With the holiday season upon us, these tips from the Cult of Pedagogy’s Jennifer Gonzales are great reminders that valuable learning activities can still happen, whether students are a little less attentive due to upcoming vacation days or if you happen to have a spare 15 minutes after a lesson ends.

Here are a few of our favorites:


These activities can be done at a moment’s notice, with little to no required materials. They can be used as a 10-minute filler or as the main activity for a whole class period.

  • Learn a Line Dance: Either you teach your students, they teach each other, or you all learn together from YouTube. What’s great about line dancing is that anyone can do it, whether they have rhythm or not. Go back a few years to learn the Cupid Shuffle, further back to learn the Macarena or go way back and learn the Hustle.
  • Thank-You Notes: Since this important life skill isn’t really a part of any curriculum, a Lame Duck day is a perfect time to have students practice it and show some gratitude to the people who deserve it. Provide them with paper and envelopes and have them write thank-you notes to friends, family members, school staff members, or other students. For best results, show them a few examples of thoughtfully written notes ahead of time.
  • The Compliments Project: This is an incredible activity where students take turns being in the “hot seat” while their classmates write compliments on the board behind them. You have to see this one to appreciate its full impact. Watch here. Although this activity only takes about 5 to 10 minutes per student, which means it would be something you could squeeze into the end of a class period, you should only get it started if you know you’ll eventually have time to put every student in the hot seat.


These require you to do a bit of planning ahead of time, but for many, once you’ve prepared the materials, they can be used over and over again.

  • Improv Skits: Have groups of students compete by performing improv skits. This can be done in so many ways, but two structures you could use are 3-Word Skits, where students are given three words and must come up with a skit that uses all three, and Bag of Titles, where you (or other students) write lots of interesting or odd titles (e.g., “The Lady with 100 Cats”) and the performers must come up with a skit that matches the title. Both of these ideas came from the incredible website Drama Notebook. Another great source for improv ideas is this list of games played on the T.V. show Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Screen these yourself first, as they do contain some adult content.)                                                                                                                                                             
  • Minute to Win it Games: These require some equipment and set-up, but not a whole lot, and they will really break students out of their shells. This list from Happiness is Homemade has 10 fantastic ideas, like “Cookie Face” and “Junk in the Trunk.”
  • Mindfulness Practice: Especially during testing season, mindfulness practice can ease stress and give students a skill they can apply in so many other areas of their lives. Two great resources for starting on this journey are the Mindful Schools website, and the book Teach, Breathe, Learn by Meena Srinivasan. Two easy-to-make mindfulness tools are glitter jars and breathing sticks.
  • Kahoot: If you still haven’t tried Kahoot, you’re in for a treat. This website lets you create interactive, game show-style quizzes that students play as a class on their own devices. You could create a content-based Kahoot, do one just for fun, or even have students create them.
  • STEM Challenges: A hands-on problem that students need to solve with science, technology, engineering or math skills is cognitively challenging, socially engaging, and just a fun break from routine in any class. Here are some fun challenge ideas. (Don’t mind that it says “elementary.” They would be fun for older kids, too.)

High-Prep or Long-Term

  • Genius Hour: Just in case you’ve never heard of Genius Hour, it’s a structure for giving students time to explore topics and skills they choose completely on their own. Sometimes they study a foreign language, teach themselves how to code, even start their own businesses. A Genius Hour project usually happens over a period of weeks or even months, in small increments. So if you’ve already got a Genius Hour program going, these extra bits of time are perfect for continued work on projects. To learn more about Genius Hour, check out A.J. Juliani’s webinar and course here.
  • Community Service Project: One great way to make the most of the end of the school year is to have students identify a need in the community, then plan and execute a service project. Check out these 7 ideas for service learning projects from We Are Teachers. Another type of service project could be organizing a school-wide yard sale, with the profits going to charity.
  • BreakoutEDU Activities: BreakoutEDU is a kit that contains several boxes, a few locks, an invisible ink pen and UV light, a USB drive, and a few other pieces of equipment. The deal with the box is that teachers use them to facilitate games, games that feel like a cross between a mystery and a challenge, where clues are left around the room and students have to answer questions in order to find them. In the same way that you can plug questions or content into a platform like Kahoot, you can do the same with BreakoutEDU (they also have a lot of pre-made games available for purchase). Learn more here.
  • Student/Teacher Unconference: Using a chunk of hours or a whole day, teachers and students plan short lessons on things they are interested in outside of school (crafts, yoga, cooking, martial arts, music, dance, technology), then sign up for time slots like an EdCamp. With the schedule in place, students and teachers can then sign up to attend the ones they are interested in. This takes some planning, especially the first time, but it could be so worth it. What is an unconference?

Read the entire list of ideas Gonzales shares in her Cult of Pedagogy article.