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Christmas

A Christmas lesson plan that discusses the American Santa Claus and his counterparts in other parts of the world. Since I teach in the post-Soviet Union, where Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, brings presents on New Year’s Day and has some other differences, I thought a comparison of Kazakhstan’s holiday traditions and American traditions was a good introduction to Christmas. But of course, you could compare American Santa Claus and Sinterklass or other variations in your students’ cultures.

Objectives

  • To discuss New Year’s and Christmas and other winter holidays
  • To promote fluency
  • To activate, elicit and teach Christmas vocabulary
  • To discuss the culture and traditions of Christmas in the West in a comparative context

Materials

Warm Up

Santa ClausShow them a picture of Santa Claus and ask them who it is. Then ask them what they know about Santa Claus. Don’t correct them at this point, let them discuss among themselves everything they know about Santa Claus and Christmas.

Comparison

Now put a table up on the board with 3 columns. In the first column, write questions like:
When does he come?
What does he bring?
How does he get in the house?
How does he travel?
Where does he live?
Does he have family?
Who helps him?
How does he know what you want?
What does he wear?

On top of column one, write Santa Claus and on top of column two, write Ded Moroz or Sinterklass or whatever. Now discuss the answers to the questions as a class. Alternatively have students read the text, About Santa, and find the answers themselves. You could write up similar texts for Ded Moroz or other variations of Santa Claus and do a jigsaw reading where students in small groups read one text and then tell the other students about it.

Vocabulary Review

To reinforce vocabulary, hand out the Christmas flashcards. I recommend using only the flashcards that relate to Santa, and the words that came up in the lesson (North Pole, reindeer, presents, sleigh, chimney, fireplace/stockings, elves and so on). Call out a word and ask students to show you the picture of that word. Alternatively, use the word in a sentence or for higher level classes, give a definition or description of the word (How does Santa get into the house?). Get students to cycle through all the words.

Filler Questions

As part of the warm-up or as a closing, you can ask students what they want for Christmas or New Years, if they believe in Santa Claus, how old they were when they stopped believing, the best gift they ever got from Santa, the worst gift they ever got. You can also ask about family traditions, and what they are looking forward to doing for the holidays.

Culture Shock

This is a discussion lesson that focuses on cultural differences in terms of polite and impolite actions. While the materials were designed with Kazakhstan in mind, they are easily adapted to any nation or culture.

Objectives:

  • To develop fluency
  • To discuss culture and cultural differences. To encourage students to deconstruct their culture and learn about other cultures.

Note: The Discussion questions worksheet was designed with Kazakhstan in mind so you might want to change it to reflect the culture of your students or for a multicultural class you might want to make it more open. But if you target the questions too narrowly to the culture of your students you might leave them responding only, “Yes” or “No.” It is important to keep the cultural rules vague and untargeted to elicit discussion from the students. For example, asking students to respond to, “It is normal to shake hands hello” might elicit responses like, “Only for men,” or “In formal situations.” So keep them a bit open.

Materials

Warm-Up

To open the lesson, write the proverb “When in Rome, do as Romans do” on the board. Ask students what they think it means. The slightly irregular grammar might throw students so you might have to translate it for them or field questions about the dangling “do”. Note: it means that when you live in another country or another culture, you should follow their rules and norms. Once the students have guessed the meaning, ask them if they agree or if it is better to keep your own cultural rules. As with any proverb, you might also ask if they have a similar proverb in their country. Or perhaps a proverb that means the opposite!

Introducing the Task

Now get students thinking about the discussion questions by asking them how they give a gift. Try to elicit concrete behavior, like “We wrap it.” or “We only hand things to people with our right hand,” or “We give gifts before dinner.” If they begin to think about different kinds of gifts, encourage them to talk about the differences between giving a birthday gift, or a gift to a friend, or a wedding gift. Are these procedures different? If they don’t go there on their own, don’t push them. That comes with the worksheet.

Then ask how they greet someone at their house, again looking for concrete behavior. If you are from a different culture, you can tell them about greeting in your country and anything you find particularly odd or surprising about customs in the students’ culture.

