Holiday Music: Going Beyond the Songs

Everyone has their favorite holidays and their favorite traditions. Do you have a favorite way of bringing some holiday music into your December lessons? My use of songs and carols with private students depends on their interests and language goals. For someone currently working on a business report or academic paper, there may be no place for “Jingle Bells” or “Sleigh Ride” in our lessons. For someone who is open to developing language skills in a range of contexts, I’d certainly throw in at least one holiday song during December. The question is how? Are we limited to the lyrics?

First of all, if the songs are already familiar, there’s no reason to take class time to listen to the music. That can be done before or after. What I’ve been doing this year is focusing on stories related to the songs. For my U.S.-based students who are hearing this music all around them, from the stores to the TV, I think it’s enlightening to know more about the songwriters and artists connected to each piece. The process allows me to create customized exercises for vocabulary, grammar, etc. Students also walk away with some trivia that could become a conversation starterDid you know that “Jingle Bells” was actually written to celebrate Thanksgiving? (See December 14, 2012 article in TIME.)

Most recently I shared some history behind two popular songs with one of my advanced students. I used If Every Day Was Like Christmas to focus on vocabulary. However, the actual lyrics took little time to read through. More time was devoted to learning about the songwriter, Red West, and his relationship with the man who made this song famous, Elvis. Basing my text on an online article, I created a gapped exercise to teach words and collocations, including longtime confidante, a heart-of-gold, protective streak, and out of spite. The other song was Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. There’s quite a lot of history behind this simple song, most notably Bing Crosby’s experience performing it and the fact that Berlin didn’t even celebrate Christmas. Taking facts from an online article, I taught a list of challenging words like vehemently and clamor, and we learned about Berlin’s Jewish heritage as well as Crosby’s hesitation to perform the song for U.S. troops overseas.

There are some fun websites that will help you go beyond the lyrics of famous holiday songs.


  1. Create word gaps to target vocabulary or grammar structures.
  2. Create a set of questions that will require students to scan for information.
  3. Assign song titles to pairs of students who must read about their assigned song and create a true-false or multiple choice question for the class.

Related posts:
Using song lyrics from popular holiday songs. (2010)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas for basic students. (2012)

Photo credit: Christmas, Bauble, Advent by Annca. Retrieved from the Public Domain at

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Excepting good, nice in a learning experience

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