5+ Easy Gifts for Older Students

Teach secondary students? Giving them gifts doesn't have to be challenging or time-consuming! I walk you through the thought process of determining why you want to give a gift, and then I share a few easy ideas for gifts for older students. Get all the ideas in this post!

Have your students been good this year? Even if they haven't, perhaps you're inclined to show them some love this winter. However, sometimes gift-giving to older students is easier said than done. 

Depending on your class, you might have allergies to worry about, limited color copying privileges, minimal time for crafting... not to mention the need to respect all cultures. You don't want your choice of gift to show preferential treatment to one holiday over another.

Fortunately, giving meaningful gifts to your students doesn't have to be a time-consuming, Pinterest-worthy project. In fact, with teenagers in middle and high school, a lot of the things they want do NOT involve glue guns, pom-poms, or excessive crafting on your part!

(By the way, be sure to check out #lastminutegiftsforbigkids on Instagram. Several fellow teachers and I are sharing our easy cards, bookmarks, tags, and other printables!)

How to Choose Your Gift to Students
First, think about what your goal is and what kind of reaction you want from your teens:

Is your objective to...

  • Make them laugh? Maybe pick an inside joke that your class would understand and give them something "punny". (If sweet tarts are ridiculously funny for some reason, buy them in bulk!)
  • Respond to class needs? Maybe what they really need is granola bars, pencils, gloves, bookmarks, coloring books, or something practical. 
  • Say goodbye? If it's the end of the semester (and if you won't see them again), maybe something closer to a keepsake is in order... a class photo? A laminated bookmark? 
  • Kick off a new semester? Seize the "new year" season with gifts about having a clean slate. (See #1, a Free Pass, below!)

More Gift Ideas
Here are a few ideas to consider that are mutually beneficial for you AND students, depending on how much time you have to devote to it!

1. A "Free Pass"
Even the best students may need a little forgiveness sometimes when "life" happens. Printers fail, assignments get left on the kitchen table,  sports practices run late... you name it.

Thus, one of the most valuable gifts you can give students is what I call a Mercy Card (or a Life Card, if you're more comfortable with that term). It's not a total free pass... the student still has to turn in the assignment... but it's a no-consequences extension to get an assignment turned in a little late without drama.

Get my Mercy/Life Cards for FREE at this link. You can print mine and go, or customize the fine print; it's editable!

2. Anything Edible
There's nothing wrong with bringing in a bag of mints, a box of candy canes, some Jolly Ranchers, or any other allergy-friendly candy to class. (In fact, we have a running joke that if I have to lecture, I bring them candy, and they're supposed to treat it like "mouth glue" and eat it quietly while listening.)

If you have the energy and permission to go the extra mile, breakfast parties are a great way to go, too. Donuts and bagels are hugely motivating prizes. I know a teacher who gave her class a hot chocolate party as a reward once, bringing in whipped cream and sprinkles along with her

3. The Gift of Reading
... either in the form of TIME or actual BOOKS! My students love being given a half or full class period as a reading day, but even better is when I go to Half Price Books or another discount retailer and wrap some books as "gifts" for the class. I follow it with a book talk to make sure they don't crinkle their noses at it, which helps hype the book quite a bit.

Another example: every year, Scholastic sells a cheap edition of A Christmas Carol for $1 for a limited time (usually around early to mid November). My principal lets me buy one for every 8th grader so that we can "gift" it to the kids and get REAL, authentic practice annotating in novels!

4. Movie Time
... okay, except I mean academic movie-watching. Since my school *somewhat* follows the Common Core, I have standards that include comparing texts with their film versions. I made a pack of activities to compare novels and movies, and that has helped me teach the movies for The Giver, The Outsiders, and A Christmas Carol in grades 7 and 8!

5. A Contest
Nothing riles up teens and tweens like a little competition. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Random Draw: Put some stickers on a few pencils in a jar, and let them draw randomly. Though all students get to keep their pencils, the stickered ones can get a bonus prize! (Pro Tip: You could always pair that activity with reading the short story "The Lottery"! Ha!)
  • Campaigning: Give each student an index card or piece of paper; tell them that they have to nominate another student in the class to win a prize, and they must persuade me on their choice. This should hopefully elicit some selfless responses from teens, and you can determine who really needs some bonus kindness right now!
  • Class/Group Competition: Whether academic or not, have a little small group competition OR have your class periods compete against each other. Have a grand prize and a consolation prize for everyone else. 
  • Individual Contest: Have a contest with mandatory individual participation, and reward the top 5-10 winners. (Perhaps a Best Pun Contest to teach verbal irony? A short story writing contest? A reading-related one?)

What other ideas do you have for student gifts? Share them below!

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