Can you feel it in the air?
It’s the sound of sleigh bells jingling.
The smell of peppermint and eggnog.
The feeling of joy and happiness everywhere.
It can only mean one thing—it’s Christmastime.
The time of the year when we all come together as friends and families, enjoying each other’s company, watching holiday movies and taking time out from our busy lives to relax a little. While children scramble to open presents, we adults get to appreciate making memories with our loved ones.
Why not bring some of that joy in the classroom?
Read on to see how you can get your adult learners in the Christmas spirit.
5 ESL Christmas Lessons for Adults Guaranteed to Make the Holidays Fun
As you may have guessed, the Christmas holidays are my favorite time of the year. From the Christmas carols to the delicious cookies and twinkling lights, it is always fun to get into the gift-giving spirit of the holiday.
For ESL teachers, Christmas is the perfect time to gift your adult students with fun and exciting lessons that they wouldn’t experience any other time of the year. That way, they get to learn a little more about the culture of English-speaking countries while improving their language skills.
Here are five of my favorite Christmas activities, guaranteed to knock the socks off your adult learners.
1. Recite the Poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
Why not share one of the most iconic holiday English poems?
More popularly known by its introduction, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” this poem tells a delightful story about Christmas Eve and the excitement leading up to Christmas.
Your students can learn about St. Nicholas, the famous reindeer and the concept of filling stockings with gifts and toys—all of which can be foreign to them depending on which country they are from.
Before class, print the poem and prepare a list of discussion questions to cover at the end of the reading. Start the lesson by introducing some of the key vocabulary words and their definitions to your students. Suggested vocabulary include:
Once everyone is familiar with the vocabulary, allow the students to read the poem in groups or as a class. After reading , ask students to answer the discussion questions. You can have them engage in small groups, or you can have a discussion as a class. The questions can be tailored to suit the level of your class, but in general, you want to use questions that check your students’ understanding of the poem.
Some of my favorite discussion questions are:
- Can you guess what “arose such a clatter” means?
- What does “I flew like a flash mean?”
- What is another name for St. Nicholas?
- What would you do if you heard a noise on your roof?
Activity: What’s Your Favorite Holiday Tradition?
The poem examines one of the main traditions in western celebrations of Christmas: Presents from Santa.
A great follow-up activity is to have students write a short paragraph about their favorite holiday tradition, whether on Christmas or an equally important holiday in their culture. Save time at the end of the lesson for everyone to share what they wrote.
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2. Play the TED Talks “How We Used Christmas Lights to Fight a War” by Jose Miguel Sokoloff
Yes, Christmas and war are on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, this story is so quirky and unlike any other Christmas story, it is guaranteed to capture your students’ attention. As such, this 15-minute TED Talks clip is great for more advanced learners and students tired of traditional Christmastime English lessons.
In short, this video looks at how an advertising executive and his team used Christmas lights to help demobilize members of the guerrilla movement in Colombia, his home country. Keeping with the Christmas spirit, the story also shows how conflict can be resolved without the use of violence.
So, how do you turn this into a Christmas lesson? Glad you asked.
Before class, prepare a list of key vocabulary words and their definitions. This video has a number of challenging terms, so it is important that you pre-teach vocabulary. I suggest covering the following words:
- Guerrilla movement
The best part of teaching with TED Talks is the discussions afterwords. Be sure to come up with a list of discussion topics that you want to cover with your class at the end of the video. Here are the questions I asked my students:
- Do you believe that “at Christmas anything is possible?”
- What was their radio strategy? Were there any problems with it?
- What was the purpose of the Christmas trees?
- Do you agree that “being generous makes you stronger?” Why or why not?
I recommend printing discussion questions on a handout and giving it to your students before playing the clip. That way, they can take notes and answer questions while watching the video. Then, you can go over the questions as a class or divide your students into groups of three or four and have them cover the assigned talking points.
If you really want to give your students authentic language exposure, try bringing FluentU into the classroom.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
As a result, they learn English while gaining first-hand exposure to the culture, giving them greater insight into everything from holiday celebrations to how native speakers interact.
