Christmas is another excellent holiday to plan a cultural lesson around.
It is a holiday in many countries and the traditions associated with it vary quite a lot from one country to another. It can be fun for students to learn how Christmas is celebrated in English speaking countries and compare that to how it is celebrated in their country or even just how traditions differ from family to family.
The Ingredients of a perfect X-mas Lesson
Find out what your students know about Christmas already by eliciting things from them such as the date and Christmas related vocabulary. Students may know that it is a religious and not just commercial holiday however the focus should be on how people celebrate Christmas and not the religious background. Telling students that some people go to church on Christmas would be appropriate while telling them about The Nativity would most likely not be. Once some vocabulary and other information has been written on the board, continue on to your introduction.
Introduce Christmas Vocabulary
At this point, introduce anything else needed for the lesson that your students have not come up with on their own including more Christmas vocabulary and facts. A slideshow or flashcards would be ideal for this because it is incredibly difficult to explain gingerbread houses and chimneys to ESL students without images to refer to. Use choral repetition to practice the pronunciation of new vocabulary words and encourage students to ask questions about Christmas and how it celebrated.
From your introduction, you can move into a discussion about Christmas. Ask students if they celebrate Christmas with their families and if so, ask what activities they do or foods they eat on this particular occasion. Often this will vary a lot from one family to the next. If you are teaching in a country where Christmas is not celebrated, ask students to talk about an important holiday in their country. Perhaps some of the traditions or foods are similar to Christmas celebrations in other parts of the world so do a short comparison activity on the board.
There are lots of fun activities you can do in a Christmas lesson. You can create worksheets with Christmas crossword puzzles, matching or fill in the blank exercises to practice new vocabulary words. You can have writing exercises where students write about their ideal Christmas or make Christmas cards for family members. If possible include lots of fun holiday images or print Christmas worksheets in color or on colored paper to make them more festive. Some schools might allow a white elephant gift exchange but make sure this is an acceptable activity before mentioning it to students. Gift exchanges can be lots of fun and are easy to conduct, simply ask students to bring in one gift each and give them a low maximum gift value about a week in advance.
Use Christmas carols or stories to create listening exercises for your students. Worksheets for Christmas songs will usually consist of fill in the blank exercises and perhaps a translation of the song so that students can understand its meaning. If the song is simple enough, provide translations for only a few key vocabulary words and have students volunteer to translate the song one line at a time. You can teach classes to sing the song you selected too. When using Christmas stories, the best activities would require students to take turns reading portions of the text aloud, answer comprehension questions about the passage, and lead into a discussion.
Christmas Word searches
While there is not a lot of educational value to word searches, it can be handy to include one on your holiday themed worksheets so that students who finish the exercises quickly have something to entertain them while slower students finish their work. Students usually enjoy word searches and when studying new vocabulary words, it can make students focus on how to spell them.
Cultural classes can be very enjoyable. Students are often eager to learn about holidays or simply just excited to have a break from school. In classes leading up to a school holiday, getting students to focus can be a challenge so decorating the classroom and conducting holiday themed activities can put their enthusiasm to good use.
Tara has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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