All ESL Teachers Want for Christmas: 50+ Festive Vocabulary Sets and 5 Fun Activities to Use ‘Em

Chestnuts roasting…

Eggnog brewing…

Holiday lesson plans frantically getting written by busy ESL teachers between exam preparations and end-of-semester evaluations…

Here’s a little Christmas gift for you this year: fun, festive vocabulary and activities that are ready to be used in your classroom.

Christmas is celebrated in one way or another in several countries. Many ESL students, young and old, will want to be able to discuss Christmas and their own holiday traditions in English. That’s why it’s important to provide students with some of the most common and useful Christmas-related vocabulary words.

In general, Christmas lessons can be a lot of fun. As the teacher, you might want to introduce these words over the course of several lessons or within one lesson. The trick is just finding the time to prepare those lessons!

To make things easier on you, we’ve got more than 50 ESL vocabulary words for the season, plus five activities to get students comfortable using them.

Go ahead—unwrap ’em!

50+ Fun and Festive ESL Christmas Vocabulary Words, Plus 5 Activities to Use ‘Em!

Christmas Vocabulary Word Sets


Students who find themselves in an English-speaking country during the winter holidays will want to know how to greet others for the season. We recommend teaching students the following phrases:

Merry Christmas! (U.S.); Happy Christmas! (U.K.)

Happy Holidays!

Season’s Greetings!

Happy New Year!

Figures of Christmas

Most cultures around the world have a Christmas or winter figure who helps spread good cheer. It may be Santa Claus or someone more like Jack Frost.

In any case, students will enjoy learning about the different embodiments of Christmas and other holiday figures. Consider teaching these words:


Santa Claus

Elf; Elves

St. Nicholas; St. Nick

Father Christmas

Jack Frost

Kris Kringle

Traditional Foods

It’s hard to define traditional Christmas foods. Many families across the world have their own holiday meal traditions. If you want to focus on some of the most common Christmas foods according to practices in English-speaking western countries, here are some useful words:


Mulled wine

Hot chocolate

Candy canes

Sugar cookies

Gingerbread house

Roast turkey

Nuts; Nutcracker

Christmas pudding

Dates and Seasons

In the month of December there are several notable Christmas-related days. Students should be able to confidently discuss the different events of Christmas. Here are some of the important terms:

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day


Yule; Yuletide



Advent calendar

Holiday Gifts

Exchanging gifts is a big part of the Christmas holiday in the English-speaking countries of the western world. And there’s a whole process of preparation leading up to the giving of gifts. Students may need to know how to ask for certain gift-related items at stores and shops.

Here are some useful words to include in your lesson:

Wish list

Christmas cards



Wrapping paper


Stocking stuffers

Winter Greenery

One of the best things about Christmas is all the wonderful, fragrant greenery that adorns entryways, doors and tables. Students can better understand the holiday and have more detailed discussions if they know these words and their purpose:

Christmas tree







Of course, greenery isn’t the only type of decoration commonly used at Christmas. Other decorations that truly make a house ready for Christmas are:

Christmas lights; Twinkle lights


Tree topper; Star



Other Festive Words

Some other Christmas words that students may have fun using when discussing the holidays and their own traditions include:



Christmas carols





Christmas Vocabulary Activities

And here are some of my favorite ESL Christmas activities! These can be worked into lesson plans as warm-ups or wrap-ups, or you can extend them into full-length lessons, depending on the level and enthusiasm of your students.

These activities can be adapted to use any of the words noted above, but we’ll indicate which vocabulary sets work particularly well with each activity.

DIY Christmas Cards

Works best with: greetings; decorations.

Students will enjoy spending a class decorating, designing and writing their own Christmas cards for family and friends. Depending on the level and age range of the class, you can focus on the words or drawing images to represent the words.

For example, with younger students, you can instruct them to “Draw a Christmas Tree” and then ask them to “Decorate the tree with ornaments.” Inside the card, ask them to write their favorite Christmas greeting.

For older and more advanced students, encourage them to write longer messages that incorporate their favorite Christmas greeting as well as at least five of the other Christmas vocabulary words.

