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The fall and winter can be magical times of the year, but the impending holiday break, cold weather, and looming final exams can put a damper on your students’ excitement about and interest in new lessons or concepts within the classroom. While middle school and high school students don’t typically go outside for recess during the day, the cold weather can still present an obstacle when it comes to classroom engagement and learning participation. No matter what subject you teach, it’s a great idea to utilize the weather and time of year to your advantage, whether it’s a crisp fall morning or a biting winter afternoon. Check out some of our top activities to use during the fall and winter that will keep your students engaged with their lessons and participating in class.
Explore the Science of Weather
This is a great activity to keep up with throughout the year. Rather than do a week-long unit on weather at one time during the year, utilize the changing seasons and surprise your students with a “weather day” every so often. Go outside for a few minutes, even if it’s freezing cold, and let your students make observations about the weather. What is the wind like? What temperature do you think it is? How does that day’s weather compare to yesterday’s weather? Allow your students to make predictions about how that particular day compares with the average temperatures for that time of year. Learn about why leaves change color and what conditions need to be present for the various types of precipitation. Explain why the seasons happen as they do and explore what causes abnormal weather patterns at certain times of the year.
Research Cultural Traditions of the Season
Plan a research project where students learn about certain cultural traditions that correlate to the time of year. Maybe students learn about Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration or they explore the roots of Christmas and all of its traditions. You can have students pick their own topics to learn about or you can assign certain information that each student needs to research about one particular tradition. This is also a great opportunity for a group project that encourages teamwork and collaboration. Encourage students to pick a topic they don’t know much about rather than one they’re familiar with so they can learn something new about a new culture.
Plan a Field Trip
Every student loves field trips, and when you plan one that encourages scientific exploration, historical learning, or something else educational, everyone wins. Schedule a trip to a local farm and have students learn about growing crops, raising livestock, or even the business behind running a farm. If it’s too chilly during the winter months, consider a museum trip, such as to a local science museum or a history museum. Make sure the field trip correlates to something you’ve been studying in class, and be sure to follow up the field trip with a debriefing, essay assignment, or report so that you ensure your students are paying attention and learning on the trip.
Plant a Garden
While most gardens are typically planted in the spring, there are several vegetables that are actually planted in the fall to be harvested in the winter. Have students explore soil composition, test the local soil, and make adjustments using fertilizers and soil treatments. Explore the life cycle of a plant, how to ensure growth occurs and the vegetables thrive, and when to pick the vegetables that you’ve grown. Consider getting your community involved and create a community garden, or partner with other classes to collaborate on the best gardening practices.
Read & Write About Winter
Countless authors have written about their experiences during winter, whether in poems, novels, or short stories. Read several passages of some authors’ descriptions of winter and learn about the climate in the place they were writing about. Then allow students to write their own descriptions of the winter they’re experiencing, complete with lots of specific details about the environment and weather, as well as their own feelings on the winter weather. Be sure to include some descriptions of the climate in warmer areas so that students understand and can compare the varying levels of cold (or hot) that some people experience during winter.
Do Winter Science Experiments
This is a must for any science teachers. But sometimes it can be hard to pick out the best winter science experiments that both engage your students and teach them something. Learn about how water crystallizes to form unique snowflakes, explore glacial pressure, or make your own thermometer. If you’re looking for a critical thinking and problem-solving experiment, have your students work in groups to create the best snowball launcher. Give each group the same materials and once everyone’s done, go outside, make some snowballs, and test them out!
Do a Fun Craft
Even high schoolers like to feel they’re back in preschool sometimes, so don’t get so caught up in lessons and testing that you forget to let your students relax for a bit. Especially as winter break nears, you may find yourself struggling to keep your students’ interest and keep them involved in class participation. Do a fun craft with your students, such as making coffee filter snowflakes, coloring a picture of a snowman, or doing a fall weather word search. Mindless, easy tasks can do wonders for overworked brains and stressed out students, and your classes will appreciate your understanding in letting them feel young and carefree again.