December 7, 2020

These Charity Holiday Gifts Can Also Teach Your Students Social Studies

Every December, I had fun shopping for holiday gifts for my students.  I searched for small, fun things they could use in school.  I shopped at the school store and also at Target and Michael’s.  But it’s not a good idea to shop like that now during the pandemic, wandering up and down the aisles searching for that just right gift.

Fortunately, there is something else you can do!  In addition to buying tangible gifts, I also purchased something from international aid organizations’ gift catalogs, in the name of my students.  I chose something from the catalog, filled out the form and paid for it online, and in the space where it asked if the purchase was in honor of someone, I typed in the name of my class.  I didn't involve my students in selecting the item because I didn't want them to know how much I was spending but if you wanted them to have a say in it, you could.  Soon after, I got a card thanking my class for their donation.  I'll give you links to the gift catalogs I used below.

Use ideas from aid organizations' gift catalogs that help people in need, then teach your students about the country their gift came from.
Charitable donations on behalf of your students make great holiday gifts; source: The ESL Nexus

After getting the card, I told my students what I had done on their behalf and passed the card around so they could read it.  The cards were colorful and gave the kids a glimpse of life in other countries.  I put the card on a bulletin board at the front of my room and left it there for several months.  If you are teaching remotely, you can show the card to your students by sharing your screen, then place it somewhere where it’s visible in the background when you’re teaching.  My students were always intrigued and thought it was really cool when they found out what I'd done.

I did this for my middle school ESL Social Studies classes but you can do it with any grade level or class.  Because I was already teaching world geography and world history, I didn’t spend much time discussing the countries or cultures of the people whose gift the class supported.  But here are a few suggestions you can do with students if you’d like (not all may be appropriate for every grade level):
* Ask students to find the country of their donation on a map or give them a blank map of the continent in which the country is located and have them label the countries
* Draw a picture of the country’s flag and find out and then explain what the colors and any symbols on it represent
* Do some basic research about the country and write a research paper or composition about it, or pick one aspect about the culture of the country and write about it
* Create a multimedia presentation about the country, including info about population, natural resources, religion, history, economics, literacy rates, etc. (or focus on just one aspect and go into greater detail)
* Teach students some words in a language spoken in the country and/or find a few proverbs from the country and ask students what they think they mean

You may be asking yourself: Why should I donate to an organization that helps people overseas when there is so much need at home?  It’s an excellent question.  My answer is that doing this can be a great teachable moment for your students.  It exposes them to people and issues in other parts of the world that they probably know little about.  By donating to an organization that works abroad, you avoid answering any potential questions about why you’re not donating to a charity in your own community.  Of course, you can always do that on a personal level and I have some favorite charities I contribute to every December.

The first organization I did this with was Heifer International, because I knew someone who had worked there and I was therefore familiar with it.  In later years, I used the gift catalog from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), again because I had a friend who worked there and knew that they did good aid work.  I recommend both these organizations highly.  To see the Heifer Project gift catalog, click HERE.  To see the CRS gift catalog, click HERE.

Another option is to follow the recommendations by Nick Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times who writes about world affairs and has a special interest in the education of the girl child.  For the past several years, he has published a column listing lesser-known but very worthy organizations that make positive change in the world.  Last year, I donated to several of the groups mentioned and I will do so again this year.  You can find his list for this year HERE.

There’s one more organization I want to mention.  I read about it a few years ago and then just the other day saw an article in The Washington Post about it.  It’s called Postcards from Timbuktu.  Having taught my students about medieval African Kingdoms, it caught my attention.  Basically, you choose from a selection of postcards on their website, type a message you want written on it, pay in advance, and then wait to receive the postcard.  What’s special is that it really does come from Timbuktu.  One of the postcards gives you the option to have a Malian student in a local school draw a picture on the postcard, with part of the proceeds going to the school.  You can also buy a few other items from Mali through the website.  You can find out all the details HERE.  I’m going to order a postcard drawn by a student as well as a couple other things.

Even if you don’t get these before your holiday vacation begins, your students will still be excited when they hear what you have done in their honor.  Mine sure were!