"I have found the week before winter break to be very hectic at school," explained Alison Murphy. "The students are extremely excited about the holidays and upcoming time off from school. Consequently, they are a whirlwind of activity, something that is just not conducive to the introduction of new material. Because my students love to hear stories from the popular Chicken Soup series, I used it to create a writing activity for this crazy time of year."
Through the project, which Murphy has named "Chicken Soup for the Holiday Soul," her sixth-grade language arts students at Medford Memorial Middle School in Medford, New Jersey, create their own Chicken Soup books in class and take them home as holiday gifts. She provides many examples of Chicken Soup books as "food" for thought and shares a book she has made as an example.
"The first year I did the activity, the kids and I brainstormed story ideas by looking through several Chicken Soup books," Murphy told Education World. "Those books included such stories as 'What the Holidays Mean to Me,' 'The Best Gift I Have Ever Received,' 'The Best Gift I Have Ever Given,' and 'Favorite Family Holiday Traditions.'"
Some students include holiday short stories in their books; they also decorate the books with artwork, and include a table of contents and a dedication page. During the past few years, poetry and "top 10" lists also have become popular. Murphy appreciates that the project reviews the writing process while engaging students in both creative writing and drawing -- two things her middle schoolers love to do!
"Many of my students love the fact that this is a gift that does not cost a penny, but will be remembered for a lifetime because it comes from the heart and is made with love," she said. "I've had several parents tell me later in the year that the book is a treasured memory. One mother came to me right after the holiday to tell me that her daughter took so much pride in the book that she wrapped it in a box, and labeled it To: Mom, the best gift you will ever receive."
Murphy has been impressed with the amount of time her students put into their books. Because they realize they are creating gifts, they are meticulous about everything, from illustrations to spelling. The students focus on the activity very well, and Murphy chooses to count this work as completed class work that she does not read or grade. Instead, it is evaluated with a checklist of features, including cover, table of contents, dedication, stories, and so on. She has found that the students are more open and comfortable in their writing because they know it will be kept private. The project is ideal for Christmas but can be adapted for other holidays as well.
"One year after the break, I had a student come up to me and tell me that she had made books for each member of her family to put under the tree," reported Murphy. "Surprise! She had made one for me, too. It is something I cherish to this day."
Article by Cara Bafile
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