The temperature is falling; summer is but a fading memory lost under the invasion of the new school year.
Choirs are working hard; nativities are being planned.
The nights are drawing in, and football clubs are ending earlier.
It might still be Autumn, but Christmas is coming.
It is time to get planning.
Like Santa bearing down on an unsuspecting chimney, before we know it the festive season will have burst through our defences and we’ll be singing along to the Pogues, and Dave’s supply of old comedies will be running those Christmas specials.
(Actually, the appearance of Christmas trees in an old episode of Only Fools and Horses doesn’t signify it’s Christmas, they show the specials all year round.)
Of course, teachers know that they are about to enter one of the busiest times of the year.
On the one hand, mock exams will be running, end of term tests will foreshorten the working time available with classes.
Marking, possibly reports and those Christmassy specials mentioned above will assist the general disorganisation and air of chaos that takes over at this time of year.
It is time to get planning!
Meanwhile, the other hand will be trying to cope with increasingly excited children.
While pressing the pause button on our own growing anticipation of Santa’s visit.
It really is time to…
With all this in mind here are some practical tips for helping the lead up to Christmas to become as stress free as possible.
Keep It Normal for as Long as Possible
And certainly, if quizzes, word searches or videos are going to make an appearance, save them until the final week of term.
The final lesson is even better.
As soon as we open the door to these time fillers, they’ll take a life of their own.
They are like Christmas chocolate.
The first mouthful is good, then we quickly become sick (literally) of them – yet still have the strange need to consume more.
When our students are faced with ‘Polar Express’ for the fifth time that week (each with a different teacher, so they become word perfect by the time they reach Thursday afternoon) they are bound to become a little tetchy.
Yet, curiously, will be angry if a teacher decides not to contribute to their brain drain.
And our students, however young they might be, are not daft.
They will know that the video is only playing so we can get on with last minute admin or report writing.
Nobody likes to feel that they are being ignored.
Make Quizzes Original
Or at least, clever.
If we are to run a quiz, twenty questions taken from the TES is unlikely to dowse the dangerous mix of frustration and stagnation of the class with which we are faced.
Adapting popular TV shows works well, since the ideas have (with the exception of The Wall) to be engaging for an audience.
Designing our own Christmas version of ‘Only Connect’ (a great quiz on BBC 2, Monday evenings) works well.
A bit of time needs to be spent setting it up, making use of the animations from a programme such as PowerPoint, but for an hour’s preparation, at least a lesson can be provided for each of our classes.
Rounds include finding connections between clues and identifying what the last answer in a series might be.
(The programme uses four of these in a round, but with a class come up with at least double that number).
The Connecting Wall consists of sixteen words and phrases which divide into four groups of four, with a connecting clue to each.
The missing vowels round offers themed words with their vowels missing.
Divide the class into teams of about four.
Come up with half a dozen connections and ‘final clue’ rounds, a connecting wall and half a dozen groups of around ten missing vowels.
And away we go.
The class will love it, and the quiz can be played (adapted for difficulty) certainly from Year 5 and upwards.
Watch a couple of episodes on ‘catch up,’ and not only will the ideas begin to flow, but Monday evenings will take on a new attraction.
If There Has to be a Video – Get Out the Ghost Stories
Sometimes, all else fails and the video has to be switched on.
So, it is worth finding a collection of old ghost stories to use as a back-up.
Firstly, these work as well in black and white as colour, which means we can pick old films which our students are very unlikely to have seen.
The genre is less popular than it used to be, with horror and gore replacing atmosphere and apprehension in newer productions.
Ghost stories also work extremely well played as an aural piece.
Turn out the lights, close the blinds, and turn on the sound.
A lot of work can be stimulated from a ghost story, and not just for English teachers.
The subject matter lends itself to history, Geography (with location work), RS, art, music – we might even be able to get some forensic science work out of a carefully selected story.
Turn to Drama
Drama lessons offer a number of naughty bonuses to the teacher.
Lengthy marking can be avoided; once preparation is complete, the students can take control of their own learning; many skills are developed – collaboration, original thinking, planning and so forth.
With a laptop and appropriate software, the drama can be shown in short video form, or as a radio play as well as live action.
A trustworthy class can be set loose to design sound effects, props and costumes.
At least half a dozen lessons can usefully be employed by setting our students the task of producing a Christmas themed piece of drama.
Be Inventive – Adapt Our Own Subject
Primary school colleagues do have a small advantage when it comes to Christmas, in that they should have more flexibility in designing a Christmas themed week.
If we are teaching in hour blocks to different classes, it can be difficult to produce something distracting but worthwhile.
However, with preparation we can set up the kind of end of term work scheme which is interesting for students, worthwhile and also something we can use while we cope with our own last minute pressures.
Planning now will reap rewards at the end of term.
Again, some subjects lend themselves more to this kind of work than others.
Literature around Christmas, festivals in world religions, different ways of celebrating Christmas across the globe, a historical perspective on festivity are ideas that could be both entertaining and provide worthwhile learning to our students.
However, creative thinking can help our students develop new and useful skills which can be transferred to more formal learning appropriate to our subjects.
Ideas such as simple cookery tasks, folklores, writing a themed carol or designing a themed Christmas card, wrapping presents and so forth are ideas which will hopefully light a new Christmas candle in the excited minds of our charges.
As long as we enter the final couple of weeks of term well prepared, ready to be disrupted and in the knowledge that chaos will reign, we can enjoy the excitement of our students, and release our own Christmas – Santa rather than Scrooge-like - spirit.
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