For some people, Christmas is their favorite season.
And when I was teaching English in South Korea, Christmas was my favorite time of the year to lesson plan.
It was a time when I was allowed to move away from the standardized curriculum and incorporate holiday-themed elements from my own country into my English lessons.
And you know what? My students loved learning about it. They appreciated the break from the usual textbook material as we talked about snowmen, reindeer, Santa (affectionately dubbed “Santa Grandfather” in Korean) and other Christmas themes.
It’s a time when teachers are encouraged to add more creativity and flexibility to our classroom lessons. We get to incorporate Christmas music and reminisce about our past holiday traditions with our students. We also have a chance to give them a creative, hands-on approach to learning that extends beyond textbooks and flashcards.
In fact, Christmas is one of the easiest times of the year to be an English teacher thanks to the fact that there’s no shortage of Christmas material out there that can be added to your lessons.
This post will focus on Christmas stories and why you should be taking advantage of them this holiday season.
Most students love learning English through Christmas stories because they’re a fun way to exchange and share cultural traditions.
With that being said, remember to be mindful of other cultures before teaching about Christmas, especially if you’re teaching in a Middle Eastern country. In any case, it’s always a good idea to ask permission before spending the day reading stories about Christmas.
Ways to Make Your ESL Christmas Stories an Instant Hit
When done right, Christmas stories are like the Holy Grail of reading material. They tend to be fun, lighthearted and not overly complicated, which is why most students really enjoy them.
You don’t want to make the mistake of reading a Christmas story without providing any context beforehand. There’s a good chance that your students celebrate Christmas slightly differently than you, if they celebrate it at all.
You’ll want to give them a little bit of background information, like what Christmas means to you and how you celebrate it with your friends and family. This is also a great time to have your students tell you what they do for the holidays, as well as go over different Christmas customs around the world.
Open with an icebreaker
Make sure to start your lesson with something fun that gets your students excited about the lesson. A lot of teachers like Christmas songs because they have catchy, upbeat lyrics and are easy to memorize. You can also open with a short Christmas-themed video as well.
If you’re looking for ideas, try this short video clip about Christmas in the United States. And if you really want to get your students talking about Christmas, follow it up with this clip about Christmas in the UK and discuss the differences.
Always include an activity
You’ll always want to have a fun activity to go alongside your Christmas story. Whether you want to have the activity before or after reading stores is your choice, but having it at the end of the lesson is a great way to reinforce important ideas you covered in the story.
Some standout activities to get your students thinking include:
- Writing Christmas-themed poems
- Writing a letter or wishlist to Santa
- Making Christmas cards for friends, family or classmates
- Creating a script for a Christmas-themed play and role-playing it in class
And now that we’ve covered some of the basics of how to turn those Santa books into ESL Christmas lessons, let’s take a look at some great stories to introduce to the class.
5 ESL Christmas Stories to Jazz Up the Holiday Season
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“Christmas: ESL Story and Lesson Plan” by Shelley Ann Vernon
Also known as “An English Christmas for Young ESL Learners,” author Shelley Ann Vernon talks about Christmas from a British perspective. Here, children will learn about what it’s like to celebrate Christmas in England, while learning a little bit about the types of food, decorations and festivities common in the UK during the holiday season.
If you’re looking for a book that requires minimal prep time and is filled with brilliant classroom activities and creative ideas, this book is perfect for you. It’s one of the few Christmas books designed specifically with ESL students in mind, which is why you get a lot of bonus material. This book includes free printable online flashcards, lesson plans and various games created specifically for elementary-aged ESL students.
Another great thing about this book is that the story comes with two versions—one for beginners and one for intermediate speakers that includes a rhyming version of the story with more vocabulary words.
“When Christmas Feels Like Home” by Gretchen Griffith
This book is especially great for teachers who are teaching ESL in the United States because it talks about Christmas from the perspective of an immigrant.
It covers the story of Eduardo, a child from rural Mexico who’s learning how to adapt to a new culture and new Christmas traditions after he and his family moved to the U.S.
Despite being a book geared towards elementary students, “When Christmas Feels Like Home” is perfect for English language learners of all ages. This is due to the fact that it covers very real topics that people experience while living abroad that can be discussed in depth with older students.
“Oxford Bookworms Library: A Christmas Carol: Level 3: 1000-Word Vocabulary” by Charles Dickens and Jennifer Bassett
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is a timeless classic that many of us have read at some point during our time in grade school. And while this story is a holiday staple in many countries, and easy to understand for us native English speakers, this book can be quite overwhelming to your average ESL student—until now.
Oxford Bookworms Library’s rendition of this famous English novel has been carefully rewritten with ESL students in mind. Now your intermediate teenage and adult students can grasp the content covered in this version of “A Christmas Carol” and get to know one of Britain’s most popular authors.
“The BIG Book of Santa Stories: All 12 Little Books of Christmas” by Toby Woodman and A.W. Pawlowski
“The BIG Book of Santa Stories” is a comprehensive Christmas book that combines some of the most popular Christmas stories ever written, with the addition of some new classics. It comes with stories about Frosty the Snowman, Santa and his Elves and even Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
The book is originally designed for young English-first-language readers, but the stories can be adapted to teach ESL students of all ages. For adults, you can use this book while covering the legends and folklore surrounding Christmas in North America or the UK, and then dive into discussions regarding Christmas lore in your students’ countries. For younger learners, try accompanying the story with popular Christmas jingles.
Ever since its release two-and-a-half decades ago, “The Nightmare before Christmas” has had a fierce cult following due to its unorthodox approach towards Christmas and Halloween. Thanks to Pearson English Active Readers, your ESL students can also get the opportunity to appreciate one of Tim Burton’s most iconic works as they learn about Christmas in the Netherworld.
Great for intermediate students of all ages, “The Nightmare before Christmas” is the perfect book to read if you’re looking to teach something a little different than your usual Christmas story. And since the story has a Halloween theme to it as well, you can introduce it to your students at the beginning of fall and cover two major holidays at the same time.
Now that we’ve looked at how you can add some flair to your holiday lessons, go out and make your next ESL Christmas lesson a holly jolly lesson!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like using unique, engaging material in your classroom, then you’re going to love FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.