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Embracing the New Year: 12 Engaging Activity Ideas for Secondary Teachers in January

As we step into a new year, it's the perfect time to infuse our classrooms with excitement and relevance. January provides a unique canvas for teachers to weave in themes like national holidays, world events, and historical moments. Actually, every month provides this opportunity and so I wanted to share some ideas on how to weave that into your classroom, regardless of subject area.

In this post I outline 12 creative and diverse activity topic ideas that can seamlessly fit into your January planned units, morning meetings, or provide a refreshing break when needed. These are definitely not the only topics or national holidays that exist or that can be converted into a meaningful school activity, but it's a nice starting point if you aren't sure where to start.

I hope this compilation helps to spark your creative juice flow 🤓✨

❄️ New Year Reflection + Vision Board

Start the year on a reflective note. Encourage students to ponder their achievements, challenges, and aspirations. Guide them in creating vision boards that visually represent their goals and dreams. This not only sparks creativity but also sets a positive tone for the months ahead. Vision boards can be done digitally or on paper, and it's also a bit therapeutic, as is any art-based activity.

My take on this topic is this resource and it has been a best-seller two years in a row. It hits several SEL reflection points, while also containing useful articles, and there's a digital and printable option included.

❄️ Winter Olympic Sports

The very first Winter Olympics took place on January 25, 1924, and with the current Winter Olympics on the horizon, why not use this global event to explore different cultures, geography, and sportsmanship? From geography lessons to creative art projects to informational close reads, the possibilities are endless. I could even see a choice board here of the various sports - I added the list below - where students get to explore where their curiosity chooses.

❄️ Martin Luther King Jr. Day

This national holiday and day of remembrance on January 15th provides a powerful opportunity to talk to students about civil rights, equality, and social justice issues. Explore the impact of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy with activity supplementals that prompt thoughtful discussions like any of his speeches, videos on the Civil Rights Movement, or a seminar on aligned themes/texts.

❄️ Gratitude Letter Writing

Did you know that appreciation is at the forefront of a day's focus three times this month? International Thank You Day on January 11th, Thank Your Mentor Day on January 21st, and National Compliment Day on January 24th. Foster a culture of gratitude in your classroom by engaging in a gratitude letter-writing activity. Guide students in writing letters expressing gratitude to a guardian, friend, or school staff member, while embedding lessons on letter etiquette and grammar. This simple yet impactful activity can be seamlessly integrated into English or social studies classes, and it can help to keep the art of letter and card writing alive.

I put together an editable resource for this activity perfect for an ELA classroom. It includes printable templates, sentence stems and examples, and even a rubric. To grab it, click here.

❄️ Letter to Future Self

Encourage goal-setting and self-reflection by having students write letters to their future selves. Staying on the letter-writing train, this type of activity is always a hit with students, and it can be used for any grade level because it can just be given back at the end of the school year. However, I will say that having freshmen write these and giving them back their senior year or having seniors write these and giving them back at graduation are two of the most heart-warming circumstances. It's a meaningful exercise that helps students envision their growth and personal development.

❄️ Budgeting / Personal Finance

Not only is budgeting and saving on many people's New Year resolutions lists but in January there are also a few days revolving around various aspects of finance. January 10th is 'Cut Your Energy Costs Day', January 27th is 'Earned Income Tax Awareness Day' and January 31st is the comical 'Hug an Economist Day'. You can equip students with practical life skills by incorporating budgeting and personal finance topics into your curriculum. It's a valuable lesson that extends beyond the classroom, and it's something that I know most of us wish we had learned or at least dabbled with in school.

❄️ Winter Season

The winter solstice just occurred on December 21st, so January is the thick of winter. Seasonal activities like the ones seen below are perfect for a fun thematic break from regular content.

You can snag that interactive resource here, or you can create your own based on your subject area and student interests/needs. From science experiments with fake snow to creative writing prompts and other seasonal activities, there are numerous ways to celebrate the winter season.

❄️ Mental Health / Self-Care

This is a topic that I strongly feel has a place in the classroom at any point in the school year, and you can prioritize mental health education by integrating mindfulness activities or discussions about self-care into your lessons. It's an investment in your students' well-beings and a lesson in the importance of making time for it.

If you're unsure of where to start, I compiled 10 activities that can be combined or done individually. This resource also comes with printable posters that can be useful decor in a secondary classroom.

❄️ Personality Assessments

Taking personality assessments has been a hit with students year after year. They love learning about themselves and then judging the accuracy of the results. You can use them as tools for self-discovery and understanding, and this can also enhance the classroom environment by promoting empathy and collaboration.

My favorite tried-and-true way of incorporating this idea is by having students complete a team builder activity (like the tower of index cards), and then take the free personality assessment linked here. It's a short assessment and provides pretty accurate and thorough results. I review the 4 main elements with them - introvert/extrovert, intuition/sensing, thinking/feeling, sensing/judging.

Afterward, I have students write a reflection about their take on the results and how they think it impacts them in life, in school, and in groups, like during the team builder activity. We always have awesome discussions with several "ah-hah" moments. I could see this activity being extended in several different ways, all while hitting important skills like analyzing and synthesizing information.

❄️ Habit Building

Cultivating positive habits is not just a classroom exercise; it's a life skill that can shape the future of our students. We can help students gear towards setting and achieving realistic goals, and understand the power of habits. By helping them instill positive habits, we empower students to navigate challenges, enhance productivity, and foster a growth mindset.

To piggyback off of the New Year vision board idea, you can host a goal-setting session, teach students about habit tracker journals, incorporate a class daily routine to help students grasp the benefits of routines, and share informational and inspirational excerpts from experts like James Clear's Atomic Habits. Another cool idea for January would be to have a friendly habit-building competition to help students with accountability and morale.

❄️ National Geographic

National Geographic isn't just a magazine - its Explorer Mindset Learning Framework (EMLF) was built on core beliefs and values about the role of inquiry and geography in engaging with the world to foster curiosity, build knowledge, and inspire informed action to protect the wonders of the world. It focuses on exploring in five critical areas - ocean, land, wildlife, histories & cultures, and human ingenuity - and whether you're a science teacher or not, NatGeo can enrich your classrooms with awesome resources.

Integrate captivating photographs, documentaries, and articles into your lessons to transport students to far-off lands, ancient civilizations, and the heart of ecosystems to celebrate National Geographic Day, which falls on January 27th. The power of visual storytelling not only enhances engagement but also fosters a global perspective. You can browse through their resources here, and I love that they also have courses and certification opportunities for educators, if this is something that floats your boat 🤗

❄️ Harlem Globetrotters / Basketball

Last, but certainly not least on this list, celebrate the cultural and sports-related aspects of the Harlem Globetrotters and basketball. Harlem Globetrotters Day is observed on January 7th to honor the world-famous basketball team and their contributions to the sport and to community outreach. You can incorporate lessons in physical education, history, or even collaborative projects that showcase the magic of this iconic team.

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Connecting classroom content with real-world events not only makes learning more enjoyable but also fosters a sense of curiosity and relevance among our students. I hope you continue to browse and play around with national holiday themes to infuse into your classroom. The most important thing is to have fun with it!


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