Have a Holly Jolly ESL Christmas Lesson: 7 Holiday Activities for Adult Students

As a kid, I absolutely loved going to school during Christmas time.

It was that one time of the year when everything was relaxed and teachers focused more on holiday-themed activities than textbook material.

But when I first started teaching English to adult students, I made the mistake of giving them the same Christmas lesson I’d had as a kid.

As you can imagine, my lesson didn’t go over too well.

My students, who happened to be teachers working for a provincial education department in South Korea, weren’t too excited about singing cheerful songs and reading Christmas stories. To them, this was a waste of time.

Initially, my Christmas class felt like a disaster. But as time progressed, I learned a valuable lesson from it: Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean every classroom wants traditional stories and carols. Unlike kids, adults require an objective-based approach that helps them meet specific goals.

The good news is that Christmas lessons can be both fun and effective for adults, provided you choose activities targeted to their goals with English speaking, listening, vocabulary and cultural understanding. Since I focused on this, my ESL Christmas lessons for adults have been some of the best in town.

Here are some ways that you can teach your adults about Christmas while keeping them engaged.

Teaching ESL Christmas Lessons for Adults Is Easy with These 6 Activities

1. Read Christmas Poetry

Christmas-themed poetry is a great way to teach your students about Christmas culture in English-speaking countries and important holiday-themed vocabulary.

It’s also a great option for reading and pronunciation practice. Depending on the size of your classroom and students’ proficiency levels, you can have them read the poems aloud line-by-line as a class or have each student recite a poem.

And unlike Christmas stories, which tend to be geared more towards children, you won’t have a hard time finding Christmas poems that your adult students will love. To get started finding the right poem for your class, take a look at PoemHunter’s top 100 Christmas poems written by some of the greatest minds in English literature.

If you really want to make your poetry lesson go the distance, test your students’ writing skills by having them make Christmas-themed poems of their own.

2. Discuss Christmas Foods

We all love to eat, so why not incorporate food into your lesson by talking about some favorite holiday snacks?

Food lessons tend to go over well, because who doesn’t love good food? Furthermore, your lesson will be twice as interesting, because it’ll also give students some insight into how Christmas is celebrated in various English-speaking countries.

Here are some interesting holiday food videos to get your lesson started:

  • How to make the perfect mince pie: Along with figgy pudding, mince pie is one of those traditional Christmas dishes that students are bound to come across when reading literature related to Christmas. It’s also an essential part of every British Christmas.

Video clips like the three above are great for warming your students up and getting them excited to talk about some of their favorite Christmas foods.

Be sure to introduce vocabulary beforehand. Cover the names of Christmas foods as well as flavors like sweet, savory, salty and so on.

When you’re done with that, try explaining a little bit about Christmas lunch or dinner in your culture and then have students either talk or write about the traditional foods they eat during the winter holidays in their native countries.

3. Throw a Christmas Party

Learning and staying focused during the Christmas season can be a challenge with all of the holiday cheer floating around. Sometimes your students want a break from the usual classroom-style learning, and there’s no better time to give them that break than the days leading up to Christmas vacation.

Why not give them a chance to practice their casual English by hosting a potluck Christmas party in the classroom?

Have each student bring in a Christmas-themed food or drink (this activity easily pairs with the food discussion mentioned above) and then have them give a short presentation on what they brought and why they brought it.

If you’ve got particularly chatty students, give them the chance to ask questions at the end of each student’s presentation.

After everyone has spoken, you and your class can have fun eating and chatting together in English.

Don’t forget to give your students notice about the party far enough in advance so they have time to make something and prepare their presentation!

4. Use Christmas as a Means for Cultural Exchange

One of the main reasons I love teaching adults is because they enjoy learning about differences between their culture and yours. The holidays are often a perfect time to learn about one another’s customs while also learning English.

A good way to do this is by starting class with a discussion of how Christmas is celebrated differently in your country versus other English-speaking countries.

From there, ask students to compare and contrast the different traditions either individually in writing or together in small groups.

Then expand the compare and contrast activity to include their own winter celebrations.

Try introducing a speaking or writing exercise where they talk about how they celebrate Christmas/winter holidays at home, and some major differences between Christmas/winter celebrations in the English-speaking world and in their home countries.

5. Make Christmas Cards Together

Sending Christmas cards isn’t just a fundamental part of almost everyone’s holiday season, it’s also a great way to test your students’ writing skills.

Writing Christmas cards is an easy way to add some holiday flavor into your typical writing lesson. All you need to do is explain the significance of Christmas cards and how English speakers tend to send them to their friends and family over the holidays.

Make sure you explain that Christmas cards differ from standard written letters in that the writer is expressing gratitude and sending season’s greetings to the recipient.

Once you’ve explained a little bit about the significance of Christmas cards, simply pre-teach your target vocabulary words for the lesson and have students write their own. You can have them make personal cards for their family members, or you can have a little fun and get your students to write cards for one another.

6. Have Students Roleplay the Christmas Shopping Experience

Covering a shopping-themed lesson during Christmas time? Put those vocabulary words like buy, sell, cash, credit card, sale and 50 percent off to good use by having your students roleplay a Christmas shopping experience.

Explain to your students that buying and exchanging presents is a big part of the Christmas season in English-speaking countries. After you’ve done that, have each student come up with a shopping list of gifts they’re going to buy for their friends and family and then have them act out the shopping scenario in pairs.


Teaching holiday lessons to adults isn’t difficult, provided that you’re still helping them improve their English in the process. These ESL Christmas activities should boost your students’ language skills while getting everyone into the holiday spirit.

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