4 Ways to Use Holidays to Teach English


If you are in the United States, holiday season is upon us with many of the major holidays happening in the next 2 months.

Do you take the time to teach about the holidays? There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this! Some schools might not allow holidays to be taught in school, and others might still do parties and celebrations for them.

If you do take time to talk about holidays, then why not make sure it’s the best use of your time with these 4 suggestions.

  1. Instead of focusing strictly on the vocabulary, try using the vocabulary in context. 

Often times, I see activities for ELLs teaching them 20 different holiday words through flashcards. This isn’t bad, but when we think about these specific words, they really need to be taught in context. For example, we might introduce the word leprechaun to our students during St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechaun is probably not a work they have seen before and is not a word that will frequently come up in conversation, so it’s important we provide the word in context so that it will stick better in their memory and it will be stored for future use and connections. Ideally, introducing vocabulary with flashcards and then adding in contextual support would be best.

2. Instead of playing games to quiz them on the vocabulary, try exploring the language using their native language and having them share connections. 

Another popular option for holiday words is to play games like BINGO or word unscramble pages. Again, this isn’t bad, but is it the most effective activity for our ELLs or just a time waster? Use the holiday words to bring in your student’s native language. Take a common word for that holiday like pumpkin for Halloween or turkey for Thanksgiving, and have your students share that word in their L1. Have them use google translate to research other ways that word is said in other languages.

3. Instead of giving them a word search of the vocabulary cards to keep them busy, give them discussion prompts to push them to talk using the new vocabulary. 

Again, are we giving our students activities to just “fill the time” or are we giving them opportunities to learn new words while growing in language domains. Seasonal vocabulary words are not common words they will use frequently, so it’s important to provide an opportunity for your students to use them in conversation if you want them to stick!

4. Instead of making it only about the American holiday, do some research and see if your students’ culture has a similar celebration. Building connections like this will help your students retain the vocabulary even more. 

What a great opportunity to bring in celebrations from around the world! It is so fun to hear about different traditions and celebrations from around the world. Use this opportunity to bring in books about those holidays or research together with your students. You could turn it into a research report and presentation for your higher language level ELLs or a simple compare and contrast activity for your lower language ELLs.

The challenge for you is to look at how your being intentional with the activities you choose around holidays to help your ELLs build vocabulary, improve on their language development, and showcase their own culture.

How else do you use holidays to teach English? 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Find a variety of best selling resources created specifically with the diverse needs of ELLs in mind.