Next, turn it around by asking about ask them in what situations they might kiss on the cheek, when they might shake hands, or touch a stranger. Note: you might adapt the situations and behavior to the students’ culture or country. or you might ask about something you don’t understand. It can also be motivating to the students if they think you are genuinely curious about their culture or tradition, and this can become an authentic meaningful exchange as you ask questions. Of course to get the same effect, you might feign ignorance about anything you do know.

The Worksheet

Hand out the discussion questions and have students work on them in small groups or individually. When each group has decided on its answers, review the questions as a class. Focus on any areas where students disagree and try to encourage students to think about why there are disagreements. Are there regional differences? Family or personal differences? You might also talk about stereotyping and whether it is fair to say that everyone always does the same thing (Check out about.com’s lesson on National Stereotypes as a follow-up to this lesson). If students are multicultural this discussion can be quite interesting and you may want to talk about what it is like in your home culture–being careful not to judge the students of course.

Incidentally, it can be useful to know cultures where all of these activities are normal and where they are not, in case students are curious or feel some of the situations are just ridiculous.

Closing

Some ways to close this lesson (or give homework) include:

  • If you are from a Western country and your students are not, you can ask them what activities or cultural nuances they see in films that surprise them. My students here often note that in the US, no one takes their shoes off when they enter the house. Talk to them about why Westerners do (or don’t do) something and how you feel about living in their country or culture.
  • Ask them to come up with 5 very rude or 5 very polite actions. You can have them think of a stereotype of a rude or polite person and list 5 things they would (or wouldn’t) do.
  • Have them research or describe another culture. This could become a webquest. Assign or have them choose another nation or culture and tell them to find out how that country greets people, gives gifts, celebrates holidays, and dresses for formal occasions. Next class, the students can share what they learned and discuss the most unusual or interesting customs

Follow-Ups

You can follow this lesson up with a Cultural role play where students pretend to be part of a fictional tribe and learn what it is like experience a different group of people.

Or focus on Muslim culture and use some of the activity ideas while watching the film Land Called Paradise by Muslim-American filmmaker Lena Khan about images of Islam in the world.

Body Language

This is an activity I came up with to teach American body language to students. It has a cross-cultural aspect to it as students talk about body language in their own cultures. I originally came up with this lesson as part of a slang course for Afghan students who were going to study in the US under the YES scholarship and they loved it.

Objectives

  • To teach students body language and how it is used in America.
  • To compare American body language with the students’ own cultures’ body language.

Materials

Warm Up

Ask students what body language is. If they are having trouble, this is a great chance to give a demonstration. For example, nod your head and ask students what it means. Probably they will say it means, “Yes”. Tell them that this is body language, gestures we use that have meanings.

This is a good time to establish that body language is different from culture to culture. If you are familiar with your students’ host culture (or students’ host cultures) you can give them an example. For instance, in America, if you make a fist and hold your pinky and thumb out it usually means a phone. In Russian-speaking cultures, it means a bottle of vodka. You can demonstrate this by making the gesture and ask them what it means. When they say, “vodka”, put it up to your head and say, “Hello, who is it?”

Now ask them why it might be important to know body language in America. This helps to establish the reason for the lesson but it also motivates students to pay attention more. Asking students why it is important to learn something can also be a good way to figure out what they already know and what they may not understand.

Gestures

  • High Five
  • Thumbs Up
  • OK
  • Cross my heart
  • You’re Out
  • Cross your fingers
  • Wink
  • Thumbs Down
  • Shrug Shoulders
  • Nod
  • Shake Hands
  • Shake Head

First, you have to establish that students know what these gestures are. It is useful for them to know what these gestures are called as well, because we do sometimes talk about them instead of doing them.

One by one call on students and ask them to demonstrate a gesture. This way, they are teaching each other. If there are any left that none of the students know, demonstrate them yourself.

Now you can move on to what they mean. Draw a line down the board to make two columns next to the list of body gestures. Write “Your culture” at the top of one and “In the US” on the other. Now go over the list and ask students what they mean in their own culture and what they mean in the US. Correct any mistakes and be sure to give a lot of demonstrations.

Practice

Now you can hand out the body language dialogues. Students read the dialogues over and try to think of what body language they might insert into them. Make sure they understand that they shouldn’t over do it. Usually we don’t use these gestures every time we speak. Once students have thought about the dialogues, you can call on them to perform them with gestures.

