Engaging Students When They're Distracted by the Holidays


The holidays can evoke a sense of joy and excitement in your classroom, but they can also cause your students to become distracted and lose focus. In this post, you'll learn some fresh ideas for engaging students when they're distracted by the holidays.

The Holiday Hindrance

While many of us embrace the holiday season, it can pose a unique challenge for teachers trying to maintain a calm, focused learning environment in the weeks and days leading up to the holiday break from school. As a teacher, you've likely experienced what we're talking about—anxious, sometimes rowdy, students who'd rather discuss their upcoming plans and holiday wishes than pay attention to a math lesson.

So, what are some ways to engage your distracted students as the holidays approach? Below is a list of ideas you might not have considered before.

distracted students in school

1: Host a Charitable Classroom Competition

The holiday giving season is the perfect time to host a friendly classroom competition that involves collecting goods or supplies for a local charity. You could either pick the charity yourself, or provide a few options and then poll your class and let students decide. Some ideas are animal shelters and rescues, food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters.

After the charity's been determined, you'll want to contact the organization to find out what types of supplies or goods they need. Then, organize your students into groups and explain how long the competition will last, what needs to be collected, and what's in it for the winning group. You could also mention that, in order for the competition to go forward, students need to stay on task with their schoolwork.

To boost student engagement and motivation, the reward could be something academic-related, such as extra credit or an exemption from a certain assignment or test, or it could be something like a hot chocolate snack or the chance to help deliver the donations that are collected. The reward will likely depend on the grade level of your class. Chances are, and regardless of your students' grade, they'll love the opportunity to help those in need, whether human or four-legged.

charitable donations

2: Send Holiday Greetings to Veterans

Another idea for engaging distracted students during the holidays is sending out greeting cards to hospitalized veterans. You'll first want to reach out to the nearest Veteran's Affairs (VA) hospital to get permission, then you can either purchase some holiday greeting cards or have your students create their own. You can even make the project a graded language arts assignment by requiring a specific number of grammatically correct sentences that demonstrate proper handwriting.

If any of your students have veterans or active duty military personnel in their families, encourage them to make or write a card for those individuals as well. This is a good activity for the holidays as it has the power to not only boost the engagement factor in your class, but also teach students about compassion and gratitude.

teacher with students

3: Put a Holiday Spin on Learning

Everyday classwork can be much more engaging with an added holiday element, and luckily there are many simple ways to go about incorporating seasonal celebrations into learning (without focusing too much on one specific holiday). For example, for a fun math activity, you could have your students measure the length of candy canes or the angles in images of snowflakes, available online.

Or, for a science experiment, your students could dissolve candy canes by placing them in different liquids (e.g., water, vinegar, and oil) and seeing which one dissolves them the fastest. The options are nearly endless, so use your imagination to come up with engaging ideas you think your class will enjoy.

student making snowflakes

4: Let It Snow

Movement can help students burn excess holiday energy, and decorating is fun, so why not combine the two? Ask your school's principal if it would be okay if your class created paper snowflakes and hung them throughout the school building (essentially ''letting it snow''). If you get the green light, give your students a lesson on how to make unique paper snowflakes and encourage them to get creative with the project.

When they've completed their masterpieces, students can hang them around the school with string or twine. This can be especially engaging in regions where snowfall is minimal during the winter months—as it might be the only chance students have to see ''snow''!

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By Erin Riskey
November 2018
teachers student engagement

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