Great Ideas to Incorporate Seasonal Holidays into Your Classroom
Keeping your classroom relevant will help learning progress, whether you are teaching English in a foreign country or using the Internet. Incorporating seasonal holidays is a great way to bring something new and fresh into the classroom and engage the students. Of course, around holiday times, there is a possibility they will be unsettled as it can be a fascinating time of year. Still, you have plenty of opportunities to teach your class about English Christmas traditions and focus on the holidays in the countries where they might live. A multicultural classroom can be enriching, so we have put together a few ideas to help you get started.
Key Dates for December
Of course, it is not just Christmas Day that can be celebrated and used as part of your lesson planning. There are many global holidays in December, and even if there are no students in your class from those countries, it is still worth using all of them and looking into their history and what it means to celebrate them. Here’s a list of the main holidays found in December worldwide.
- Saint Nicholas Day (Christian)
• Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican)
• St. Lucia Day (Swedish)
• Hanukkah (Jewish)
• Christmas Day (Christian)
• Three Kings Day/Epiphany (Christian)
• Boxing Day (Australian, Canadian, English, Irish)
• Kwanzaa (African American)
• Omisoka (Japanese)
• Yule (Pagan)
• Saturnalia (Pagan)
The History Of…
One of the most accessible activities to incorporate seasonal celebrations is to have a lesson on history. So, for example, Saturnalia, you could first use resources like YouTube videos that discuss the past in an age-appropriate way, depending on your class. You could split your students into small groups of two or three and have them prepare a poster explaining what they have already learned about Saturnalia. Extending the task could be to find extra facts in their own time. If you have a large group, you could also consider assigning one holiday to each group and then use presentation skills to report to the class about the seasonal celebrations they have been learning about.
To ensure that you keep the theme running throughout the festive period, ensure that one of the things you ask your students to research is any food associated with the event, and we will come back to why you are doing this later.
The Spirit of Giving
One of the most significant commonalities between all seasonal festivals worldwide is the spirit of giving. Encourage the class to think about how they could pass on and give away things that are no longer suitable for them or might benefit someone else. For example, an item of clothing they have grown out of, some long life, food products, or toys that they do not play with a game, depending on your students’ age group. Discuss that some people have very little and rely on donations from Goodwill and food banks to survive.
If you are teaching online, it can be hard to organise an actual visit to a food bank, but you can encourage your students to drop things off and report back on what they did. If you have a physical classroom, it could be possible to organise a visit, but remember that for some people teaching English as a foreign language, the communities you are working with may be experiencing a low standard of living, so discretion and care should be used before undertaking this sort of activity.
Writing Holiday Cards
Another good activity for practising English skills is to write holiday cards. Whether you focus on the more traditional Christmas card or broaden the scope to take in other seasonal celebrations, this is a great activity. First, the students can design a card in the spirit of whatever holiday they choose. Next, they can practice writing seasonal greetings and correctly addressing the cards. Depending on where you are, it may be possible to direct your Christmas cards to one of the many charitable organisations, for example, a Christmas card for troops or a local hospital for patients having to spend their festive period as an inpatient and not with their family. You can talk about the tradition of sending cards and how many people value receiving them as an integral part of the seasonal festivities.
If you are teaching in person and therefore have a physical classroom space, you can decorate for the season. Again, you don’t just have to focus on Christmas; you can look at Saturnalia, Hanukkah, and others. This gives you an excellent opportunity to talk about why people decorate their homes, the significance of a Christmas tree or Jewish menorah and what the candles mean. If you are organised, you can also arrange to light the appropriate candle and learn all about the Maccabees.
Again, many references and demonstrations of these seasonal celebrations in pop culture may appeal to your learner’s demographic. The classroom can be decorated with things the students have made, as it is easy to create snowflakes, Christmas trees and other appropriate decorations in true Blue Peter style. If you collect the correct number of toilet roll inners, you can make crackers for everybody and discuss what is in a hacker and what it represents.
