This ugly holiday sweaters activity is a really fun way for students to show what they know about famous historical figures. After learning about the history of ugly Christmas sweaters and the different elements that are used to design them, students design their own sweaters based on what they’ve learned about their assigned or chosen person. In this blog post, I’ll tell you all about how to use this activity in your own classroom. If you’re short on time and just looking for a no-prep, done-for-you activity, feel free to check out all of the ugly holiday sweater activities in my store!
What makes ugly holiday sweaters the perfect activity for social studies?
Historical ugly holiday sweaters allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in a meaningful and fun way. Students have to really think about the images, colors, and patterns they choose to represent their famous historical figure because they also have to justify their choices through a writing assignment or presentation.
The activity also allows students to express their creativity. Not only is designing and coloring the sweaters super fun, but students also remember more when they have the opportunity to mix language and imagery.
One of my favorite parts of this ugly holiday sweaters activity is that it offers cross-curricular opportunities too. You can integrate social studies and language arts with any of the sets, but there are opportunities for using the sweaters in other subjects too. For example, these scientists and inventors ugly sweaters are perfect for science or STEM classes. And these famous artists ugly Christmas sweaters are excellent for incorporating art into your classroom. Students can even design ugly holiday sweaters for fictional characters in these Greek mythology and Roman mythology sets.
Finally, this ugly holiday sweaters activity makes a great alternative assessment and a fun way to bring a little variety into the ways students can demonstrate their understanding. Unlike a summary or a boring report, the activity requires students to move beyond basic comprehension into deeper thinking about their historical figure as they choose the images, colors, and text that best represent them.
What are the steps for using historical ugly holiday sweaters in your classroom?
Your students have probably never designed an ugly holiday sweater before, so it’s important to provide structure and examples as you introduce the activity. Here are the steps I recommend for ensuring that your students get the most out of the activity.
- Discuss the History of Ugly Holiday Sweaters
I like to introduce the activity by having students learn about the history of ugly Christmas sweaters and how they became so popular. Each holiday sweater set that I designed comes with a 2-page article and a PowerPoint presentation that can be used to introduce facts about when ugly holiday sweaters were first worn, how they rose in popularity, and even the story of the first ugly Christmas sweater party held in Vancouver, Canada.
- Introduce Common Design Elements
After students learn a little about the history, it’s time to talk about the different elements that make up ugly holiday sweaters. We talk about the importance of choosing relevant images, colors, patterns, text, and even 3D objects. For colors, I also like to provide a basic introduction to color psychology as we talk about how certain colors can be used to represent different feelings, moods, and behaviors. This allows students to think about which colors represent certain personality traits and the ones that would fit best with their historical figures.
- Show Examples and Provide Directions
Showing examples is definitely a necessary step to get students thinking about the different ways they can design their sweaters. In the ugly holiday sweater activities I created, I included 19 different examples so there would always be a variety to choose from. Sometimes students’ creativity is sparked by seeing what others have done. But I also don’t want them to just copy what they see.
I’m a big believer in student choice, so I like to let students choose which historical figure they want to design a sweater for, and I also like to provide three different options for sweater templates. Some students will thrive with a blank canvas while others will benefit from having a little structure. Those who are less artistically inclined may prefer using the sweater that already features some clip art on it and has specific sections they can work within. I like to provide multiple options so students can decide which one works best for them. Students who are hesitant to draw might benefit from knowing that artistic skills will not factor into their grade for the assignment.
Deciding how much structure you want to provide is also an excellent differentiation opportunity when it comes to providing directions and requirements for the activity too. You might like to give students a lot of freedom when it comes to what to include on their sweaters, or you might want to have some specific requirements instead. For example, you could require any combination of these elements:
- at least two colors representing personality traits of the person
- a quote
- lifespan or other important dates
- symbol representing where they’re from
- connection to a major historical event
One requirement I do recommend is that students should strive to be historically and culturally accurate when adding symbols and patterns to their sweaters.
- Students Design Their Historical Ugly Holiday Sweaters
One thing I love about this activity is that it can be used to build new knowledge or to review material you’ve already covered. You can have students design sweaters for people you’ve already studied in class, or they can research a new historical figure they might not know much about. Before students actually begin work on the sweater, I recommend having them take a few notes about their person. They can write down some important life events, brainstorm some potential colors to represent personality traits, and think about what symbols and patterns to include that would represent different facts, ideas, and historical events related to their figures.
- Students Share Their Sweaters + Rationale Behind Their Decisions
In order to get the most out of the ugly holiday sweaters activity, students should be given the opportunity to share their thinking behind the symbols, text, and colors they chose and why each one makes sense for their historical figure. They can do this through writing, creating a short video, sharing and discussing with a partner or small group, or giving a whole-class presentation. Not only does this help solidify their own thinking about their historical figure, but they can also learn more about their classmates’ figures as well!
- Display the Ugly Sweaters
In the spirit of learning from one another, I think displaying students’ work is an excellent idea. The sweaters are super eye-catching, and students will love seeing one another’s sweaters. Since this is such a cute activity, the sweaters also make excellent bulletin board displays, classroom door decorations, and fun, festive trimming for classroom holiday parties.
You might also consider doing a gallery walk where students can take turns viewing sweaters and asking questions about them. Another fun idea is to have students remove the names of their historical figures and design them in secret. Then, once they’re displayed, everyone can guess who the historical figure is that each sweater belongs to. You could even number each sweater and let students compete to see who can guess the most historical figures correctly. What an awesome way to review all of the people you’ve studied so far this year!
If you try this activity in your own classroom, I would absolutely LOVE to hear about it. Please feel free to tag me on instragram (@drloftinslearningemporium), share photos via my Facebook page, or just tell me all about it in an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you love the sound of this activity but don’t have time to research the history of ugly sweaters, create your own student directions, make sweater templates, etc., I’ve made it super easy for you by creating several no-prep, done-for-you sets featuring hundreds of diverse historical figures. Each set comes with 3 different sweater templates (black & white and color options included), a 2-page article about the history of ugly Christmas sweaters, student directions and design tips (including information about color psychology), an editable PowerPoint about the history of ugly sweaters that can be used instead of the article, 19 different examples to share with your students, and teacher tips. Each set also includes blank sweater templates just in case you want to incorporate a historical figure that I did not include. If you’re looking for a particular historical figure, you can also always email me (email@example.com) and let me know who you would like to see included. I will do my best to make it happen!
Here are all of the historical ugly holiday sweater sets I currently have in my TeachersPayTeachers store:
- Ugly Holiday Sweater Activity Bundle (This includes all of the sets below at a discounted price, plus any sets I might be adding in the future!)
- U.S. Presidents
- U.S. History
- Ancient Civilizations
- World History
- Modern Historical Figures & Cultural Icons
- Scientists and Inventors
- Famous Canadians
- Famous Artists
- Greek Gods and Goddesses
- Roman Gods and Goddesses
- Athletes and Sports Figures
Once again, I would LOVE to hear about your experiences with this activity. I’m also happy to answer any questions you may have. Please do not hesitate to reach out! You can find me on all of these platforms: