Distance Learning Reading Activity

I wasn’t sure distance learning and reading groups were going to work, but I recently tried a reading activity with my students that was a big hit. I sent students home with one of three reading group books before self-quarantine started due to COVID-19. I prepared three separate letters from the point of view of a key character in each book. Next, I stuffed envelopes with a book character letter, activity directions, and a pre-addressed stamped envelope for a return letter. Finally, I dropped the character letters in the mail.

point of view character letters

Within two days, students began emailing me to say their letter arrived! Forget the fact that this was a reading activity; students were so excited to get real actual mail addressed to them! It helped motivate them to write careful responses from the point of view of the main character in their reading group book.

Reading Activity Materials

  • Copies of character letters (enough for each student reading a book)
  • Class set of activity directions (enough for all students in your class)
  • 2 class sets of envelopes (one envelope to mail to your students, one envelop for the return letter)
  • 2 class sets of stamps (one stamp for outgoing letter, one stamp for pre-addressed letter for the reply)

point of view character letters

Character Letter Activity Directions

  • Prepare your letter from the point of view of a principal character in your reading group book. Add fun details that reflect character traits and setting from the story. For example, in my letter for the book, Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey, I added a sprinkle of fake snow to the envelope. The story takes place in Alaska, so I included the fake snow to represent the setting of the story. In my letter for Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, I added smudged fingerprints. Danny’s dad is a mechanic. The fingerprints reflect the dad’s job, and how his hands get greasy when he works.
  • Here are my SAMPLE LETTERS to help create your own version of a letter from a book character.
  • Write a page with directions about your expectations for the assignment. I used these LETTER WRITING DIRECTIONS.
  • Pre-address and pre-stamp envelopes with the address where you want the return letters to go. I used my home address since we are in quarantine due to COVID-19.
  • Stuff each envelope with directions, one character letter, and a pre-addressed/stamped letter and seal closed.
  • Address and mail to each student.

Alternate Letter Ideas

  • If your students don’t have book group books, mail directions with a pre-addressed envelope and ask students to mail back a reply from the point of view of a book character in any book they are reading.
  • Depending on the activities of your students while in quarantine, ask them to mail you a favorite recipe with specific directions (procedural writing) or a letter about an activity at their house (descriptive writing), or a letter explaining why/why not social distancing is important (persuasive writing).
  • Include stamped postcards to save on the cost of postage or handle it all through email. Email can be a good option if you are worried about the spread of COVID through regular mail.

point of view character letters

To purchase low prep novel units for my three reading group books, click HERE, HERE, and HERE. To see another fun reading activity that thinks about point of view, CLICK HERE to read about a through the keyhole setting activity.

As classrooms across the country adjust to distance learning, teachers are scrambling to adapt their curriculum to an online format. It is not realistic to expect the same content or type of instruction in the distance learning class, but parents can expect innovative teaching ideas as teachers try new ways to activate student knowledge from afar. This reading activity is one way to assess reading comprehension, writing skills, and even keyboarding or handwriting skills. It also has real world application since it involves using proper letter format. Finally, if you are looking for an outside activity during quarantine, this might offer an opportunity to walk to your local mailbox (or at least to the end of the driveway).

Holiday Gift Tags

My students will be debuting holiday gift tags this year at our annual December market. They work throughout the Fall choosing a business name, designing a logo, and staying after school at workshops to produce a handful of holiday gift items. We have some favorite items like SIMMERING SPICES and LAYERED COOKIE MIXES that our repeat customers expect, but we also try to mix in new products each year too. This year, the new product is handmade paper gift tags.

DIY holiday gift tags

To make the holiday gift tags, we used white paper marking tags with a reinforced hole. I was able to buy a box of 500 at Staples. However, there are many options for gift tags. I found packs of twelve at Michael’s Crafts in different paper options, and I know there are large and small sizes. Once you have the tags, you can add a variety of embellishments. We used fine black pens and rulers, rubber stamps, buttons, washi tape, fancy hole punches, and a little creativity.

