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Keep practicing skills... before the turkey nap!

Thanksgiving is coming... but before that, you will need something very fun in order to keep your students attention! You know your lessons need to be rigorous and skills-based annnnnddddd if you are teaching upper elementary students, they want the new new!!

Enter ELA breakout challenges!

Breakout challenges, particularly in educational contexts, offer several benefits to students:

  1. Active Learning: Breakout encourage active participation, allowing students to engage with the material actively. This engagement enhances their understanding of the topic.

  2. Collaboration: Breakouts often involve group activities. Collaborating with peers fosters teamwork, communication skills, and the ability to work in diverse groups - all crucial skills in both academics and the professional world.

  3. Individual Attention: In smaller groups, students can often receive more individualized attention from the teacher, if needed. This allows for personalized learning, addressing specific questions or concerns and provides the teacher with insight for future planning.

  4. Critical Thinking: Breakout activities are often problem-solving oriented. They challenge students to think critically and apply the knowledge they’ve gained in creative ways, enhancing their problem-solving skills.

  5. Confidence Building: Active participation in small groups can boost students' confidence. They might feel more comfortable sharing their ideas or asking questions in a smaller, less intimidating setting.

  6. Enhanced Motivation: Breakout can be more engaging than traditional lessons. When students are actively involved, they are more likely to be motivated and interested in the subject matter.

  7. Feedback and Discussion: Breakout provide a platform for students to discuss their thoughts and ideas. Immediate feedback from peers and teachers can clarify doubts and deepen understanding.

  8. Diversity of Perspectives: Group activities often involve discussions. Different students bring different perspectives to the table, enhancing the depth of discussion and broadening everyone's understanding.

  9. Preparation for Real-world Situations: Many real-world situations require collaboration, problem-solving, and effective communication. Breakout challenges simulate these scenarios, preparing students for future challenges.

  10. Retention: Active participation often leads to better retention of information. When students engage with the material actively, they are more likely to remember and understand the concepts.

  11. Enjoyable Learning Experience: When designed well, breakout challenges can be enjoyable. Enjoyable learning experiences are more likely to be remembered, and the positive associations with learning can contribute to a student’s long-term interest in a subject.

These benefits contribute significantly to a student’s overall educational development!

Ready to give one a try?

Here is a breakdown of one of my favorite activities to do before any holiday - and one that is PERFECT for your students right before Thanksgiving!

IN A NUTSHELL: Students must complete three ELA, skills based puzzles, earning letter clues as they successfully complete each challenge. To complete the final challenge, students unscramble the letters to solve a joke that is given to them at the end of the activity!


With a focus on Malaysia, China, India and Israel, students will learn about unique customs and food that other countries celebrate gratitude. This is a two page reading. When finished, students must use important content and vocabulary from the reading to complete a fill in the blank puzzle.


Let's practice active listening, shall we? In Challenge Two, students must watch a video (housed on YouTube) about the history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. They might think they already know about this iconic tradition but there is so much history involved!

In this challenge, I offer suggestions. First, read the questions prior to watching the video. It will help them to determine the big ideas to remember. Secondly, watch the video more than once! While the goal is to complete the overall breakout challenge first, sometimes it helps to take your time in order to be right.

Because the solution to this puzzle is a True / False sequence, when students come to check if they are correct, I like to determine how many are correct or incorrect and state the number ONLY so they have to go assess their own work to determine which answer(s) need to be changed.


Secret: I'm not one for the work that goes into making a turkey. I love to eat it but the prep, stuffing, basting - it just seems like a lot! It turns out, turkey wasn't on the menu for Thanksgiving for many years after the first celebration! Your students will learn some history about what was eaten, how the date was chosen and when turkeys first made an appearance!

This challenge, students must use the reading to answer multiple choice questions. I like multiple choice problems because the answers are visible right away, hopefully triggering their memory. This format also increases student confidence in their ability to be successful and will give them the boost of energy they need to complete the third puzzle!

For this challenge, I make the decision to share which answers are incorrect or if x number of questions are incorrect based on the class, students asking, or time allotment.


There are a few things you have to do to prep for this fun activity!

1. Print enough copies of the readings and puzzle pages, a set for each group.

2. Print an answer sheet for yourself (or have one ready on your device to refer to).

3.. Print the letter clue rewards necessary for challenge 4 (one set per group) and cut them out, organizing the letters with a paper clip and a sticky with group names on it.

Throughout this challenge, I have my answer sheet ready to go to check student puzzle codes. As students correctly solve each challenge, they are rewarded with letter clues. This is where teachers get to show their organization prowess! Give groups a few letter clues for each challenge and make sure to give letter clues from the correct group pile.

When a group has 8 letters, they need to unscramble to letters to form a two letter word and "breakout!"

I love these challenges and my students do too! I like to award treats to my students for the team who finishes first, the team that persevered the most, the team that collaborated the best... Honestly, I could give a prize to all my students for any number of reasons if it means they stay on task and keep calm prior to a holiday ;)


Click the image below to head to TPT by clicking the button below to grab this activity now.

You can also support Motivating Minds in Upper Elementary directly by purchasing from this site. Click the button below to head to my store!

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving! Laura :)

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