Valentine’s Day is a great classroom holiday; it might have started as a religious observance of St. Valentine’s Day, but by now it really has no religious connotations and no controversies surrounding it that are relevant to the classroom. It is one of the best holidays for school observation, and by this point in the winter, most of us are ready to celebrate a bit.
Here are three of our favorite Valentine’s Day lesson plans:
Valentine’s Day is about love, so it’s a great time to study loving couples in history and literature. Begin with a game. Have students think of famous couples such as Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and Prince Charming, or Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.Create a brainstorm list on the board and make sure that all students have at least some concept of the stories of these couples.
Write one name at a time on heart stickers and stick them randomly to students’ backs, or to their foreheads between their eyes — make sure that students can’t see their own labels.
Students now must figure out whose name they are wearing, and find their partners. They may do this by asking questions of one another, but they can’t ask point blank, “Who am I?” For example, a student wearing the sticker with “Beast” written on it can ask, “Am I a real person?” or, as the evidence begins to mount, “Am I an enchanted prince?” Once he determines that he is the Beast, he must find the student labeled “Beauty” to match up Beauty and the Beast.
Once students have paired up, take a moment to discuss the strategies they used to form and test the hypotheses that allowed them to find one another. Older students could recreate their process in a flow chart. Use Gliffy or paper and pencil. You might conclude, as a class, that starting with larger scale questions such as “Am I a real person?” and moving down to smaller divisions like “Am I a rock star?” is the most practical strategy.
Finish by having the pairs of students write out their stories in the form of a series of letters (or emails, text messages, etc.) and present them to the class. Film the performances and post them at your classroom website.
Thaumatrope Valentine Cards
Many classes make valentines cards in class. Kick it up a notch (and bring in some science) by making thaumatrope valentines.
Thaumatropes are toys that rely on persistence of vision to work. They were invented in the 1820s, and used to be popular for Valentine’s Day.
“Persistence of vision” refers to the fact that our eyes retain an image for about a 10th of a second after we stop seeing it. That means that we can blink without interfering with our view of the world, and we can watch miovies — since one visiual image lasts a little while, we still have the first image when the next one comes up. As long as the images come along quickly enough and are cleverly designed, we see them as movement.
A thaumatrope shows two pictures in such quick succession that they end up looking like one picture. They do this by putting the two pictures on opposite sides of a card and spinning the card so that the viewer sees both pictures together. In a classic design, one side of the card has a bird, and the other side a cage, as demonstrated here:
For thaumatropic valentines, a kiss was a common theme:
These classic thaumatropes have the pictures positioned on either side of a circle of card, with a hole on either side for a string or rubber band. Wind the thaumatrope up and let it unwind, and you see one of the earliest steps on the path to animation.
Science Buzz has a photo tutorial on making thaumatropes, in case you have trouble figuring it out.
You can also just put the two designs on a pencil and rub it between your hands, a process which might be easier for young children. Just cut an index card in half, draw the pictures, and tape the two halves of the card to opposite sides of a pencil.
The Toymaker’s Valentine’s Day goodies include a thaumatrope, if you’d like to print it out and use it. However, the process of figuring out how to draw the pictures can be a very creative piece of problem-solving.
The Birds’ Valentine
One of the many stories about the origins of Valentine’s Day is that February 14th is the day that birds choose mates. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, and various other poets wrote about this, though I find no evidence that it’s true.
It’s still a great day to study birds. Birds are traditionally connected with human ideas of romance because some species of birds, such as swans, mate for life in monogamous pairs. Birds also have elaborate courtship rituals. These two facts, along with the traditional connection of birds and Valentine’s Day, make birds seem romantic.
In fact, birds’ courtship and mating behaviors seem to be adaptive rather than emotional, so you can study adaptation for Valentine’s Day:
Use the classic Bird Beak Adaptation Lesson using red gummy worms, Red Hots candies, and jelly hearts to keep it seasonal.
Or go ahead and get romantic! Bower birds build elaborate nests to show their desirability as mates. Flamingos hold big dance parties. In both cases, clicking on the links will show you PBS videos on the subject. David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds, episode 7: Finding Partners, is a wonderful documentary choice. These examples, and others students find in research, will demonstrate that birds use a wide array of methods to draw the attention of females.
Male birds greatly outnumber female birds, for some reason, so they’ve had to adapt to the situation by developing good ways to show their fitness as partners for procreating. Male birds have fancy feathers, give presents to the female birds, sing special songs, dance, fight for the females, and many other amazing things.
Have students conduct research on birds’ mating habits and write a reflective essay comparing birds’ courtship rituals with human courtship customs. Ornithologists are certain that birds don’t actually fall in love and develop emotional connections in the way that humans do, but students might like to think and write about this question.
Or take the path of bird art rather than bird science with Rebecca Yue’s valentine swans craft activity.
More Valentine’s Day ideas:
- Valentine Bears lesson plans
- Our Rapunzel lesson plans contain a variety of writing prompts and ideas about love.
- Study weddings for a new look at cultures, economics, and art.
- The human heart makes a great study for Valentine’s Day.
- Woven hearts are a simple craft that can involve quite a bit of measuring if you feel like it.
- Woody Guthrie’s “Mail Myself to You” is a perfect Valentine’s Day song for young children. Find the lyrics and sing the song with your class.
- In Beauty and the Beasts, Josepha identifies some animals that would be hard to love. Have students do some research to come up with their own lists.
- Valentines are perfect for practicing basic computer skills.
I love the “find your partner” game!
I am unbelievable bad at it, though. Perhaps it would be good to discuss strategies prior to setting kids to finding their partners?
I always like to let people discover things first and then debrief, but some people find that approach frustrating and then it can be counter productive. I guess my recommendation would be to start everyone off, and watch to see how well they’re catching on. If some students seem to have too much trouble, you can step in and say, “Have you thought about starting with big questions like ‘Am I male or female?’ and then working up to more specific question?”
Thank you for sharing. I am sure the kids will all become great name detectives!