Every year it feels like we JUST taught Christmas lessons a few months ago! How can the year go by so fast?! Nonetheless, ‘Tis the Season…already. Most people despise the commercialization of Christmas with its focus on the presents, the shopping, the music, the parties, and the fact that Christmas seems to start earlier each year. I for one though actually see this as a plus. Because of the shift of focus away from the religious aspect of Christmas, it’s become such an inoffensive holiday in most places around the world (not all, but most), that I can teach the topic without any controversy. So bring on the tinsel and deck the halls, if you’re an English teacher abroad you’re likely to offend about zero people with your Christmas lesson cheer. Here are some ways to bring Christmas to your classroom.
1. Creative Crafts
It’s no secret that Young Learners love crafting, and I am all for it, as long as it has a language point. How can glitter and glue have a language point, you ask? Teach them some vocabulary before the craft, and make sure your craft incorporates some of it. As long as you ‘re asking questions while monitoring their cutting and gluing, (“What color is your reindeer, Linh?”) you’ve got your language point covered. Don’t be afraid to stray from the standard Christmas card or snowflake. Some ideas:
– Salt Dough Ornaments: For a minimal financial investment, your kids can make the dough, add the food coloring, and cut out their ornament at school. You can take them home and bake them in your own time, then bring them back to school for your students to paint and thread a ribbon through. Google-land is full of recipes to make things easy for you, and the finished products can double as Christmas gifts for each child if you wrap them up nicely! Their parents are unlikely to keep all the drawings and paper bag crafts, but they’ll definitely keep this one for years to come.
-Decorate a Christmas Tree: Okay, if you want to get your hands on a real one that would be great, but if you don’t have the time/money/energy just make a large green cutout and post in on your classroom wall or door. Then let your kiddos color and cut Christmas ornaments (that you have already taught the vocabulary for of course) and stick them to the “Christmas Tree.” If they’re of writing age, they could write their Christmas wishes on them too.
-Make a paper stocking: On day one, make a pocket-like Christmas stocking template for your students to cut out, glue, and decorate. Hang them around the classroom. On day two, have them draw pictures or write nice notes to each other to put in the stockings. Send them home with their stocking so they can re-live that warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling all year long.
2. Christmas Story Books
This is a favorite Christmas lesson activity of mine. Younger students can illustrate a story that you read to them. Older students can write their own Christmas story and illustrate it in groups. If imagination is lacking, ask them to brainstorm the story-lines of their favorite Christmas movies, and have them choose one and put it in story form. They can rehearse reading the story aloud and then visit a younger class to read the stories to them. This works great with older young learners, say ages 10-17, writing the books, and reading them to the little ones (ages 3-10). Not only can you practice Christmas vocabulary, but this will improve your students’ writing skills, as well as give them pronunciation practice.
3. Festive Christmas Song Lesson
Chances are, wherever in this great big world that you’re teaching, if you live in a city, Christmas carols and Christmas pop-songs are unavoidable. I live in Vietnam, and even here, where there is a dubious understanding of Christmas traditions, the trees are up and the carols (in all their techno-beat remixed glory) are blaring in the coffee shops and shopping centers. If I hear Last Christmas one more time, I might have to leave the country. Annoying as it may be, take advantage of this. Your students hear the songs all the time but often don’t understand what they mean. Pick a song you know they’ll recognize the tune to and pull everything you can out of that song. After you’ve done a simple order the lines, or gapfill, there are no limits to the other activities you can do with a song. Vocabulary, rhyming patterns, connected speech, grammar, try it all. You can spend a full lesson or more on one song. Bonus if you live in an Asian country where karaoke culture is pervasive. Find a youtube clip with the lyrics scrolling across the screen. Your students will be instantly transported to the karaoke room and will sing their hearts out. Once they’ve got it down, go Caroling to other classrooms in your school.
4. Christmas Movie Lessons
In the same vein as Christmas Songs, movies are a great tool. However, I hold the pretty firm belief that allowing your students to sit and watch a whole movie in class is a waste of a lesson. They can do that at home. Make sure that you are creating relevant activities to go along with the film in order to help your students get the most they can out of it. Or better yet, don’t do a whole movie at all. Instead, have a movie-clip marathon with activities attached to each clip. There are great websites out there for creating video lessons. There’s no need anymore to stick to worksheets. From pulling language points out of the dialogue, to consolidating new vocabulary, or acting out scenes, there are a myriad of activities you can create to go with a film. When you’re finished, you could allow each student to choose one of the movies to watch all the way through (and tell the class about ) for homework.
5. Break out your old favorites.
We all have our trusted fall-back activities. Your class is going badly, or you didn’t have time to prepare so you pull out your trusty notebook of go-to games. Don’t forget it’s a simple task to change up your favorites to fit in with a Christmas lesson. It just takes some creativity! Here’s what I mean…
– Judge and Jury: This is a variation on the game where a criminal has to justify his crime to the judge and jury in exchange for a more lenient sentence. As usual, give each student a role-card which details their transgressions over the last year (for example, they lied to the mother about stealing cookies, they stole 100 dollars from their boss, or they cheated on their wife). Tell them they now have a chance to justify their actions to Santa and his jury of elves. If they do a good job, they can get put on the “nice” list and receive presents. If they can’t convince the elves that their actions were justified, they’re put on the “naughty” list, and take home a lump of coal.
