For the Holidays

You've been elfed!We are discussing the 21st century skill of social responsibility by spreading kindness “elfing” people!

This time of year, kids tend to focus more on what THEY hope to receive rather than on what they are giving (wait–isn’t that backwards?!), so I decided to make it a teachable moment. I started by showing my 2nd graders a clip from the movie “Arthur Christmas” on

“Arthur Christmas” movie clip

We discussed how elves help Santa because Santa really couldn’t do it on his own. Then I told the students that Santa asked me to recruit some helpers (because all teachers and parents know Santa–where else would he get the info for his naughty and nice list?), and he asked me to make them honorary elves to help spread holiday cheer through random acts of kindness. They were so excited to be part of the magic of spreading kindness! We discussed what elves do, and we generated some ideas about how we can spread kindness in our own school community. We also discussed that the elves and Santa work hard to stay unnoticed when they are giving gifts or spreading kindness. They don’t say, “Hey! Look at me! I’m doing something kind, so you should say thank you or do something kind for me!” They don’t give so that they will get something back; they just want to spread kindness, so that is what we should do too.


Next I started a countdown to winter break by putting a random act of kindness inside a sealed envelope for each day until winter break. We open one each day and pick a few students to complete the act of kindness. They usually complete their act of kindness during recess, and being sneaky so no one knows who is doing it is a bonus! They love being sneaky! Here are some examples of the acts of kindness we are doing:

Acts of kindness

We are hoping our acts of kindness will spread throughout the school, which is why we are leaving a note that says, “You’ve been elfed! Pass it on . . .” It has been a big hit so far, and students are taking initiative to spread their own random acts of kindness at school, at home–everywhere!

If your students could use a little motivation to get in the spirit of giving, you can pick up your own copy of “for the holidays” at my Teachers Notebook store by clicking here.

I also like to give small gifts to the people who work behind the scenes and keep our school and our classroom running, but I am on a tighter budget than usual this year (and I’m sure I’m not alone!). Thanks to the creative team at Paper Petals, I am giving unique, hand-made gifts for under $5 each!

holiday gifts under $5 each

For my tea-riffic parent helpers . . .

Tea bag

(tea bag included inside) $2.50 each

The royal treatment for our hardworking aides . . .

fuzzy socks

(soft fuzzy socks) $5 each

A little bit of sunshine for our wonderful secretaries . . .


(customized buckets holding pretty pens) $4 each

And a well deserved adult treat for our principal!

wine tag

(bottle of wine not included–that was from a great groupon deal!) Gift tag only $2

I hope you are inspired “for the holidays . . .”

Featured Book Friday: Teammates

Teammates by Peter Golenbock

The book is about the friendship between PeeWee Reese and Jackie Robinson, during the first season Jackie played baseball with the Dodgers.  Peewee Reese was the only teammate to stand up for Jackie when no one else would.

~Book review written by Laurie Foote

Curriculum Connection: Social Skills/Rules

The lesson ideas for this featured book is by guest author Laurie Foote. Check out more great ideas from Laurie at her website:

It seems a strange book to start the year with, but I love baseball and the Dodgers, so it helps my kiddos make a connection with me as well.
We are then able to discuss how we are all different…because of where we are from, what we like/dislike, and so many other things, and yet work together as a team, within our classroom.  Students pair up into “teams” and make venn diagrams comparing the differences and similarities they have.  Then, like Peewee, we talk about how our “team” stands up for each other and what that might look like in daily life at school.

Featured Book Friday: Not A Box

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis


This delightfully simple book was awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007, An ALA Notable Children’s Book, New York Times Bestseller, Publisher Weekly Bestseller, and Nick Jr. Family Magazine “Most Imaginative” picture book 2006. Perfect for beginning readers, this book highlights the creativity of children as an ordinary box is transformed into a race car, a burning building, a pirate ship and much more!

~Teacher Stuff blog review written by Emily Stout

Bonus!! If you send a submission for a featured book by June 24, 2011, I will send you the materials I created for this lesson! That includes cooperative learning roles name plates with what each job does and says, Roam the Room form, Carousel Feedback form, and more! Click here to submit a Featured Book.

Curriculum Connections

by Emily Stout

  • Social Skills/Rules: Use this book to teach children the life skill of creativity. This book is the perfect example of ‘thinking outside the box’–literally!
  • Writing/Kagan Cooperative Project: Use this book to introduce the cooperative learning project “Not A Box” that will become a creative writing prompt.

1. Collect boxes of all different shapes and sizes from refrigerator boxes to ring boxes.

2. With students in cooperative learning groups, they will use the structure ‘Spend-A-Buck‘ to choose a box that they would like to transform into something creative. Use the structure ‘Jot Thoughts‘ so students can generate ideas about how to transform their box. (See ‘Kagan Structures’ below for directions on these cooperative learning structures.)

