Christmas writing prompts can be so much more than a traditional list of story starters. In fact, by introducing a fun gingerbread project based learning unit, your students will be asking you for more! Bring together Christmas writing and holiday math with this low-prep Christmas PBL unit that your students will remember for years to come.
This project is not only perfect for classrooms already familiar with project based learning (PBL), but it’s also ideal for teachers who are looking for ways to really engage students with a high-interest activity. You don’t need any experience at all with PBLs to plan and carry out this sweet gingerbread project.
First, kick off your Design a Gingerbread House Project Based Learning Unit by showing several different videos which highlight both simple and exquisite gingerbread houses. These can be found with a quick YouTube search (be sure to preview them ahead of time). In fact, take a look at this Gingerbread House video from the History Channel to get started!
Then, in groups, brainstorm and make lists possible themes of gingerbread houses students could create for a gingerbread house contest. Make a master list with the class and keep that list displayed throughout the entirety of the unit.
Once the unit is properly introduced, your students will be super excited and motivated to plan the best gingerbread house design ever, followed by some math activities and Christmas writing prompts!
From this point, you can choose to have students work in small groups to complete the project or you can have students work independently. Keep in mind, however, that students working in groups can develop important communication skills as a result of working together.
Ideally, a Project Based Learning unit will include certain key components, such as academic content, inquiry, a driving question, student choice, and a public audience. Here is the unit guide I use with my own Design a Gingerbread House PBL Unit. By planning out the project ahead of time, you can easily meet those project based learning expectations.
While this “Design a Gingerbread House” project is quite fun, it also should be academically aligned and should allow for problem-solving opportunities.
There are 3 goals for this project (you can choose one or work on all three):
- Plan and create a model of a gingerbread house.
- Use informational and descriptive writing to complete an entry form to enter a gingerbread house contest, serving as the perfect Christmas writing prompts.
- Use measurement skills and other math skills to solve problems related to perimeter, area, and volume of the house.
Here are some more details and photos of how students work through each of the 3 goals:
1. Choose a Theme and Design a Gingerbread House:
Students can either work independently or in groups to decide on a theme for their gingerbread house design. Some themes I’ve seen are red and green, Santa’s workshop, old village church, gnome house, and even houses based on popular Christmas movies like “Elf” or “Polar Express”.
While you definitely do not need to actually make a huge, ornate gingerbread house, it is fun to allow students to showcase their design to some degree. By using a small milk carton, graham crackers, white frosting, and assorted candies, students can create miniature versions of their designs. Trust me….. they will LOVE it!
(Pro tip: Have students build their little houses directly on paper plates. Less mess and easy to move when they are done!)
2. Complete a Gingerbread House Contest Entry Form (Christmas Writing Prompts)
It’s time for students to really sell their gingerbread houses and explain how their creations stand out from the others. What better way than to have students actually complete an entry form to enter their house into a contest?
You don’t actually have to award a prize, but this writing exercise beats out any ordinary Christmas writing prompts because your students are already heavily invested in the activity. They will WANT to do a great job with their entry form writing. Trust me!
I also think that when students can refer to a scoring rubric while make their projects, it helps them to do an even better job and meet the criteria for an outstanding project. (All scoring rubrics for my Design a Gingerbread House Unit are included for you.)
3. Gingerbread House Measurement and Christmas Math
Anytime students have the opportunity to apply math skills in real-life situations, I think it’s a win. Once students have created their gingerbread house, give them the opportunity to measure and problem solve.
Have them find the perimeter, area of the base, and volume of the base. Have students measure a certain candy, solve to see how many they need to decorate the perimeter, and then check to make sure they were correct. There are so many different ways your students can use math with their gingerbread house projects!
While you can certainly just make up your own problems for your class, I do have a ready-made measurement worksheet included in my Design a Gingerbread House PBL Unit (shown above).
Other Christmas Project Based Learning Ideas:
Of course, I always like to throw in a few other bonus activities that I know students will enjoy. Some other ideas of things you can do, including Christmas math and Christmas writing prompts, during this unit are:
- Create a gingerbread house shopping list
- Planning the house
- Choosing a gingerbread house theme
- Drawing the house
- Planning the decorations
- Perfect pictures
- Holiday playlist
- Project Problems (math word problems)
- Gingerbread House Contest entry form (Christmas writing prompts)
- Making a gingerbread house
- Measuring the house
This unit can be such a fun learning experience for upper elementary students! Here are some photo examples of the ideas I listed above:
Your students will not only be fully involved and excited about a classroom activity, but they will be practicing and mastering academic skills, too!
Remember that you are free to make the project as big or as simple as you feel is best for your students. The key is to provide them opportunity for collaboration and problem-solving.
While some PBL units will require research, this Christmas project based learning unit does not demand it. It definitely can have its place, though.
My ready-to-go, printable Design a Gingerbread House Unit includes all the pieces you see in the photos above, plus a few more. All scoring rubrics, templates, and printables are included!
I created it keeping your busy schedules in mind, so it’s basically print and go. Isn’t NO PREP a great thing? Click HERE to purchase the complete Design a Gingerbread House Day PBL Unit.
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