By Anne Anderson
Teaching middle schoolers taught me three things:
- they love a celebration,
- they love knowing something nobody else knows, and
- they love all things weird.
Listening to teachers in my PD workshops has taught me three more things: middle grades teachers worry about school material their students don’t remember, they worry about real world information their students don’t know, and they want to have fun teaching.
With these observations in mind, I began to develop an idea from my own classroom career that always intrigued and engaged my students: Calendar Celebrations. They always liked the quirky ones best, so I’m sharing some favorites of mine (for September through November) with you.
Through the years I collected tidbits of weird information, birthdates of the famous and not-so-famous, and a list of lesser-known celebrations. By linking those bite-sized pieces of information to the calendar, I engaged students’ minds, encouraged their dreams, and captured their curiosity. I reinforced previously taught skills, strengthened vocabulary, and built general world knowledge. Best of all, we had fun!
Calendar Celebrations is a learning strategy that provides instructional opportunities suitable for all ability levels. The activities are designed to be quick – they make good warm-ups and class starters – and some can be extended to meet the specific needs of your students or curriculum.
Here’s the good news about this approach: it’s not about standards or curriculum, it’s about common sense and best practices. Here’s some better news: it is an opportunity to have some fun learning with your students. Best of all, there is nothing to copy and nothing to grade. A win-win!
Getting Started in September
In September we celebrate Library Card Sign-up Month, National Chicken Month, Better Breakfast Month, National Piano Month and National Honey Month, plus Labor Day, Grandparents Day, National Iguana Awareness Day, Ask a Stupid Question Day and National School Picture Day.
Among the many interesting September birthdays to explore are: Christa McAuliffe, Aliki, Paul Fleischman, Grandma Moses, Jack Prelutsky, Jon Scieszka, Taraji Henson, Milton Hershey, Roald Dahl, Mildred Taylor, Ray Charles, Lemony Snicket, Will Smith, William Taft, Robert McCloskey, Tomie dePaola, Paul Goble, Jim Henson, Jim Murphy, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Shel Silverstein, Bernard Waber, Serena Williams and Stan Berenstain.
To introduce poetry in September, you can share a couple of poems on the 8th to celebrate Jack Prelutsky’s birthday. On the 25th to celebrate Shel Silverstein’s birthday, read a couple of his poems. No test, no analysis, just an opportunity to enjoy the works of these two poets.
To celebrate Tomie dePaola’s September 15 birthday, share background information before playing the three-minute YouTube video of his response to the question “Why is reading important?” Later in the week, the month, or the school year, use his response as a writing topic. These tidbits from your calendar celecrations can be a springboard for future activities, or they can be a one-time mention.
While this may seem to be unintentional or even frivolous, it is intentional and important from my standpoint. In three minutes or less, I introduced a new word, reminded students of a writing rule, and engaged them in brainstorming. What’s exciting is days or weeks later when a student asks, “What was that thingy called – you know, that thing for and?” Stand back and wait for it…wait for it…somebody will respond, “Ampersand.” A win-win, in my opinion.
To engage students in the day’s planned lesson, engage their emotions with the Play-Doh first. (My hope is that most of them have pleasant memories associated with that smell.) Again, in three or four minutes I use the word debuted – a new word to some students – and I allow them to share memories from preschool. I bring the discussion to a close and move ahead with the lesson.
Taking a Look at October
Calendar Celebrations helps build and strengthen critical thinking skills. World Octopus Day includes a brief explanation about the octopus followed by some octopus riddles. Yes, riddles! Riddles and jokes help improve students’ critical thinking skills. Students often have to predict or create a visual image in order to get the humor. Here’s a fun way to play with language and set students up for a positive learning experience.
Laughter is good for the brain. It causes an endorphin surge and gets more oxygen to the brain. Let’s hear it for the lame riddles and jokes. Ham it up and have some fun!
What’s Happening in November
Introduce some days as “Throw-n-Go” days. In my classroom on those days, I delivered a tidbit of information with little or no fanfare. Throw-n-Go sounded like this in my classroom: “Hey, guys. I almost forgot. Today is the day…” Allow a few seconds for students to process the information, then move into your lesson or activity. An example is November 28, the date a patent was issued for the traffic light.
Calendar Celebrations help fill in learning gaps and make teaching fun. Remember: nothing to copy; nothing to grade. These light-hearted activities can win over the most disengaged students when they realize their birthday falls on National Taco Day (Oct 4) or they share a birthday with Mickey Mouse (November 18).
Some quick resources:
►Next Birthdays (daily notable birthdays – global)
Anne Anderson always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She graduated from East Texas Baptist University with an English major and History minor and did graduate work at Louisiana State University and Louisiana Tech University. After teaching 8th graders for 24 years, Anne served as a content coach. Since retiring in 2011, Anne has worked as an wducational consultant, presenting at national conferences and offering onsite trainings for public and private schools.
Calendar Celebrations: September, October, November is Anne Anderson’s first book; watch for sequels covering other months of the year! Anne has also published articles in IDEAS Plus and Voices from the Middle, publications of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is a frequent reviewer of professional books for MiddleWeb.com.