Whether you love the Elf on the Shelf or hate him, there’s no doubt teachers across Australia have taken to the poseable holiday character. Each year, more classroom Elf on the Shelf ideas pop up on our social feeds, and teachers add their Christmas elf to more and more in-class activities.
If you’re on team Elf on the Shelf but need fresh elf ideas and activities, we’ve got you covered! The teachers on the Teach Starter team talked to teachers in our community and found out some of their favourite ways to use their Elf on the Shelf in their classrooms, including how they incorporate the elf into their learning area instruction, adding writing activities about the elf to English, elf engineering activities for STEAM and more.
Read on for tips from our teacher team on how to use the Elf on the Shelf, plus some things to consider if you’re adding the popular toy to your behaviour management strategies this holiday season.
How Do You Use Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom?
Before we get into the specific ideas, let’s cover some of the big topics that come up surrounding this holiday toy.
You may (or may not!) know that the Elf on the Shelf originated as a book written by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell and has since blown up to pretty epic proportions with movies to watch and countless supplies sold by the Elf on the Shelf company. The concept is simple — the Elf is a scout sent by Santa from the North Pole to watch over kids and report back on whether they’re naughty or nice. It’s a hit with parents who often use the Elf to keep their kids on their toes in December.
It’s also gone wild in the classroom, with some teachers spending hours setting up daily shenanigans for their elves. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to add this little guy to your lesson plans, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The Elf on the Shelf has its roots in Christmas tradition — which may not be inclusive if you have children who do not celebrate the holiday in your classroom. If you plan to borrow the elf concept, you may want to substitute a non-holiday creature.
- Many families use the Elf on the Shelf at home, and they have their own very specific rules that relate to their own holiday magic. Make sure your own rules don’t counteract those the parents have! As Teach Starter Resource Producer Brittany Collins says, ‘It is already hard enough when the kids compare the elves they have at home. Some bring presents. Some do not. Some are able to touch them with special gloves. Some are not.’
- The Elf on the Shelf basic rules dictate that the little Santa scout is not to be touched by human hands, lest his magic rub off. Especially with the youngest children, this is a very big deal and something to keep in mind if you’re setting up fun Elf on the Shelf antics. Be aware you and your students will have to maneuver around whatever you’ve set up for a full day before he can be moved again.
- There are a LOT of fun Elf on the Shelf ideas (and we’re about to share them!), but some require a time commitment and sometimes a financial one too. Consider how much you want to dedicate to this project, and choose wisely. We’ve made sure to include some very low-key ideas in here to help you keep your holiday season sanity!
Elf on the Shelf Classroom Ideas
If you’ve never used Elf on the Shelf with your students, you can order a book and elf kit together or get a stand-alone elf.
Meanwhile, check out these fun ideas for making your classroom magical this Christmas with a little help from a special visitor … your very own Elf on the Shelf! As we mentioned, you can also borrow plenty of these ideas to use with other characters and toys.
Plan Your Elf Arrival
The Elf on the Shelf tradition has grown so huge that many kids may already have their own special holiday friend at home. But for those who aren’t familiar, a reading of The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition can help acquaint them with the story.
Choose a Name for Your Classroom Elf on the Shelf
When your elf arrives from the North Pole, he or she won’t have a name! Your class can decide on a name together — this is a great chance to brainstorm together.
Reinforce Your Classroom Rules
As the school year winds down, those classroom rules you practised at the beginning of the term may have begun to slide. Don’t worry — we’ve got a teacher trick for you.
Kids love their elves, and we love how teacher Tiffany Hicks (@tiffteachessecond on Instagram) uses her classroom Elf on the Shelf to gently remind her students of classroom rules. It’s like having a friend at your side to help the students remember!
Deliver Your Morning Work
Speaking of the rules, your classroom Elf on the Shelf can help reinforce your morning routines too. Remind students they need to be completing their work each morning by setting up an elf delivery! Students can seek out the elf to find their morning work. Don’t forget to add a sign on your elf that details the proper procedures.
Set Up Elf Writing Activities
Do you want to incorporate your Elf on the Shelf into your ELA lessons in December? Here are a few fun ideas teachers have shared with us, covering a variety of year levels:
- Work with year one students to write letters to Santa that your classroom elf can deliver to the North Pole for your class.
- Brainstorm character traits with your year 1 students, using words that describe the character from the book.
- Challenge your year 2 students to write a narrative that explains what THEY think the elf does at night after you have left the classroom.
- Use your classroom elf to inspire persuasive writing exercises for your year 3s. For example, if the elf sees a student do something naughty, but the student apologises, should the elf report it back to Santa? Students can write their take on the topic.
