It’s the end of the autumn term and you’re beyond exhausted. It’s dark when you arrive at school and dark when you leave. Glitter coats every part of your body and you’ve been listening to strained versions of In the Bleak Midwinter since October. What’s more, your carefully constructed plans for the last few days are being scuppered by half the class disappearing for rehearsals, choir practice and the million other things that happen in school at this time of year. So what can you do with half a class of children that is meaningful and useful for their learning, and most importantly, doesn’t involve any glitter? Here are a few suggestions:
Read a poem aloud
With twenty minutes to spare while ten of the class are at a costume fitting, it can be hard to find a text to read that you can enjoy in the limited time available. You can’t carry on with the class book because they’ll miss out on the story. A short story or picture book might do the trick, but another great option is a poem. A good poem can be listened to, discussed, performed and enjoyed. You might even go for something festive. There are plenty of wonderful Christmas poems, from William Wordsworth to John Betjeman to Benjamin Zephaniah. My favourite is A.A. Milne’s ‘King John’s Christmas’– perfect for reading aloud and joining in with.
Quiz of the term
Give children their exercise books and ask them to look back through the work they’ve done and to think about the things they’ve learnt this term. Then ask everyone to write two or three questions based on this term’s work. Their questions might be drawn from any subject or topic that they feel confident about, from long division in maths to the Roman gods in history. Photocopy their questions and, voila, you have your very own ‘quiz of the term’. It’s a great way of revisiting what they’ve learnt in a way that they’ll all enjoy. It will also help you to see what they’ve managed to remember from the last fifteen weeks (although this might have you reaching for the sloe gin).
This activity probably shouldn’t be popular, but for some inexplicable reason it always is. Give children back their English books or extended writing folders and ask them to find the piece of writing they are least happy with. Perhaps it was from the start of the year or something they rushed or didn’t quite understand at the time. Then give them the opportunity to redraft it, making some improvements. You could support them with some feedback or just let them get on with the job in hand. Many children love the chance to have another go at something and refine their work – especially if they get to choose what they get to work on.
If you can’t beat them, join them. When the choir disappears to rehearse, why not make a choir of your own? A quick online search will give you hundreds of festive songs (or if you’ve had quite enough of Jingle Bells by now, not so festive songs) with backing tracks and karaoke words.
New Year’s resolutions
School-based, obviously. What do children hope to achieve next term? What do they feel they need to improve at? What will they try to do better? This is a chance for children to reflect on their strengths and areas for development, although I can’t promise these will still be unbroken come February.
So simple and so valuable. Time reading is never time wasted. Extended reading time is great for developing children’s fluency and comprehension, their vocabulary and their general knowledge. And sometimes we need to give children time to do it so they can see it’s enjoyable. With the packed TV schedules over the Christmas holidays, not to mention sparkling new games consoles and toys, for some children this might be their last chance to enjoy some time with a good book until January.
If none of these sound particularly Christmassy, then I should probably admit that when I was a classroom teacher I was a terrible Scrooge who would keep the class working until the very last day of term. Feel free to disregard these ideas and reach for the glitter: it’s Christmas after all.
James Clements is a member of the Advisory Board for Oxford Owl, Oxford Primary’s online school improvement service. He has worked as a teacher and senior leader in an outstanding inner city primary school, as a Local Authority Lead Teacher, and was consulted on the New National Curriculum for English. James is now an English adviser and the creative director of Shakespeare and More, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes effective English teaching.
Follow James on Twitter @James_ShMore