Christmas Santa

Nothing spruces up an ESL class like some interesting and timely holiday cross-cultural communication activities. They can be used to help implement a content curriculum, of course, but also a Task-based curriculum, Functional curriculum or grammar-based curriculum depending on which aspects you as the teacher want to emphasize. It is a really motivating subject and it is fun and fun = acquisition if done right. Though Thanksgiving is over, there is still so much to explore before January 2nd comes around. Here are a few strategies that will introduce some motivating content and communicative practice into your winter classroom along with a little holiday cheer. Ho ho ho!

In groups, have students discuss and then present holidays that are celebrated in their countries. Yes, this is low hanging fruit, as it were, but you may be surprised. In China and Japan, the winter solstice is commemorated in shrines and temples and most other countries have some sort of colorful and interesting festival around this time. Alternately, have students have similar projects, presentations or tasks focusing on their various ‘new year’ festivals, whether they held on January 1 or not.

Have students in groups or as a class do a mind map (aka: cluster, web etc.) about Winter Holidays or about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years Day, Krampus – as you like. (Did you look Krampus up? Also google the Icelandic Christmas Cat) This task can incorporate academic research with a little internet research and/or group discussion and vocabulary building as well. Once the mind maps are done, students can write descriptive sentences as they work their way from the center (CHRISTMAS) out along each branch. Finally a paragraph, an essay, a presentation!

There are hundreds of winter holiday activities online to help students acquire vocabulary related to the season. Winter holiday word searches, crossword puzzles, sentence completions and so on are everywhere. This is one time when using a ‘kids’ activity will still challenge even high-intermediate young adult students. Students can do this in pairs, review vocabulary and apply it to another task.

Here is one site as an example:

Have your students interview native English Speakers about the holidays as an extension activity or as a field trip activity. I have set several objectives when doing this in the past. Here are a few: Ask people what they think of the holidays. (Expressing opinions) Ask people what the differences are between Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the winter solstice and which ones they celebrate. Ask people what five pros and five cons they have about the winter holidays? Ask people if they are doing any of the following: Sending out cards? Having a big family dinner? Setting up important holidays decorations? Eating special treats? Giving presents? Ask people to tell you their favorite holiday story or the best gift they ever got. The results of these interviews and surveys can all be written up, compared and contrasted, discussed and presented.

There are many many winter holiday movies that reveal a lot about our culture, use them and do so wisely. Having students doing short clips as dictations, looking for slang or Christmas collocations (How many words or phrases can you hear- “Christmas____”) or looking for specific grammar points (Christmas Adjective Clauses! Santa Clauses?!) or functions (Complaining! Expressing happiness!) can make movie watching fun but also useful ELT tools. Prepping wit a list of new vocabulary, a plot synopsis and so on can make it all more interesting and there should be discussion time after. Some great Holiday movies include A CHRISTMAS STORY, MIRACLE ON 34TH ST., ELF, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS…and there are so many more. Some so bad, like SANTA VS. THE MARTIANS, that they hold a special place in my heart.

Here is a list, though I’d avoid Batman and Bad Santa:

Some ideas I haven’t covered:

  • Holiday music activities! There.are.…We are walking in a winter wonderland- ah! Present Progressive!
  • Creating winter holiday blogs, FB pages, Instagram sites and even old fashioned creative holiday Card creation.
  • How about a Holiday Tree with decorations from all over the world wishing peace and global understanding for all? Now, wouldn’t that be nice? The world could use it.


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M.A. History (Cross-Cultural Studies), Western Washington University; TESOL Certificate, The School of Teaching ESL. Denny is a teacher educator at S-TESL and delivers most of the 4-Week Intensives each year. Denny has taught ESL at ELS Language Center in Seattle and in Japan at Sundai Junior College. He worked at American Cultural Exchange in Seattle as Center Director and as Director of Marketing.