Compliment Presents! A Holiday Gift FOR Students, FROM Students

Kids love having the opportunity to give and receive gifts from each other, especially during the holidays.

So I took advantage of them.

Well not them. I took advantage of their good little hearts. 

This "Compliment Presents" activity allows students to create free, meaningful, gifts for their classmates (and receive several too!), all the while building each other up with compliments and helping develop the caring community we teachers are always striving for.

Part One: Set the Groundwork for Good Compliments

I start out by asking students if they've ever received a compliment, one that really meant something special. I ask them how it made them feel.

Receiving a compliment, especially one about who we are as a person on the inside, about our character, builds us up and brightens our day. I tell students they are going to be giving each other special compliments wrapped up as presents!

Next, we talk about what makes a positive, meaningful compliment. For this activity, I like to be very clear that we will NOT be giving any compliments about each others' appearance. Even though this type of compliment can make us feel good, what we will be complimenting each other on is the inside of us, not the outside.

So, how do we think of really good compliments about each others' character? First, think about someone's actions and words. Then think about qualities that are at the heart of these actions and words. I show a list of positive character traits that they could use for inspiration. I give an example of how to use the list, like, "I could say that our principal is very dedicated. Then I would want to explain why I think she's dedicated, like with an example. I could say when she came to see both of our music performances, even though one was at night, that shows how dedicated she is to her school and her students. Do you see how I chose something that really fits her and I explained it?"

Part Two: Find out to whom each student will write

Once students have a good grasp of the type of compliment this activity aims for, it's time to decide who each student will write compliments for. The way I have the activity set up, each student will write a compliment to six different students. I give each student a strip of paper divided into six sections and have students write their own name in all six sections and then cut them apart.

I collect all six slips of paper from every student and mix them around in a basket. Then I just go around and drop six random slips on each student's desk, having them check to make sure they don't get their own name. Now is also a good time to remind students that they probably won't get the names of all their best buddies, but to be grateful to be able to brighten the days of these six students. And hey, who's stopping them from giving extra compliments later on, when the activity is over?

I have students write their six names on the quarter-sheet and then discard the little slips of paper before they find their way into every nook and cranny of the classroom. 

Now the fun really begins!

Part Three: Construct the "presents" and write the compliments

I give six gift-box templates to each student (and keep several extras on hand to replace "mess-ups"). For each "gift box," students cut out the template and decorate it like a present. They write the name of a classmate from their list in the "To" tag.

Then they gently fold the template length-wise, without creasing it, and snip along the dotted line.  This makes a slit that they will use to keep the present closed. After making the slit, they flatten the paper back out.

Next students crease-fold along the dashed lines. Then they write their detailed, positive compliment on the blank side of the paper.

Last, they fold their present closed and tuck the pointed tip into the slit. Tah-dah!

Students make all six of their presents, one for each person on their list. Sometimes it's helpful to break this part into a couple of time chunks, so students give their full focus to all six compliments.

Part Four: Deliver the Gifts

Students take their finished compliment presents and walk around the room and deliver them to the appropriate desks. I preface this stage by telling students that they may NOT open any of their gifts yet.

Once everyone is back to their seat, I pass out this "collection sheet."

Students use glue sticks to attach the gifts that were delivered to them. No peeking yet!

It ends up looking like a big ol' pile of presents!

Part Five: Open the Presents!

I like to collect the finished "present piles" for at least a day, to let the glue dry. And it's fun to let the anticipation build up a bit before we open our compliment gifts. It's especially fun to wait until the last day before our winter break. (It also gives you a chance to take a peek at any particular compliments that give you any pause for concern.) Side Note: I recommend having students open their compliments BEFORE taking them home. If there is a note that is "less than positive," it's easier to confront it and deal with it in class than having parents email you over your break.

I always enjoy the smiles and giggles as students open them!

