One of the things I really dislike about winter, is the disruption it can cause to the school day. My school is in a rural area with over half of our intake travelling in by bus or car, some from the high and inaccessible parts of Exmoor. This means that on certain days in the year, we end up with vastly reduced numbers, which makes continuing with planned lessons sometimes problematic.
When these circumstances are imminent, I always try to gather some ideas that can quickly be prepared or adapted for reduced classes, combined classes, or cover for colleagues from other subject areas.
Here are a few ideas that I have used in the disrupted snow days we have experienced so far this year. We may have more of these days ahead, so I would welcome any other ideas you are willing to share!
1) SNOW SCULPTURES: One of my year eight classes are currently studying the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, so in an attempt to answer the question “What makes the Jurassic Coast so special?”, we spent the lesson outside creating snow sculptures of some of the main landscape features. Some groups decided to focus on Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, and Chesil Beach – while one group modelled some fossils. But by far the most popular choice was Old Harry.
We studied some photos of the features in the classroom along with some diagrams that explained why they were created in this way – and then got to work outside. A few students had already had enough of the snow and were feeling the cold, so they stayed indoors by the heaters and made the signs. One group tried to engineer the base of the stack so that it collapsed after a few days of melt. Time will tell!
2) FIGHT CHALLENGE: After splitting up the reduced class into pairs or threes, I issued each group with a lap top and a piece of A2 paper. With a loud shout of FIIIIIIIIIGHT! all the students gave me their attention (most of them were familiar with Harry Hill’s TV show).
They were then confronted with the key question of the day, and given 30 minutes to research their answer before giving a presentation to the rest of the class.
Question: Who would win a fight between a hot desert and a tropical rain forest?
Obviously, there could be a number of variations on this theme. I have tried it with famous geographers, eg Columbus and Marco Polo; landscape features, eg a mountain and a lake – the possibilities are endless, as are the answers!
3) LIVING ATLAS: This is a lesson I often use in the summer, but it also works in the snow – as long as the students are wrapped up well. I have a pre-prepared collection of around 50 laminated playing cards with the suits and numbers replaced by names of countries. After issuing these randomly to the students, we head outside. On a snowy area of grass by my classroom, I ask some of the students to scrape out a line for the equator, and also create 2 pillars to represent the north and south poles. This acts as the blank world map canvas for our task. Armed with their own individual country card, on my whistle (actually it’s a duck caller) the students have to locate their country’s correct position on the world map and stand there. I encourage discussion and advice, and there is usually a lot of swapping and shuffling before they settle on their final answer. The students then re-select another country, and we repeat the exercise again. If they struggle to locate their positions (younger students might do so with some of the more obscure countries), I keep some atlases nearby for reference.
The country cards can also be used in other ways for some ‘Run-Around’ exercises (If you are not familiar with this childrens’ TV programme – get onto Google) – which really help to keep the students’ blood moving. They can be asked to move to different bases representing things like: continents, English/French/Spanish speaking countries, countries with coastlines, different colours represented in flags – and so on.
If the students were not getting too cold, we finished with some snow graphs. In groups, they considered lists of countries, and built snow columns to compare different GDPs, birth rates, populations and so on. Printed sheets of data are useful for students to check each others ‘graphs’.
4) WHY DOES IT SNOW? I keep a ‘one-off’ lesson with resources (Powerpoints, films, card sorts etc) to help explain why we have received such a significant recent snowfall. This can be freshened up each time by using Met Office synoptic charts and data for the past few days, and trying to forecast conditions for the next few days.
If you have any snow day ideas of your own to share – why not leave a comment?