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Teacher Tips to Navigate the Post-Break Secondary Science Classroom

Any time students (and teachers) are away from the classroom for a break, the adjustment to return to a regular schedule can be a challenge. 

This is seldom more true than with the return from winter break. The calendar year has changed, which signals all things new but at school, January often means a return to pre-break classrooms before a semester change. 

What’s more, the post-winter break period can be challenging for secondary students, as they transition from the holiday festivities back to the academic routine. 

To help ease this transition, teachers play a crucial role in creating a positive and engaging learning environment. With that in mind, check out these effective teacher tips to navigate the post-winter break classroom with their middle and high school students.

Teacher Tips to Transition Back to Class

1. Warm Welcome: Setting the Tone Right
The best teacher tip is to start the first day back with a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Consider decorating the classroom with positive messages or inspirational quotes to create a positive and inviting space. One way that I do this is to buy a great daily calendar and then keep the pages that I know will resonate with my students. January is a great time to pick up a new daily calendar and start the collection for yourself.

Another option is to visit some go-to websites that already have inspirational quote collections such as this one and this one. And this one has 25 motivational quotations from scientists.

Beyond your classroom walls, set the right atmosphere by greeting students individually as they enter the room, showing genuine interest in their holiday experiences.

A lively entrance, perhaps accompanied by a demonstration or a thought-provoking science-related quote, sets the stage for an exciting term.

Curate a playlist of music related to Earth, nature, or space (I love this one on Spotify from the Seattle Times to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing). Play it as students enter the classroom to create a positive and uplifting atmosphere. You can even ask students for song suggestions to involve them in the process and then create a playlist for work periods or quiet study periods. 

2. Icebreaker Activities: Thawing Out Social Interactions
Post-holiday, students might be a bit rusty in their social interactions. Combat any lingering shyness or separation anxiety with icebreaker activities. One fun example is the “Two Truths and a Winter Tale” game, where students share two true statements and one fictional story about their break. This can be done in small groups to scaffold students back into a collaborative mindset.

You can also set up an interactive map activity where students can mark the locations they visited during the holidays or places they dream of exploring. This can be a great icebreaker and a way to connect personal experiences to the broader theme of Earth exploration.

And if you want an icebreaker for a class that’s already comfortable as a group then check out this Can You Follow Directions? Activity. This works for a review of classroom protocols and ensures students are really paying attention and completing close reading! Another one of my must-have teaching tips? Adding in literacy skills along with this fun classroom management reminder is a no-brainer for those first days back.

3. Review and Recap: Bridging the Gap
Reacquaint students with the academic world by conducting a brief review of key concepts from before the break. This not only reactivates their memory but also serves as a bridge, connecting past and future lessons.

Task cards are an amazing way to get students back into school mode. Task cards support collaboration, promote differentiation, and encourage active learning in a flexible way (Read more about using task cards in your classroom with this blog post.) You can use task cards for nearly any topic in your science classroom – check out these options!

4. Engaging Lesson Plans
As you delve into lesson planning, infuse creativity and engagement – for yourself and your students! 

Consider starting a science unit with a captivating demonstration or hands-on activity to tap into your student’s prior knowledge of a subject. Take stock of what grabbed your students’ attention early in the school year, what can you borrow from that time to spark their interest, captivate their attention, and stimulate their curiosity? If you’re not quite sure then take a few minutes to poll students with a stop-start-continue activity.

Provide students with three sticky notes in three different colors:

  • Sticky note color 1: What students would like to stop doing in class. I present this as an option within reason since they can write down no more tests but that might not be realistic. Instead, have them think about the types of activities they’d done pre-break. 
  • Sticky note color 2: What they would love to start doing. This is a chance for them to reflect on activities or approaches to learning that have worked for them in other classes regardless of subject. 
  • Sticky note color 3: What they would like to continue doing in your class. This is a way for them to make clear what activities they have liked in class.  

This quick student reflection can be very informative for teachers as they move forward with lesson planning.

This blog post with a ton of tips for effective lesson planning is a great place to start.

5. Encourage Collaboration
One of the most important teacher tips in the secondary classroom. Foster a collaborative learning environment by encouraging students to work together on projects or discuss their experiences from the recently completed break. Collaborative activities not only enhance social bonds but also promote a shared sense of learning.

Practical Tip: Try implementing group projects that require students to share their holiday experiences and relate them to a specific subject. This builds teamwork and adds a personal touch to the learning experience. This activity does not need to be intense. It could be a matter of providing some markers and big paper and having students write down their recent experiences and create a web to relate the moments to specific subjects. 

Teacher Tip: Have students pick a specific color for themselves so you can visually (and quickly) see who has done what in the group. This is one of my favorite teacher tips! It is a simple and incredibly effective way to build in some accountability (speaking from personal experience here).

6. Technology Integration

Integrate technology tools or platforms into your lessons to keep students engaged and make learning more dynamic. Whether it’s virtual field trips, online discussions, or interactive simulations, technology can enhance the learning experience. 

I really love to use virtual field trips with students for a lot of reasons – budget, time, and a desire to explore beyond the classroom without leaving the classroom! This bundle of virtual field trips will save you time and money, plus they lead students through a digital exploration of our world through images, videos, audio clips, and sounds.

7. Provide Constructive Feedback

Offer constructive feedback on assignments or assessments completed before the break. This helps students understand their strengths and areas for improvement and sets a positive tone for the rest of the term.

Teacher Tip: Consider scheduling one-on-one feedback sessions for that first week to discuss individual progress and goals. This personalized approach can greatly impact students’ motivation and commitment to improvement. You might not want to do this on the first day or two back, let yourself and your students settle back into the routine first, and then set goals to tackle the next term.

8. Highlight Exciting Topics

Preview upcoming topics or units that are particularly interesting or relevant. Building anticipation for exciting content can reignite students’ curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. 

You can even make this interactive with bits and pieces revealed over the first few days – an image reveal with students having to answer a science-related question, or make it a word search that reveals a hidden message with the leftover letters. This free online puzzlemaker from Discovery Education makes the process easy!

9. Interactive Assessments

Consider incorporating interactive assessments, such as group projects or presentations. This keeps students actively involved in their learning and provides opportunities for creativity.

Instead of a written assignment, allow students to choose a format for their assessment, such as a presentation, infographic, or podcast. This caters to different learning styles and adds an element of fun. Plus, if it’s a focus on content then there’s no need to create a whole bunch of different rubrics.

This differentiated assignment encourages student-choice in the classroom and provides them with a true sense of autonomy. 17 options are provided for students to choose from in addition to a detailed rubric.
Grab your severe weather project now!

Here’s a FREE DIFFERENTIATED SEVERE WEATHER ACTIVITY with a detailed rubric that’s already been created for you and your students to use!

A Final Word on Returning to the Classroom

As we embark on the journey of a new term, let’s remember that the classroom is not just a space for academic growth but also personal development. Creating a positive and supportive atmosphere is a key element to support our students in reaching their full potential. By implementing these teacher tips, whether you teach middle school or high school, we can contribute to a smooth transition after any break and set the stage for a successful and enriching term. 

From me to you – here’s to a semester filled with curiosity, collaboration, and continuous growth!


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