Christmas In TEFL

The holiday season is just around the corner…or was it that corner I passed three blocks ago? I’m terrible with directions, so I’m really not sure, but wherever or whenever it is, the holiday season comes with several important questions:

Where are you going?

Lots of EFL teachers will return “home”, meaning back to their country of origin, even if it sounds funny to call it that after some time away. As usual, Bootsnall has some international air tickets to make it a little easier on your pocketbook.

If you teach in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, or if your break is too short to consider going all the way home, don’t despair. You can still get away. Once again, Bootsnall is there with help, this time in the form of its logues:

I went to Turkey last year over my Christmas holiday. It was somewhere I’d had an interest in some time (they make Bosnian food there…they get an A for effort but they have a long way to go for perfection!) and it was an affordable three-hour flight. It was also an advantage for me that it wouldn’t be a holiday there. I like Christmas well enough, and have lived abroad long enough to cope through different holidays without my family, but wasn’t looking forward to hanging out along while everyone else celebrated with family.

If you do want Christmas atmosphere, maybe as a precursor to your trip home?, give Vienna or Bratislava a try. Food, handmade trinkets, and most important drinks like “bear’s blood”.

What are you going to do in class?

I came across a teacher-made rendition of taboo, with Christmas vocabulary as the words to guess. The only problem for me was that the vocab included a whole host of words I didn’t know myself! Some were connected to current UK traditions, which might have just been used more in the past in US English: “cracker” (the party-favor type gift that pops open) and “baubles” (round reflective Christmas ornaments).

There is of course the question of how useful these particular words are for your students; with taboo, I justify vocabulary generally by explaining that it is the skill you are using – talking around a word, or guessing a word from a definition or description – that are the main point of the activity, not necessarily the words themselves. In this case, the Christmas vocab is just an extra bonus! Keep in mind of course that if all of the words are new to your studens, a game where they try and guess them will not be particularly useful or fun.

In the past I’ve searched online to find short descriptions of Christmas – or holidays generally – around the world. You can use these in any number of ways, including as a reading race if your students would be up for it. Or – get your students to do the work: if you have Internet access and computers, have them research and present a particular world holiday, festival or event.

What if your students don’t celebrate Christmas?

I think this is connected to the age old question of are you teaching language or culture? While it is probably not out of the question for ESL learners living in a country where most people do celebrate Christmas to learn some relevant vocab or talk specifically about Christmas traditions, it may be another story for those in their own country.

Sarajevo, as usual, presents a unique situation, because there have been different holidays celebrated in Bosnia and there still are. Plenty of people celebrate different holidays today, and for different reasons, not least of which may be getting a day off or eating a big meal! Today, though, themes which point out nationality or religion (even if it is only religion in the nominal sense) of students in a group can be awkward, and you can kind of put someone on the spot without realizing it. As there are enough topics to go around without going on about Christmas, I usually elected not do any specific Christmas activities, or activities for holidays of any religion.

This may be less of an issue in more homogeneous countries, where an activity can function as more of an exchange where you share about your holiday traditions and they share theirs. If you don’t want to let them off the hook too much, make a grammar auction which they have to first find the errors in, and then decide if the statements are true or false about Christmas. Then have them make a quiz for you about their traditions – you probably don’t need to ask them to put in mistakes though!