10 Joyful Holiday Activities for English Class to Infuse Culture into Your Lessons
As the weather changes, and in the ESL classroom, attention often drifts from the classrooms to the holidays. for both teachers and students.
Regardless of the country you’re teaching in, this period from late November to early January is peppered with holidays and festivals of all types. So why not include these holidays into classroom activities? That way, you’ll be teaching culture in addition to the language.
Read on for 10 fun and effective ideas for how to implement the winter holidays and Christmas into your class this year. Get ready for some holiday spirit!
- 1. World Christmas Celebrations Matching Game
- 2. Ornament Making and Design
- 3. Holiday Cookie Making
- 4. Christmas Vocabulary Bingo
- 5. Holiday Card Making
- 6. Christmas Carol Karaoke
- 7. Holiday Story Writing
- 8. Cultural Christmas Traditions Presentation
- 9. Christmas Movie Review
- 10. Secret Santa Gift Exchange
1. World Christmas Celebrations Matching Game
While Christmas is celebrated in many regions of the world, it is not celebrated the same way, or even on the same day, in all areas. This ESL activity takes advantage of this fact, resulting in an interesting and fun lesson that can be capped off with numerous games.
To prepare, you need to make either a PowerPoint slide show or card slides that have numerous countries, their flags and pictures of unique cultural ways the country celebrates Christmas. Classics include Australia with a surfing Santa Clause, the Netherlands with wooden shoes left out for presents and the fact that Russia celebrates Christmas on January 7. Other good ideas include various Christmas foods and regional treats from around the world. For elementary students, about eight countries are best to use, while middle and high school students can handle up to 12.
If you don’t have time to make your own slideshow, there are plenty of already prepared ones online, like this great one on Slideshare.
Once your slides are made, you’ll then need to make playing cards for country names, flags and Christmas celebrations to be used for various games. The best setup is to use images only, although if you are working with adolescents and up, text for country names is also useful. You can either make your card sets using a printer and blank business cards, or stickers on plastic playing cards for durability. For older students who can read, worksheets that match countries with written hints are also popular. Depending on the size of your class and number of slides, you will want to create anywhere from 10-20 sets of these cards, which can be broken down into smaller decks later for the games.
After presenting the countries and taking the time to point out hints, it’s game time.
For elementary students, one great game is team matching:
- Divide your card set in half, keeping for yourself all of the country flag cards.
- Then distribute hint cards to each team, and arrange the flag cards along the chalkboard or on a table at the front of the room.
- The first team to match up all of their hints to the various countries wins.
- You can play this game for multiple rounds, or by using multiple sets of hint cards you can stretch on for as long as you like.
2. Ornament Making and Design
A great activity for just about any age, decorating Christmas ornaments can range from quite simple to very complex. This is a great capstone activity to a multi-week mini unit incorporating the previous activity.
The cost of materials also can vary wildly, although spending even a little bit of money has always felt worthwhile to me. For example, one school I taught at had plenty of sparkle glue and other art supplies, so we used those to decorate individual blank CDs that I purchased in a 100 spindle pack. The total cost came to about $45 for around 90 fifth grade students. The students loved their ornaments, and proudly showed them off to their parents the first chance they had. It also gave the students to express their individuality, as the blank CD gave them a very open canvas for their own expression.
For a more economical approach, felt and construction paper are also good options. Both allow the students to express themselves creatively, while still staying within a low budget. For construction paper ornaments, it’s best to laminate the paper after any drawing and cutting is completed, to lend durability to your ornaments. After they are laminated, the construction paper ornaments can be then decorated with things like sparkle glue, beads or other three dimensional items.
Watch this video for great ideas on budget holiday ornament making:
3. Holiday Cookie Making
Perhaps no other constant stretches across cultures and holidays like cookies. Whether it is Hanukkah, Christmas, Bodhi’s Day or even Festivus, cookies are a consistent way to celebrate the winter holidays. However, just as there are many different festivals, there are just as many different cookies available. This activity involves a bit of preparation and some cost, but the end result is a wonderful last class before winter break.
To prepare, again make a short (10 slides or less) slide show featuring different types of holiday cookies, or use one of these already prepared slideshows. Try to show cookies and sweets from various cultures, and if there is a special meaning behind the shape or ingredients of the treat, be ready to give a short explanation.
Despite all of the options, a simple sugar cookie is perhaps the best way to go for actual cookie baking itself, for those that have access to an oven at school (there are dozens of recipes available on the web for free). This is because sugar cookie dough is not only simple and quick (a plus when working with students who may not be super adept in the kitchen yet), but also because there are numerous alternatives that account for allergies, dietary laws or other restrictions. In addition, sugar cookies can be shaped and decorated in infinite different ways, allowing the students to make and enjoy their own product by their own design.