DIY holiday gift tags

Holiday Gift Tag Materials

  • 4 3/4″ x 2 3/8″ white marking tags with reinforced holes (any paper gift tag would work– you could even cut your own)
  • fine tip black pen
  • ruler
  • Elmer’s glue
  • buttons
  • washi tape or ribbon
  • rubber stamps
  • ink pads
  • fun shaped hole punches
  • any other embellishments– sequins, mini flowers, round gems…

DIY holiday gift tags

 

Holiday Gift Tag Ideas

  • Ornaments– With the ruler and black pen, make 3 parallel lines. Near the end of the drawn line, draw a bow by making a flower petal shape on each side of the lines. At the end of each black line, glue a button. Stamp a holiday message if you would like.
  • Snowman– Draw a short, wavy line near the bottom edge of the gift tag. Place two buttons, one on top of the other, on the wavy line to act as place holders. Draw two stick arms and a simple top hat (rectangle with line). Glue the buttons to the card in the appropriate spots to fit the arms and hat. Stamp a holiday message in the white space if you would like.
  • Decorative Strips– Using washi tape or ribbon and glue, place 2-3 strips along an edge of the tag. Stamp a holiday message or glue additional sequins, buttons, or small flowers in a decorative way.
  • Punched Shapes– Punch out fun shapes and glue small shapes to the gift tag. Another option is to make a band of washi tape and hole punch shapes in the washi taped section of the card. Remove the shapes from the puncher and glue them randomly around the card. Stamp a holiday message to finish.

DIY holiday gift tags

We are putting an assortment of 5 gift tags in bags to sell at our holiday market. They make a sweet little gift for a neighbor or co-worker or even a hostess gift at Christmas. They are also fun to attach to your own presents that you will be wrapping this holiday season!

DIY holiday gift tags

Holiday Simmering Spices

Holiday Simmering Spices are the perfect low prep gift to give friends this Christmas season. I used to throw an annual cookie exchange and would put together a little party favor for the guests. One year I gave each friend a bag containing the “Essence of Christmas”. This is something my mom always had simmering on the stovetop at our house during the holiday season; it makes your whole house smell like Christmas.

simmering spices

It is easy to make in big batches, and if you are already in cocoa kit or rosemary nut production, you should have a large supply of clear bags and labels– perfect for packaging these goodies. Share with neighbors, teachers, co-workers, or bring as a hostess gift to parties.

Simmering Spice Ingredients

  • 1 t. cloves
  • 4-5 juniper berries (can be hard to find, Whole Foods usually has these with the bulk spices from Thanksgiving to Christmas)
  • 1 whole orange (OPTIONAL, navel oranges– cannot use clementines or tangerines)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks

simmering spices

Label Directions

  • Slice orange and add slices with spices to a pot with 4-5 cups of water. Simmer on the stove to emit a wonderful Christmas fragrance. Refill water as necessary.

Simmering Spice Notes

  • You can make bags with our without the orange. The bags last almost forever if you do not include the fresh orange.
  • CLICK HERE to download a sheet of printable labels. Print on cardstock and cut apart to make nice tags to attach to the simmering spice bags.

simmering spices

Student Pueblo Building Activity

My students completed a Pueblo building activity as a unit wrap-up for our study of the Native Americans in the Southwest. They used one centimeter grid paper to cut out a pattern that folded into a box shape. Students added a few details to the box, and then all the boxes were stacked together to resemble the adobe pueblo homes.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

Pueblo building homes were permanent dwellings made of adobe bricks. The multi-story structure was built around a central courtyard. The rooms were attached and resembled a modern day apartment building. Extended families would live in connected rooms, and as the community grew, new rooms could be added. People used ladders to get to roof top openings for access to rooms without doors or windows. Once we started stacking and connecting the student paper pueblo rooms, we were surprised how authentic the final product looked.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

Pueblo Activity Materials

  • cardstock paper (tan or light pink color looks more traditional, but white cardstock works too)
  • 1-cm grid paper template (many sites have free printable templates– do a quick Google search)
  • scissors
  • glue sticks and clear tape
  • skinny wooden sticks (collected from your backyard or playground)
  • hot glue gun
  • colored pencils or markers