Extension

For homework or review, students can write dialogues of their own that incorporate 3 different pieces of body language.

Trick or Treat Halloween Resources

I stumbled on this song activity from The Bus Stop: Trick or Treat Rap.

It’s a pretty simple song, aimed at beginners. The vocabulary is not difficult at all: black, night, moon, witch, spooky, BOO, wind, cold. But it sets the atmosphere well because the music is pretty spooky. There’s a nice addition of having students talk about what they are afraid of. To extend it, students might have fun making up their own verses.

Worksheet
Teacher’s Sheet
Trick or Treat Rap MP3

I also found a slightly less kid friendly but really fun and well-done video:

It’s a bit dirty. References pimps and crack and beating people up. But it’s a fun introduction to the idea of trick or treat and easy to understand. Students might be asked to describe trick or treating after seeing it.

Check out my own Halloween lesson plan for more ideas of how to teach or entertain students!

This is Halloween

“This is Halloween” is the opening song from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. It makes a great introduction to Halloween, especially setting the mood. Note that this song is not to be confused with the Marliyn Manson song of the same name!

I found the karaoke version on Youtube, so it has the lyrics as subtitles. And the words are actually not as I thought it might be. I do wish it referenced more traditional monsters in the lyrics because I’m having trouble thinking of ways to make them use “Frankenstein”, “werewolf”.

This video will make a good opening activity I think. Or something extra to have under your belt. I did a cloze/gap-fill exercise of the lyrics

You can also have students watch and list all the scary monsters they see. Introduce the idea of the Boogey man, the monster who hides in the closet or under the bed. Ask if their culture has a similar catch-all monster. Ask if scary and creepy things can ever be fun? Discuss the lyrics. Why do the monsters say they aren’t mean? Are the things mentioned in the song scary? Like clowns that have tear-away faces? Or is it pretty funny over all?

Culture Shock

This is a discussion lesson that focuses on cultural differences in terms of polite and impolite actions. While the materials were designed with Kazakhstan in mind, they are easily adapted to any nation or culture.

Objectives:

  • To develop fluency
  • To discuss culture and cultural differences. To encourage students to deconstruct their culture and learn about other cultures.

This lesson is part of premium content on English Advantage.

You can go to the Membership Options Page to learn how to access the rest of the lesson.

Note: The Discussion questions worksheet was designed with Kazakhstan in mind so you might want to change it to reflect the culture of your students or for a multicultural class you might want to make it more open. But if you target the questions too narrowly to the culture of your students you might leave them responding only, “Yes” or “No.” It is important to keep the cultural rules vague and untargeted to elicit discussion from the students. For example, asking students to respond to, “It is normal to shake hands hello,” might elicit responses like, “Only for men,” or “In formal situations.” So keep them a bit open.

Materials

Warm-Up

To open the lesson, write the proverb “When in Rome, do as Romans do” on the board. Ask students what they think it means. The slightly irregular grammar might throw students so you might have to translate it for them or field questions about the dangling “do”. Note: it means that when you live in another country or another culture, you should follow their rules and norms. Once the students have guessed the meaning, ask them if they agree or if it is better to keep your own cultural rules. As with any proverb, you might also ask if they have a similar proverb in their country. Or perhaps a proverb that means the opposite!

Introducing the Task

Now get students thinking about the discussion questions by asking them how they give a gift. Try to elicit concrete behavior, like “We wrap it.” or “We only hand things to people with our right hand,” or “We give gifts before dinner.” If they begin to think about different kinds of gifts, encourage them to talk about the differences between giving a birthday gift, or a gift to a friend, or a wedding gift. Are these procedures different? If they don’t go there on their own, don’t push them. That comes with the worksheet.

Then ask how they greet someone at their house, again looking for concrete behavior. If you are from a different culture, you can tell them about greeting in your country and anything you find particularly odd or surprising about customs in the students’ culture.

Next, turn it around by asking about ask them in what situations they might kiss on the cheek, when they might shake hands, or touch a stranger. Note: you might adapt the situations and behavior to the students’ culture or country. or you might ask about something you don’t understand. It can also be motivating to the students if they think you are genuinely curious about their culture or tradition, and this can become an authentic meaningful exchange as you ask questions. Of course to get the same effect, you might feign ignorance about anything you do know.