If you would like to make Compliment Presents with your students, click the image below to download all the materials for FREE from my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Did you already read about my Joy Book project? It's a crafty writing activity that makes a great parent gift, and it's free too! Click HERE if you're interested.

And if you need even more resources for December, feel free to check out the ones below!

A Holiday Craft Full of JOY!

One of my favorite holiday projects to do with my kids during the week leading up to Winter Break is creating a book about joy.

Ah, joy

It's a word we commonly use around Christmas, along with peace and hope, but what's nice for us teachers is that the idea of joy need not be tied to any particular holiday. Joy isn't just a Christmas word (neither are peace and hope, for that matter), and so I've found it to be a nice focus for a holiday craft because I don't have to worry if we're stepping on anybody's holiday toes. It has some other benefits too, which I'll describe.

Our "Joy Book" actually begins by reading a different book: Courage, by Bernard Waber. The story consists of a collection of situations that exemplify courage. Each situation begins with, "Courage is..." For example, "Courage is going to bed without a nightlight," and, "Courage is tasting the vegetable before making a face." Describing a concept like courage by using these concrete situations that students can relate to is powerful. Using Courage is not imperative to the project that follows, but it usually isn't difficult to find a copy in your library during this time of year because, well, it's a book about courage, not Christmas.

I transition to the concept of joy by asking students what they think the word means. I usually get answers of "happiness" and "when you feel really good inside." Then I ask them to think about how Bernard explained to us what courage is... by showing us with real situations.

I ask students to start thinking of situations, traditions, and memories that bring them joy. We try to focus on situations that involve activities and people, as opposed to material things. I give them an example from my own life: Sleeping late on a Saturday brings me joy

And here is where some of those other benefits kick in...

Often, our children, just like we adults, get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, right? Stopping to think about the things in our life that bring us joy can actually bring us more joy, don't you think? It sure feels good to think about sleeping late on a Saturday, right? It feels good to think about my three-year-old daughter screaming "Daddy!" and sprinting into my arms when I arrive at school to pick her up. Highlighting them helps us appreciate them.

The other nice thing I try to help students discover here is how little things can bring significant joy. These kids' home-lives are varied, and are not always great, so honing in on the simple situations and memories that bring us joy puts students on more of an even playing field.

Okay, so once students are buzzing with joyful situations, I write my example on the board and show students how to turn the sentence around so that it begins with "Joy is" (similar to what Bernard did in Courage).

Next, we narrow our thinking to "joy situations" geared toward the holiday season and winter in general. I love having students give their final Joy Book to their parents as a holiday gift, so I really want students to include memories and traditions that involve their family during the holidays. Here are some more examples:
  • Joy is... my dad reading a story to me while I sit with him in his big recliner.
  • Joy is... running down the stairs with my sister on Christmas morning.
  • Joy is... my mom's smile when she opens my special gift.
  • Joy is... bundling up and tromping through fresh snow.
  • Joy is... movie night with my family and a big bowl of popcorn.

I have students start writing down their ideas, and eventually they pick their best to include in their book. I pass out the half-sheet book pages for students to fill out. On each page, students complete the "Joy is..." sentence and draw an accompanying picture.

And then we get a little crafty.

We tie yarn into bows and glue them to each of the gift tags throughout the book.

We use two half-sheets of dark blue construction paper for the front and back cover. We take a separate half-sheet of white construction paper and rip it length-wise, maybe with a little curve, to create a snowy hill. This gets glued to the front cover.

The title of our book is "Joy," and I give students a few options to make it stand out. If they want, students can take a piece of colored construction paper and cut out their own J-O-Y letters to glue onto their cover. Making their own letters is often frustrating for students, so I also lay out pre-made letter templates. They tape each one onto their construction paper, and then cut out the letters, discarding the template.

We glue the letters onto the cover in a way that looks like they are resting in the snow. Then we add details like stars or snowflakes in the background.

