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Winter Break Homework Ideas For Teachers

The final stretch before winter break is one of hardest parts of the year.  Students are both exhausted and ramped up, and teachers are just trying to survive until they can catch up on sleep.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to resort to popping in a holiday video and hiding in the closet. Here are six quick and fun activities that will also sneak some learning in at the same time.

1. Hold a riddle competition.

Keep a list of riddles handy. Put students into small groups and give a prize to the first group that solves the riddle by working cooperatively. Give extra bonus points for the team that works the best together.  (Two bonus points on the next quiz or a free homework pass is usually enough to motivate all students.)

2. Play a quick round of fictionary.

This game is a great way to trick students into learning new vocabulary. Choose a difficult word, one that students will likely not already know. Then get four student volunteers. One student will have the correct definition, while the other three will make up their own. The class will vote on which one they believe to be the right one. Points for the student who gets the most votes—and a new vocabulary word for the rest of the class.

3. Assign a 5-minute creative writing prompt.

Keep a list offun creative writing prompts and get students writing for five or ten minutes. Though this is an obvious choice for ELA classes, it could work for other subjects as well—just find prompts that are thematically related to other lessons that you are teaching. It doesn’t need to be graded. It’s just a good way to keep creativity going all the way until break.

4. Play two truths and a lie.

This game is another simple choice, but it’s always a favorite. Students tell three quick stories where two are true and one is a lie. Then, the class votes on which one they think is the real one. It’s a great tool to teach the elements of storytelling as students try to add just enough detail to make their lies convincing.  

5. Play a podcast and engage students in a discussion on its themes.

This is another one that takes a little preparation, but if you ever listen to podcasts, you know that there are plenty of compelling and instructional pieces out there.This seemingly light story, told by a professional comedian, is only 7 minutes long. But it highlights the way that cellphones and technology disconnect us from the outside world. Students could write a quick response to a writing prompt on the podcast, and they won’t even know that they were doing work.

6. Hold an internet scavenger hunt.

If students in your school are allowed to use personal devices for learning purposes, this is another fun game that gets them learning and working cooperatively. You’ll need to prepare a list of questions ahead of time, but make them simple facts that won’t likely be disputed like “How many poems did Emily Dickinson publish in her lifetime” or “What is the circumference of the Earth in miles?” This is fun, and a great learning opportunity for all.

I know these last few days can be exhausting, and students are often tapped out. But this doesn’t mean this time has to be a lost cause. With a little preparation, you can trick your students into learning and having fun.

Christina Lovdal Gil is a teacher who specializes in writing. She blogs about her tips for empowering students to think for themselves at GilTeach.com.  You can also see some of her work on her Teachers Pay Teachers site.

Your child might argue that the only bad thing about winter vacation is holiday homework. Is it really fair to assign work during the holidays? Some teachers, such as ninth grade history teacher Keith McSweeney, say no. “For me, it’s a matter of principle. I think the holidays are a time for students to be with their families and get a break from school,” McSweeney says. “I don’t think it would serve my students well to expect that they spend time studying while they’re on vacation.”

But, many other elementary and high school teachers believe homework is the only way to ensure retention of concepts over the long break from school. Whether holiday homework is helpful or hurtful, for many kids it’s par for the course. The key do dealing with this reality is not waiting to the last minute, says Harris Cooper, Ph.D., renowned homework expert and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. “I would suggest that parents encourage their children to complete their assignments early—ideally, before the relatives arrive,” Cooper says.

Cooper suggests that homework over the holidays be treated like homework at any other time of year: students should determine how much time it will take, and divide it into manageable chunks. “Learning is more effective if it’s done in small doses,” Cooper says.

Best Practices

There are three keys to completing homework effectively: 

  • Have a consistent place in the home to work on assignments.
  • Take frequent, short breaks.
  • Keep the distractions to a minimum.

It’s also important for parents to recognize that every child approaches studying and homework differently. Some children are most effective if they sit down and complete their homework immediately after school; others work best if they have an opportunity to run around outside for a half an hour before they begin. Some children need small rewards for completing their homework; others will do their homework without incentives. Children also are interested in different subjects and have their own individual sets of strengths and weaknesses. Some children excel in at-home science projects; others cry over their writing assignments.

“It’s unrealistic to expect that children are going to be enthusiastic about every subject they study in school,” says Charles Smith, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Specialist in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. “A big part of the learning process is understanding that there are some things we simply have to do, whether we like it or not.” And that applies to homework—even during the holidays. 

Parental Involvement

Smith suggests that parents can help their children by entering into a dialogue with teachers. “If you know you’re going to be out of town for ten days, you can talk to the teachers ahead of time and see if they have any advice about how you might help your child complete the homework. Good teachers will work with you to make the homework manageable,” he says. 

Often, homework assigned over winter break is thematically linked to the holidays. When this occurs, children and parents should take advantage of the opportunity to work together on the homework. Children might benefit from talking to parents or grandparents about their holiday traditions and experiences, or families could work together to experiment with holiday-related science or math projects.p>

Most importantly, Smith says, parents need to recognize their role in helping children set ground rules for doing homework, such when it’s done, where it’s done, and when breaks will be taken. Smith emphasizes that breaks between homework assignments should not be watching television. “Breaks should be active. Playing a fifteen-minute game of football is a good idea; even playing a video game is a good idea. Lying on the couch watching TV isn’t.”

There’s still time before the holidays begin. Consider having your children check in with their teachers now. It’s always helpful to be prepared.

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