Activity: Talk About International Holiday Traditions
For a follow-up activity, I recommend assigning your students into small groups and giving each group a country to research. Compare that country to the unorthodox Christmas celebration covered in the video, then have your groups make notes on how the target country celebrates Christmas—just be sure to choose countries that do celebrate it!
At the beginning of your next lesson, give each group time to report back to the whole class what they discovered about their assigned country’s Christmas rituals.
3. Teach Students How to Deck the Halls
Ready for another twist on the traditional ESL Christmas lesson? Talk about Christmas decorations.
There are two types of adults in the world: Those who love decorating for Christmas and those who dread it. Explain to your students how families decorate their houses during Christmas and then ask them whether they think decorating for Christmas looks like fun or like extra work.
Then, show your students this article titled “Go ahead, put up the Christmas lights now! Science says it will make you happier.” But before you have them read it, pre-teach some of the difficult vocabulary like:
- Trimming the tree
- Dredge up
Once the vocabulary is covered, read the article as a whole class or in small groups. Then, use the following discussion questions, or your own, to have a conversation about the article:
- Do you decorate for Christmas or any other holiday?
- When do you think is the right time to decorate for Christmas?
- Why does decorating make people happy?
- Will you decorate earlier for Christmas next year after reading this article?
Activity: Make Your Own Christmas Decorations!
Use the rest of your class time (or the next class) to let students make their own holiday decorations. You can make Christmas ornaments, wreaths or even garland. These decorations or ornaments can be taken home by the students or you can use them to add a little festive spirit to the classroom.
If you’re looking for decoration ideas, the website “Mums Make Lists” has loads of low-cost DIY Christmas decoration ideas to choose from.
4. Sing a Christmas Carol
This classic Christmas carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is ideal for any Christmas lesson, including ones with adults. It is simple, endearing and catchy.
Begin by discussing key vocabulary words and phrases in the song like:
- Good tidings
Then, play the song at least once for your students. If you don’t have a Christmas CD handy, you can use this video on YouTube.
Play the song as many times as necessary, then discuss it with your students, talking about some of the traditions surrounding Christmas carols, as well as any ideas presented in the song. If you need ideas for post-caroling discussion topics, try a few of these questions:
- What is your favorite holiday song and why?
- What types of food do you eat over the holidays?
- Is there anything similar to Christmas caroling in your culture?
- What are some greetings you say over the holidays in your country? What do they mean in English?
Activity: Let’s Sing!
Once students are familiar with the melody, invite them to sing the song with you. You can divide the class into two groups and sing the song together. And if you want to mix things up, check out some of these other fun and festive carols you can sing with your students.
5. Discuss Christmas and the Spirit of Giving Gifts
There are so many wonderful Christmas stories out there, but one of my personal favorites is “The Gift of the Magi” is a beautiful short story with a moral befitting the season.
At the beginning of class, prepare a list of the vocabulary to teach the students ahead of time. The language isn’t too difficult, but I suggest pre-teaching the following words:
Once students are familiar with the vocabulary, read the story as a whole class. After you’ve covered the story, ask the following comprehension questions:
- What are Jim and Della’s two prized possessions?
- How are the watch chain and Jim alike? What qualities do they share?
- Do you think Della and Jim were wise or not?
- What’s the best gift you ever received?
- What’s the best gift you ever gave to someone?
After you’ve talked about the story as a class, let students perform the activity below.
Activity: Make a Christmas List
Have students write their own Christmas list. You can provide them with nice paper and ask them to write down what they hope to get for Christmas. Remind them to think about the gifts in the story, then ask them to briefly mention why they want the items they listed.
Putting It All Together
Can’t you already feel the Christmas cheer?
With these lessons, your adult learners sure can.
Not only will they get your students into the Christmas spirit, they will also have a chance to expand their vocabulary and learn about different holiday traditions.
Have a Merry Christmas!
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