The Elf Project

Angie Young
Writing/3rd Grade

Links to Files Associated with This Lesson  

  1. Elf Project Overview.doc

  2. Elf Project Rubric

 Final Drafts

  1. Caitlyn.doc

  2. Candice.doc

  3. Cassandra.doc

  4. Chris.doc

  5. Cristal.doc

  6. Daniel.doc

  7. Francisco..doc

  8. Holly.doc

  9. Jeff.doc

Content Area Objectives Addressed:

Technology Objectives Addressed:  


  Activity Description

What was the process that your students went through to complete this lesson?

My students are introduced to the idea of creating an elf so that they can respond to the Santa Letters of first graders in our building.   We begin by reading Elf Help, by Margie Palatini, the story of an elf that manages Santa’s computer systems and nearly ruins Christmas.  We also visit to help generate ideas.  As a class, we use Inspiration to brainstorm a new elf personality looking at the following areas: appearance/personality, favorite foods, job, living conditions, and hobbies.   Students complete their own web of ideas to use as they write.  We review elf descriptions from previous years grade them according to the rubric to give my third graders a quality baseline.  Then we use either the computer lab or Alpha Smarts to word-process their first drafts.  After going through an organization and revision lesson on the Smart Board, my students publish their descriptions, webs, and an illustration of their elf on a poster.  Soon after finishing their elves, my students begin to receive the Santa e-mail from the first graders.  I review a friendly letter format with them and warn them about making promises for gifts.  We discuss point of view and word choices that their elf might use according to their personality.  My students write, revise and edit the e-mail to the first graders.  We reply, sneak down to their room during lunch or a special, and leave them notes to check their e-mail along with candy canes.                 

How did you monitor student progress?

Teacher observation and rubrics are used to monitor student progress.

Was there a template or an example that students were expected to follow?

We look at a number of past examples of elf descriptions, without the author’s names, and compare them to the rubric and expectations for the project.  This helps my students get a good grip on what I’m asking for and the quality I expect from them.  The students also follow a basic webbing template that they expand for their elves.

How much time did you dedicate to this project?

Total –12-15 hrs.

Daily (approximate)  30-45 minutes

How was the final product presented?

The final descriptions and illustrations are mounted on poster board, shared with the students in our class and hung around the room.  Final elf letters/e-email are delivered in secret during lunch or specials and left with candy canes for all of the first graders.

Who was the audience for the final product?

Our class enjoys the elf descriptions and the first graders receive letters in response to their Santa letters.

Learning Issues

What prior knowledge was required on the part of the students in order for them to be successful in this project? (Include curriculum and technology knowledge)


We have spent quite a bit of time working on word choices that build pictures in our writing.  Students have also had experiences writing descriptive sentences and putting them together into paragraphs.  My students have also had written friendly letters previously.


Experience with Alpha Smarts, Word

Understanding of how to log on and maneuver through a website

File Retrieval


Resource Management

What was the student to computer ratio?

How did you schedule your students’ computer time?  

All students were able to get on a computer in the lab during our regularly schedule times (2 a week).  I schedule and check out the Alpha Smarts for work in the room when needed. I have five computers in my classroom and am able to use those when the time in the lab is not enough for certain students.  The five in my room are the only ones with Inspiration.  Small group rotations were set up to get all of the students on these computers to web.

What was the location of the computers and other technology equipment used by students?

The computers are located in our classroom and in the computer lab.

How would you suggest beginning teachers obtain computer resources for their students? (Knowing some of your strategies would be valuable for our pre-service teachers.)

First I would suggest that they wait and get into their first job so that they can thoroughly assess their hardware, curriculum and projects for that grade level.  One of the biggest mistakes new teachers make, including myself, is spending too much of their own money on software that doesn’t get utilized enough.  Also make sure to ASK!  Go to your administrator with a plan.  My experience has been that most administrators will likely spend money when they are asked and when the request meets curriculum objectives in an innovative way.  Most teachers assume there isn’t any money and so they don’t ask.  When the money isn’t available, at least your administrator is aware of your idea and can pass along grant opportunities that come across their desk.  Also watch for small local/state grants, 50% software sales, and giveaways.  I have won free software for simply submitting a lesson idea that was published in the Tom Snyder Newsletter.  Inspiration offers teachers mini grants to attend technology conferences and take graduate courses.   These are just a few.  The opportunities are out there.  Be observant, read the fine print, and ASK!

Rate the level of access for students to use computers/other technologies as they needed  --high, medium, low

The level of access to computers for my students is high.  I would like to see a larger access to other technologies including: scanners (2), digital cameras (3), video cameras (1), and probes.

Rate the level of supervision required for students during the project, specifically for computer and other technology use –high, medium, low

The level of supervision was low when we were doing whole group lessons, but it was medium when we were working on the Alpha Smarts or in the computer lab.  An activity was needed for the students at their seats that would allow me to work with students using Inspiration at the small group of computers in my classroom.


What hardware was required for your project?


  What software was required for your project?

Anything else?



What kind of assessment did you use for this project? (Include a copy if you can.)

We used a list style rubric for student assessment and grading.  One is student friendly and the other allows me to make comments and assign points.

What categories did you assess? (I.e.:  content, screen design, depth/breadth, etc.)

I assessed the students’ writing according to the rubric, which is used as a grade. This project is assessed for organization, ideas, details, spelling, punctuation and spelling.  On going teacher observation was used to assess students’ difficulties with concepts, hardware, and software.


How does the product that you submitted compare with other students’ products for this same project?

The 2001-2002 class was able to quickly understand what was expected from the rubric.  I was surprised at how quickly they could grade student elf descriptions from previous years.  They had a little harder time when it came to their own drafts.  They seemed to realize that it wasn’t as easy as they first thought.  We did have to do more revision and conferencing than I had expected, but by the end I felt the products were overall of a higher quality that previous classes.  They had more voice and specific details though they had trouble distinguishing organization of ideas as quickly.  

What did you like best about this project?  

I enjoy watching the creativity of my students during this project.  They love being able to name and create an elf and they do it with a high level of involvement during a time of the year (Christmas!) when it is difficult to focus students on curriculum objectives.  It is also a clear-cut model for teaching detail and organization, which are sometime qualities of writing hard for 3rd graders to visualize.

What did the students like best about this project?

The highlights are usually browsing the North Pole site, illustrating their elves, and delivering the letters and candy canes.  This was the first year that we’ve had access to enough copies of Inspiration that the students could actually use the software to create their webs.  Making webs was an exciting part for them.

Rank the level of student involvement in this project –high, medium, low


Rank the level of student interest in this project –high, medium, low


Would you teach this lesson again?

Actually, this is a lesson that I gleaned from a colleague in Weiser.  I’ve tweaked it and integrated the technology.  This was the fourth time I’ve done this project with my students.  It evolves and gets better each year.