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Secret Santa For You

A Secret Santa Blog Hop with The Elementary Entourage

I don't know about you, but this time of year leaves me completely exhausted! From shopping to baking to moving that darn Elf - who has time to plan fun Christmas activities for the classroom? I'm barely getting up, making it to work, and functioning every day! For the first time EVER we are in school until December 23rd. I know, shoot me now. Next week is going to be so hard! If you are also in this boat with me (and frantically searching for ways to keep kids entertained and engaged for yet another week) I have a fun lesson plan ready for you! If you're already out for Christmas break I'm really, REALLY jealous! Hopefully, you can save this and still use it next year.

This Secret Santa gift to you is sure to keep your students on their toes! My Elf Christmas Scavenger Hunt is so much fun for students of all ages. It's also customizable. It only takes a tiny bit of planning on your part, and kiddos love every minute of it. Watch this short video for a preview.


About the Game:

In this game, an elf has been sent by Santa to check on student’s behavior. He has been in your classroom for a while now watching students and reporting back to Santa. The elf could have been visible in your classroom, or you could tell students that he has secretly been watching, but they couldn’t see him. It’s up to you! The elf is getting ready to leave to go back to the North Pole, so it’s the perfect activity for the last day of school before Christmas break.

The game is a scavenger hunt which includes 9 different rhyming clue cards. Each card leads students to a variety of locations found around any school. Tips for using the cards are included.

Elf Christmas Scavenger Hunt Game Cards

The 9th card leads students to a special gift the elf has left for each student! Gift tags are included!

You can also create your own clues if these don't work for you and your classroom.

Make Your Own! Elf Christmas Scavenger Hunt Game Cards

What you will need:

  • A copy of the letter sent to students from Santa. 
  • Each card printed on card stock (laminate for durability and future use) 
  • Gift tags printed on cardstock (or regular printer paper would work, too) A small gift for each student.
Elf Christmas Scavenger Hunt Game: Letter to Santa

Gift Ideas
  • Small Dollar Store Items 
  • Stuffed Animal 
  • Bag of Candy 
  • Candy Cane 
  • Book or Coloring Book 
  • Writing Journal & Pencil 
  • Jumbo Bouncy Ball 
  • Elf Hat/Santa Hat
*Ask parents to donate $1-$2. Most of these items can be found at the Dollar Store.

Elf Christmas Scavenger Hunt GamePreparation for the game:

  • Allow yourself time to prepare the scavenger hunt clue cards, gift tags and gifts for each student. 
  • Arrange for an assistant or parent volunteer to help you strategically and secretly place the clue cards in the classroom and throughout the school. 
  • Some clue cards can be put in place the day before and others will have to be placed or distributed during the game. 
  • The gift for the students will need to be placed in student desks or wherever you store student books while you’re out of the room during the scavenger hunt. 
  • Before starting the game be sure to read the letter Santa sent to the students. 

I hope you and your students enjoy this fun Elf Christmas Scavenger Hunt! Let me know what you think! Click here to download the game for FREE!

Merry Christmas!

***Don't forget to check out the rest of the blog hop below! My Elementary Entourage friends have some more Secret Santa goodies just for YOU!

Christmas Kindness: 25 Days of Paying it Forward

Christmas Kindness: 25 Days of Paying it Forward

The month of December is the perfect time to teach the character trait - kindness. I always start the month with a kindness lesson from my Character Education in the Classroom Bundle.

Character Education in the Classroom: Kindness     

After the lesson, I encourage my students to practice random acts of kindness inside and outside of the classroom. I give each student a 25 Random Acts of Christmas Kindness calendar which you can find for free here.

25 Random Acts of Christmas Kindness FREE CALENDAR

Most acts of kindness on the calendar can be accomplished without an adult, so I don’t allow any excuses for not trying! I have students place a red X on each day they perform a particular act of kindness. We also have a contest to see who can complete the most acts of kindness. I always offer rewards or classroom coupons for participating.

