Are you a fan of Bill Murray?
“Zombieland”… “Ghostbusters”… “Lost in Translation”…
You’ve got plenty of movies to choose from when picking from the best this seasoned actor has to offer.
One of my favorites just happens to resurface every year around this time.
Yep, you guessed it: “Groundhog Day.”
And rightly so. Bill Murray may very well be the most entertaining part of the 2nd of February.
But this B-list holiday has more to offer than just a Bill Murray flick (though that’s definitely worth including, as you’ll see very soon).
Believe it or not, it especially has a lot to offer your ESL class: grammar, vocabulary and fun opportunities to put English thought into action.
Here are six wonderful activities you can do with your ESL students to celebrate February 2nd, whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not.
6 ESL Groundhog Day Lessons to Chase Away the Winter Blues
1. Will the Groundhog See His Shadow?
Groundhog Day offers you a great opportunity to practice grammar with your ESL students, whether they’re beginners or advanced students of English.
Talk with your students about how the significance of Groundhog Day is whether or not we’ll experience six more weeks of winter, and how that’s tied to the groundhog and his shadow. You may also want to show them “The History of Groundhog Day.” This and other real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and interesting talks—are available on FluentU year-round with extra educational features for you and your students to enjoy.
Then, before America’s favorite rodent makes his appearance, have students predict whether the weather will be fair or foul for the next six weeks:
- For beginners, stick to using modal verbs. These auxiliary verbs (might, may, can, could, etc.) are great for making predictions.
Have students work with a partner to form sentences using modal verbs to say whether or not they think winter will be extended six weeks.
But don’t stop there. Have them make some more predictions about the weather: Might it rain? Should we bring umbrellas to class? Encourage your students to use their creativity to come up with 10 predictions about the weather in February and March using modal verbs.
- For more advanced students, take things up a notch by creating conditional sentences rather than using modal verbs. Review conditionals with your students, and then have them work with a partner to write 10 conditional sentences about the upcoming weeks.
Students might write something along the lines of these sentences: “If the groundhog sees his shadow, then we will have six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy outside, I will bring my umbrella to class.”
2. Obscure Holidays
Groundhog Day isn’t exactly what Americans are known for. After all, it’s not like the 4th of July, Christmas or even Halloween. I think it’s safe to say that Groundhog Day is a rather obscure holiday.
What exactly are the origins of this holiday? Give your students a little reading to do on the origins of Groundhog Day.
Once students have a better idea of where this day originated, encourage them to use their creativity to come up with or research an obscure holiday of their own. They might base it off something important to them—such as National Coffee Day—or a calendar event such as May Day.
Encourage original ideas, but allow students to use “holidays” that already exist if they wish. Then have them write a paragraph or two on the origins of their obscure holiday and how it should be celebrated today, what traditions go along with it and why people appreciate the holiday. Make sure students assign a date to the holiday, too.
Once everyone has written about their holidays, have each person come to the front of the room to explain their holiday and its traditions to the rest of the class. Have everyone vote on their favorite obscure holiday and, if possible, plan to celebrate the winning holiday in class.
3. Film Fest: Groundhog Day
Are you a fan of using movies in your classroom? I love to include clips and entire films when they tie into a lesson. They make class more fun, creative and inspiring.
Ask your students if any of them has seen the movie “Groundhog Day.” If so, have them give a short explanation of the movie. Then show them this trailer.
Some viewers conclude that Murray’s character spends 30 to 40 years stuck reliving the same day over and over. During that time, he has the opportunity to fix the mistakes he made the last time he lived through the day.
Talk about this with your students, and then lead the discussion to the topic of regrets: What is a regret? Does anyone have a regret they would like to share with the class?
After a few minutes, put students with a partner and have each person talk about something they would do differently if they had the opportunity to relive any day they chose. If you like, have students write a paragraph after their discussion.
4. What Exactly Is a Groundhog?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Ask the groundhog! This common critter is called a woodchuck, a groundhog or a whistlepig, but it’s the same rodent either way.
How much do your students know about the groundhog? Start with a class discussion and a K/W/L chart. Start by brainstorming all the information your students already know and putting it in the first column of the chart, labeled K for “Know.” After everyone has exhausted their knowledge, complete the second column, W or “Want to know.” Then set your students to do some research.
You can have them read online about the groundhog or take them to your school library and do some reading research there. As they research, have them complete the last column of the chart, L for what they “Learned.”
After they have completed the chart, have each person do some more reading on another animal of their choice, this time completing their K/W/L chart on their own.
After both charts are complete, have students use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two animals. Using that chart for reference, students can then write a compare/contrast essay about the two.
5. Groundhog Day Crossword Puzzle
Crossword puzzles are a great way to teach vocabulary, especially when that vocabulary is associated with a special event.
Then decide on a definition of each word. Make it simple and easy for beginners, more complex for advanced students. Type in your definitions as the clues and your words as the answers when you generate your own puzzle.
Let your students have at the puzzle you create. If you want to give them a boost, brainstorm all the words they already know that are related to Groundhog Day and put the list on the board. Your students can use this list as they complete the puzzle.
For a twist on a classic, have pairs of students start with the vocabulary words and then create their own crossword puzzles by coming up with their own definitions of the words. They can create their puzzle online and print it out or create it by hand using graph paper.
6. Getting to Punxsutawney, PA
Who’s the most famous groundhog in the U.S.? Punxsutawney Phil, and he lives in, you guessed it, Punxsutawney, PA.
Phil is the official groundhog shadow spotter, and his prediction makes newscasts throughout the country. (Punxsutawney also happens to be where the movie “Groundhog Day” is set.)
But where exactly is this small Pennsylvania town? Have students look up Punxsutawney on a map or online. Then have students work with a partner to give directions on how to get from your school to Punxsutawney. Depending on where you are, that might require driving, taking a bus or flying.
But who says Phil should get all the attention on February 2nd?
Encourage your students to stretch their creativity and propose a new mascot for Groundhog Day or another holiday. (If your students did the Obscure Holiday activity, you can have them come up with a mascot for their own holiday.)
After they’ve made their decision, have each person propose their idea to the mayor of your town in a business letter. You might even want to make a decision on the best mascot as a class, write a letter together and send it to your mayor. Either way, students should be sure to explain why their mascot is perfect and how that mascot might bring fame and fortune to your town.
Whether spring is six weeks away or just around the corner, your classroom will be filled with sunshine when you celebrate Groundhog Day with these fun-filled ESL activities.
And One More Thing…
Searching for fun, authentic videos to get your students interested in ESL? Check out FluentU!
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.