You can easily tell the winter holiday season is here when you step into a Pre-K or kindergarten classroom – the children are buzzing with excitement and can hardly contain themselves! Many students are counting down the days until Santa comes. At the same time, you have exhausted teachers counting down the days to a well deserved break. How can you work with the kids holiday spirit while still continuing academic learning opportunities? Read more to learn how you can easily turn a common kindergarten activity of making gingerbread houses into a motivating descriptive writing lesson. I also included a calculating money extension activity for upper grade teachers.
In writers' workshop we are working on adding details to our drawings and stretching out our words to write sentences. Now that most of my students are able to do these skills, we are focusing more on adding details to our writing. This creative lesson is a great way to work on this writing skill.
Materials for Making the Gingerbread Houses
- Amazing parents sent in decorating candy such as M&M's, candy corn, and marshmallows
- We collected and washed school lunch milk cartons (1 per child)
- Cut about 6 by 6 inch squares of cardboard for the base of the house (1 per child)
- White frosting
- Graham crackers
- Plastic knives
The students became little artists meticulously leaving not even an inch on their gingerbread house undecorated. They were extremely proud of their creations and were eager to show off their work. After a short break for snack/ recess we returned back to our classroom to write about our gingerbread houses.
Descriptive Writing Mini-lesson
The focus of my mini-lesson was to help my students to add more details to their writing just like they do with their pictures. I first asked my students to tell a partner what they are going to write about their gingerbread house. Many of the students shared a simple sentence about their house, such as, it was cool or that they liked their house. After sharing these ideas, I took out a very sadly decorated gingerbread house with just one lonely piece of candy on it.
I proceeded to act as if it was a beautiful gingerbread house. The students argued back that it wasn't. When I gave them a surprised look asking what was wrong with my gingerbread house, they told me it wasn't finished. They said I needed to decorate it more. When I explained that it was decorated, they argued that there was only one piece of candy on it and that gingerbread houses are supposed to be full of lots of candy.
The discussion continued and I explained how they are usually just writing one sentence without much detail (my gingerbread house) and that they need to be adding all the wonderful details just like they did for their gingerbread houses. After they understood this connection I had them tell a partner about their gingerbread houses again and then write about it. This time they all added a lot more details about their house such as describing the candy they used, the steps to make the house, and even who lives in side it!
To help my students remember this valuable lesson after the holiday break, I took a picture of my sadly decorated gingerbread house and of a students fully decorated house. We are going to post them in our room and re-look at this when needed to remind students to add more details to their writing.
Extension of gingerbread house project for upper grades
When I taught second grade I used to have my students tally up what they used on their gingerbread houses. Each item cost a certain amount. For example the property and the base of the house costs $5. The graham crackers cost $1 each. The candy ranged from $0.01 to $0.25. After the finished building their house we calculated how much each house was worth. It was an amazing math activity that helped students to calculate money which is always a difficult concept to teach.
This is a fun project that manages to keep my students' attention during an exciting time of year, while at the same time working on their writing skills. Do you have any holiday ideas that you use to motivate your students and are engaging learning opportunities? I would love to hear them!