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness with Stocking Stuffer Craft Activity for students

After I introduce the 25 Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Calendar, we make Christmas stockings and stuff each one with compliments. They color each stocking, place their name at the top, and cut them out. We place the stocking back-to-back and staple closely around the edge – leaving the top open. We place 2 cotton balls in the toe of the stocking. (This helps the stocking stay open at the top for easy stuffing!) Then, we place them on a bulletin board or our classroom door. 

You can find my entire Random Acts of Christmas Kindness with Stocking Stuffer Craft Activity here

I copy, cut, and distribute compliment cards. Each student gets as many compliment cards as there are students in our classroom (not including themselves). I ask my students to write one compliment to each student in the classroom and secretly stuff each other’s stockings. Afterward, they can place a red X over Day 1 on their calendar (Give someone a compliment).

I leave the compliment cards in a basket in our room so that students can stuff stockings throughout the whole month of December. No one is allowed to read their compliments until right before we leave for Christmas break. During the last week of school before Christmas, we have a small party and read our notes of kindness.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Compliment Cards

Students love this and can’t wait to read what their classmates have written to them! It’s also fun to make a stocking for yourself and add to the board. Students love stuffing their teacher’s stocking with compliments! 

Last year I created "You've been racked!" gift tags for students to attach to any gift, letter, or special treat they give someone during the month of December. I usually give students 2-3 tags to start with, then I leave a bunch of these in a basket for other students in the school to pick up with they need one.

You've Been Racked Gift Tags

You've Been Racked Gift Tags & Compliment Cards
I love to make Christmas crafts with my students. We typically make ornaments, door hangers, picture keepsakes, etc. I use these tags to place on our finished products because they are usually going to be given to family members. I made the tags in color or black and white. Most students like the black and white version because they can color them (it saves printer ink, too).

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness: You've Been Racked!

Students get really excited about this project! They love to compete against each other while at the same time learning a valuable character lesson in “kindness”.

Find my entire Random Acts of Christmas Kindness with Stocking Stuffer Craft Activity here

Or, you can download the free calendar here.

Merry Christmas!

Writing Tall Tales in the Classroom: A Thanksgiving Writing Activity

Writing Tall Tales in the Classroom: A Thanksgiving Writing Mini-Unit

A Thanksgiving writing lesson on Tall Tales. The perfect addition to any November writing unit for teachers.
Tall Tales are so much fun to write! Student's creative writing skills come to life when they get the opportunity to stretch the truth because we all know children are full of humor and exaggeration! The best thing about tall tales is that they can be funny or silly. They are typically filled with hyperboles, similies, metaphors, and lots of descriptive vocabulary. Tall tales are always read or told as if they were true, even though the listener or reader knows that the story could never really happen - another reason children love writing and reading them!

Each year, during the month of November, I teach my 4th graders how to write Turkey Tall Tales.
This lesson is a lot of fun, and students love the end result! This mini-lesson is the perfect addition to any creative writing unit but is intended to be used as a Thanksgiving writing activity.

I start by introducing students to tall tales. I also read Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan. Students are usually familiar with these two books. You can also search YouTube to find animated tall tales for students. There are tons to choose from! After reading tall tales and watching a few animated YouTube stories, we discuss the characteristics of tall tales. To get started, I use Turkey Tall Tales - a writing mini-lesson on tall tales found here in my store.

Steps to Introducing Tall Tales: What are Tall Tales?

This mini-lesson comes with a two-page introduction to tall tales and their characteristics. Once you've familiarized students with tall tales, they can choose from 4 different story starters and you can distribute the planning sheets for students to start planning their turkey tall tales.

Writing: planning a Tall Tale using Thanksgiving Story Starters

On the planning sheet, students look at the prompt they have chosen and circle the matching turkey picture. This is what their main character looks like. After students have planned their story, they finish the story starter sheet by writing their tall tale. As students finish, I have them bring me their writing for us to edit together. After they make any needed corrections I give them their header and footer to color.

Creating a header and footer for Tall Tales

Distribute the header and footer that matches the turkey on their story starter and planning sheets.

