Secret Santa for your Classroom

This is the time of year for lessons on gratitude and generosity, holiday cheer and happiness, and what better way to spread those ideas than with a class Secret Santa activity.

Every year about this time, when I taught elementary school, I would have my sixth graders partake in a Secret Santa activity.  We would run our Secret Santa's for two weeks before revealing them at our class Christmas party.

The first thing I would do is explain the rules.  There weren't a whole lot of rules to the festivities.  In my class, students were required to give two gifts per week, but gifts did not require any money to be spent.  They could gift class dollars, the promise of fulfilling class jobs in the new year, a sweet note, or anything along those lines.  Of course they were also allowed to gift candy, treats, soda, books, school supplies, toys, etc.  Secondly, they just couldn't tell anyone their Secret Santa identity.

The second thing I would do is give the students a questionnaire to complete.  It was a simple ten questions about their favorite foods, treats, books, movies, and the like.  Once these were turned in, I would scramble them up and pass them back out as my way of assigning Secret Santa's.  When completing this task, I had a checklist which I would complete with the student's name and to whom they were assigned to be a Santa.  I would then use this checklist to mark off the days that students received gifts to ensure we had no Scrooges in the class.  I also kept a small stash of Dollar Tree type items wrapped and ready to go just in case a student was being snubbed by their Santa.

Finally, during our class Christmas Party we would play a guessing game and reveal our secret identities.  For this final reveal, students were asked to bring a gift up to $5 in value.  I would then have every student find their final gift from a big pile made earlier in the day.  Before they could open it, students were given 3 opportunities to guess the identity of their Santa.  Raucous laughter would usually ensue if the Santa was able to escape the guessing without being named.  Once all the presents were open we would partake in a potluck feast and share some fun and fellowship with one another.

If you would like a copy of my Secret Santa activity papers, which includes my rules, questionnaire, checklist, and party flyer, please click here to receive them for free.

I hope you have a marvelous time celebrating the holidays with your students.


5 Fun & Free Ideas to Teach about the Aztecs

Third Grade Social Studies Activities: Make an Aztec Sundial
If you've been searching for ways to teach about the Aztecs, you may have been searching for a while.  There's not a lot of resources out there, readily available, and free for your use.  So that's why I have compiled 5 free resources to make teaching about the Aztecs fun.

The Aztecs carved a huge sun stone in 1479.  It was 3 feet thick and almost 12 feet across, and weighed 25 metric tons.  Made from basalt, this large sun stone was one of the first sundials and it was dedicated to the sun god.  Your students can make their own sundial with this first activity.  Students use a paper plate, craft stick, Playdoh, markers, and pencils, to create and decorate a real working sundial.  They can even lay it out in the sun and check it hourly to write the hour times upon it or mark it in some way fancy, like this one shown to the right.

BMserpentThe Aztecs highly valued and worshiped the snake as a sacred symbol, as they believed it to be a symbol of one of their most treasured gods, Quetzalcoatl.  A very prominent serpent once owned by the Aztecs and possibly given to Hernan Cortes just before the destruction of the Aztec Empire now resides in the British Museum and students can recreate this serpent with just some cardboard, tissue paper, scissors and glue.  You can get the full directions here, but in a short lesson or two students will have a beautiful work of art to display in their school or at their home, showing the importance of the serpent to that of the Aztec people.


Aztec Sun Clay ARt for Kids - Homeschool History Project
A third option for studying the Aztecs is to make pottery and artwork like the Aztecs did.  This step by step site will show you two examples of how to make a pot or a sun similar to those made by the Aztecs.  They have great examples and an Aztec pot for comparison.

If you're looking for something a little less crafty and a bit more meaty, than I have just the lesson for you.  This Origin Story Lesson covers the origin of the Aztecs and how they came to be in the south central valley of Mexico.  It includes an original article that your students can read to learn the background and history of the Aztec people.  It then includes comprehension questions and a craftivity foldable that deals with the symbolism behind the Mexican seal.  See, supposedly back in the 1300's, the Aztecs were told by one of their gods to look for an eagle perched on a cactus on an island in the middle of a lake, munching on a writhing snake.  The Aztecs saw this sign one day and that is what led them to build their village on the island inside of Lake Texcoco.  This symbol, of the eagle on a cactus eating a snake, has been preserved on the seal and flag of Mexico.  Students are given a picture of this seal and asked to summarize the story of the Aztecs inside.  They then have the opportunity to come up with their own symbolism for a home or business that they find near and dear to their hearts.  It could be their own house, a grandparents, an aunt or uncles, siblings, cousins, etc. but they get to think about where it's located and what makes it unique and special to them.

