Coming back to school after winter break can be a challenge. Being halfway through the year, with the finish line on the horizon—not that close yet, but we can at least see it from here!—has a certain familiar slump to it. Lacking the excitement of the beginning or end of the year, we’re now entering the midst of the treacherous middle.
Add to that having to get back into the school routine after being on break for an amount of time that seems rigorously tested to be exactly the right amount of time for students to forget just about everything.
The good news (and no worries, there’s no bad news coming!) is your students are smart and capable and will readily work together to reestablish the routine and culture you’ve spent the previous half of the year building!
To make the process of reacclimating to the usual school schedule as frictionless as possible, try one or more of these after-winter-break activities to start the new semester the right way.
Start Off Easy and Fun
On the first day back from winter break, many of your students will be on their first day back to having a regular bedtime. This means they could be sleepy, cranky or otherwise a bit out of sorts. For your first classroom activity back, start with something simple to help students build confidence as they prepare to get back to school.
Winter Break: The Movie
Ask students to draw a movie poster for the Netflix film about their winter break. If anyone says they didn’t do anything exciting enough to be on Netflix, they can make something up!
Lessons Learned in the Wild
Ask students to take turns sharing something they learned while on winter break. This can be big lessons, like watching a lot of videos or reading a book about a new topic, or it can be small lessons, like a conversation they had with a parent or a grandparent.
Ask students to close their eyes while you play an instrumental or white noise track. Instruct students to concentrate on their breath and feel present in their bodies for one minute to prepare for the day.
At the end of the minute, encourage them to approach the rest of the year with a commitment to do their best and to learn all they can so they can become the best versions of themselves. You can also find a short, guided meditation track with a similar focus if that’s more your style.
This blog post we wrote contains several mindfulness activities if your students enjoy this one!
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Spend Some Time on Classroom Expectations
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the opportunity to remind students of what’s expected of them at school and in your classroom. Even if you don’t think they could have possibly forgotten literally everything over one short break, it’s still worth a reminder, just in case. Remember: the more fun you have reviewing your expectations, the more memorable your expectations will be.
When reviewing classroom expectations, the general topics you may want to cover include:
- Class rules
- Hand-raising policy
- Partner or group-sharing expectations
- Lining up
- Entering and leaving the classroom
- Passing out and turning in papers
- Pencil sharpening
- Computer policy
- Mindset expectations
Sort It Out
Make a list of several different outcome categories that your classroom expectations can be sorted into (examples: “respect,” “kindness,” “managing emotions,” “growth,” etc). You say the rule or expectation, then your students identify which category the rule or expectation supports. One rule or expectation can support more than one outcome category.
Shout It Out
First, you say the rule or expectation. Next, ask your students why the rule or expectation is important. Guide them to the right answers if needed.
Act It Out
You say the rule or expectation. Choose a volunteer to act out the wrong way to follow the rule or expectation. Next, choose a volunteer to act out the right way to follow the rule or expectation. For some rules or expectations, you may want to choose a small group to make up and act out a scene.
Speaking and Listening Activities
Similar to expectation-setting, making space and time to consistently practice and improve crucial processing skills is vital to your students’ future success. Games that require young learners to listen, wait and make an independent decision are ideal for practicing both listening and processing skills.
This blast from the past is a fun time that improves listening, speaking and comprehension skills—plus it’s guaranteed to result in tons of silly fun!
Students sit or stand in a circle. Whisper a message to a student and have that student repeat it to the next and so on until the message gets to the end of the circle. The last student says the message they were given before you say the message the way it started.
Yay or Nay
Ask your students to listen carefully to statements you will make. If it’s a good statement, they say “Yay!” and if it’s a bad statement, they say “Nay!”
Start with easy ones like “Recess is doubled” and “Recess is canceled,” then increase the difficulty depending on where your classroom is at.
To play this game, give students a list of instructions. Their task is to listen to the instructions, then complete the list after you say “Go!” The objective is to complete the list of tasks quickly and completely. Increase the difficulty by making the list of instructions longer.