At this point, students are ready to type their tall tale. This mini-lesson includes a direction page for students to use while typing their writing. All directions are aligned to Microsoft Word, but you could easily use Google Docs as well.

How to Type Tall Tales

Directions are given for how to format the margins and columns of their tall tale. Students will need to change their margins to narrow and set their document to print as three columns.

Formatting margins and columns of Tall Tales

The last step on the direction sheet is to print, cut apart columns, trim edges to the same width, and tape together (adding their header and footer). This makes one TALL tale!

How to Print L-O-N-G Tall Tales

Writing Tall Tales: A Thanksgiving Mini-Unit

Students love their finished product and reading all the other tall tales that students have written. It also makes an excellent November bulletin board or classroom display. :)

16 Time-Saving PowerPoint Secrets for Creating Printables: Part 2

This blog post is Part 2 of 16 Time-Saving PowerPoint Secrets for Creating Printables

Welcome back! If you haven't read Part 1 of my 16 Time-Saving PowerPoint Secrets for Creating Printables click here.

If you're back for more of my PPT tips and tricks get your pen and paper ready, because I have so much more to share with you! I also have a bonus secret at the end so be sure to read all the way through (even if you already know all these secrets). :)

Formatting the Background in PowerPoint

My first time-saving secret is all about formatting your background. When creating printables or (if you're a TpT seller) product covers you sometimes want a background image. We often refer to these images as digital background paper.

There are two ways to add a background image in PowerPoint.

#1 - You could simply click on the Insert tab > Pictures > Choose your image > and click Insert. This would place the image on the page and you could drag the corners and sides to fill the background space. However, two things are going to take place when you do this.

  1. You're going to distort the image.
  2. The image is going to be easily moved around on the page.

The goal here is to fill the background with the image. You don't want the image to look distorted and you're going to get frustrated if you're constantly moving it around while adding other objects to the page.

Inserting an Image as a Picture in PowerPoint

#2 - You could format the background to add digital papers to your PowerPoint slides. This is the best way to add a background to your printables because...

  1. Your image will automatically fill the space and not be distorted due to stretching.
  2. Your image will not move around on the page.

Formatting the Background in PowerPoint

The example above shows you how to format your background by clicking on the Design tab > Format Background > Picture or texture fill > File > Search for image > Click Insert.

You can also choose to check the box "Tile picture as texture". I always check this box just to see if the image would look better tiled, but I mostly use it for textured backgrounds similar to what I used in the example above.

Formatting your background will make your digital paper look much better! Your images will not be distorted and you won't get frustrated when you accidently move the background around on the page.

Using the change picture tool in PowerPoint

The Change Picture tool is often useful when you are trying to find the "perfect" image or piece of clip art to use on your page. I find myself using this option a lot - especially when I want to try out different images to see which one looks or fits the best. I could always delete the image and insert a different one. However, if I've resized the image or clip art to fit a particular space, the Change Picture tool will replace the image with another one while keeping the image size close to the same. 

When you click on an image in PowerPoint, the Picture Tools in the Format Tab automatically open in your ribbon at the top of the screen. 

How to use the Change Picture Tool in PowerPoint

Click on the image you want to change > Click on Change Picture > Click on from a file > Search for a different image to replace the one you already have on the page > Click on Insert.

Change & Replace Images in PowerPoint

This is a quick and easy way to change an image on the page. 

Using the selection pane to save time in PowerPoint

This time-saving secret will come in handy when you are working with several pieces of clip art or text boxes on one page. Sometimes I like to use several different objects (clip art, page borders, text boxes, shapes, etc.) when I'm building printables. When you put all these different objects on one page you end up layering them. I'll discuss how to layer objects in the next tip, but for now, we are going to focus on "naming" them.

When you use the selection pane you can easily select objects, change their order, or change their visibility. As you add objects to a page it's a good idea to name them. This makes finding an object much easier when you want to move, replace, or delete it.

I've used my monthly newsletter templates in the example below. This page has a ton of images, text boxes, shapes, etc. They are also layered so that certain objects are in front or behind other objects. As I placed these objects on the page, I gave each one a name in the selection pane on the right.

