This month’s Best Practice comes from our own Director of Professional Development and Client Support, Jeanne Pascon, M.Ed.

Holiday Cards for Our Troops

One of my favorite lessons of the school year, repeated each year students were in my G/T class – some from fourth grade all the way through eighth – was our annual creative activity, “Holiday Cards for Our Troops.” For many years my students participated in this engaging and creative service project at holiday time. They researched holidays, practiced their creative writing skills, then got crafty to send a smile across the globe to our servicemen and women who cannot come home for the holidays. We also invited other classrooms in our school to participate each year.

This activity makes a fantastic extension to the Holiday Scavenger Hunt lesson. If you cannot do the presentations, you can still use the Scavenger Hunt itself to find great resources to  build up their schema about the many holidays celebrated around the world in the wintertime.

Start with the Holiday Scavenger Hunt to immerse students in learning about a variety of winter holidays. Next, consider what functional and creative writing skills your students have been working on that you can practice through the Holiday Cards for Our Troops activity. Everything from capitals and punctuation to adjectives to using details to sensory imagery to letter writing, etc, etc!

To Prepare

Find a local VFW, church, synagogue, or other organization who is collecting cards to send to servicemen and women overseas. You could also find your own troops to send to if you have any community members serving. The VFW we contributed to held collections throughout the year for different items. At holiday time it was cards & cookies, so the bakers in my class would contribute goodies, too! Alternatively, you could share cards (and cookies!) with a local veteran’s hospital, children’s hospital, or senior community.

Get a few big boxes. (Check out the copier room for paper boxes – they are perfect!)

Adapt the Holiday Cards Google Slide Show (go to File –>Make a Copy) for your needs to launch students into this service project and show them examples. These are from grades 4-8. You will brainstorm together a word wall of terms they may want to include in their writing (see slide 4.)

Which writing skills are you going to practice? It’s probably worth a mini-lesson for a quick review here as you get started drafting the writing for the cards. You can add your own slides as needed to bring this to your students’ attention.

You will want to get lots and lots of fun crafty materials for the holidays. I sent a note home about a week prior and kids brought in all sorts of goodies for sharing – it makes for a fun trip to the craft store! You may also want a hot glue gun or two on hand, and extra adult hands around if working with younger students.

Examples of craft materials:

Construction paper – all colors, Markers, Scissors, Craft scissors, Calligraphy pens, Glue sticks, Hot glue gun sticks, Glitter glue pens, Popsicle sticks, Holiday stickers, Puffy Stickers/shapes, Cotton balls, Sparkles, White copy paper for snowflakes, Googly eyes, Fake evergreens, etc

Get Started!

Show students the slideshow to get them excited and share the examples with them. Have them start out by drafting the writing for their cards. Encourage artistic creativity, too! Tap into your fine arts students here to provide models and mentors for other students. Not every student will be Van Gogh but given a little time and practice, everyone can make a lovely card to send a smile overseas.

Display cards around the room to continue to generate new ideas and have kids build off each other. There is no limit to how many cards a student can make and no limit to their creativity! I miss doing this activity with my students each year. It really made us all feel warm & fuzzy to contribute our small piece to this greater endeavor sponsored by the VFW. If you happen to be in CT and decide to do this… hit me up – I might just pop in for a visit!

I hope that you will be able to incorporate this and other service projects into your classroom throughout the year!