We all love special occasions.
They give us a reason to get together with the people we love and celebrate. Sometimes we celebrate a birthday. Other days we celebrate a holiday. Still other times we celebrate accomplishments of those we care about. Whatever the reason, special occasions come up all the time, but you don’t have to let them derail your English language studies. In fact, you can use them to your advantage. Special occasions are a great reason to celebrate and to change things up in class but still keep moving toward the same goal. Here are some special occasions and how to use them to further your students on their language learning journeys.
3 Special Occasions That Will Get Students Talking
Who doesn’t love a great birthday party? (Even if it is the tenth anniversary of our twenty-ninth.) Depending on the number of students in your class, birthdays can get a bit overwhelming for our teaching schedules. But have you ever considered celebrating everyone’s birthday at the same time? Choose a date during your school year to celebrate everyone’s birthday, even if no one actually has a birthday on that day. Then try these language activities to keep the celebration going and the language developing.
- Birthdays are a great time to reflect on our goals. Have each person write a list of ten things they would like to accomplish in the upcoming year. Then have students work in groups of two or three to share some of their goals. As they share, encourage students to say which goals are the most important to them using comparative adjectives as they chat. They can also use modal verbs to talk about which ones they are most likely to accomplish.
- Who doesn’t like a great birthday party? Have students work together to plan the ultimate birthday party in groups of three or four. After everyone has planned their party, have each group present their ideas to the class. Then have the class vote on the party that is the easiest to accomplish and the most fun, and then put your students in charge of making it happen. Celebrate as a class with cake, balloons, and whatever else your students came up with in their party plan.
- Good things may come in small packages, but they come in big ones too. Either way, half of the fun in the present is giving it. Have your students write down the names of everyone in class and then choose the ideal gift for each person. The collect the list each person wrote, shuffle them, and read off three or four of the gifts they would give to the class without saying whose list it is. Have the rest of your students guess who wrote the list based on the gifts they would give their classmates.
Movie days are great for celebrating a big achievement, like finishing a novel in English. But you can use movie day as more than a reason to celebrate an accomplishment. Use it to accomplish new things in English. Choose a movie that works for your class and then try the following activities.
- At a point of great suspense in the movie, hit pause and ask students to make predictions about what will come next. If you like, have everyone write down their predictions and award ten points to anyone who was right. Then stop the movie a little later, make another set of predictions, and award points to your students. Keep going this way until you reach the end of the movie. The person with the most points when the credits roll wins a prize.
- Since your students have already come up with alternative events for the movie, have them choose a point at the movie and rewrite what happened from that point using one of their own predictions. Since one little event can make a huge difference in a chain of events, you will get a unique story from each of your students even if each story starts at the same place. And who knows? The new stories might even be better than the original.
- For scenes with a lot of action, put your students’ speaking skills to the test. Have pairs of students sit facing each other – one with their back to the screen and the other facing the screen. Hit mute and play the movie for a minute. The person facing the screen should describe to their partner what is happening. After a minute, have students switch roles. After another minute, switch again. Keep going in this manner until the great action scene is complete. If you like, have students write a summary of what happened including all the important events even though they only viewed half of them.
- You can do this sequencing activity either before or after watching the movie. Take several screen shots of the events in the movie that students will have to sequence. Put students in pairs, but this time have them sit back to back. Give each person half of the screen shots. Then have them work together to get all the scenes in the correct order, each person using a blank page in place of the scene pictures their partner holds. Students can write a short description on the blank pages if they like so they are clear which scene it represents.
Holidays are a great reason to celebrate and also to share culture since many places celebrate in such different ways. On the next major holiday, try one of these activities.
- Have a discussion about how people celebrate the holiday in your students’ home countries. What is different from how people celebrate in the U.S.? What traditions do you miss most from home? Which have you embraced here?
- Host a food day where members of the class bring in traditional holiday foods from their culture. You can limit the foods to a certain holiday or open it up to any holiday food. Let everyone in class sample the different foods your students bring in, and be sure to bring some in yourself. Then give everyone an opportunity to share briefly what their food is and how it fits into a holiday celebration. (As always, use your best judgement when it comes to food activities with your students. Keep any allergies in mind when planning such events and simply skip it if it would pose a danger to any of your students.)
- Traditions are important for most people. Some traditions center around families and the holidays. Some traditions start for other reasons and are very personal. Ask students to think of a tradition that is important to them. Then have each person share from the front of the class what they do and why. This is a great activity for lower level students since it is a natural context for use of the simple present tense.
Whether you want to have a very merry unbirthday in class or simply bring a little outside culture into your classroom, by all means celebrate.
We all love to have a good time and be creative, and you can always tie in ways to use and develop English skills. So choose a day and celebrate, whatever your reason, and your students will celebrate their creative and fun English teacher too.