I’m not sure how your students behave during the week before a big holiday, but in the places I work, they are usually “in rare form” as we prepare for a long vacation break!! So to keep them motivated, interested and focused on the task at hand, I like to get in the holiday spirit with a fun, hands-on activity that will also address important language goals. I discovered that this activity was just as appealing and appropriate to use with my middle/high school age students as it was with my preschoolers—and if that’s not a Christmas miracle, then I don’t know what is! I adjusted the level of difficulty and task expectations according to age/grade/ability level.
You can purchase undecorated gingerbread cookies in the bakery section of many supermarkets at this time of year. Just be sure to check with your school administrator regarding the policy for bringing in treats and sweets. Also check with the school nurse regarding food allergies before partaking in any food-themed activity! Luckily, I got the green-light to go ahead with this project !
Using Gingerbread Cookies for DIRECTION FOLLOWING:
We used several “embellishments” to decorate our cookie and address direction following—mini M&M’s, mini marshmallows, dried cranberries, Hershey’s kisses, chocolate sprinkles. I asked students to follow simple one and two-step directions, as well as more complex and lengthier directions, depending on the individual student. Here are some examples of direction following tasks I used with my upper elementary and middle-school students:
1–Put one green M&M on each foot and then add three mini marshmallows for buttons.
2–Before you add dried cranberries for eyes, put a Hershey’s kiss on each hand.
3–First put some sprinkles on the head, then an orange M&M for a nose and finally three red M&M’s for the mouth.
Using Gingerbread Cookies for Sequencing, Describing and Writing an Organized Paragraph:
I let the kids decorate their Gingerbread cookie with buttercream icing (yum!!!) and then choose three toppings to decorate it with. Once they completed their masterpiece, I asked them to tell me what they did First, Next, Then and Last. I created a printable graphic organizer/worksheet to help them write down their thoughts. Get your freebie here!!
I found that many of my students could write simple sentences or a few thoughts about what they did, but most of them had trouble actually DESCRIBING the process with accurate, detailed language. I helped them correct and elaborate on their thoughts by using phrases such as “spread” and “squeeze” the icing instead of just “put the icing”. We talked about using words such as mini and colorful for the M&M’s and white and buttercream to describe the icing.
In the last few lines of the template (where the feet of the gingerbread are located), are six lines to write ADJECTIVES that will describe the final product. I asked the students to think about how it TASTED, LOOKED, SMELLED and FELT. Use the visual I created to help them build their list of adjectives.. Download this freebie here!! (made with Custom Boards by Smarty Ears). They required some assistance, but we came up with a nice list of adjectives including hard, crunchy, sweet, tasty, edible, delicious, colorful, sugary.
With my older students, we started to write a Gingerbread Adventure Story. I made this printable using my Custom Boards app to help them get their story started. It includes WHO, WHAT and WHERE pictures.
Then I made this template of Gingerbread Adventures pictures—download here! The blank Gingerbread is their main character. I asked them to draw the details of the character and setting in this area. After creating their topic sentence, we worked on adding supporting sentences to their adventure (quite a challenge for even my older students!).
Cut out the images and place them in the who, what and where piles in the larger squares. Have them randomly pick one card from each pile.
After picking the WHO, WHAT and WHERE of their adventure, students were required to fill in the details of the sentence by adding in the WHEN, WHY and HOW components of their sentence. Here is an example that one of my older kids came up with: “The Gingerbread boy explored slowly through the jungle at night to find a way out.” This was his introduction sentence. He drew a picture of his main character (the gingerbread boy) and the setting (the jungle). We started to build upon this with some supporting sentences but ran out of time….there’s always next week to continue the adventure!