January Activity Ideas for After Winter Break

If you're coming back from winter break and feel like you have forgotten how to lesson plan, you aren’t alone! Every winter, it seems like my brain dumps everything important, and I walk into school with no memory of passwords, student names, or what I’m supposed to teach. We know our students often come back from break feeling the same way. What is school? How am I supposed to act? If you’re feeling the same way, I have the perfect January activity ideas that will help you ease back into the school year. I included ideas that are both content and classroom management related.

I have the perfect after break January activity ideas that are both content and classroom management related for upper elementary students.

Snowflake Activities

Nothing screams January quite like snow (unless you’re living in the South, that is). Why not start off the second semester of school with some cross curricular, snow-related activities?


It may not seem like math and snowflakes go hand-in-hand, but they certainly can! Give students pattern blocks to create unique shaped snowflakes. Then, have students identify elements of their snowflake. For example, what different shapes did they use? How many sides does their snowflake have? What are the different angles in their snowflake? How long or wide is their snowflake? Have students record their answers.

Social Studies

Want to do a little dig into history? Have students read about how people dealt with cold weather throughout history. How did they make it through the cold winter months? What did they have to consider as winter approached?

You can also have students research Snowflake Bentley (Amazon affiliate link) He is known for his extremely detailed photographs of snowflakes. Students can research what Bentley is known for and the legacy that outlives him.


For science, have students conduct research (and even some experiments) on the temperature and weather needed to create snowflakes. What are the right conditions for snowflakes? What temperature does snow melt? If you live in a snowy area, you can even conduct experiments and observations.


A great January activity is writing about the snow and snowflakes. You can have students create a poem about the uniqueness of snowflakes, with smilies like “it was as unique as a snowflake”. Practice imagery by describing a snowy landscape. If you don’t live in a snowy area, provide students with an image or video of snow for reference.

You can also tie this in with your social studies activities about Snowflake Bentley (Amazon affiliate link) He photographed snowflakes in extreme detail and really started the idea that no two snowflakes are alike!

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is in December, but it’s the PERFECT topic of study for January too. I shared this idea on Instagram too, but I selected three different picture books that present the information in very different ways — realistic fiction, informational, and through verse — and added in an informational text passage and video. Here are Amazon affiliate links to the books I used: On The Shortest Day, The Shortest Day Celebrating the Winter Solstice, The Shortest Day.

winter solstice read alouds

It became the perfect lesson on compiling information from multiple sources! The anchor chart is an easy way to gather the info in one place before synthesizing it!

winter solstice books and lesson idea upper elementary

This post has 15 more winter read alouds for upper elementary.

New Year’s Activities 

The second semester always kicks off with ringing in the New Year. A great January activity idea is to have students share their dreams and goals for the new year. Here are a few ideas.

Paper Link

Cut strips out of colored construction paper and give one to each student. Then, provide them with a prompt and time to write. Ask students to share a goal they have for the new year or something they are proud of accomplishing in the year prior.

Then, take the strips of paper and link them together. Personally, I like to hang these up in my classroom, but you can also decorate a bulletin board or the hallway with them.

New Year’s Math Activity

Kick off the New Year with math word problems. By answering the word problems, students will be creating and mapping out their New Year’s party. For example, they might subtract the year they were born from the new year. This is how many fireworks are at the party!

You can get this New Year's Math Activity for free. It includes two different versions, so you can choose the level that is best for your students. It works great as a center activity or morning work when students get back to school.

New Year, New Room

One way to reset expectations and get the classroom ready for the second half of the school year is by throwing a New Year’s Celebration! You can bring in some party hats or coloring pages to start the day. Then, have a cleaning party with students.

Students should look through their desks, cubbies, pencil pouches, binders, and more. As you play some fun New Year’s jams, students will clean and reorganize their supplies for the new year. You can also have students help you sharpen pencils or organize supplies.

One Word

A common New Year’s concept is choosing one word as a goal or idea to strive for in the new year. For example, as teachers, we might choose balance or passion! 

Have your students select a word and then write about why they chose that word. For example, they might explain the significance it has to them or what they plan to accomplish in the new year.

Growth Mindset Activities

Another January activity idea is reviewing growth mindset. While you are talking about goals and resolutions, you can easily connect with growth mindset concepts. Here are a few ideas for growth mindset activities.

Paired Passages

These reading passages are the perfect way to ease back into learning and review growth mindset. There are many opportunities to discuss how students can display growth mindset in the new year.

I use this Growth Mindset Paired Passage resource with ten inspiring stories in the form of five paired passages. These stories are about people who have faced challenges and overcome obstacles. There are also annotation opportunities and written responses for students to flex their reading skills.

I selected several of my favorite growth mindset quotes, added some thoughtful reflection questions, and a couple of biographies about famous people who have a growth mindset to create this FREE activity.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

If you started the year by teaching about growth mindset, this is a great time to reevaluate where students are! Have students reflect on their ability to overcome challenges during the school year. Ask them:

  • What challenge have you pushed through this school year?
  • What is something you are proud of accomplishing?
  • What is one way you can continue to grow your mindset?

Math and Literacy January Activity Ideas for Skill Practice

Th January sets of monthly word problems have a fun winter theme, but the problems can be used ANY time of year. They focus heavily on all four operations, emphasizing fundamental problem-solving skills. You can grab your grade level set or mix-and-match for easy differentiation. They're available in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade options.

winter math word problems for upper elementary
winter math word problems for upper elementary

Get ready to build literacy skills this January in a way that’s FUN for students and EASY to prep! These January reading comprehension passages are part of a monthly resource to teach and review essential reading, writing, and grammar skills. January Literacy Skill of the Week Covers:

  • Reading Skill Focus: Text Structures
  • Figurative Language: Literary Devices – Simile, Metaphor, Hyperbole, Personification
  • Grammar Focus: Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs
  • Writing Focus: Personal Narratives

As you settle back into the school year, remember that it's okay to take it slow. You and your students are adjusting to the school schedule again and getting back into the swing of things. I hope these January activity ideas help fill your plans with meaningful and easy-to-prep activities.

Subscribe for access to dozens of exclusive free resources.

Free Morphology Activities

Are you ready to get started teaching prefixes and suffixes? This FREE word study bundle can help!

free upper elementary notebook ideas for teaching prefixes and suffixes along with Greek or Latin roots

Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.