How to Bring the December Holidays into Your Classroom

December is here! It’s time to start thinking about how to weave holiday-related themes into your lessons. After all, learning a language implies learning another culture(s). From Washington, D.C. to London, people in English-speaking countries are looking forward to Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve celebrations. How can you raise students’ awareness of these holidays?

  • WRITING ACTIVITY: Letters to Santa.

Find out what students know about Santa Claus (a.k.a. Father Christmas). Is there such a figure in their culture? Explain how children in English-speaking countries often send a Christmas wish list to the North Pole. To teach the format of a personal letter, you can ask your students to write to Santa Claus. Take them through the steps of planning, writing, and revising.

  • PRONUNCIATION GAME: Holiday tongue twisters.

Consider using holiday-related vocabulary to teach and practice minimal pairs. For example:

/k, g/ = Go get good, crisp Christmas cookies.

/f, v/ = Very fine fig pudding for everyone.

/t, d/ = Time to decorate the tree.

/s, z/ = Was it nice and cozy or super noisy on New Year’s Eve?

  • ORAL PRESENTATIONS: Celebrating holidays around the world.

Students can speak for one or two minutes to the class. Possible topics:

1.       How does your family celebrate New Year’s Eve?

2.       What has been the most memorable Christmas for you?

3.       How do different countries celebrate Christmas? (Advanced students can do research online. Focus first on English-speaking countries. Then allow for other countries to be selected. Assign one country to each student.)

  • ORAL READING: Holiday tales told in rhyme.

Stories told in rhyme are good for oral reading practice. Stress patterns are more easily felt in this genre. Try ’Twas the Night Before Christmas or Dr. Suess’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

  • READING SKILLS: A holiday classic.

Advanced students can use the month of December to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The complete work is available online. Allow for discussion, highlight vocabulary, and consider essay writing at the end.

  • LISTENING/ CONVERSATION SKILLS: Holiday film session.

Choose a holiday film to watch in the month of December. Focus on developing listening and conversation skills. Some films, like It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart, serve as a great foundation for a grammar lesson. In fact, the High Intermediate book of Focus on Grammar  uses that film to teach unreal conditionals in Unit 24. Other holiday films with good speech models: While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and When Harry Met Sally with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. (The latter isn’t really a holiday film per se, but the big finish takes place on New Year’s Eve).

  • CONVERSATION SKILLS: Holiday survey.

Have students work in pairs to create two or three questions. Then allow for a question-answer period, during which they talk to as many other classmates as possible. Put the original pairs back together to compare findings. Possible topics to assign to pairs:

o   Holiday foods/ dishes.

o   Holiday plans.

o   Holiday traditions.

o   Holiday gifts.

o   Holiday entertainment.

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