Virtual staffroom – do you talk about events like Christmas and Easter in class?

Easter is coming up and I’ve been looking at some of the activities that I use in lessons around this time. There’s a text about Easter symbols – what chicks, sheep and eggs have been used to symbolise, both in current traditions and in those predating them. I’ve found a text on chocolate and how the chocolate Easter egg has developed. I have an Easter quiz.

But should you even talk about things like Christmas and Easter, particularly if your students don’t celebrate them?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, because it will depend on each group of students, their interests, why they are learning English, and generally what is appropriate for them. However, here are some thoughts.

1. What is your agenda?

I don’t have a religious agenda, but one former student told me that a private teacher had previously used English lessons as a way to try and influence the student’s religious beliefs. I think this is completely unacceptable. Debate is fine if both participants are happy to do it. Sharing of experiences and cultural traditions can also be interesting, but I believe a teacher should not abuse their position of power to try and tell someone else what to believe.

2. What is the goal of incorporating this material into your lesson?

For me, it’s about culture. Christmas, Easter, Bonfire Night, Pancake Day and Halloween are all celebrated in the UK, and if someone is interested in developing their cultural knowledge as well as their English language skills, we can work on this by looking at some of the foods and traditions associated with these events. This will help students to know what’s going on if they visit the UK during the various events, and they will also know what English-speaking colleagues are talking about if these things come up in conversation.

In fact, there doesn’t have to be a specific event to do this. You can have some really interesting discussions about food, in which students talk about dishes from their own countries, or you look at classics like the Sunday roast. What’s the story behind popular dishes and why do people eat them on certain days or at particular times of the year?

Sometimes these activities are good for making comparisons and looking at differences too. I wrote an article about what people from other parts of Europe think about Christmas in the UK, and this generated some good discussions in class about traditions in general.

3. Is it age appropriate?

As a teacher of adults, I’ve found a lot of information online about Christmas or Easter activities for children, but generally adults don’t want to make Christmas cards or go on an Easter egg hunt – they’d just be happy to eat the chocolate instead. So if you’re going to do something, make sure it really adds value and is appropriate for the learners’ needs. It may well be that the student really isn’t interested, or that there is no connection between current events and the syllabus or learning goals, in which case it doesn’t need to be included at all.

4. What can your students contribute?

Rather than just being a fact-finding exercise, is there anything that your students can contribute from their own experiences? Is something like Christmas celebrated in their country? If so, what are the differences. If not, is there a big social or family event? Are there any similarities in terms of food, gifts etc?

I remember some discussions about Bonfire Night and how that developed into discussions that went in different directions – from the use of fireworks to celebrate other occasions, to animal welfare issues.

How about you?

So, do you incorporate events like Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day into your lessons? If so, how, and what are some of your favourite activities?

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2 Comments on “Virtual staffroom – do you talk about events like Christmas and Easter in class?”

  1. fatdormouse says:

    It’s an interesting thought: I generally work with adults, though I do teach a few children too. With the 4 year old, at Christmas, we did some craft activities which were definiotely “secular Christmas” – making Santa, painting a snowman etc – but nothing Christian, such as Nativity scenes. I don’t know what parents have talked about with her.
    With the older children (14 +) I might have a text that mentions the religious background, but only as a part of a more “cultural” bias.
    With the adults, I have had discussions about religion in general, and I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian, but – maybe because of the “laicity” of French culture – it is a topic I tend to avoid.

  2. I think that’s it – work out what’s appropriate for each individual situation. I think it would be a bit sad to avoid the celebrations completely. For me, it’s usually the adult learners who ask specifically for something seasonal.
    I think maybe there’s a paralllel between politics and religion here – I do have political beliefs and I’m happy to have respectful discussions about them (I made no secret of my dismay at the Brexit results), but the language lessons are there to inform, and shouldn’t be used as a way to promote one point of view over all others.

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