Making a Grocery List
Start off the game by saying “I went to the grocery store, and I got…” and complete the sentence with any grocery store item. Then pick a student to say “I went to the grocery store, and I got …” and complete the sentence with any grocery store item, plus the item you said. The object is to continue the list for as long as possible without missing an item.
You don’t need to increase the difficulty—this game increases the difficulty on its own!
After being apart for so long, a simple ice breaker game can help young learners get back into a classroom mindset. These activities are fun, easy to play and will remind your class of all their supportive interactions together.
Catch Your Name
Students stand in a circle with a beachball, plush toy or something else easy to throw and catch. The student holding the beachball says the name of another student and then tosses them the object. After catching the ball, the next student says the name of another student and then throws them the ball. Repeat, with the rule that no names can be repeated until everyone has been called at least once.
Make a set of Bingo cards with personal characteristic comparisons (“younger than me”/”older than me,” “born in this state”/”born in a different state,” “has the same number of siblings as me”/”has a different number of siblings than me”). Each person gets a Bingo card and mingles around the room, getting the initials of people who match the Bingo spaces. The object of the game is for everyone to fill every space. To make this an even easier activity, you can download our Classmate Bingo template.
Show and Tell
When your students come back to the classroom, they’ll come back with tons of new memories they want to share! Set aside some time for sharing and let students take turns in the spotlight.
Ask students to bring in pictures or a (short) video of what they did on their winter break. Give students a chance to stand at the front of the classroom and tell a story to explain their picture or video. Offer a chance for peers to ask any questions at the end of each presentation.
Ask students to bring in something that they got over winter break or that was special to them during break. This can be a new toy, a book they enjoyed reading or anything else (that’s safe and simple to transport to school and back). Students explain the object at the front of the room and can pass the object around if they’re comfortable doing that.
If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, odds are you’re familiar with the importance of having an ever-expanding collection of creative writing prompts that can be called upon in a moment’s notice. When you need something calm and creative to get your young learners focused on writing, try one of these prompts to help use vacation memories to transition back into a more classroom mindset.
- What are you grateful for this holiday season?
- What’s your favorite food that you ate over winter break?
- Write about a place where you went during holiday break.
- What’s the best gift you gave? What made it special?
- Who did you spend the most time with over break and why? What did you do together?
- Describe your family’s unique holiday traditions.
Set Goals for the New Year
The beginning of the year is when most people hurriedly evaluate where they are in their lives and make arbitrary goals in the hopes of improving by next year. Help your students avoid falling into this pattern by teaching them how to set and achieve goals in a way they’ll be able to repeat for the rest of their lives.
3, 2, 1, Goals!
Have students set 3 short-range goals, 2 medium-range goals and 1 long-range goal to pursue for the rest of the school year and at least 1 bullet-point for each goal explaining how they’ll get there. The long-range goal should be a challenging, but achievable, goal to meet by summer, and the short-range goals should be something they can meet by the end of the next week or two (like reading a book or doing chores on time).
Classbook Idea: How to Achieve Your Goals
When your students are familiar with setting and achieving their goals, increase the challenge level of the goals and increase the incentive when they get there!
Creating a classbook filled with the goals your students have completed, the goals they’re working on and the steps they’re taking to bring those goals closer to reality will be a helpful archive for future students in your class and a treasured keepsake for parents. Sign up for one of our FREE classbook publishing kits and we’ll help you through the whole process!
Have a Theme Day
If you want to go all-out on the first day back, choose activities to fit a theme (or modify activities to fit the theme) and then stick to the theme all day.
Decorate your classroom with extra snowy-themed decorations. You can make any game that uses a ball fit the theme by using a white ball or a crumpled piece of white paper as a “snowball.”
Make plans with the classroom next door or across the hall to have a party together. Play music, serve cookies and hot chocolate, play games and take turns visiting each other’s classrooms for a tour and to hear stories about the other class’s winter break.
Start the New Semester as Published Authors!
Help your class ease back into the usual routine and incentivize them to work more mindfully towards their best works by using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Simply sign up online, and we’ll turn your young learners into published authors. A classbook anthology of your students’ short stories makes for a meaningful keepsake and time capsule for your classroom. Parents can order copies, too!
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you have these fun after-winter-break activities added to your collection, your students are set up to start the new semester the right way!