Directions for Constructing a Pueblo Building

  • Copy at least one piece of grid paper per student on cardstock. I made copies of grid paper on regular copy paper and let students practice making boxes before giving them the cardstock paper.
  • Draw an outline shape of their box. I recommend measuring 6 boxes (centimeters) for the 4 walls. The part that will become the roof can be a variety of sizes. 6-10 centimeters work well for the roof. I shared THIS VIDEO with the students before letting them draw the pattern for their room.
  • Cut out the box pattern with the scissors. If students want to add any doors or windows, they should cut them out before folding and assembling the room. They should also add any color around the doors and windows before building.
  • Fold the edges where the paper will bend and crease firmly. If students do not press their creases and make the edges sharp, the rooms will not stack well together.
  • Fold together the box, add glue to the flaps, and press flaps to attach the walls together. If the flaps are not sticking well, add a small piece of clear tape to secure.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

Pueblo Building Embellishments

  • Some of my students added wooden roof beams using small sticks we collected. We unfolded a paper clip and carefully poked holes near the roof line on the front and back of the box. The holes should be across from each other. You can use the grid squares as guidelines. After holes are poked, we pushed sticks through the front of the building and out the coordinating hole in the back.
  • Students used hot glue to build ladders with small stick pieces. I put low temp hot glue guns on a big piece of butcher paper and added some small sized yard gloves with the hot glue guns. Students wear the gloves while using the hot glue to reduce the risk of burning fingers.
  • Make a few plain boxes to use as base pieces for stacking and creating the layers. Stack boxes side by side, to the back, and on top of each other to create the effect of an actual pueblo building. We leaned the ladders on the buildings at different levels to finalize the look.

Student Pueblo Building Activity

If you would like to extend this activity, there are options for math integration by calculating square footage of each building. Students can use the grid on the interior of the boxes to calculate the dimensions and area.

To purchase other supplemental materials for a study of peoples of the Southwest, CLICK HERE. To see all of my resources for Native people in North America, CLICK HERE.

Olmec Big Head Statue Activity

My 4th grade students recently completed an Olmec big head statue activity as part of our study of ancient civilizations in the Americas. I knew very little about the Olmec civilization before I started teaching it as part of my history curriculum, and students are typically not familiar with the group either. The Olmec settled in present day Mexico and were the predecessors to groups like the Maya and Aztec. They developed calendars, may have been the first to harvest the cacao bean, were wealthy traders, and carved giant head statues from basalt stone. To date, seventeen big head statues have been found along Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In order to help my students understand the concept of the large head statues, I planned a hands on activity that let them build their own model of a big head statue using air-dry clay and Play-Doh. We reviewed photographs of the real statues and noted details about the facial features, helmets, and carving techniques to try to duplicate some of the key traits. The students were really excited about the project and demonstrated much better recall of the Olmec civilization after completing the heads. The activity could be adapted to fit with a study of other cultures such as the Easter Island statues, Ancient Egyptian sculpture, or the Leshan Giant Buddha in China.

Big Head Statue Materials

  • air-dry clay
  • Play-Doh in bright colors
  • paper plates
  • sharp pencils, bent paper clips, toothpicks, or other pointy tools for carving details

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

Big Head Statue Directions

  • Give each student about 1/2 pound of Air Dry clay. I have 18 students and bought two 5-lb buckets of clay. I divided each bucket of clay into 9 clay balls of roughly equal size.
  • Students put the ball of clay on a paper plate and molded the ball into a head shape.
  • Using a pencil or other pointy tool, they carved eyes, nose, mouths, etc. into the face. They also used their hands to pinch and form facial features.
  • After the basic design was finished, they took small amounts of colorful Play-doh and added details. According to researchers, the statues may have been painted with bright colors, so students used that detail from our readings to add to their statue design.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In addition to the hands on activity with the clay, I added supplemental readings like THIS ONE to enhance our study of the Olmec people. We practiced finding topic, main idea, and details while completing the reading. To see more of my reading comprehension passages and procedure for correctly identifying topic, main idea, and details in reading passages, CLICK HERE.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity