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Returning to the classroom after a break requires thoughtful planning. It’s the time when you save your “best” lessons to re-engage students who may be in a post-holiday stupor. It’s a time to be at your best as a teacher, because there’s little that’s more challenging than a classroom full of students on the Monday after a vacation.
Here are some great ideas to make the most of your post-holiday classroom time.
1. Save a high-interest unit for the week you return from a break.
Whether I’m doing a social studies activity or a reading or writing lesson, I use my “gotcha” units. This year it’s book clubs. The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break is one of the most difficult seasons to teach, which is why I hold off on book clubs until now. I want these three weeks to be focused, interesting, and different. Book clubs meet all three criteria. Whatever you choose to do, make it something a bit different and engaging.
2. Build anticipation BEFORE you leave for vacation.
Prior to our break, I set my novel selections on the counter.
For you, it could be the parts they’ll use for a STEAM challenge, a new piece of equipment for physical education, a new game you’ll be pulling out when they return, etc. Whatever it is, inspire an element of mystery. Spend time talking it up.
Since I’m running book clubs after break, I’ve had the novels on the counter for several days for students to pick up and peruse. The day before vacation starts, I hold up each reading selection and give a brief summary. I let them know what qualifies each book as “special” enough to be chosen for our upcoming book club.
3. Consider having a classroom guest.
Before we leave for break, I also mention that we’ll be hosting guests in our classroom for each book club meeting. I make an effort to ask retired teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, librarians, etc. to participate in our book clubs. Just the fact that there will be new faces in the room lets students know that this is special. And I intend to keep it that way all the way to Winter Break, three weeks away (because it takes about three weeks to complete a book club).
4. Pre-teach a skill students will need to be successful in the upcoming unit.
For me, I’ve started the conversation about how to work in a group. Since this is a key element for book clubs, I ensured that the class was already participating in activities which required group work. I even brought out my anchor chart which is part of my Book Club Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers.
There is training involved, and I take the time to make sure we have a common understanding of roles and expectations for whatever it is we’ll be doing. As a teacher, you want to spend time showing how the level of interaction requires more maturity.
Role playing is a great way to get your point across. If there’s another adult who comes through your classroom, or if you can get another adult to help you, role play how to discuss something from a book (preferably one you have read as a class so there’s less confusion about the topic) or how to solve a particular challenge students may face in the unit in which they’ll participate. Here are a few questions you may want to directly address and role play during those first few days back from break:
What does it look like and sound like to agree?
What does it look like and sound like to respectfully disagree?
How do you add more to a conversation?
How do you help keep a discussion going?
and for your quiet students, the most challenging may be…
How do you state your opinion?
Grab my freebie How to Have a Discussion HERE to help students learn how to agree, disagree, work together, etc.
5. Give students positive feedback on how far they’ve come this year, and let them know that now they’re ready for something unique.
I make a point of telling the class that we’ve come a long way since September, and that I think we’re ready for something that takes more maturity, which is what they’ve shown. Kids love being acknowledged for the progress they’ve made. They also love being rewarded for it. Using a higher-level activity as a carrot makes learning fun and it gives students something different to strive towards during this challenging time of year.
If you do the prep work, the week after a break can be rewarding. Make sure you’ve set it up so that there’s excitement when they set foot in the classroom on Monday morning. Set your expectations high, and your students will strive to show you that they can meet and surpass the goals you’ve set.
So whether it’s a STEAM challenge, a social studies simulation game, a science experiment, book clubs, etc, these five pointers will help your students return to school with anticipation.
I’d love to learn your best tips for managing those first days back in the classroom after a vacation. What are your best post-holiday lessons?