AztecchocFinally, for a fifth free and fun idea to teach about the Aztec, learn how to make Aztec Hot Chocolate.  Many people do not realize that the cocoa bean to make chocolate came from the Aztecs.  The Aztecs showed it to Cortes and he quickly changed the Aztec recipe to one involving vanilla and sugar, before shipping it back across the ocean to Europe.  In this fun recipe, you'll get back to the origin of the story and try your chocolate with a small kick of cayenne pepper, just as the Aztecs intended.

I hope you've enjoyed these five fun and free ideas to teach about the Aztecs.  I hope they have provided you with your own ideas that you'll go on to share so that this area of history no longer has such a tiny area of reference and materials from which to draw from.  But most of all I wish you and your students a great day of learning and a ton of fun.


Organizing Class Periods Using Rainbow Colors in Sequence

The Elementary Classroom

When I initially began teaching I innately began using color.  Back then I was teaching sixth grade in an elementary school in a largely self-contained classroom.  Color became my friend to help me quickly and easily discern one week from another.  As we started the year and began our weekly spelling, grammar, character education, and logic lessons, I used colored paper to help me identify week one from week two from week three and so on, and I used that paper in what I thought was an easy to remember and logical sequence, RAINBOW order.

Everything from week one, from the spelling words, lists, and tests, to the math worksheets, to the logic packet, to the Friday homework letter, etc. were copied on pink paper.  (I used pastel colors as they are cheaper than brights.)  The next week, it was salmon, then yellow, and so on.  Finding missing or late work became a breeze.  Sorting papers for storage was simple. And my mind felt calm and organized.

Middle School Organization

So when I stepped into a middle school for the first time, I wasn't about to let my love and use of color just fall to the wayside, and I found a quick and easy way to use color throughout my daily life. 

Middle school found me teaching sixth grade yet again.  This time I taught four core classes per day, as well as one class which was essentially a remedial test prep class.  Each class was assigned a class color, proceeding in RAINBOW order throughout the day, so period 2 was red (I had period 1 as a prep.), period 3 was yellow, (period 4 was for meetings), period 5 was green, period 6 was blue, and period 7 was purple. 

Just like I had done in elementary school, everything for that class was done, prepared, or colored in their class color.  Their portfolio folders I kept in the front of the room for them to store their work in were red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  Their absentee board was in these same colors.  So was their reward jars, homework board, handouts, homework graph, and more.
Again, this use of color easily and quickly helped me discern period 2 work from period 4, which could also help me see when something was turned in later in the day than during class as directed.  It helped me to sort and organize papers rapidly. And it eased my own levels of chaos and anxiety by creating a system of organization and structure that I could easily manage, and that my brain instantly enjoyed.  I happen to function well and enjoy seeing things in color; maybe you will too.  Give it a try and see what structures and functions in your classroom would lend themselves well to a color-guided system, then let me know how it goes.


We Hold These Truths: A Kindness Campaign

I've joined with dozens, if not hundreds of other TpT authors to celebrate Inauguration Day in a new and exciting way this year.  We've created resources that celebrate kindness, honesty, truthfulness, inclusion, and have made those resources "forever freebies" so that teachers can truly celebrate and honor these character traits and what has made our country great for hundreds of years.

In the creation of my resource, I tried to honor both purposes by creating an Inaugural Address Card Sort, which allows you to take four Inaugural Addresses considered to be the greatest of all time and evaluate them for their content and the words spoken in that day.  Evaluate, categorize, and then discuss who said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, ..."  See if you can determine who would have claimed, "We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid."  It's kindness and truthfulness on a whole different level, and one your high schoolers might enjoy as a special twist come this Inauguration Day.

Thank you to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for putting this blog hop together for us so that we could get together and share all our great resources.  You ladies are amazing.  Thank you.