Any ESL teacher knows that teaching English as a foreign language is about more than just vocabulary, grammar and sentence structures. Most schools that hire foreign teachers do so with the aim of exposing students to a native accent and culture. Therefore, along with standard textbook topics, ESL teachers should inform students about important holidays and traditions in their home country. Of course, there’s no better time to do this than during December, in the run up to one of the most famous holidays celebrated in English-speaking countries; Christmas.
Politics and religion are taboo subjects in the Chinese classroom, and you’re likely to find this in your school contract. Though you needn’t tiptoe around the topic of Christmas, you should refrain from speaking about its religious roots. Many people in China view Christmas as a commercial celebration like Valentine’s Day, so it’s easy to focus your lessons on the well-known characters and features of a Western Christmas, rather than the story behind it.
There are many ways to bring this beloved holiday to your lessons. Below are some great ideas and a lesson plan to help you teach Christmas in the Chinese classroom while helping students practice their language skills:
A Christmas themed worksheet is great for making reading in English seem fun. Word searches, crosswords and match-up exercises are sure-fire ways to engross your class in reading. Engage students further by turning the worksheet into a competition, and award points to those who complete the tasks quickest or most accurately. This is an ideal technique for making reading interesting and can be adjusted to suit all levels of students.
A Christmas reading comprehension with questions is a good method of testing advanced students’ reading skills. Another fun idea is asking students to write a Christmas poem using the vocabulary you’ve taught them.
A great way to teach your students about Christmas traditions and to practice their writing skills is Christmas cards. This works particularly well with lower levels, but you can also increase the difficulty level for more advanced students. Alternatively, asking students to write Christmas lists for Santa is great for teaching them about a tradition loved by children in the West, while getting them to practice key sentence structures. For example, students can practice the conditional tense by using ‘I would like…’, or questions like ‘please can I have…?’. Make this more exciting by collecting the letters and handing out gifts from ‘Santa’ during the next class. Of course, in large classes this may not be practical, but sweets or chocolates work just as well!
Watching a festive film or video is a fun way for students to listen to English and learn more about Christmas. There are numerous seasonal clips on YouTube featuring famous characters like Mr. Bean, the Flintstones and Mickey Mouse that are extremely popular among students of all ages. To test your student’s understanding, follow the video with a short quiz, or discussion.
Alternatively, read a Christmas story out to your class and ask them questions based on what they heard. To make this more exciting, group students together and get them to compete in teams. Another popular activity you can use to test listening skills is ‘How to Decorate a Christmas Tree’. To do this, give students cut outs of Christmas trees and verbally instruct them how to decorate it. You can entertain your students by giving silly instructions that they might not expect, such as ‘colour your tree purple’. In larger classes, it might be best to hand out pictures as below and give instructions on how to colour them in.
Practicing speaking in Christmas lessons can be a lot of fun. For younger students, games like Pictionary and charades are great to get students active and using the Christmas vocabulary you’ve taught them. For more advanced students, role plays are a good idea. Perhaps show your class part of a Christmas video and ask them to act out possible endings to the story in groups, using the target vocabulary. Give them some time to plan and practise their plays, then get each group to perform to the class. This is an effective way to get the whole class speaking and engaged. That, and students love watching other groups perform!
Not only are these activities great for teaching students about western culture, but also for helping you feel festive!
Have you got any great ESL games that can be used to teach Christmas in the Chinese classroom? If so, we’d love to hear about them, send us an email; firstname.lastname@example.org.