Winter Celebrations

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As one of the only Jewish teachers in my school, I’m fortunate that my co-teachers are interested in learning about my traditions and celebrations.  As we neared Winter Break, they asked if I would do a mini-Hanukkah lesson.  I was excited to prepare and teach a lesson, and then went above and beyond after searching for activities online (thank you Google and Teachers Pay Teachers!)  I decided to do a cultural winter celebration activity during reading centers.


I spent a lot of time finding, creating, and organizing materials.  I used a primary introduction to Hanukkah mini book, introduction to Kwanzaa mini book, and a 3 holiday sorting activity (sorting main themes and characteristics); these activities were used for all guided reading groups, and I spent one day in each class leading centers.  I also found a Holiday Readers Theater.  I assigned each student a part, and put a high, medium, and low reader on each part so they could choral read together.  Each copy was highlighted, and students practiced their parts during guided reading on the second day of the lesson.  As a conclusion, each class performed the Readers Theater.


These lessons took a lot of time to prep and plan, but I know it’s worth it.  Students need to be culturally aware of other religions and celebrations around the world.  They need to learn to appreciate diversity and that there are similarities between the celebrations.


After finishing these lessons, I am excited the activities went very well.  Students didn’t have a lot of background knowledge about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.  They were curious, interested, and tried hard reading the difficult words in the mini books.  While reading, we compared and contrasted details between the holidays.  They asked about certain vocabulary words, and it was eye-opening that I had to explain who African Americans are to help them understand who celebrates Kwanzaa.  We also discussed how Kwanzaa was different than the other holidays since it isn’t a religious holiday and was created in 1966.  I asked the students if it was an old or new holiday, and they said old; I had to give them context to compare 47 years versus 2000 with Christmas so they understood it’s fairly new!  Students loved playing the game of dreidel; I explained the rules and let them spin for fun.  Students wanted to know what letter they landed on and what it meant; there were cheers when they landed on Gimmel!


I also have one student who celebrated Eid earlier this year.  During her small group, I gave her the opportunity to share about her holiday and traditions.  During our discussion, we were able to find similarities between Eid, Christmas, and Hanukkah.  I wish there had been more time to discuss deeper and really compare and contrast the different holidays.


The Readers Theater went well too.  It was the first time the students had done one, but they were excited.  They practiced their parts in small groups then as a whole class before performing.  We were able to record their performance using an iPad, and the students loved watching it!


I’m so glad I was able to teach this lesson and help students learn more about other cultures and celebrates happening around the world.  At the end of one of the small groups, I had time to do a whip-around, and the students shared one thing they had learned.  One student said, “Hanukkah and Christmas you can celebrate with different families and traditions”.  Another said, “Holidays are special to all people”.  I was proud of these lessons and that the students understood the bigger message I was teaching.


Happy Holidays! 

Disguising a Gingerbread Man

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In my quest to try some new things with technology and do a fun winter-holiday themed activity, I came across a Disguise a Gingerbread Man activity.  I love all the versions of the Gingerbread Man story, and thought it would be fun and creative for the students to think of a way to disguise the gingerbread man so he wouldn’t be eaten by the fox!

I met with the technology coach at my school to think of a way to do this.  Finally, we created a gingerbread man template in Notebook that the students could use to draw with the fun pens, add shapes, and write text describing the disguise they created.  We also found a Gingerbread story on Starfall as an introductory activity to review the story and think about how to design the Gingerbread Man.

The Gingerbread Man story  on the computer

The Gingerbread Man story on the computer

In the computer lab, both activities were explained and modeled, so students could work at their own pace.  It was a crazy hour in the lab (and I had to do it twice with both first grade classes!) helping students use the different tools, trouble shooting problems, showing them how to type, and printing their creations.  Even though it was crazy, it was fun to watch the students be excited and creative.  They loved just drawing and exploring the tools, especially the creative pen with the fun designs.  Most created gingerbread boys and girls, but some thought more outside the box creating ninjas, a Gremlin, a police officer, and a football player.  They were excited to take them home!










This was a fun winter project, and a great way for students to be creative and explore some new programs on the computer.  In the future, I would definitely repeat this project, but also extend the activity.  I liked that the students used the computer to draw, but I also could have them break the template home and disguise him as part of a family activity.  I would also have the students try to write a story, rather than one sentence “My Gingerbread Man is disguised as a …”.  They could tell where the Gingerbread man is, what he’s doing, how he escaped, etc.  Then, it would be more of a writing extension activity, in addition to technology and art; writing a complete story is a difficult task for first graders, but important for them to practice.  I’m glad we gave this activity a try, and it was a successful first attempt!

Here are examples of the Disguised Gingerbread Men!

IMG_0273 IMG_0275 IMG_0279
IMG_0282 IMG_0285 - Version 2 IMG_0286 - Version 2

IMG_0278IMG_0287 - Version 2

Living in the Moment: My #nerdlution

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When I first saw the hashtag #nerdlution, I thought it was funny, but also a good idea to start thinking of resolutions as the year winds down.  This has been a big year for me personally going through some challenges and struggles, but I persevered and am stronger than ever.  I have taken time to rediscover my values and what makes me happy; I have rebuilt my self-confidence and make decisions for what I want without feeling pressured by someone else.  For the first time in a very long time, I’m truly smiling and laughing again.


My #nerdlution is to continue my progress and live in and enjoy the moment.  Sometimes, there are so many activities going on and deadlines to meet that we’re focused on what’s coming next and rushing to get there.  Rather than enjoying what I’m doing, whether it’s teaching, meeting friends for dinner, or watching a sporting event, my mind is sometimes elsewhere and I miss out.  I know I’ll get where I need to go, finish a task, and be okay if it doesn’t get done at that moment.  I want to enjoy cooking, my favorite tv show, or the book I’m reading.  I want to enjoy the small moments at school: a child’s accomplishments, hearing a story from a student, receiving a friendly wave in the hallway, or running around the classroom because everyone is raising their hand and asking for help.


During the month of November, I participated in 30 Days of Gratitude; each day I wrote down one thing I was grateful for in my life such as my family, things I enjoy doing, or nature.  Gratitude goes with Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, but should be practiced all year long.  Take a step back, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the moment.  I’ve tried to stop obsessing over all the little details, have confidence things will work out, and know it’s okay to take some me-time.  I’m a much happier person and enjoy all my activities and people I’m with.  I’m proud in how far I’ve come, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!