Another option I give students for their title is to use pipe cleaners. I give them a template, and three silver pipe cleaners, and students bend the pipe cleaners to match the cursive J-O-Y letters. Where the pipe cleaners cross, we wrap them around each other for strength. To glue it to the cover, we put several drops of glue on the back of the finished word, set it in place, and then put a heavy book on top until it's dry.

Using colored foam for the title letters is also fun and really pops. The title in blue you see below uses foam letters cut from the same templates that we used for the green construction paper.

Last, we stack our pages together with the front and back cover, and staple it into a book!

If you would like to make Joy books with your students, click the image below to download the resource for FREE. It comes with all of the book's interior pages, a brainstorming page, activity description, and the instructions for the crafty details.

Whatever activities and crafts and projects you decide to do with your students this season, I hope it brings joy to you and your kids.

If you need some more resources for December, feel free to check out the ones below!

And be sure to read my post about Compliment Presents for another holiday activity and freebie!

A Bit About My: "(Not Your Ordinary) Story Starters"

(Author's Note: The content of this post previously appeared in the "Sharing Our Blessings" Blog Hop and Giveaway. The hop and giveaway is complete, but I wanted to make sure readers were still able to reference the organization tips and ideas for my Story Starters.)

*     *     * 

Last spring when I began using my "(Not Your Ordinary) Story Starters" with my own third graders, the age-old complaint, "I don't know what to write about," was eliminated.

I wrote some engaging story starters and paired them with compelling photos, and the result was pretty fascinating. My students who loved to write were literally begging me for more writing time. But it was my reluctant writers who made me realize I was onto something. Seeing their eyes brighten and their pencils get moving without any nagging from me? Score!

Each photograph has four different writing prompts from which to choose, including lots of writing genres. I placed the story starters (in a "task card" format) in a little pocket on the outside of a file folder, with the writing paper inside the folder. Then I'd choose a few folders to lay out for the week.

We used the story starters as a choice during our Daily 5 framework.

I'm now making a set of story starters for each month!

Along the way, I've come up with an alternative organizational method, using a three-ring binder, a few binder rings and small Command hooks. Let me use my November set to show you how it works.

After laminating the prompts, I put each group of four prompts on a binder ring. Here's what the binder looks like when it's standing open:

Pretty slick, huh? I stuck a few Command hooks to the inside cover of the binder from which to hang each ring.

The teacher just pulls out the binder, hangs a few story starter rings, and stands up the binder on a counter. Students can come up and take off a ring that inspires them, and find the coordinating writing paper from the expandable file sitting nearby (or they can write in their notebook, of course).

The student takes their materials back to their desk to get started!

If you are interested in details about the November set, click HERE.

My Story Starters for DECEMBER {Not Your Ordinary Writing Prompts!} is now ready in my store. The December set is packed with 10 compelling photos, each one paired with three engaging story starters and one set of prompting questions. You can click HERE or click the product image you see below to see more details.

Themes in the December set include Christmas and the holiday season in general, North Pole happenings, reindeer, elves, holiday cookies, presents, snow, and hibernation, among others.

Here's a little taste from the set...

These monthly story starters are part of a "growing bundle" that will eventually include ten sets. I will be adding the remaining sets as I finish them. The complete bundle will be finished by this coming April, but you can get the "growing bundle" now at a significant discount. Click HERE for more details.

Turkeys! Fact-Based Opinion Writing

I wrote a post over on the Who's Who blog about a lesson on opinion writing that I did with my class last year during the week of Thanksgiving. It focuses on the question: Should turkey be Thanksgiving's main dish? We analyze turkey facts and discuss how they might support our opinion before we dig into writing. There's a little freebie included, so head on over if you are interested in reading more. Just click HERE.

Inquiry Research: Moving Students Toward Independence

A few years ago, the staff at my school began learning about inquiry research. We used the book, Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action, by Harvey and Daniels, as a guide to think differently about how students could learn. 

Over the course of two years or so, we learned, tried things out, shared ideas with each other, tried more, and eventually Inquiry became a driving force in our school.

