White Elephant Book Exchange In Your Classroom

Why do a white elephant book exchange in my classroom?

Doing a white elephant book exchange is a fun holiday and community building activity for students! If you’ve never done it before, it can be amazing to get students in the holiday spirit while refreshing their home libraries. Every student who brings a book, gets a book! I’ve done it every year in my classroom for about ten years now, and every time it’s been a memorable event.

What grade levels is this activity for?

This activity is perfect for any book-loving students! I do it in my middle school classroom, but it could easily be done for any grade level. 

Teacher Set-Up

Use this resource below to get started! It has everything you need to have a successful white elephant book exchange.

You will need to first inform students that a white elephant book exchange is happening in your classroom. Send a note with the note on p. 4 or you can customize the note for your own classroom with the Google slides link. I suggest that you give families at least 1 week’s notice or more.

Find a place to display your wrapped books in your classroom once they all arrive. It’s really fun to see a big pile of books come together in anticipation of the main event!

Here’s what it looked like in my classroom when all the books came together!

What if my students want to participate but can’t afford to?

I always ask admin and parents for donations so I can stock up and buy books from Scholastic that are on sale this time of year. You’ll be surprised at the amazing multiple book-packs you can buy that are under $10. Another great website I buy used books from is Thriftbooks. You just need to make sure you plan ahead so all the books arrive on time! Going to your local library is another great option. They may have gently used books that they are trying to get rid of at cheap prices!

Once I get the extra books, I make sure to wrap them and throw them in the pile so that any student who wants to participate now can!

How to “Play” White Elephant

When the day of the book exchange arrives, you can decide how to play white elephant. You can play 1 of 2 ways: The Left-Right Story or the Traditional Rules.

  • The Left-Right Story: Everyone sits in a circle holding the gift they brought Someone reads the “Left-Right” story (p. 6) out loud. Every time the word “left” is said, everyone passes their gift to the left. Every time the word “right” is said, everyone passes their gift to the right. Whatever gift you’re holding at the end of the story is yours to keep!

Traditional Rules: Draw numbers randomly for the order. Person #1 chooses a gift and unwraps it. Person #2 can either steal the gift of choose a new one to unwrap. If your gift is stolen, you unwrap a new gift. Continue in order until all the gifts are unwrapped.

Tips: If you have a large group, it’s a good idea to limit the number of gift steals to 2-3. Also, it’s a good idea to limit that any gift can only be stolen once per turn. Otherwise the gift exchange can go on forever!

Happy exchanging!


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