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As we approach winter break, students tend to come to the classroom increasingly less focused and more energetic. It’s hard to blame them—this is an exciting time of year! In my experience, the best way to keep middle school ELA students engaged in this time leading up to Christmas is with a fun, movement-based activity that incorporates some competitive and collaborative elements. Easier said than done, right?
I was having a discussion about this with Dr. John Spencer, a friend and fellow educator, about the challenges of keeping students engaged around this time of the year. After that discussion, we decided to collaborate and developed an activity that seeks to address all these needs.
The Reindeer Games is a Christmas-themed, ELA escape room-style activity that has students up and moving around the classroom. It will put all that extra energy to good use, developing students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and ELA skills at the same time.
The premise of this activity is that your students have just received a letter inviting them to the reindeer games. In the letter, it says that they will be flown across the globe to the North Pole to compete in a series of activities through which they must draw on a wide range of ELA skills. Pretty cool, right?
This competition also doubles as a rather unique job interview. That’s because the winning group of students will be hired as Santa’s next team of reindeer trainers. Students will use this as an opportunity to showcase their mental agility and problem-solving skills. As it turns out, Santa also happens to be a bit of a grammar nerd!
To start off the activity, you will put students in groups and have them watch the beautiful, hand-drawn introduction video made by the talented John Spencer. The video will explain the backstory and hook students into the activity.
Then, you can give each group an answer booklet as well as a handout that explains each of the reindeer games. I like to get each group to choose a group name (I encourage them to pick something holiday or winter related for this). I also have each group select a team captain in charge of writing in the answer booklet.
Students will be circulating the room, trying to be the first group to complete the puzzles at tasks set up at six classroom stations (I discuss the stations below). Once they feel that they have completed all stations successfully, they can yell out, “Jingle Bells!” You can then verify their work with the answer key, and give the trophy to the winning team!
I like to have all the groups complete the games (instead of just finishing after the first group is done). Who knows, maybe Santa needs backup reindeer trainers?! You might consider having a ceremony afterward to celebrate the new reindeer-trainers-to-be!
The reindeer games activity centers around 6 station activities, which you can easily set up around your classroom. At each of the stations, there is a different puzzle, activity, or task for students to complete. These are what make up the “games” of the reindeer games activity. I discuss each station below with details of what’s included in each one.
For the first station, students need to find the mystery word represented in images and letters on the provided task cards. A mystery word is revealed in the answer booklet once they input the information correctly in their booklets.
This task requires students to determine how many carrots each of the reindeer eat by labeling examples of figurative language. Nine sentences are given (one for each of Santa’s reindeer), and students need to identify which type of figurative language is used in each one to determine the mystery number.
Task three is shown below. For this one, students must complete a secret mystery task that is only revealed by completing the reindeer word maze. They will do this by recording each of the letters they encounter on their path in their booklets.
As suggested in the title, students will need to toss five paper snowballs into a bucket to complete this activity, but not before they find the mystery word. They can do this by correctly identifying parts of speech bolded on the provided task cards and putting them in the proper place in their answer booklet.
5. CHRISTMAS RIDDLE:
Students will use their problem-solving skills to solve a good old-fashioned Christmas riddle! The riddle will first need to be decoded. Then, once students have uncovered the phrase, they will work together to figure out the solution to the riddle. They will write the solution in their answer booklets.
Using the morse code key card, students will crack the code to reveal a secret task. When they have revealed the task, they will complete it with their group.
Students can complete these stations in any order. The first team to complete all of them successfully will not just get the prestigious reindeer games trophy, but they will also get the jobs of reindeer trainers for the upcoming year (which I hear comes with an icy mansion and a great retirement plan)!
The thing I love most about this activity is the amazing feedback it has received from teachers so far. Check out what other ELA teachers had to say about using the reindeer games Christmas activity in their ELA classrooms.
There you have it! I hope you have fun using this middle ELA Christmas activity with yo. If you’re interested, I talk about more Christmas ELA activities in another post, which you can read by clicking here. This activity is one of three such middle school ELA activities included in the Christmas Activity Video Bundle that John Spencer and I created together.
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