On the day of the cookie making, take the time to lay out the required hardware at each station before the class arrives. While your students are certainly able to get the bowls, spoons, measuring cups, cookie sheets and other materials on their own, this time saving gesture means that you can spend more time making cookies.
When it comes to teaching the activity, a simple “see and do” technique is often the easiest and fastest:
- Break the students into appropriate group sizes, one at each station.
- Then, have the students copy as you demonstrate the recipe at your front station.
- Then let students decorate their cookies.
- Take the cookies home that night and bake them.
- Have a holiday cookie party the next day, with each student sharing their cookies.
Here’s a super easy recipe for three-ingredient butter cookies you can use:
4. Christmas Vocabulary Bingo
Engage students in a lively game of Christmas Vocabulary Bingo.
Create bingo cards with festive words such as “ornament,” “stocking,” and “mistletoe.” There are plenty of already prepared bingo cards online, such as the bingo cards on Bingo Baker.
Playing is super easy:
- Provide definitions or descriptions of these words.
- Have students mark the corresponding term on their cards.
This activity not only reinforces holiday-related vocabulary, but also encourages active listening and recognition skills. It’s a festive way to review and internalize seasonal language in a dynamic, interactive setting.
After playing, I suggest having students write 5-10 sentences using the target holiday words. You can then have each student share their sentences with the class.
5. Holiday Card Making
Everyone likes receiving a card, and for your younger students, they’ve likely never gotten one before.
Making cards brings out the creativity and language expression of your students and it requires just a few supplies:
- Paper or card stock
- Markers or colored pencils
- Stickers or any extras you want to bring
Show your students a few real life holiday cards and then ask them to design and craft their own personalized cards adorned with seasonal symbols.
They can write warm wishes and messages inside, providing an opportunity to practice both written and spoken English. If you want, students can exchange cards with their classmates to make it more social.
This heartfelt activity not only develops language skills but also cultivates a sense of community as students exchange their handmade cards, spreading joy and festive cheer throughout the classroom.
Here’s a helpful video that goes over 34 different DIY holiday cards techniques:
6. Christmas Carol Karaoke
Infuse the ESL classroom with holiday spirit and fun through Christmas Carol Karaoke.
Select a hearty choice of popular seasonal songs with clear lyrics and create karaoke-style sheets for students. Here’s a great YouTube channel that’s full of karaoke instrumental versions of Christmas songs with lyrics.
As they sing along, they enhance pronunciation, fluency and intonation.
This fun activity not only improves language skills but also introduces students to the rhythmic and melodic aspects of English. It’s a festive and interactive way to connect language learning with the joyous atmosphere of the holiday season.
7. Holiday Story Writing
Spark creativity and language proficiency by assigning students the task of writing a short holiday story. Encourage the inclusion of Christmas-themed vocabulary and cultural elements.
This activity allows students to practice narrative construction, descriptive language and expressing ideas in written form.
Sharing these stories with peers, or the whole classroom, will foster a collaborative learning environment, offering feedback and insights into diverse perspectives on holiday traditions.
8. Cultural Christmas Traditions Presentation
Cultivate global awareness and language proficiency by having students explore and present Christmas traditions from different cultures.
Divide students up into small groups and assign each group a specific country, prompting research into unique customs and celebrations.
Give time for:
- Researching their country or culture
- Preparing a written element to their presentations
- Preparing a visual and/or audio element to their presentations.
The presentation format allows students to practice public speaking, descriptive language and cultural awareness. This activity not only expands their vocabulary but also promotes a deeper understanding of the rich diversity of holiday festivities around the world.
9. Christmas Movie Review
Everyone loves a Christmas movie.
Combine language learning with festive entertainment through a Christmas movie review activity. You could start by showing this Rotten Tomatoes list of the 100 best Christmas movies. Have students vote on what they want to watch.
Then show the film to the whole class, and after watching it together, instruct students to write a concise review.
This exercise enhances their ability to summarize, express opinions and discuss narrative elements in English. The collaborative aspect of sharing and comparing reviews contributes to a dynamic and communicative classroom environment.
10. Secret Santa Gift Exchange
Foster a sense of classroom camaraderie with a Secret Santa gift exchange.
- Have them stick to a very minimal budget (like five dollars, or even limit the gifts to being homemade if you’d like).
- Have students put their names in a hat and then go around and have them each draw one name.
- Remind them to keep the name secret, so the gift recipient doesn’t know who gave them their gift.
This activity not only introduces vocabulary related to gift-giving but also provides an opportunity for students to practice giving and following instructions in English.
The reveal and sharing of gifts add an element of excitement and joy to the language-learning experience.
If a student doesn’t want to participate because of their budget, let them do an alternate activity, or suggest that they make a simple gift.
Sometimes as ESL teachers, a balance needs to be struck. Not only are we supposed to help in teaching the actual language of English, but we also need to share and teach our culture. Take the time to think about these 10 potential winter holiday activities, and have fun with your students!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.