The year has started. Things are starting to settle and it’s time to count your blessings in the classroom. We call the start of year through Thanksgiving (well, Canadian Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October) the beta period. It’s the time of year to try things out, get to know the students, build relationships and set up the year for success.
The beta period is not the time of year we spend getting deep into content. We review. We read. We talk about what is coming next. We check out our skills and show what we can or can’t do.
Most of all, we celebrate all the things were are thankful for in our classroom. Keep reading to see how we spend this special time of year.
What’s Happening in Our Classroom?
It’s the perfect time to take a look at what’s working, what’s starting to work and what needs to be scrapped. It’s time to count our blessings and make a list of all the things we are thankful for in our classroom. So, here is a little checklist we use to decide how are things working so far.
- What new friendships are being formed? Who could still use a friend or buddy?
- What relationships are being strained? Are there some students who need a break from each other?
- How is the seating plan working?
- How is the physical flow of the classroom working? What needs to change?
- How are the routines working? What is working well? What needs tweaking? What do we need to review to reteach?
- Which students need intervention? In reading? In writing? In math?
- Which students need support with organization?
- What are the interests of the class? How can we use this to our advantage?
And then we count the blessings. We look for all the things that are going well and communicate this to our students. We talk about how we’re coming together as a community and share what we are thankful for. Our students are included in this conversation.
How do we get our class in order so quickly?
We teach expectations so students always know where they stand. By being clear, specific and consistent save a lot of time rehashing issues.
We teach our students to self-regulate their emotions. By showing our student healthy ways to express their emotions, we can spend our time teaching while they keep themselves ready to learn.
Now, being that we’re teachers, we turn this into an activity we can use for reading, writing and math. Students write poems and stories about everything they for which they are thankful. We originally decided to create a tree of thankfulness until one of our students suggested making turkeys instead. Each feather listed something they were thankful for.
And that’s how we ended up creating our Canadian Thanksgiving book. Our students wanted to know how Canadian Thanksgiving started, so we did some research. We are so thankful for the curiosity and creativity of our students. They inspire us everyday.
Here is our most recent list of things to be thankful for:
- our class is hilarious
- they keep us on our toes
- they can take a joke and still get their work done
- they like to come to school
- they understand our special brand of crazy
- they think we can draw
How do we bring Thanksgiving into our classroom?
We love books and use them whenever we can. It can be a challenge to find books about Thanksgiving that don’t involve pilgrims (if you are from the United States you should know Canadian Thanksgiving has nothing to do with pilgrims. We didn’t have pilgrims). Here are some books we love:
- Turkey Trouble by Wendi J Silvano This turkey does not want to become dinner for Thanksgiving and gets creative.
- Ten Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston This one can easily be turned into a little song that is perfect to read, play or sing with a younger buddy class.
- Thanksgiving Day in Canada by Kris Val Lewicki This book can be a challenge to get your hands on, but it is a great read and it’s Canadian!
- Giving Thanks by Jonathon London This is a different spin on Thanksgiving and puts the focus back on being thankful.
The Grateful Pumpkin
This is a simple tradition we started a few years ago. We buy a giant pumpkin as early in the year as we can. We leave it on the back table along with a cup full of Sharpies. Students are allowed and encouraged to write about things they are grateful for. If you can’t find one big pumpkin, a few smaller ones work just as well.
We write and read things on the pumpkin for a few weeks. At the end, usually when the pumpkin looks like it needs to be put out of its misery, we draw names and one student gets to take the pumpkin home. Past pumpkins have been turned into pies, muffins, seed treats and compost.
If a real pumpkin is not in the cards for you and your class, try drawing a big pumpkin on a piece of chart paper. Give students orange markers to write on the paper pumpkin. At the end, take a photo of the pumpkin and share it with all your students and their families.
Recently we were asked what to do about students that write inappropriate things on the pumpkins. Honestly, this hasn’t happened to us because we start the lesson sharing our expectations and mention that our families will see what’s written on the pumpkins.
However, because they are still children and we expect them to make mistakes, we make sure the pumpkin is kept in a place where it can be watched. We put it away when we’re out of the classroom (like if we have a supply teacher in or we’ve left for the day). This limits the possibilities for vandalism.
A Twist on the Grateful Pumpkin
Create paper pumpkins on pieces of paper. Make one page for each person who works in your school that you are thankful for. Have all the students in the class write kind notes of thanks and then deliver them to the heroes in your school.
Notes to show thankfulness work anytime of year. In fact, each month we try to make sure we show how thankful we are for all the people in our school who help us learn every day.
Other Thanksgiving Activities
We believe in buddy classes. These are classes where older students work with younger students all year long. While we often spend this time reading, throughout the year we also look for other opportunities to help our younger friends with different crafts and activities.
Sometimes we read our favourite Thanksgiving stories to our buddy friends and sometimes we just read stories the little buddies love.
One of our favourite activities is our toilet paper turkeys. All you need:
- toilet paper rolls (paper rolls of any kind will work as long as they can stand up on their ends)
- colourful feathers (dollar store craft feathers are perfect, but taking apart a feather boa will work in a pinch)
- googly eyes
- glue (white glue will work but if you are in a big hurry, use hot glue with adult supervision)
- construction paper (orange for the feet and beaks but you can add any other colours you like)
Have student glue eyes and a beak on one side of the roll to make a face. Glue feathers on the other side so they span out (like a peacock). Add feet to the bottom. Personalize it with any other details you like.
These make a really cute display and the kids love to make them.
One year we decided to have a lunch together. The students planned it, but we helped oversee it. Generally, they made a list of dishes that could be eaten in our classroom (of course we avoided allergens). They included cultural dishes as our class is quite multicultural.
We asked our families who could send a few bites of a dish to bring them by the school on the day of our lunch. We had WAY more food than we needed, but the kids pushed their desks together to make a giant dining room table.
We supplied tablecloths and battery operated candles to set the mood. We used our reusable dishes to serve up all the food and then we sat together to eat a meal. We even made some juice punch and had a toast.
As we sat together enjoying each other’s company, we tried new foods and learned about Thanksgiving at our houses. We celebrated our differences and found that many of us had a lot in common.
The most unexpected part was when we carried all of our dirty dishes to the staff room so we could use the sinks to wash and dry them. They became a little team working together without much direction. The entire room was tided and put back together quickly and then we went about the rest of our learning for the day.
Coming together as a classroom community was so important. It bonded us together and created a special culture in our class that has been very difficult to replicate with other groups since.
Your lunch together doesn’t have to be something as elaborate. Just sitting together over food is a great way to build relationships within your classroom.
You don’t have to make Thanksgiving a giant festival. In fact, we make sure we count our blessings as often as possible. It is so important to take the time to reflect.
This is why our beta period is so important to us.
When the days are difficult and challenging or when that student has gotten on your last nerve is can be hard to come up with a list of things to be thankful for. Don’t wait until you need your list. Appreciate the little things as much and as often as you can. Keep that list somewhere close by so when the days are tough, you can look at it and remember the good things.
Tell the students in your class how much you care about them, but remember to show them-especially when they’re driving you up the wall.
Have you held a beta period in your classroom? Which things are you the most thankful for in your classroom right now? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.