It didn't look exactly the same in every classroom, and it certainly looked different in each grade level, but we came to share certain beliefs about inquiry:
  • Students lead, teachers support.
  • Questions drive the research, not topics.
  • Collaboration within a group is vital, and must be taught.
  • Findings should be shared.

Themed Inquiry Projects 

In the early years of our "inquiry revolution," my third grade team and I did large inquiry-based research projects centered around a theme. We did an "Immigration" inquiry project near Thanksgiving, and an "Environmental Issues" inquiry project in the spring.

The basic layout to one of our inquiry projects went something like this: 

First, we did a whole group read-aloud of an engaging text that fit our broad theme. (This became our "anchor text.") As we read, students brainstormed questions they were wondering and recorded them on sticky-notes. Then we looked closely at all of our questions, looking for ones that could become the basis for an inquiry research project. We looked for questions that:
  • were BIG (not questions with easy or short answers)
  • were RESEARCHABLE (questions that we could actually find facts and information about)
  • were INTERESTING (questions that students actually wanted to find the answers to)
  • were IMPORTANT (questions that others might also care about, questions that might even be important to the greater good of the world!)
Once we identified strong inquiry questions, students chose which question they wanted to research, and we formed small groups of inquiry teams. During the research phase, we would infuse strategy lessons on collaborating successfully, on finding relevant information, and on recording notes.

After researching and gathering information, students then decided how best to share their information. We usually required some sort of visual aid and some sort of spoken element. Students worked to create their final "products" and then presented them to the entire class.

Moving Toward Independence

As students school-wide experienced more inquiry-based projects, I was noticing that each year, students were coming into third grade as more sophisticated "inquirers."

I had to take advantage of this.

I decided to start making "inquiry research" one of students' choices in our Daily 5 framework, where students could choose to initiate their own inquiry research projects.

Making it happen wasn't easy.

I needed students to be able to do the bulk of the project independently. Not alone--they'd still be working with each other. But independent in the sense that groups would not rely on me, since I would be meeting with guided reading groups during Daily 5.

It took training and practice. Here are some key points I learned to hone in on:
  • Agreeing on how to get started: Students find a partner or a group of three with a shared interest, and then together find an "anchor text" that will help them generate possible inquiry questions.
  • Keeping commitments: It's important that a student doesn't get involved in an inquiry group only to abandon the group halfway through.
  • Asking strong inquiry questions: Getting students to "think big" takes practice and modeling.
  • Finding resources: Students need a procedure for when they can go to the library to find additional resources.
  • Researching BEFORE creating: Students often want to reverse the inquiry process. A group might share a PowerPoint presentation to the class, and  then a student thinks, "I want to make a PowerPoint too. Let's see, what could I do one about?"  When really, the answers and information learned through their research should determine the best "vehicle" to share it.
  • Checking in with the teacher: We establish checkpoints in which students briefly meet with me before moving on to the next phase. For me, I (1) approve the group's inquiry question before they begin research, (2) approve the group's plan for what to create, and (3) schedule a presentation date and time.
  • Creating an anchor chart of the agreed upon procedures.

Just like with our other Daily 5 choices like Read-to-Self, Read-with-Partner, Word Work, and Writing, gaining independence with Inquiry Research is built over time, and procedures are revisited and refined as needed.

To keep moving toward independence, students used this organizer to help them stay on track:
(Click to download.)

Click the image above to download it for FREE. (Note: I used to have a version of this organizer in my TpT store, and taking it out caused many broken links to the pins that are still floating around on Pinterest. So what you see above is just an updated version of the original.)

Giving students ownership of what they are learning brings with it high motivation, and in turn, high engagement. As a side benefit, I can rely on students to be productive at this Daily 5 choice.

But more importantly, these projects matter to students. They want to find out answers to their questions. They are proud of what they create. And that makes their teacher proud too.

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