3. Using the structure ‘Team Project,’ assign cooperative learning roles (see Kagan structures below) to each student in the group. First, the students will plan how they will transform their box. The recorder will sketch the group’s vision for their final product. The materials monitor will make a list of the materials that they need, collect all the supplies on the list and distribute them to the team. Each team member is responsible for creating part of the box design. The designer will decide how each team members’ design will be incorporated into the box design, and the attacher will decide how to attach each design to the box creation.

4. Use the ‘Roam the Room‘ structure (see Kagan Structures below) so each team has an opportunity to see other projects and discuss ideas for additions and improvements to their own projects. When the team is finished with their project, the materials monitor returns all supplies and leads the team clean-up.

5. Use the ‘Carousel Feedback‘ structure (see Kagan Structures below) for teams to share their “Not A Box” projects.

6. Have students write their own “Not A Box” story independently, or use the ‘Continuous Round Table’ structure to have teams write a creative cooperative story about their projects. Teams could “stand on the shoulders” of Antoinette Portis and write a story following the pattern of Not A Box (recommended for beginning writers), or each team could create their own unique story that somehow includes their team box.

  • Kagan Structures

Spend-A-Buck: “To make a team decision, teammates use funny money and “spend a buck” to vote on their top picks. The option with the most bucks is deemed the team decision (p.6.35, Kagan 2009).” Each team member is given 10 fake dollars. The team chooses 4 different sized boxes to vote on for this project and writes or draws them on separate pieces of scratch paper. Each team member puts $1 on each choice to validate all the choices. Then they put their remaining money on their favorite choice(s). For example, one student may put all his/her remaining money on one choice, and another student may split his/her money between 2 or more of the choices. The recorder counts the money, and the choice with the most money is the winner.

Jot Thoughts: “Teammates ‘cover the table,’ writing ideas on slips of paper (p.6.28, Kagan 2009).” Give the students 30 seconds to think about how they might transform their box into something creative. With sticky notes or scratch pieces of paper, the students write down as many ideas as they can (one idea per piece of paper) in 1 minute. As soon as they finish writing an idea, students place their paper (without overlapping) in the middle of the table and try to cover the table with their ideas. When the timer goes off, the team reads all the ideas on the table and decides which one to use for their “Not A Box” project.

Team Project:

1. Project goal: Teams must transform a box into something creative.

2. The students are assigned the following cooperative learning roles:

recorder: The recorder sketches the team’s vision for how their box will look when they are finished, and he/she writes a list of materials the team will need.

materials monitor: The materials monitor is responsible for collecting, distributing, and putting away all materials that the team needs. He/she is also responsible for making sure the team cleans up when they are finished.

designer: The designer decides how each part of the box design created by individual members will fit together in the team “Not A Box” project.

attacher: The attacher decides how to attach the design together once the designer decides how it will look. The attacher will need to determine if he/she needs to use glue, a glue stick, tape, staples, etc. to attach all pieces of the design.

3. Students work in teams to create their “Not A Box” projects.

“Step 2 is what distinguishes Team Projects from group work. The teacher does not just say, ‘Work on this project in your team.’ This would violate the principles of good cooperative learning. There is nothing in unstructured group work that guarantees individual accountability or equal participation. Students could work together in harmony without any structure, each contributing their own fair share. But then again, one student could do most of the work . . . (p.13.5, Kagan 2009).”

Roam the Room: “Once students have made visible progress on their project, the teacher says, ‘Everyone, please stop working and stand up. Roam the room.’ Teammates may go from project to project together, they may break into pairs, or everyone can go their own way. When they return, they discuss what they learned and what they want to integrate into their project (p.13.9, Kagan 2009).”

Carousel Feedback: “Teams rotate from project to project to leave feedback for other teams (p.6.25, Kagan 2009).” When every team has finished their “Not A Box” project, they set it up on their table with a feedback form. The teacher sets the timer as teams rotate to each project, discuss it, and write comments on that teams’ feedback form. When teams have rotated through all the projects, they go back to their table and read the comments that were left on their feedback form.

Continuous Round Table: “Students take turns generating written responses . . . to a project. (p.6.34, Kagan 2009).” One teammate begins with the paper and pencil. When the teacher starts the timer, the first student writes the first sentence in the story, then passes the paper clockwise to the next student. That student writes the next sentence in the story then passes it on. This continues until the timer goes off.

Variation: If you have young students who struggle with writing, you could use the ‘Continuous Round Robin’ structure which works the same way as ‘Continuous Round Table,’ but students share their sentence orally instead of writing it.


Kagan, Spencer, Dr., Kagan, Miguel, 2009. Kagan cooperative learning. Kagan Publishing; San Clemente, CA.