-Party Mingle: Any party role-play can be adapted for a Christmas theme. Bring in some Santa Hats, put on Christmas music, set up a table with soda and cups, and hand out the role cards. Think about including such characters as Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Santa Claus’ mistress, a disgruntled elf trying to get higher wages, Ronald, Rudolf’s overlooked cousin, etc.
-Find Someone Who: In this adjustment to the trusted pair mingle activity, you can easily type up some some sentences about Christmas. For example, “Find someone who has eaten a whole Christmas dessert alone,” or “Find someone who has seen Home Alone more than once.”
6. Spill your family secrets.
Okay, you probably shouldn’t actually tell your students who your cousin Mindy’s real father is, or why Granny isn’t allowed near the liquor cabinet, but every year my students ask me the same question: “Does your family do Christmas like in the movies?” I enjoy letting them in on the secret that each American family actually rings in the holidays in a different way, and I tell them about how my family breaks tradition. For example, I tell them how on the odd Christmas Eve that I’m actually home, my family always has Papas a la Huancaina, an Andean dish, and we open one present each hour after dinner until midnight, when we savagely tear into the remaining ones. I also tell them how my mother hides money around the house, along with a series of riddles to guide us to our prize, scavenger-hunt style. They chuckle when I describe how she sits cackling with laughter beside the Christmas tree and how despite our frustration she allows us to search for hours on end and she never breaks. Ever.
Tell your students what makes your family unique. Do you eat macaroni and cheese instead of the traditional turkey? Do you watch Edward Scissorhands instead of the requisite A Christmas Carol? Do you exchange presents in a strange way? Let your students in on your family’s quirks! Better yet, rope some other teachers into coming to answer questions about their own family traditions to your class. Students love finding out what makes their teachers human. If you can show pictures or even video of you and your family or friends celebrating Christmas back home, you’ll spur a lot of discussion and questions!
7. Hold a Christmas gift exchange.
Ask all your students to bring a small gift to class, and bring some back-ups for the few that forget! There are a lot of options as to how to set up the gift exchange. You can play a game like white elephant, or plan a Secret Santa exchange in advance. Make sure to set a price limit, as you don’t want to encourage jealously among your students.
8. Indulge your sweet-tooth.
If you have access to an oven at school, wonderful! If not, there are several kinds of no-bake cookies and other desserts that you could make with your students while teaching food/cooking vocabulary. If this sounds like more than your class can handle, why not bake them cookies before-hand and bring in decorating supplies (frosting, sprinkles, etc.) for each student to personalize their treat? Another option is a Gingerbread House kit. They’re becoming more and more readily available in import shops around the world, and of course if you can’t find one and you’re feeling up to it, you could bake your own gingerbread. If you’re worried about the lack of architectural talent among your younger students, consider putting the frame together before class to avoid a structural collapse, and then let the students take turns decorating it. After they’ve enjoyed looking at it for a day or two, they can all share the fun of tearing it down and eating it up. Alternatively, you could do what I would do, which is tell them that the reindeer ate it, and enjoy it all myself.
Image courtesy of Nuchylee / freedigitalphotos.net
9. Monitor the Nasa Santa Tracker.
Excuse me, the what? Yep! In case you didn’t know, Nasa has a Santa Tracker which is activated each year on Christmas Eve. It shows exactly where in the world Santa is during any given time on Christmas Eve. Prior to the event, have students explore the website or research the tracker online, and answer questions about it. There are also games for them to play. Hopefully you’re not teaching on Christmas Eve, but your students can follow up by tracking Santa themselves and discussing their finding when classes resume. A great Christmas-break homework activity, if your school has a Christmas break! And if not, then it’s just another day, so they should have no excuses not to do their homework!
10. Have a Christmas Party
Obviously, once you’ve milked the Christmas lessons for all you can, a fun way to celebrate Christmas is to actually celebrate it, with a party! If you’re teaching kids and can’t leave your school, bring the decorations to them. Hopefully you’ve got their crafts to decorate your room with, a playlist of Christmas songs, and some Christmas games to play or cookies for them to decorate. If you have teenagers or adults and can take them out for a while, they’ll appreciate it even more. Head down to a festive coffee shop with some Christmas speaking activities and hold class while sipping a yummy pumpkin-something-or-other. Even if you live in a tropical country like I do, foreign coffee chains tend to have the A/C and Christmas carols on full blast, and you might, just might, be able to pretend it isn’t boiling outside.
There are so many ways of having fun with this holiday! It’s sad to see some teachers stick to coloring in a Christmasy picture and calling it a day. Whether they are young learners, teens, or adults, there are hundreds of ways to enjoy the holiday season with your students.
What are your favorite Christmas activities?