Sharing Traditions

Works best with: traditional foods; holiday gifts; dates and seasons.

While Christmas-themed lessons give you, the teacher, a great chance to teach students about English cultural traditions, make sure you give your students the chance to teach you about their traditions, too!

Ask students to talk about their favorite holiday traditions. Give students time to write down or prepare a few sentences or paragraphs describing their family’s winter traditions. Encourage students to include five to ten of the Christmas words from above—whether those words apply to their own traditions, or their traditions can be compared and contrasted to others using the vocabulary you’ve taught.

Another fun activity is to learn about other countries’ and cultures’ winter holidays. Divide students into small groups. Assign each group a country or culture. Then give the students time to research that culture’s Christmas or other winter holiday traditions, before presenting to the class.

This activity has a lot of flexibility. You can integrate technology by allowing students to conduct research on their phones or you can prepare articles on each country before class for them to use. (If you choose to provide the research material, you have more control over the content and can tailor the readings to the level of your class.)

Once the groups have read about the country or culture they were assigned, they should prepare a short verbal presentation. Again, they can compare and contrast the traditions and practices with their own, utilizing as much of the Christmas vocabulary as possible.

In this way, they get to practice speaking and everyone in the class will learn about traditions from all over the world.

Tip: More advanced students may come across other Christmas or holiday vocabulary while researching. Encourage them to ask you about words they don’t know and to learn what these words mean. During their final presentations, they can then teach their classmates some additional holiday words.

Tell a Story

Adapt to any vocabulary set you like.

It’s Christmas story time!

For advanced learners, assign Christmas vocabulary sets to individual students or small groups of students. Instruct them to write a short story including their newly learned Christmas words. The story should be Christmas-themed.

For intermediate classes you might take a different approach. Provide two or three prompts for the students to choose from. For example: “Write a story about Christmas Eve” or “Write a story about a boy/girl who isn’t excited for Christmas” or “Write a story about a girl/boy who was granted three Christmas wishes.”

They must include five to ten of the above Christmas words. You can tailor the assignment to your needs, giving word limits and additional guidelines.

If you’re working with lower-level or beginner students, consider writing several different versions of Christmas stories (or finding some online) and cutting out key vocabulary words from the above lists. Have students work in groups to complete the stories with the missing Christmas vocabulary.

Tip: Generate some classroom decorations by encouraging the students to illustrate their stories. Then, hang the illustrated stories around the room for some added cheer!

Write a List for Santa

Works best with: holiday gifts; figures of Christmas.

This activity is probably most suitable for young ESL learners. Once students learn about Santa Claus and the different English words associated with gifts and presents, have them write a letter to Santa listing what they want for Christmas and why they deserve the gifts they want.

Older students can create Christmas wish lists, too. Ask students to express their wants for the Christmas season by writing a list or letter to Santa. Encourage students to think not only about material items, but also about more abstract desires and wishes for the world. Once they have their wish lists or letter, have an open discussion during which students can share their hopes for Christmas.

Ask them how they might implement their wishes for the world: what small steps can they take to make their Christmas wishes a reality?

Tip: For an added element of thoughtfulness, have students think about what gifts they would give to family and friends and why. Additionally, you can ask students to reflect on the best gift they ever received and why it was so memorable.

Sing Christmas Carols

Works best with: dates and seasons; figures of Christmas; decorations; greenery; other festive words.

You and your students can have a lot of fun with Christmas carols. After your ESL learners become familiar with the Christmas vocabulary above, teach them your favorite Christmas song (or two)!

If you have a very musical class, ask them to write their own lyrics to their favorite holiday tune using five to ten of the Christmas words above.

If they aren’t very musical, try a listening comprehension activity. Type out the lyrics to your favorite Christmas carol and omit some of the key vocabulary words. Have the students listen to a recording of the Christmas carol and do their best to fill in the missing words as they listen.


Christmas is a wonderful holiday filled with warmth, food, family and gifts. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce your students to a lot of new, wintry, festive vocabulary. The lesson plan possibilities are endless, so have some fun!

Merry Christmas and may your classes be jolly!

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