Catch Kindness With Your Christmas Elf
Some teachers (and parents) use the Elf on the Shelf to monitor for bad behaviour, but a positive behaviour focus allows you to integrate an Elf on the Shelf or other classroom visitor into your Ppositive reinforcement. Try setting your daily visitor up in a spot in the classroom where they can ‘catch kindness’ during the holiday season.
Rather than moving them around each night, the kindness-focused elf can add points to a classroom reward chart or leave surprises on individual students’ desks. Just make sure your elf can be trusted with the prize box!
Reward Tables With an Elf Visit
If you’ve set up your classroom seating in a table format this school year, you can reward well-behaved tables with a visit from the elf! Each day, the elf will keep an eye out to see which table practises listening and other key behaviours that you identify.
The next day, he will magically appear in the center of that table and stay there for the entire day.
Joke Around With Your Elf on the Shelf
One of the simplest ways to celebrate the joy of the season with your elf (and your students) is to share a new elf joke every day — you don’t have to move your elf at all. Add a new joke to his repertoire each day, and you’ve got the magic managed.
Set Your Elf Up in a Tree
There are plenty of places your Elf can hang out appearance, but if you’ve got a holiday tree in your classroom, this is an easy option. Teacher Stephanie Rhea (@thirdgradefarmhouse on Instagram) shares that her classroom elf has ‘special moving gloves’ so she could place him in her tree … to the delight of her class. This solves that golden rule of the Elf on the Shelf that humans aren’t allowed to touch them.
Prep a Repair Kit
Speaking of no touching … we all know that sometimes students just can’t help themselves. That’s where an Elf Repair Kit— a small packet of glitter to restore Elf on the Shelf magic in case the elf is accidentally touched — comes in handy for teachers!
Create Elf Hot Cocoa
Grab the little marshmallows for this fun Elf on the Shelf classroom idea from teacher Courtney Streeter (@kindergarten.with.courtney on Instagram). Her kindergarten class watches The Polar Express and enjoys hot cocoa — and so does their Elf on the Shelf. Elfie, of course, gets a little creative with his marshmallows!
Add an Elfie Selfie
You can leave a little ‘elfie’ for your students to find on any screens you have in your room. Classroom tablets, laptops and interactive whiteboards are all great places for cheeky elves to hide!
Get Toasty With Elf on the Shelf
Teacher Madison Hines (@spedventuresinkindergarten on Instagram) has one of the easiest ideas we’ve seen for an Elf on the Shelf in the classroom: Grab a piece of toast before you leave the house, and write a little note from your Elf on the Shelf about the weather!
Deliver Fresh Activities
Another simple way to prevent yourself from having to move your Elf on the Shelf day after day is to set the toy up in one convenient spot, but trade out the activity he ‘delivers’ each day. One day, he might bring the book for your read-aloud. Another day, he may bring in a craft for the entire class to complete.
You can even use sticky notes from your elf like primary teacher @ready.set.teach.syd does in the photo she shared below. Use the daily spot of fun to encourage some partner reading with your cheeky little elf.
Build Elf Traps in Small Groups
This idea comes straight from our teacher team! The Elf on the Shelf may be known for silly pranks that the adults can’t handle, but there’s no reason your students can’t use their creative thinking skills to outsmart this little imp.
Challenge your students to put their heads together to create elf traps in your classroom as part of your STEAM instruction.
This is another fun one from Madison Hines! Set your Elf up to play Twister! Madison made her own Twister card (so creative), but if you want to make this Elf on the Shelf idea even easier, print a fun twist up game board.
Don’t Let the Elf Drive the Bus!
If you look around your classroom, you’ll probably find several instant Elf on the Shelf set-ups. We love this amazing Kombi van that teacher Andrea made for her Grade One students’ fundraising lap-a-thon earlier in the year! It’s a perfect hideout for their cheeky elves!
This is another super simple Elf on the Shelf classroom idea: If you’ve got classroom stockings, borrow this quick idea from teacher Maggie (@maggietheteacher83 on Instagram). Just stick the elf inside to hang out for a day!
Create Counter Angels
This is another idea from @ready.set.teach.syd — make a mess of your counters with an elf that’s making ‘snow’ angels. Her kids actually came up with this idea, but it’s super simple and you could almost then organise your activities around the use of these counters for the whole day too!
Enlist Santa’s Helpers
Teachers are always busy, but particularly so at the end of the year!
Don’t be afraid to get some help with your Elf on the Shelf activities, whether it’s to lighten your load or to add to the magic for your students. Some teachers have a member of the administration team deliver the package containing the elf on the first day. Others have a neighbouring teacher move their Elf on the Shelf after school to add an element of surprise (for you, too!) or well, because we have all had that moment when you leave for the day and then remember, “I FORGOT TO MOVE MY ELF!”