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Teaching World Languages and Cultures through Classroom Celebrations

It’s that festive time of year—the holiday season—with lots of celebrations going on! Why not take advantage of the holidays and the celebration mindset to provide opportunities for students to learn and grow in their communication and culture?


I loved teaching in December each year and seeing my students’ excitement during the holidays! Sure, I also had semester exams as well. Maybe you do, too, or perhaps your semester ends after winter break. Regardless, along with the hard work and preparation for exams, it’s great to add in some levity to learning through fun, communicative activities tied to celebration of culture. Let’s take a look at seven ways to celebrate while also learning and growing in world languages and cultures:


  1. Sharing Family Holiday Traditions: This is especially meaningful for teaching students about other cultures and diverse perspectives. Whether students celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other holidays, consider assigning a short presentation (including images) where students share personally significant cultural products, practices, and perspectives. This activity can be modified according to proficiency levels. It could be a poster in a novice-level classroom, a series of slides with basic narration in an intermediate low- to mid-level of language, or a presentation with details and elaboration in an intermediate-high to advanced-low classroom. Whatever the level, students can share and learn about traditions through target-language communication.


  1. Investigating Celebrations in Target-Language Communities: Of course, having students research and report on celebrations that take place at the same time of year in target-language communities of the world engages students in culturally significant learning. The same holidays may also be celebrated differently in other countries. For example, I remember that when I started teaching at Jackson, I had not heard of St. Nicholas Day. But our German classes celebrated it, and I learned that children in Germany receive their Christmas stockings on December 6. Similarly, in my Spanish classes, we shared the tradition of El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (La Fête des Rois in my French classes), and how children might write letters to the Three Kings, rather than to Santa Claus, and how they also put out their best shoes on January 6 for gifts from the Three Kings. In French class, we learned about the importance of the crèche in French homes, and our French Club made sure to have a Bûche de Noël at our annual Fête de Noël. These are just a few personal examples of how students engaged in meaningful activities to investigate and interact (themes from the Intercultural Can-Do Statements) as they learned about cultural products, practices, and perspectives of target-language celebrations. It is even more enlightening for students to learn about holidays that they may not personally celebrate. In addition, researching holidays and celebrations from other cultures is a great opportunity for comparing cultures as part of our World Readiness Standards.


  1. Secret Santa or San Nicolás Secreto: Our students looked forward to San Nicolás Secreto in our Spanish classes. This was easy to do, required writing clues in Spanish, and culminated with a guessing activity on the last day. To do this, students choose a name at random for whom they will be the Secret Santa. They prepare clues in the target language (one for each day) and turn them in on a designated day, each in a separate envelope with their Secret Santa recipient’s name and the clue number (#1, #2, #3, #4) on the outside. We did four or five clues (four or five days), depending on the year and days available. Each day, teachers distribute one clue according to the numbers. On the last day, students get the last clue and guess who their Secret Santa is, explaining why they think so. For Spanish teachers, this link takes you to an explanatory handout in Spanish that my colleagues and I used in Spanish III and above classes. If you like, you can ask students to bring a candy cane or other small gift for the last day, once students have guessed the Secret Santa. We always stipulated that the cost of the gift not exceed $3.00. This was a graded activity, but it could also be credit/no-credit as well.


  1. Service Activity: We contributed to our community through classroom fundraising and donations of food, clothing, and toys to a local family that we “adopted.” Students can prepare posters in the target language with desired donation items. Posters may include ages of children in the family and their favorite toys or hobbies, their sizes, names of needed items, and the like. Creating these posters gives students a chance to recycle vocabulary and help others at the same time.

A follow-up activity might be to ask students to tell why helping others is important or how it made them feel to donate, help others, or to deliver the items donated. This can be an exit ticket or “headline” activity, or a quick write or thought cloud, for instance.


  1. Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest: In recent years, students seem to like to wear “ugly” Christmas sweaters, so this could be incorporated into the classroom through an ugly Christmas sweater contest. Students could vote on their favorite sweater, incorporating interpersonal and presentational speaking. For interpersonal: In groups of three to four, have students discuss the sweaters worn that day and choose their favorite. For presentational: All groups present their favorite and explain why, and then the class votes.


  1. Favorite Holiday Memory: For presentational writing, or perhaps a voice or message board, students could describe their favorite holiday memory. Teachers can set the parameters of the assignment, but students should use the target language to describe and narrate their favorite memory. For instance, teachers may require that students include
    • The location
    • Who was with them
    • What the weather was like
    • How they were feeling
    • What happened to make this a favorite holiday memory


  1. Caroling: Our language clubs and Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica used to sing Christmas carols in Spanish and French, visiting one another’s classrooms, caroling in the school vestibule/commons, and even visiting nursing homes. It’s important to be mindful of the holiday diversity in your school community with an activity like this, however. For instance, teachers might include Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah in Spanish, French, German, or another language.



Celebrations are important to families and communities, but, as a closing thought, make sure that your administrators are on board for whatever you do. Know your school community and make sure to include all holidays represented in the school population, acknowledging and celebrating the importance of each student’s culture.



By Parthena Draggett


Also read:

4 Holiday Activities for the Language Classroom


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Celebrating Chinese and Spanish Language Days in the Classroom
3 months ago

[…] Teaching World Languages and Cultures through Classroom Celebrations […]