To access the selection pane select an image > click on (Picture Tools) Format Tab > Selection Pane

How to use the selection pane in PowerPoint

To name an object simply double-click it's original name it was given when inserted. This will automatically show up in the selection pane. For example: when I inserted the tractor clip art PowerPoint named it "Picture 1". I double-clicked on this wording in the selection pane and renamed it "Tractor". I also inserted three pumpkins on the page. As I inserted them, I named them "Pumpkin 1", "Pumpkin 2", and "Pumpkin 3".

Now, why did I do this? As you can see in the example above I have many different objects in my October newsletter. This requires lots of layering and alignment to get them in the right places. There is a hay bale behind the tractor and stalks of wheat behind the wagon and header. If I wanted to move either of these objects I would have to move everything in front of it to get to them. Instead of messing up my design I could simply click on the name of the object in the Selection Pane and from here I could reorder, move, delete, or replace the object. This keeps my original design in place and doesn't move any other object on the page - definitely a huge time-saver! 

Layering and Arranging Objects in PowerPoint

In the last time-saving secret, we talked about "naming" objects using the Selection Pane, and I briefly mentioned how helpful this tool is when "layering" objects. In PowerPoint, you can layer objects by bringing them to the front, sending them to the back, or you can slightly nudge an object forward or backward.

Let's look at my October newsletter template again. I have a lot of graphics layered in my header. The bundle of wheat was originally behind the wagon, basket of apples, and the October title. I could not click on the wheat image to move it because it was behind other objects. I could have moved the wagon and baskets of apples to get to it, but I had those images where I wanted them, and I didn't want to spend time arranging them all again.

I had previously named each image as I inserted them on the page, so I could use the Selection Pane to select the wheat and bring it to the front. From here, I could move it around on the page and reorder the object without moving any of the other graphics.

How to Layer and Arrange Objects in PowerPoint

If you only have a few objects on the page you don't necessicerly have to use the Selection Pane. You could click on the object you want to move and arrange it either backwards or forwards. (see example below)

Example of layered objects in PowerPoint
The arrange feature comes in handy when you are working with many different objects or if you are trying to create a scene.

Grouping Objects Together in PowerPoint

PowerPoint enables you to group objects on your slides which can be a big time-saver! This feature is particularly useful when it comes to creating complex pictures because it allows you to work on one part of the picture, group it, and then work on the next part of the picture without moving the objects you've grouped together. Pictures, shapes, clip art, and text boxes can all be grouped together.

Let's take a look at my Speller's Choice Menus. I have a lot of graphics and text boxes on one slide. I placed the cascading flowers where I wanted them, but I didn't want to accidentally move one of them while I continued to work on the design of the page. I selected all of the flowers > clicked on Arrange > clicked on Group. This grouped all the flowers into one object.

How to group objects together in PowerPoint

You can also select the objects to group together and right click over them to choose Group > Group. Or, you may decide that you want to ungroup objects so that you can work on your design. You can also regroup it all back together again. This will save you time trying to fix it back if you accidently move an object while working on another area of the slide.

How to group and ungroup objects in PowerPoint

Objects grouped together in PowerPoint will also stay together if they are moved or resized. This is much quicker and easier than selecting all of the objects each time you want to move them (especially when you have objects layered over each other like I do in the example above).

Reusing Slides in PowerPoint

This is one of my favorite time-saving secrets! I use it A LOT! Reusing slides is one of the quickest ways to insert a slide you've previously created into another document. You could always open up both documents and cut and paste from there, but there is an easier way!

One way I reuse slides is by adding my thank you and terms of use page to a product I've created. To do this go to the Home tab > New Slide > Reuse Slides

Steps to Reusing Slides in PowerPoint

The Reuse Slides feature will open on the right side. From here, you can browse to find the file you are looking for.

Reusing Slides in PowerPoint

How to search and find slides to reuse in PowerPoint

My thank you/terms of use page has a lot of parts and formatting added to it. I could always "select all" on the page and copy/paste it onto a slide in my Main Idea product, but it's SO much easier to reuse this slide.

