Holiday Activities for Middle School Students

Happy Holidays! Can you believe the holiday season has already begun? As I’m writing this, Hanukkah is underway and Christmas and Kwanza and New Year’s Day will be here before we know it!

Somehow, I always feel like the last few weeks of the calendar year are SO crazy! With the holiday shopping, parties, family traditions and all the rest, it is hard to stay on top of the teacher game as well! That’s why I love using holiday activities in my classroom! I traditionally incorporate several holiday-themed activities in my classroom, including a study of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, reading informational texts about diverse holidays and learning to write business letters!

Holiday Activity FREEBIE!

I wanted to share some FREE Holiday Activities with you to help make your planning and preparation go a little smoother this December! I’ve included 10 Holiday-themed Journal Writing Prompts. These prompts cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from writing fictional stories to personal narratives to more serious and reflective responses! You can easily pick and choose the activities that will work for your classroom.

Additionally, I’ve included writing paper for each prompt as well as a Slides presentation with a slide for each prompt! No-prep is required! This is simply an easy, low stress holiday activity that also helps students improve their writing! Everybody wins!

Family Holiday Traditions

One of the writing prompts asks students to discuss some of their holiday traditions. My all-time favorite holiday tradition is the Sibling Gift Exchange! This is something both my family and my husband’s family did when we were growing up and we’ve continued it with our own children! Watching my children pick out small gifts for each other is simply magical! My kids are always thrilled to choose something they think the others will love! Ironically, these small gifts often become the favorite gift–even when larger or more expensive gifts are received! I just love it!

I LOVE hearing about traditions from other families and cultures–what do you do to celebrate these winter months?

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Gratitude: The Virtue the Changed My Life

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

[FREEBIE ALERT! Keep Scrolling!]

Happy [Early] Thanksgiving Teacher Friends!

While I understand that Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday for many reasons–which I don’t at all want to discount–I do absolutely love celebrating the Spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday.

And…I will be totally transparent here: I also really like Thanksgiving food! I love the challenge of planning and preparing an amazing Thanksgiving feast with everything hot (or cold) and ready all at the same time!

I view it as my own personal Great British Baking Challenge.

(And yes, I do recognize the irony in that comparison!)

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Anyway, I wanted to share a little bit about how the virtue of gratitude has played an immense role in my life in recent years.

I’m sharing this story in the hope that in some small, tiny way it might help someone else.

The Slump

Several years ago when my third child was just a few months old and I was juggling post-partum hormones and three young children under the age of four…

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I found myself in a slump! I couldn’t see the positive side of anything. Literally everything–from getting out of bed in the mornings to brushing my teeth to taking care of the little humans in my charge–felt just so incredibly hard. Looking back now, it’s very clear that I had some undiagnosed post-partum depression going on; but for whatever reason, I couldn’t see it back then.

After speaking to a close friend who was struggling in a similar way, I started to recognize how unhappy I was feeling. But, I thought, how could I be unhappy? I have everything I have ever wanted: I’m married to my best friend; I have three [now four] awesome kids; I work at my dream job; I am blessed with a lovely home in a lovely neighborhood.

With so much privilege and so many blessings, what right did I have to be unhappy? What in the world was wrong with me?

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As I was contemplating these questions, inspiration happen to strike at the most unlikely of places: at the movie theater in the middle of a show while on a date with my husband! I don’t remember the movie we had gone to see, but I will always remember the moment when I realized exactly what I needed to do!

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The Solution

The answer? Gratitude!

Somehow, I intuitively knew that I needed to practice being more grateful for what I had. I actually ran out of the movie theater and called my friend and together we made a plan.

We decided that, each night, we would text each other and mention just one thing about our day for which we were grateful.

Truthfully, this was super hard at first! We had been steeped in negativity for so long that we just didn’t have many positive things to say! But, as we practiced looking for the good and retrained our minds to see the good, we experienced a complete shift in our daily experience.

After a few weeks of these nightly texts, we started sending not just one thing, but whole lists of good things about our days. It’s important to note that, fundamentally, nothing had changed. Our lives were still the same. The challenges we faced at home, at work, with our friends and family–they were all still there. What had changed? Our thinking! With this subtle shift in our mindset, we were better equipped to handle those challenges and still find joy!

The Science

It years later that I learned from a different friend about the scientific and medical research that has been done on gratitude. Apparently, numerous studies [I’ve linked a few here & here] have been done on how a regular gratitude regimen improves a person’s physical AND mental health!

When she told me about this, it blew my mind! I had experienced this firsthand and had no idea it was actually “a real thing” that was true beyond my own experience. This knowledge made me want to shout my story from the rooftops!

Important Note on Gratitude

Please understand, that I am not suggesting that making a list of good things will cure any kind of illness. I am not a health professional of any kind. If you have questions or concerns about your physical and mental health, please reach out to your medical provider. It’s okay to need help!