Remember when we said to research the food traditions accompanying each seasonal celebration? Here’s a good activity for using the information that your students have discovered, and it can be carried out at any point after you have done the research. Creating a family recipe book is an excellent way to tie everything together. Whether you have students in the right cultures to have friends and family who have already prepared traditional dishes or whether you use the Internet for reference, it doesn’t matter.
Depending on the class size, you can get one or two recipes from each of the different celebrations around the world in December and collect them into a holiday recipe book. It doesn’t have to be exceptionally professional, but once you have collated them all, photocopy and create each student’s book to take home. This could even work as a virtual activity in an online classroom. Once you have collated everybody’s recipe, you can create a PDF, and each student can have access to download it.
A festive food tasting is also a lovely way to round off a term, but it will depend on what resources you have access to and how much of your budget you have. It may be possible to create some traditional foods you can bring to class for the students to try. You must be aware of any allergies and ensure parents are happy with the proposed activity if you teach children. Adult learners can decide what food they try, but international food evenings are very popular in language schools worldwide. If you have adult learners, they are welcome to bring in dishes from their family recipes. Again, take care to make sure that they label the ingredients and highlight anything that might be classed as an allergen.
Fancy dress does not have to cost a lot of money. You could make Christmas ties out of cardboard festive crowns as you get in crackers, and of course, this can be tied in with decorating the classroom and making the decorations. Once you have created your fantasy dress, it can be worn at your Christmas party food-tasting. Again, your discretion can be used, depending on how old your learners are and the area in which you are teaching. Some language schools with adult learners in an affluent area hold a Christmas jumper party, for example. Just consider the site you are in and the economic status of your learners. It would be best to not encourage them to spend money unnecessarily.
The delights of Christmas music begin to plague radio stations worldwide in early December, but it can also be a good learning opportunity. Learning English lyrics and the background behind the songs is another great way to engage your class with festive activities that help them learn language skills. Again, you will find plenty of free resources like YouTube, where you can hear essential Christmas songs and use them for your lessons. This works in an online classroom just as well, and you could even get the whole class to learn one Carol and sing it together with a company from a YouTube backing track. Of course, traditional songs may be associated with other seasonal events worldwide, so again, you do not have to focus on Christmas.
Creating a Secret Santa is a great way to add Christmas spirit to your classroom. Again, it needs a bit of thought depending on the age group of children you teach and the economic status of the area you are in. If you host a Secret Santa, it’s vital to lay down guidelines about the value of the event and the types of presents you should be seeing.
The event begins when you draw names from a hat, with the only caveat being that if you pick your name, you put it back and redraw. It should remain confidential and secret; the gift certainly does not have to be big or expensive, as that is not the point. You could open the Secret Santa gifts as part of your end-of-term Christmas party, where you will also be wearing the fancy dress items you have made and tasting the food from around the world.
Making gingerbread houses is probably too much, but cardboard replicas or pictures can also be a great activity. The only limit is your imagination. To create gingerbread houses, you can use empty milk cartons, cardboard, and various art and craft embellishments. Of course, you can tie this in with the history of gingerbread houses and why they are made and feature in this time of festivity.
The Bottom Line
These are just a few suggestions. The activities can stretch as far as your imagination, and you may be able to come up with some even better ideas for bringing seasonal festivities into the classroom. All you need to do is tie in the activities with the ability to learn something new about the English language. Even if you focus on holidays not based in English-speaking countries, the learning will take place in English. It’s also good for the students to learn about other cultures and their traditions while sharing what has happened in their lives around the festive holidays.
Resources do not have to cost a fortune; plenty can be achieved by recycling and reusing air and plastic waste. You will also be able to find shared resources on TEFL language forums, where other teachers are only too happy to give you access to things they have created for the festive season. Depending on where and who you teach, most activities can be tailored to suit any age group, as well as a physical or virtual classroom. Even adult learners can get caught up in the magic of Christmas and enjoy the activities you hut on for them. There is no reason why you can’t have a fun and festive classroom over the seasonal period and enjoy everything that all of the celebrations around the world have to offer.