You can deal with the following aspects:
The religious background and/or specific background to the customs associated with the festival e.g. St Nicholas, the use of Carols or the introduction of the Christmas Tree or card giving in the UK.
- Younger learners can make a Xmas card following your instructions, colour in a card following your instructions and write greetings in the card.
- Lower levels can make the origins of or background to Xmas into an easy quiz which is much easier to read and do than a heavy text. Example question: Where does the custom of Xmas trees come from? What is another name for Father Christmas? How many days are there on an advent calendar?
- Higher levels can pick a very simple carol. Jumble the couplets or miss out key words which students would understand. Don’t dwell on every word or translate in detail but enjoy the sound and, with a willing group, sing. Use a history of Christmas text as a short group summary activity. Divide the text into 3. Each student in a group of 3 reads one part. Take away text and they make a summary of the origins of Christmas or they make questions together to challenge the rest of the class.
Customs and traditions
Look at customs surrounding gift giving (it differs in each country) and the types of celebration or worship associated e.g. parties in offices, pantomimes, carol concerts and carol singing around towns. Customs like using crackers during/after the meal are fascinating for students (especially if you can take a real cracker to show them).
- Younger learners/lower levels can follow the instructions to make a cracker in groups of 4.
- Higher levels can look at the types of jokes and language in Christmas crackers.
Food and drink
Describe the Christmas meal and traditional food eaten in the UK (e.g. mince pies). Pictures, photos or the real thing essential for this topic! Guess the weight of the pudding and its ingredients! Draw on your own family experience as much as possible.
- Younger learners can draw their favourite/ideal Xmas meal and write words to label their picture.
- Lower and higher levels can write a Xmas recipe in groups for a local Xmas dish or plan their perfect party in groups.
Songs and carols
Students enjoy singing along to English versions of carols they already sing in their own language (e.g. Silent Night) or songs which are well known from the chart CDs blasting out of every supermarket sound system ! Some songs lend themselves to a variety of activities e.g. The 12 Days of Christmas – match pictures to the correct numbers, illustrate the song, sing it around the class with one pair of students for each line or students make their own version with presents they would like to get over the 12 Days.
Traditional poems and literature
Younger learners can read the very funny nativity story ‘Jesus’s Christmas Party’ by Nicholas Allen. It is brilliant for acting out and retelling through the pictures. The events are seen through the eyes of an angry innkeeper who is disturbed all night by the goings on in his stable. Raymond Brigg’s ‘The Snowman’ is good for exploitation and the video has no dialogue so conversations can be invented by students or they can give a running commentary of what is happening in the story.
- Does Santa exist?
Is it a good idea to encourage children to believe in Santa Claus ? Many sites on the net encourage this, with e-mail to the North Pole. How do students feel about this? Harmless fun or a cruel hoax to get kids to be good? When did they discover Santa didn’t exist? Is he really necessary? Younger learners can say what they want for Xmas and then write a short email to Santa for fun.
- My ideal present / My earliest Christmas memory / my best Christmas ever
(Where? When? Who with? Activities? Past or future?). Start with an example of your own and put headings on the board to show how you develop your ideas e.g. description of the place/ the weather and the year, your age/ the people spending Xmas with you/the best things you saw or did. Give students time to collect their own ideas.
With lower levels run through the types of questions to ask, eliciting example replies around the class. Higher levels can have more freedom but encourage and practise the language needed for showing interest (Really?) and/or the language needed to encourage the speaker to expand on what they are saying (That’s amazing/interesting. Do you always do that at Xmas?)
- My ideal Christmas Day
(Who with? Where? What would you do?) Better with higher levels where you can encourage use of the second conditional . Do a brainstorm exercise first. Where are all the possible places to spend Xmas? (get suggestions- also wacky and unusual destinations so they get the idea) Ask them if they are sociable or quiet. Do you want a Xmas in a crowd or a Xmas with just one special person? Give examples of Xmas in another part of the world, such as Australia (see the link below) . Are you very keen on tradition or do you hate trees and all the Xmas over eating? A complete brainstorm will make this a more rewarding activity.
Then get students to interview at least 2 people about their ideal Xmas or give them a questionnaire: Find someone who would spend Xmas abroad/ alone/ not on this planet / in a strange place / with lots of people / in a very traditional way.
The whole class can then exchange their ideas and complete the questionnaire. This can be very funny if they have good imaginations!
- Does Christmas start too early?
Christmas shopping starts in September for some. UK High Streets start earlier each year and with more lavish commercialism than other nations. Is it just too commercialised ? Is it appropriate ? How does Christmas in your host country compare ? Has it changed a lot in the past 20 years?
- Christmas TV/video recorder
Students in groups have the TV pages for the UK for Christmas Eve-Boxing Day but just 1 TV in the house. Can they agree on which programmes/films to watch ?Give them a grid with a choice of two possible programmes for each day (no more!)
Adapt this for lower levels. Give them a list of 10 programmes in simple language and they can record only four. Don’t give them the page from the newspaper or TV magazine as it will overwhelm them. Set rules if you want: they must agree to record one film and one music programme. Alternative: make a list of the films which will be showing over the Xmas period. Ask each group to choose the best 3 films to watch.
Note: prepare all the vocabulary well for all types of students. What types of programmes do they like? Film drama soap operas What types of films do they know? Comedy thriller animated film Get examples of each programme type from the students.
- Choose the most appropriate card/gift
Groups have a selection of cards/pictures of gifts and a list of people to give them to e.g. their teacher, boyfriend, grandmother.. Can they agree on which is most suitable ? Lots of cultural attitudes come out in this discussion. This is too challenging for lower levels. An alternative is to choose a present for yourself and say why you like it and then choose a present for someone else in the group and say why you think it is a good choice. This can be shorter and more controlled so could be used with lower levels. Always set up the activity by giving examples for yourself and inviting examples from the class.
Search the newsround site for Christmas resources and there is amazing scope for kids, lower secondary and lower levels. Very accessible stuff on diverse topics from the battle for the number 1 slot in the UK’s Christmas charts and the Top 10 toys this year. What do newsround users think? Does Xmas start too early? Great stuff here and not always too Christmassy for teens.
Look in holidays section for Christmas around the world. There’s a good text on Christmas in England and Boxing Day customs/origins. The puzzles, word searches and crosswords are also suitable for lower levels with plenty of visual support. Use these puzzles as lesson starters or fillers. There is a good extract from ‘A Christmas Carol’ for higher levels and lots of simple stories to tell for lower levels and kids. The classroom games have some very useful ideas for language classes and the printable pictures are good too.
A lesson on the history of Christmas trees which you could adapt and simplify or make a quiz on trees.
First published 2007