What the Best ESL Christmas Activities Really Look Like
Do you hear bells ringing?
Are the chestnuts roasting?
Are your jingle bells rocking?
That’s right. I’m talking about Christmas! And whether or not it’s a white Christmas, it’s a good time to celebrate.
Oh yeah, and to teach some English, too—of course.
We’ve put together ten fun and festive activities that do both, allowing you to celebrate the holidays with your students while still giving them valuable language practice.
So get ready to have fun as you celebrate the season with these jolly ESL activities!
10 Creative ESL Activities for a Holly Jolly Christmas
1. Write Greeting Cards
Nothing shows love at Christmas like a basket full of Christmas cards. The holidays are often the one time of year we hear from long ago friends and distant family. Writing greeting cards also happens to be a great activity for ESL students. It is flexible and can be tailored to any level student.
If you are teaching beginning students, let them try their hand at holiday greetings by designing and writing a holiday card. Bring in some samples for them to look at (I know you must have extras from last year hanging around), and then have them write the sentiment as well as design the cover for their own cards using yours as inspiration.
For intermediate students, point out that many card senders often add a personal greeting before signing their name. Have these students design their own card and then personalize at least two with a little note at the bottom for different friends and family members.
And for your advanced students, show them some examples of a Christmas letter, which some families write to catch up friends and family on the happenings of their spouse and children. Encourage your students to think about the past year, to identify important events and milestones, and then have them write a Christmas letter to include in their cards.
2. North Pole Bound
While you are talking about letters in class, familiarize your students with the custom of writing a letter to Santa denoting what you want for Christmas. If you like, start by showing this WaysAndHow clip on how to write a letter to Santa Claus.
Before your students make their wish lists, review the appropriate formatting for a personal letter, and then have students write their letter to good ole St. Nick. If you like, have students address an envelope and send their letter off to the North Pole.
3. Sing Christmas Carols
If you enter the world of retail come November first, you are sure to encounter Christmas carols at many of your favorite stores. (As I write this, I’m listening to Judy Garland sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at my local coffee shop.)
Christmas songs, like any songs, are a great jumping off point for talking about rhyme and pronunciation. They also tend to be great sources for new and uncommon vocabulary.
Choose one or two songs of the season to share with your students such as “Jingle Bells” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Review the lyrics and define any unfamiliar vocabulary, then warm up those vocal chords and have a classroom singalong. Point out the rhyming words in the lyrics and how they fit into the rhythm of the music.
Then give your students a real challenge and have them write their own lyrics to the same tune in groups of three or four. Once their songs are complete, have groups sing their song for the rest of the class. If you like, make copies of the lyrics so the rest of the class can sing along as well.
4. Christmas Pictionary
What do candy canes, Mrs. Clause and mistletoe have in common? They are all Christmas vocabulary! More than that, they are a great source of fun when you use them to play Pictionary in your ESL class.
Put several holiday words on small slips of paper and then put them in a bag. Divide your class into two teams. One at a time, a person from each team chooses a word and then has two minutes to get their teammates to guess it based on their drawing. While the artist draws, the team members call out what they think the picture is. If the team guesses the word correctly within the allotted time, they score a point. If they do not guess the word, the other team gets one chance to guess correctly and score the point. The first team to ten points wins.
You can also use these same words to play charades. And if you really want to amp up the fun, have each person roll a standard six-sided die before they choose their Christmas word. If they roll a one or two, they draw the word. For a three or four, they act the word out. And if it’s a five or six, they must model the word out of Play-Doh for their team to guess.
5. Christmas Cookies
Whether you are a baker or not, you must know how much people like Christmas cookies. Recipes are great for the ESL classroom, as they have perfect examples of the imperative form and outlining a process in writing.
Show your students a Christmas cookie recipe like this one. After reading the recipe, see if students can act out the process for making the cookies.
Or make your class even tastier by letting students maker their own cookies in class. Try these no-bake cookie recipes: Cornflake Clusters or Chocolate Oat Bars. Then have your students make their cookies and have a cookie taste off. Each person tries each cookie (allergies permitting) and votes for their favorite.
6. How to Decorate a Christmas Tree
After your students have read and followed a set of directions for making Christmas cookies, have them write some directions of their own on how to best decorate a Christmas tree.
Start with a discussion about what a Christmas tree looks like. Bring in some pictures for your students to look at. If you like, partner up your students with two different pictures of trees and have them discuss what is the same and what is different between each of their trees.
Then have your students write instructions on how to decorate a Christmas tree. Their directions should be five steps. Each step should start with one of the following words: “first,” “then,” “next,” “after that” and “finally.”
7. A Christmas Carol
Perhaps the most famous Christmas story (apart from Jesus’ birth) is Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Carol.” You can watch the entire 1997 animated movie online here.
Take some time out of your busy classroom schedule to watch the hour-long film, and then put your students in groups to talk about the three spirits that visited Ebenezer Scrooge.
In their same groups, ask students to share what the spirit of Christmas or spirit of other holiday past would say about their life. You can encourage your students to use mixed past tenses or the conditional form, depending on their skill level.
8. Christmas Specials
Even if you don’t have time to screen an entire movie in class, you might want to show your students a classic Christmas special. Try “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
After you watch the special, give your students a list of the events in the short in random order and have groups sequence them according to the show.
A great tip is to show fun Christmas clips from FluentU to put your students in a Christmas mood. FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
9. What’s Your Tradition?
With holidays come traditions. Take some time to share one of your holiday traditions with your students and perhaps introduce them to a new aspect of U.S. culture.
Then invite students to share a holiday tradition of their own in either a discussion group or as a short presentation. Not only will your students get listening and speaking practice, they will also develop an appreciation for the cultures of their classmates.
10. Secret Santas
If your students aren’t already familiar with it, tell them about Secret Santa gift exchanges. Then let students participate in their own imaginary gift exchange.
Write down each student’s name on a small slip of paper, and have each member of the class draw a classmate’s name. Instead of purchasing a gift for their person, your students should write three clues about a gift that they would purchase for that person, if they were exchanging gifts.
Have students write the name of their imaginary recipient on their clues and then collect them. One at a time, read the clues and have the recipient guess what the present is, before the gift giver reveals what the present actually is.
Holidays are a great time to celebrate while still developing language skills. Try these activities and have the best of both worlds this Christmas!