The Worksheet

Hand out the discussion questions and have students work on them in small groups or individually. When each group has decided on its answers, review the questions as a class. Focus on any areas where students disagree and try to encourage students to think about why there are disagreements. Are there regional differences? Family or personal differences? You might also talk about stereotyping and whether it is fair to say that everyone always does the same thing (Check out about.com’s lesson on National Stereotypes as a follow-up to this lesson). If students are multicultural this discussion can be quite interesting and you may want to talk about what it is like in your home culture–being careful not to judge the students of course.

Incidentally, it can be useful to know cultures where all of these activities are normal and where they are not, in case students are curious or feel some of the situations are just ridiculous.

Closing

Some ways to close this lesson (or give homework) include:

  • If you are from a Western country and your students are not, you can ask them what activities or cultural nuances they see in films that surprise them. My students here often note that in the US, no one takes their shoes off when they enter the house. Talk to them about why Westerners do (or don’t do) something and how you feel about living in their country or culture.
  • Ask them to come up with 5 very rude or 5 very polite actions. You can have them think of a stereotype of a rude or polite person and list 5 things they would (or wouldn’t) do.
  • Have them research or describe another culture. This could become a webquest. Assign or have them choose another nation or culture and tell them to find out how that country greets people, gives gifts, celebrates holidays, and dresses for formal occasions. Next class, the students can share what they learned and discuss the most unusual or interesting customs

Follow-Ups

You can follow this lesson up with a Cultural role play where students pretend to be part of a fictional tribe and learn what it is like experience a different group of people.

Or focus on Muslim culture and use some of the activity ideas while watching the film Land Called Paradise by Muslim-American filmmaker Lena Khan about images of Islam in the world.

Halloween

This is a fun Halloween lesson plan that includes a lot of different kinds of activities, including vocabulary of monsters, traditions of Halloween, reading and telling scary stories, and talking about horror movies. The activities can all be used separately of course.

Objectives

  1. To teach about the holiday of Halloween
  2. To practice reading comprehension
  3. To practice writing or telling stories
  4. To have fun

Materials

Warm-Up

If you teach in an EFL setting, chances are students will know a little about Halloween, but it might be bits and pieces. Even people living in the West don’t necessarily know all the history or traditions surrounding the holiday.

This is a fun lesson to bring in decorations for, or at least draw some a jack o’lantern on the board. The more of an atmosphere you can create, the more fun and interesting it will be for your students.

First I ask students what they know about Halloween. Usually I get things about pumpkins, candy, trick or treating, monsters and ghosts. I put vocab words up on the board – especially those that will come up later in the lesson so they have a first exposure verbally and visually.

Now I tell them that they will learn a bit more about the holiday and the history behind it. I hand out the British Council’s The History of Halloween worksheet and ask them to think about whether the statements below are true or false. With weaker classes, I might warn them that the false statements contain some truth but have a small error in them (otherwise they might be easily fooled into thinking all the sentences are true).

Note: For beginners, I use this true-false exercise for beginners on Halloween Traditions which uses simpler language and just covers traditions they will probably know like getting candy and dressing in costumes.

Once they’ve done that, I go over it with the class and give a mini-lecture for each question (I often do this in L1 for weaker students), something like:

1. Yes, Halloween is on Oct 31st every year. All Saint’s Day is a day for every saint and they protect us after the scary Halloween night!
2. Yes, that was the original name of Halloween.
3. No, they didn’t stay at home and watch TV. The evil spirits and ghosts and demons walked on the earth. That’s why Halloween is such a scary holiday! Because any one on the street could be a ghost!
4. No, not the end of Winter. What season is ending now? Summer. So Halloween is the end of the warm and light part of the year and the beginning of the cold, dark part of the year.
5. No, tricky one. They used to believe you had to welcome ghosts and spirits and be nice to them. Otherwise they would kill you. So when someone came to your house, you had to decorate it and make it look nice and feed them. Because maybe they are an evil spirit!
6. Yes, and any spirit that found a body on Halloween could keep that body forever and live again! So that’s why ghosts and witches are so dangerous on Halloween (No idea if that’s true but it sounds cool)
7. Yes, that’s why we wear costumes. If we dress like ghosts and demons, then the evil spirits won’t attack us.
8. We carve pumpkins, yes but do we put them inside? No, outside.
9. Yes, when the pumpkin is carved, we call it a Jack o’Lantern. Why? Jack is a common name in England, like Ivan in Russia and lantern because we put a light or lantern inside!
10. Yes, trick or treat is what we say when we knock on the door (I usually knock on the desk and call out, “Trick or Treat!”) If the neighbor doesn’t give us candy, we can play a trick on them. Just like before we believed that ghosts or witches would kill you if you didn’t treat them well.
Note that it’s good to teach the word “trick” because in this context they may not know what it means. Sometimes I do a demonstration or give examples (TPing a tree, shaving cream in the mailbox).

