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How to Teach Productively Between Thanksgiving and Christmas

teach effectively thanksgiving christmas

Teachers know it.  Parents know it.  Even the kids know it.

The few weeks of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the toughest time of the school year.  Except for maybe the last week of school.

Everybody is restless.  It is so hard to focus.  And nothing seems to get done in a timely manner.  So what can we do to make this time more productive and less frustrating?

How do you teach productively between Thanksgiving and Christmas?  The best thing we can do is realize that it just isn’t going to be our MOST productive time of the year.  But also, we can’t let everything slide away either.  Finding the perfect balance between work and excitement is the order of the day. And by implementing the 5 following ideas, you and your class will be able to float fairly painlessly through your holiday season.

1.  Make sure your students know you are sympathetic to how they are feeling during this time.

2.  Be more creative in the way that you deliver your instruction.

3.  Be more generous in rewarding good behavior.

4.  Make some extra time for direct dialoguing with the students (and not necessarily about the task at hand).

5.  Don’t veer from your routine.  


productive between Thanksgiving and Christmas

Let’s take a look at some of the specifics of this list and see if it doesn’t give you some inspiration in the classroom!  (Hint:  this works at home too!)

1.  Make sure your students know you’re sympathetic to how they’re feeling during this time.

Elementary and middle school students especially are probably already feeling off because their motivation and focus is off.  This alone will make them feel self conscious.

So letting them know that you are feeling the same way will instantly help them to feel more at ease.  It takes the “wrongness” out of the way they are feeling.  And it makes them realize that their current feelings are normal.

But letting them know that you are going to push through it with them also tells them that even though they feel that way it isn’t okay to not do anything about it or not push through it.  There is still work to be done!

Helping them to focus more on pushing through and the sense of accomplishment on the other side will help them to be willing to push themselves just a little bit further.

The whole point of reaching out to them in this way is to work as a team to get things done that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own at this tricky time.  If they know you are on their side, most of the battle is already won!

In order to teach productively anytime, let alone between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the mindset of your students has to be in a good place.

2.  Be More Creative in the Way That You Deliver Your Instruction

You aren’t going to get away with a whole lot of lecture-style teaching here.  But generally speaking, lecturing is almost never the best way to go for elementary and middle school students, Christmas excitement or not!

I do realize that sometimes we think that the information we have to share is so important that surely we will be able to keep their attention by talking about it with them.  But think about it for a minute.  Right now, even I am having trouble focusing on things I’m actually interested in.  It isn’t because I’m no longer interested.  It’s because I have a billion other things going on.  And a billion more that need to be given my attention in the near future.

It isn’t much different for them.  They have their thoughts too.  And right now, with everything going on, their attention spans are getting cluttered too.

Check Out Your Options

The good news is that there are tons of great options for us to change up the routine, catch our students’ attention, and actually get some productive learning accomplished!

Just a warning:  some things will work perfectly for one class but not at all for another.  Take what works for you class and leave the rest behind, based on your personal  experience.

Here is a list of a few options:

  1. Game based on the lesson (made up or an established game that you tweak to fit the subject).
  2. Project based lesson.
  3. Art based lesson.
  4. Student-to-student teaching. (This is the perfect distraction tool! They barely realize they are learning.)
  5. Projects that cover multiple subjects.
  6. Field trip (virtual or physical)
  7. Socratic Seminar
  8. Scavenger hunt
  9. Student interviews
  10. Online guest speaker
  11. Create a game with the students.

That should get you started.  There are literally hundreds of other things that can be done.  You are only limited by your imagination and what Google can give you!

Be More Generous in Rewarding Good Behavior

Rewarding good behavior is always a good idea, and many teachers already implemented it into their class programs.  But for this difficult month, any little bit of extra reinforcement is greatly helpful.

One of my favorite reward programs was a dollar system that at the end of a unit I would make a shopping spree for the students.  I still love and use that, even during this time.

But for this 4-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I implement a more instant reward program.

Poke a Tree

I make a punch board.  To start, I use a large poster board and make a Christmas tree that goes from top to bottom.  For larger classes, you could tape together up to 4 pieces of poster board and have a huge Christmas tree punch board.

Next, I hot glue (preferably green) paper cups onto the tree.  They will be the “ornaments.”  I put some small inexpensive treasure into each of the cups.  Then I cover the cup  with brightly colored tissue paper so that it looks like a decorated Christmas tree. I glue the tissue around the side of the cup once it is stretched over the top.  I have seen some instructions use rubber bands, but I fear that it would not survive a punch.

Because I already used mine, I can’t take a picture now, but here is a similar one that was on Pinterest and links to full instructions on Oriental Trading Company’s website:

Click on the picture to see the whole pin!

The kids love seeing this in the class and are even more eager to get a chance to poke it and get a prize.  As the tree gets poked more and more, they will behave even better to get a turn!

Make sure you are careful to give everyone a chance.  Feeling defeated is the last thing we want to foster in our classes.

What to Fill it With

Some excellent prize suggestions are:

  1. Erasers
  2. Dice
  3. Mini flashlight
  4. Mini Christmas figures
  5. Fun size candy bar
  6. Coupons for special class privileges
  7. A dollar bill
  8. A small ornament.

Basically, anything that you can think of that fits in a small cup is perfect.  Even more perfect is finding a package of things at your local dollar store.  Oriental Trading company also has great options.  You just have to plan a little bit ahead.

4.  Make Some Extra Time for Direct Dialog With the Students (and Not Necessarily About the Task at Hand)

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the first tip on the list of ways to teach productively between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It feel counter-intuitive to take extra time talking to the students, especially about subjects not related to the one you are supposed to be working on at the moment.  Even better:  let them direct the conversation.  You just need to keep it within healthy boundaries.  And you need to be able to direct things back to the lessons at the right time.