I am simply sharing my story about the incredible impact of gratitude.

Additionally, with my current (albeit limited) knowledge and understanding, if I was ever feeling similarly to the way I was in this story, I would think about increasing my gratitude practice, but I would also definitely talk to my doctor!

FREE Student Article on Gratitude

In my small effort to share this information, I have put together a student-friendly informational article on Gratitude (link below). With this FREE resource, you can help students begin a practice that can improve their own mental health and overall well-being! Please feel free to copy and share this article with all your teacher friends!

If we help one student improve their mental health, then we will have made a huge difference in the world!

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Halloween Activities for Middle School Language Arts

I LOVE Autumn! It’s my favorite time of the year! Football, Halloween, cooler weather, fall family activities, beautiful trees changing colors–I am here for all of it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love to incorporate holiday-themed lessons that both teach ELA content and bring in a bit of festive fun! Halloween is no different!

This year, I’ve put together a series of Scary Short Story lessons that engage students in standards-based activities, and are also a way of enjoying the seasons! I chose three short stories to incorporate into my curriculum:

  1. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
  2. “A Ghost Story” by Mark Twain
  3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

All three of the short story lessons are jam-packed with ELA content instruction and review. Text annotation, characterization, reading informational texts, satire, suspense, and so much are presented in engaging ways to students! Slides Presentations and multiple student assignments accompany each–and, answer keys are, of course, included!

In my TpT Store, these resources are all available separately OR buy the Bundle and save 20%!

Happy Haunting–err, I mean, Teaching!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. If you haven’t already, be sure to snag your FREE Halloween Vocabulary Activities HERE!


Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – Guided Reading Activities

When the craziness of the holiday season is suddenly thrust upon us and we don’t even know what day of the week it is, sometimes pulling together a great lesson for our students feels overwhelming. Before I created this unit, I remember limping (figuratively) through December wondering if I’d ever get on top of things again. One year, I finally had the sense to plan ahead and created these Guided Reading Activities for A Christmas Carol. I intentionally planned activities that students could do mostly independently, with some teacher-led instruction. Check out some of the highlights below:

  1. The unit begins with a Slides / PowerPoint Presentation helping students build their background knowledge in order to understand the context in which Charles Dickens wrote the story. Beginning with explaining the shift from agricultural to industrial England (the Industrial Revolution), students become familiar with some of the unintended consequences of coal-powered factories springing up all over cities with little regulatory oversight. Students will learn the lack of choices available to those who were in poverty. Dickens was aware of these difficulties and wrote this book with the intention of encouraging those with the means to help those less fortunate.
  1. Following the introductory presentation, students are ready to read! I have used this same handout for both the original novel as well as one of the many dramatized versions often found in middle school literature books. Both work very well! Perhaps more advanced classes can handle the novel a little better than younger or lower-leveled readers. If the original novel is what you have available, playing an audiobook for them is often a good choice to help the struggling readers get through the sometimes difficult Victorian language. The dramatized version can be very fun option for students to read aloud as a Reader’s Theatre. Students often have fun reading different characters’ parts and, while the result is a far cry from Broadway, it is still enjoyable. Many literature books even come with a recording of the play that is also very fun for students.
  2. I generally try to do one Stave per day, which means once reading has commenced the unit will last approximately five 50-minute class periods (not including the background information). The activities are also available to be used as digital activities through TpT and can be assigned through Google Classroom for those who may be distance learning.
  1. When finished, I think it’s a great way to end the year by watching a film adaptation and comparing it to what we have read. I’ve included in my unit a page to help students do that. It’s part of CCSS! Pop some corn! Bring in Christmas cookies! Donuts! Make it enjoyable!
  2. There are so many great film adaptations available and any would work for this assignment, as it is a compare / contrast assignment. My two favorite versions, however, are The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) for something a little lighter and humorous and the 1984 A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott if you’re looking for something more serious. I’ve used and loved them both!

Another possible extension to this activity is to find a way for students to participate in a service-learning project. I love connecting the theme of the story to real life–there are many ways this can be done! They can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. One simple way to encourage service is by organizing a food, coat, glove, sock, hygiene supply, etc. drive. Often in the past, I have tried contacting local shelters to see what is needed and base what we collect on that information.

One year, I applied for and received a service-learning grant. With the money, I bought yards and yards of fleece and, together with my students, we tied blankets for Project Linus. We made over 50 blankets in two days and had a great time!

See what’s available in your local communities! Check out justserve.org.

It’s so nice for students to be able to do something for someone else and feel gratitude for their own circumstances-even if they aren’t so great. I love seeing the change that comes over students when they do something selfless!

Check out my unit and enjoy the last week of December while STILL engaging students in curriculum!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)