Example of reusing slides in PowerPoint

After you select the document you want to use, all of the slides in the document will open. Before you select a slide to reuse make sure the "Keep source formatting" box is checked. This will ensure that all formatting will be copied over when you insert this slide. Choose the slide you want and click on it.

In this example, I'm choosing my Thank You/Terms of Use page. I checked the box beside "Keep source formatting" and click on Slide 1.

This inserts the slide as a new page and an exact copy is now in my new document. I could change anything on the slide if I needed to and it would not change the original document. So easy!
How to insert and reuse slides in PowerPoint

Duplicating Slides in PowerPoint

Duplicating slides is another feature similar to Reusing slides, however, this feature is will allow you duplicate and reuse slides within the same document. I often spend a lot of time formatting a page with background, clip art, and text. To save time, I'll duplicate the slide so that I don't have to reformat it again. I always do this when I'm making task cards.

When I'm creating task cards, I want to make sure the pages are exactly the same. To get an exact copy I right click on the slide shown in the slide preview on the left. You can also click on the Home Tab > New Slide > Duplicate Selected Slide. I just find it quicker and easier to right click on the slide I want to duplicate.

How to duplicate slides in PowerPoint

Now, I have an exact copy of the first slide, and I don't have to recreate the page by adding all the images and text boxes again.

Example of duplicating slides in PowerPoint

Saving Slides as Images in PowerPoint
In PowerPoint, you can save each slide as an image. In Part 1 of this series I showed you how to change the export resolution of your slides when you save them as an image. If you missed that time-saving secret you can find it here

Saving a slide as an image is super easy! There may be times when you want to save only one slide as an image or you may want to save multiple slides as images.

To begin saving a slide as an image click on File > Save As > Choose Folder (You may need to browse for the folder you want to save to if it isn't listed in the most recent folders on the right.)

How to save slides as images in PowerPoint

From here, you will need to click on the arrow beside "Save as type". You want to change the format to either JPEG or PNG. I recommend saving as a PNG as this will produce a better quality image.

Steps to saving slides as images in PowerPoint

Once you click on "Save" a box will pop up asking you which slide you want to export. You can choose to export "All Slides" as images or "Just This One".

How to Save Slides as Images in PowerPoint

In the example above, I have chosen to save all slides as images, and PowerPoint placed them all in one folder. I also chose to save just my cover slide as an image, and PowerPoint place that image in the folder I had selected. 

Using Line Spacing Options in PowerPoint

Okay, time for a confession! I added this bonus time-saving secret because I completely forgot about it until I was writing Part 1 of these time-save PowerPoint secrets. I realized that I change my line spacing ALL.THE.TIME! I just do it without thinking. Honestly, I didn't even think about it being a time-saving trick until I already had these blog posts planned out. So... here's the secret to line spacing!

In PowerPoint, there's an option to make your line spacing between text tighter or you can widen it out. 

Steps to Using Line Spacing Options in PowerPoint

To format line spacing, select the text you want to change. Under the Home tab in the Paragraph section you'll find an icon for changing the spacing between lines. (see example above) From here, you can choose one of the options listed to widen the space between your lines, or you can choose "Line Spacing Options" to customize the spacing between your lines.

Changing Your Line Spacing in PowerPoint

I usually use the line spacing options to decrease the space between my lines. I use this when my wording doesn't fit within a certain space. I almost always change the line spacing to Multiple > 0.8. This usually gives me a perfect fit, but there are times that I have to tweak it just a little (depending on the font I'm using).

How to change your line spacing options in PowerPoint

There ya go... 16 Time-Saving PowerPoint Secrets for Creating Printables! Whew! Did you get all of that? Don't forget to check out Part 1 of this mini-series to learn more PowerPoint time-saving tips and tricks.

Hopefully, this helped you learn a few secrets about PowerPoint that you didn't already know as well as give you a few ways to save some work time. Do you have any PowerPoint secrets that I didn't list here? I'd love to know about them!