This is a good place to pause for questions and comments. Students may mention other holiday traditions they know from movies or ask some questions about the history or why we celebrate a scary holiday. Once they are clear on the history and traditions I move on to vocabulary.

Vocabulary

For strong students, I sometimes ask them to brainstorm vocab words on the board. In the past I’ve done a
set-up like this on the board:

and asked them to brainstorm words for each category. But often students don’t know a lot of scary words or go crazy listing ten thousand monsters so I like to have more control over them. Let’s also face it that a lot of Halloween vocabulary is of limited use the rest of the year. However this categorization can be a great warm-up for writing a scary story!

For lower level students, I break them into pairs or small groups and I hand out the Halloween flash cards from MES English and put the words up on the board in a different order. I ask them to look over the cards and try to match the words to the picture. Once they’ve done that, I call out a word and they have to show me the picture.

I sometimes hand them out an extra blank card and have them draw a Halloweeny thing (a monster or a scary animal or place). Then they test each other.

You can do a couple of things to recycle the vocab. You can have them play Go Fish. You can have them test each other by showing the other people in the group the picture and asking them to name it. Another way to brainstorm or something to do after brainstorming is to get kids to act out monsters or scary actions and have the rest of the class guess. Vocab can also be elicited using relative clauses, like “A zombie is a monster that….” (Thanks to Boggle’s World for that idea).

In any case, I like to follow-up by asking them some questions to get a little free discussion:
Which monster is the scariest?
Which monster is the least scary?
Do you think ghosts are real?
Have you ever seen a ghost?
Do you think vampires are real?
What about witches?
Are witches different from fortune-tellers?
What’s your favorite vampire/werewolf/psychopath/ghost/haunted house movie?

Scary Stories

Now I break them into 4 groups. I hand out one scary story from the Scary Stories worksheet to each group. Their job is to read the story and either act it out for the class or draw a comic strip retelling the story.

For stronger students you can have them rewrite the story in a different way. Sometimes they know variations of these stories (The Hook story also sometimes involves the boyfriend going out to investigate the noise and not coming back. When the girl finally drives off, she discovers the psychopath put a noose around the boyfriend’s neck and he was standing on the car. When she drives off, she effectively hangs him). Or they can create their own variations (maybe The Helping Hands then attack the driver, or they find out that five (living) policemen always stand near that place and push cars off the track).

Students show their pictures as they retell the story or act it out. This can be a lot of fun. Monitor for language use and common mistakes.

Chain Story

Finally, I tell students we are going to tell a scary chain story. Each student will add one sentence to the story. You can use these Story Prompts or make up your own. For chain stories, you have to decide whether to insert yourself or not. I sometimes invoke executive privilege to butt in if one student isn’t really into it and tries to end the story early. On the other hand, if few students enjoy it I might try to bring it to a quick end.

For homework I have them write a scary story or write about the daily life of a monster. i.e. “Dracula gets up at 10pm every night and eats raw bloody meat for breakfast. Then he flies to a village and drinks blood. After that, he turns into a bat and flies over the mountains…”

Additional Resources

  • Halloween Power Point [ZIP] an old lesson plan I put together with some of the same scary stories and some vocab exercises plus a few discussion questions.
  • This is Halloween, an activity watching the opening song to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Includes a gap-fill exercise and some discussion questions.
  • Trick or Treat songs, a couple of songs about trick or treating. One pretty basic and kid-friendly. The other a little more edgy and difficult.