Here are some favorite ESL Christmas activities and ideas for using traditional children's games as activities for parties or the English class. I've also included some ideas for young adult and adult classes.
Trivia type quizzes can be fun. I've made my own trivia games in the past - quite a lot of work to write the questions, but good fun to have questions personalized to suit my students. Below are ideas for ESL Christmas trivia quizzes.
Storytelling works well at any time and is a good ESL Christmas activity, with so many suitable stories to tell. Finally, jokes are fun and give practice with vocabulary. First joke:
"What kind of motorbike does Santa ride?"
" A Holly Davidson!"
See below for a full list of ESL Christmas activities, including a more complete list of Christmas jokes.
Why is Boxing Day (the 26th December) called Boxing Day?
The most likely reason (there are a few competing theories) is that in the past in Europe, rich families gave their servants the day after Christmas the day off. They also used to give them a box of gifts on this day.
Other possible reasons are similar to the above. In Victorian times, more wealthy people used to box items in the church to give to poorer people. Before then, in the 17th century, Samuel Pepys recorded the giving of boxes of gifts to craftsmen.
Where does the Christmas tree come from?
The origins of the Xmas tree are not completely clear. It is clear that in pagan times, long before Christianity arrived, that coniferous trees and plants were brought inside their homes during winter solstice - December 21st to December 22nd.
Ancient Egyptians, Romans and druid priests in Great Britain used to use them. Egyptians, because they symbolized life over death in the depth of winter.
There many claims for the first Christmas tree. St Boniface in the 7th century may have replaced the pagan oak tree with the coniferous tree - the triangular Christmas tree was said to represent the Holy Trinity. In the 16th century Christmas trees were used in Central and Eastern Europe, and perhaps elsewhere.
Although well known, the following historical event may not be well known to EFL students.
The Christmas truce. In 1914, during the First World War, around 100,000 soldiers, both British and German, stopped fighting; against the orders of the generals. Some German soldiers decorated their trenches with candles and Christmas trees. They sang carols. The British soldiers also sang carols. Greetings and gifts were exchanged. Even football matches were played.
Senior officers strongly opposed all truces - as did the young Adolf Hitler, who was serving in the German army.
Apart from a Christmas ESL trivia quiz, it's also possible to just discuss some of the background to Christmas. ESL Christmas activities can be as simple as storytelling..
Christmas tree at my university in Taiwan – early in the morning
Pelmanism is a memory game, and it can easily be adapted for Christmas. It can be played with all ages, and it is a good way to review vocabulary. There are two versions commonly played. The first is best for smaller classes, and requires some preparation, but I believe it is worth it, as the cards can be saved for the following year. The second version needs less preparation, and works well with larger classes.
The first version uses cards. If you have time you can buy blank name cards and write or draw (or both) the vocabulary items you wish on one side. The other side must be left blank. All vocabulary items must be in pairs. For example: "Christmas tree" and "Christmas tree." Or "Christmas tree," and a drawing of a Christmas tree on the other.
The aim of the game is for opposing teams to find matching pairs. You will need to prepare at least several pairs of different vocabulary items. Suitable vocabulary will vary depending on the age and level of the class. See 'Making Christmas Cards' below for a possible list. More abstract concepts could be used with higher level classes.
Have teams of four or five students sit or stand on opposite sides of a desk or table. A student from the first team turns over two cards. All cards need to be placed with blank side up on the desk. They should be shuffled so pairs of cards are not placed together.
The student - and team - must read aloud the items turned over, and answer whether they are the same or different. If they are different the cards must be turned back over and left in the same places. There should be no more shuffling, as the students now have to remember the location of the upside down cards. The other team then turns over a pair of cards.
When a team turns over a matching pair, they take these and keep them, then turn over two more. The team which has collected the most cards wins.
The second version is played in a similar way, but instead of cards, the teacher draws a grid on the board. This can be 4X4 or 5X5, or any size you wish; although I don't recommend going beyond 25 squares. If you have an odd number of squares, one of the squares will be empty.
You will need to prepare the grid on a piece of paper. As with the card version of the game, you will need to choose six pairs of vocabulary: bell-bell, snow-snow etc, but this time it will be written on your grid. The grid drawn on the board will be blank, except for numbers on the squares. Alternatively you could write A, B, C, D on the left, and 1 to 4 along the top.
The students play by choosing two squares. The teacher must read out the vocabulary for the squares, and the students must try to remember. The students are not allowed to make notes - although some will most likely try. When student/team chooses a correct pair, the teacher can write the vocabulary into the squares. Then they choose another pair.
The winning team is the one with the most squares. You will need to keep a score on the board.
Although I'm not a great fan of giving candy to children as a reward (for physical and psychological reasons) it does seem to be appropriate during the Christmas season. However, this is up to the teacher.
This activity can be adapted for any holiday or topic.
Another Christmas tree at the university – this one was made by the students from recycled materials. You can make your own paper Christmas trees here.
Storytelling is a good activity which can be adapted to many situations, including Christmas and other festivals.
ESL Christmas stories - and more - can be found at Dr Mike Lockett's storytelling website. Here is an ESL Christmas story about Francis of Assisi.
If you are looking for stories from the bible, Pearl Buck's 'New Testament,' is a good source of Christmas stories, including the birth of Jesus. The stories have already been simplified, but the language is not simple.
Making Christmas Cards is one of the most popular ESL Christmas activities, and often popular with younger children. You need card, glue, glitter, crayons, scissors, perhaps some stencils and anything anything else you would like to have on the cards.
Useful language includes: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Seasons Greetings, snowman, reindeer, Christmas tree, snow, star, bell, holly, mistletoe, Boxing Day, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Xmas, sleigh, gift, present, Christmas pudding, mince pies...
Some people prefer 'Happy Christmas' as 'merry' implies drinking too much alcohol - Queen Victoria was one of these.
Making Christmas cards is messy and always takes more time than you expect, but good with young children.
Christmas Songs are also popular with young children. No need to say more here.
Pass the Parcel is a popular children's party game. For those who don't know, wrap small gifts in many layers of paper. The children sit in a circle facing each other and pass the parcel quickly. When the music stops they begin opening, when the music plays they pass.
Throw the Hoop Or you could play throw the basketball, or any other throwing game.
Pin the Tail on the Donkey Children are blindfolded and must pin a tail on a picture of a donkey.
Egg & Spoon Race In pairs, threes, fours..the children race holding an egg in a spoon which they mustn't drop. Eggs can be replaced by ping pong balls.
Musical Chairs Like pass the parcel, chairs are arranged in a circle, but this time they face outwards. There should be one less chair than the number of students. Play music and the children walk around the outside of the circle. Stop the music and the children must sit. One student will be 'out.' Repeat, removing one chair at a time, until there is only one student left. The winner gets a prize, as does the winner of all the above games.
Remember that many regular teaching activities can be adapted for Christmas, or any other holiday. For example, bingo, drawing and labelling activities for younger students, the creation of posters to put up on the classroom walls and project work (which again can be shared with others and used to decorate the school).
Santa and Friends in Taiwan
Jokes are useful fillers or coolers in many classes because (of course) they’re funny, but even when they’re not, they offer good practice for students, as jokes often involve a play on words. And this can help students with vocabulary, as well as developing more awareness of other cultures.
I hope you enjoy these jokes and other ESL Christmas activities. Merry Christmas and a Happy & Prosperous New Year