these!
  • Research Native Americans native to where you live with this link.
  • Watch videos on Brain Pop Jr about different Native American cultures.

Tie together close reading strategies with rich, American History with passages that celebrate Native American heroes.

Make November a time of gratitude and classroom community building this year! Teach students about kindness, gratitude, and the power of friendships. These lesson ideas will leave a lasting impression on students and encourage students to not only be thankful but to make a change in the world around them.

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4 Thanksgiving Activities You Never Thought To Do

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    Visualizing Reading Strategy Lesson Ideas and Activities

    Visualizing Reading Strategy Lesson Ideas and Activities

    Visualizing is an important reading strategy that good readers use to help create mental images or movies in their minds to represent the ideas that they read in the text. Visualization requires students to weave together their own background knowledge, text evidence, and creativity to make an image in their mind's eye to match the story or informational article that they are reading. The images that they make help them to understand what they are reading at a deeper level.

    Visualizing is my favorite reading strategy to teach since it is not only fun for students but truly helps them to dig deeper into what they are reading. It is highly engaging for students and its interactive nature helps readers of all levels, including struggling readers, connect with the text. In fact, I have watched struggling readers blossom as readers when they put this reading strategy into action.

    When students visualize as they read they:
    • Become an active and alert reader, making predictions as they read.
    • Notice details and specific language in the text.
    • Better understand key story elements.
    • Understand character emotions, and make connections with them.
    • Recall and summarize the text easily.
    • Self-monitor their own comprehension.
    • Make inferences as they read.
    • Get into the world of the book.

    As we teach students to make mental pictures and visualize as they read, we must provide students with opportunities to practice pulling their own background knowledge and gathering important language from the text to help create their own creative mental image of the books that they are reading to understand the text at a deeper level.

    How to teach students how to visualize

    So how can we get students to make meaningful mental images as they read to help them better understand the books that they are reading?  Add these visualizing activities to your reading lesson plans to help you teach this reading strategy successfully and have your students hooked on visualizing as they read in no time at all!

    Let's Listen Carefully

    My favorite activity to kick off visualizing is simple. All you need is a favorite picture book, one filled with rich imagery and specific language, and a plain piece of paper. Have students fold the paper into fourths so that they have four boxes on the front and four on the back. Then have students label each box from 1-8. Now read a picture book aloud without showing students the illustrations. As you read, stop 8 different times to have students illustrate what they visualized right before you stopped. Once you have finished reading the book, reread the book, this time sharing the illustrations. 

    Three important discussion questions to ask during the illustration share time are, How are your illustrations the same and different than the ones in the book? What words from the text helped you to create that illustration? How do your illustrations help you to better understand the story?

    Visualizing picture book activity

    While there are so many amazing picture books to use for this activity my three favorites are:

    Try this: Want to mix up this activity? Instead of reading aloud a picture book and stopping to have students create their illustrations, have the students listen to a book from Storyline Online. Don't let them see it until after they have all 8 illustrations done. Then watch the story together, stopping and discussing how their illustrations match the movie. My favorite one to use for this activity on Storyline Online is Brave Irene or A Bad Case of the Stripes.

    Break It Down

    Since visualization is a reading strategy that many students easily latch on to, it is sometimes easy to glaze over teaching this strategy. Don't! The more time you spend breaking down the how, why, what and when to visualize techniques, the deeper your students will dig into the text's meaning. By explaining this step by step approach, students will begin to pay close attention to the author's words and use them to create their mental images. 

    Here are the steps I teach:

    1. Read Actively: pay careful attention to the words that the author uses in the text to help form pictures in your mind
    2. Visualize: Use the author's word and your own thoughts and creativity to create a movie in your mind of what is happening in the text.
    3. Sketch: Create a quick sketch of the important details found in the text and reflect: How does this sketch help me better understand the story.

    Teaching students how to visualize

    Character, Setting, Events, and Objects, Oh My!

    When it comes to visualizing I make sure that students visualize story elements. By stopping and visualizing characters, settings, events, and objects young readers can get into the text and begin to predict what will happen next, how a character is feeling, and begin to make inferences along the way. We practice visualizing characters, settings, events, and objects during our chapter book read aloud. My favorite to practice visualizing these elements is The City of Ember written by Jeanne DuPrau.

    I especially love this book because the world that the author creates is like nothing the students have ever experienced, forcing them to visualize and imagine the world in their own minds. Additionally, the author does an amazing job of describing the characters' actions, feelings and emotions, making it easy for students to stop and visualize and then use their images to help them better understand and make inferences about the characters.

    And super fun teacher bonus, this book is also available as a movie. Watch it, or even just bits and pieces of it, and have students compare and contrast their mental images with what they see in the movie. 

    Upper elementary visualizing activities

    Sketch it Out

    When teaching visualizing I am always sure to emphasize that when students visualize as they read they can create a "quick sketch" in their readers' notebooks. It is a great way to hold students accountable for independently reading AND using a reading strategy. While I want students visualizing, I do not want them drawing the whole time instead of reading. Their sketches should support the work that they are doing as readers and not take over. Grab a free sketching activity to use at the bottom of this post.

    I have found that by giving students specific visualizing tasks to complete before, during, and after they read, keeps students focused and on task during their independent reading time and helps keep a balance between reading and sketching. Grab a free sketching activity to use at the bottom of this post.

    Visualizing Reading Strategy Lesson Ideas and Activities

    Visualizing activities for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th grade students

    Comparing Mental Images

    I love having students meet up during our mid-workshop break to chat about the books that they are reading. I love to also pause our read aloud to have students turn and talk about the books that I am reading to them. During a read-aloud go a step beyond just having students make mental images. Have them compare and contrast their mental images with their reading partners'. This will give students an opportunity to see the book from their peer's perspective but also they will pick up on specific author's language that they may have missed.

    Visualizing with chapter books

    When it comes to a reading strategy that engages all levels of readers, visualization is it! Not only is it highly engaging, but it truly helps students dig deeper into understanding the complex texts that they begin to read as upper elementary students. Once students become experts at visualizing you will find that they begin to make inferences as they read, are able to independently use context clues to learn new words, and understand tricky figurative language. Teaching students to visualize effectively is well worth the classroom time spent on direct instruction.

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    Visualizing activities to do during reading upper elementary

    Grab the printable AND digital visualizing set HERE.

    digital visualizing activities for distance learning

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