ELL Teaching Tip of the Week: Teach Holidays of the English Speaking World
Generally, I’m not a teacher who “teaches the holidays”. For most of my career, I have been an upper elementary (3rd grade or up) teacher and have never spent a lot of time on holidays. For a long time, the most I even integrated holidays into my classroom was through my Holiday Shopping Math Project. However, teaching in a country where students not only do not speak English, but also do not celebrate the holidays generally celebrated in the “English Speaking World”, I have realized the importance of teaching these holidays for our ESL population. For these holidays are referenced in so many stories, movies and other pieces of the curriculum. These holidays are seen as “general knowledge” and so they are often referred to in things like math word problems and daily language activities. Since, I don’t want my students’ to be unable to understand these “general knowledge” types of questions, I am now sure to include vocabulary and discussions about holidays in my lessons.
When I teach holidays, I do so with the utmost respect for the holidays celebrated by the children I teach. (I also try to spend some time on these holidays as they come up – find my free center packet on Muslim Holidays if you want a simple way to introduce your students to some holidays from the “Non-English Speaking World”.) I stress to my students that there are many reasons for ESL students to learn about the holidays for the “English Speaking World”, including understanding other cultures and truly understanding the language they are studying, but that celebrating a holiday with those who celebrate it does not have to change your own cultural beliefs.
Now, we all have tons to teach already, so what are some quick and easy ways to fit in these lessons, without planning a whole unit on holidays?
1.) Use holiday stories during read aloud around the time that these holidays occur.
This year, my class read The Christmas Carol and The Grinch, both of which have become a huge part of common culture regarding Christmas. Then, we created some fabulous Venn Diagrams to analyze the main characters of each book. Tada – literary analysis, building background knowledge and common culture all in one fail swoop.
2.) Integrate holiday vocabulary.
In the winter, we do a Winter Holiday Vocabulary Packet, which talks about Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and Diwali (yes, India is a part of the English speaking world). Last week, we did our Spring Holiday Vocabulary packet, and reviewed the holidays of Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Earth Day.
3.) Use the teachable moment.
Seek out those places in our curriculum where this type of knowledge is needed. Use those word problems or those daily language activities on purpose, but plan to take some class time to talk about why Thanksgiving:Thursday::Easter:Sunday. Be aware of which problems are going to trip your kids up and have an explanation – or possibly a video, photograph or memorabilia to share with them in order to help them understand these things.
4.) If the holiday falls during teaching time – celebrate!
Celebrations don’t have to be big, but take the time to play April’s Fool’s jokes on your kids, dye Easter eggs with them, or exchange Valentines. We all know that we remember things better when we experience them, and we have to remember that our students may only experience these celebrations with us, so why not make the most of it?
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