You will find that the more satisfied your students are, the more agreeable they will be to do the work when you set it before them.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the second tip, to be more creative in your lesson delivery.

If they realize that they aren’t being handed the normal stuff, they will be more eager to play along.

Honestly, most of these tips all relate to each other in the way you are functioning in your classroom.  It all kind of speaks to the fact that you are letting the students know that you are aware of things going on in the world around us, but especially them.  And while I am not advocating that you become overly permissive with them, it is critically important that they know you are in tune with their needs.


Another thing you must do is keep up your sense of humor.  Here is a link to some great memes created by other teachers specifically for this topic to help you do just that.  Just click here!

For more ideas on how to teach more effectively and productively between Thanksgiving and Christmas, check out my page on Unique Classroom Ideas.

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Great tips! You’re right, it is a hard time for students. Unfortunately, it’s exactly when my sophomore and junior has final exams.

    1. Marie

      Oh no! I hope they are able to do well in spite of the bad timing.

  2. flawlessfooduk

    Fantastic ideas, I love the poke a tree idea! Students will love it! Thanks for sharing

  3. Nyxinked

    Great advice. The first point hits home. We assume kids are excited about Christmas, but sometimes those children have less than ideal home environments and the holidays can be hard on them. It’s important that they know adults are sympathetic to that.

  4. Candace Hampton

    Interesting article. You present great ideas to approach during this season. I like the idea of being more generous during the season and rewarding them. That’s something that I remember from when I was in school and it definitely motivated me to study and excel.

  5. Peter Nyiri

    You are right. Teaching is a tough job and that time of the year is the toughest, but with care and creative ideas it can be overcome.

  6. Cristina Pop

    These are some great tips. Especially that kids tend to not have any more patience since Christmas is so near!

  7. Seriously. My students are all about how many days are left until break. I had a very responsible group of Advanced students look a the lesson plan I had for today and tweak it to make it their own. They’ll be leading class tomorrow and I think it’s going to be fun. 🙂

    1. Marie

      That is so awesome, Rose!!!! I love it!

  8. Lyosha Varezhkina

    Holiday season is always super hard on me! It’s so hard to get myself together and make myself productive again. Your tips definitely should help me too

    1. Marie

      I agree, Lyosha. I have to work very hard at staying focused because there is always so much going on around me!

  9. World in Eyes

    these ways sounds quite interesting and helpful for teaching others about them..glad you shared these with us..great work though…

  10. Brianne

    I love, love, LOVE your approach to teaching. That first tip is the absolute most important, in my opinion. I remember having teachers when I was in school that I was sure could not care less about my feelings on anything.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Brianne. And you are right that teachers caring about their students is absolutely critical in effective teaching. If students don’t feel cared for, it makes them much less invested in the process themselves.

  11. Claudia

    This is such a great resource. I think this is going to help homeschooling and remote learning parents in particular. It’s going to be hard for us to keep our kids on task when they’re actually in the house.

    1. Marie

      I hope that it does help, especially since parents are facing new challenges in their kids’ school experiences.

  12. Mariska

    Ha, my daughter would love the Poke Tree, and it’s great to make at home. As a parent, I always try to find new ways to motivate and support the teachers. What an lovely article, and I have some new ideas about what to do this fall. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Marie

      I’m actually making a Fall Poke Tree this weekend! My kids never get tired of it.

  13. Matt Taylor

    These are all great tips for keep productivity up between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember when I was young and in school that was always a fun time anticipating Christmas and the gifts, etc. Having fun Christmas themed activities was always a hit, and something I looked forward to.

    1. Marie

      I agree, Matt. It was also those things that kept distracting me, lol. I was always so bad about that.

  14. Krysten Quiles

    Ack, how can you be mentioning the holidays already, it’s too soon! But I suppose these tips are wonderful even though I’m not ready for cold weather.

    1. Marie

      Lol, I know, right? Unfortunately, planning has to start earlier and I am always trying to not have to play catch up on the other end. Hope your week is awesome!

  15. Heather

    This is such good advice. That is exactly the time when my whole brain wants to check out and just focus on the holidays.

    1. Marie

      Absolutely, Heather! That is the same experience that I always had as the holidays got closer. 🙂 And I’m still just as bad.

  16. Gervin Khan

    Definitely a great advice to all teachers. I know how hard this new normal thing to everyone most especially to our students that is why I really do appreciate all our education for keeping doing their best to provide a high quality of education even in times of hardships.

    1. Marie

      Yes, Gervin, anything we can do to help others that are living in this new normal and unsure of how to proceed is going to be valuable to all of our children!

  17. Mom Nessly

    Great tips. It’s that time of the year when students have a hard time focusing because they tend to look at the holidays and celebrations instead. Getting creative would be the best approach. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Heidi

    This is definitely a hard time for kids but we will pull through!

  19. Emman Damian

    Since there are a lot of distractions, I think being more creative in the way that you deliver your instruction really helps. Also, have fun activities related to Christmas, anchor it in the lessons.

  20. Lucy Clarke

    What a brilliant guide! I really like how you consider the children’s learning style and their level of receptiveness when it’s nearing the holidays. Is it similar to when the school year is almost over? All in all I think these are great ways to help out the children when they struggle with productivity.

  21. Alexis

    I love the prize suggestions you’ve offered, kids of all ages would love any of those.

  22. Kristine Nicole Alessandra

    This is a big help especially for first time homeschooling moms. It is so easy to get lost in the holiday spirit and throw you off-course but your tips are so spot on. I am sharing this with my daughter and my sister.

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