Special Interest Column - Young Learners

by Kylie Malinowska

Some people call it the ‘Silly Season’. It’s that time of year again when, traditionally, YL teachers do the ol’ Christmas lesson. Over the years I’ve done countless ‘Christmas in Australia’ gapfills, letters to Santa etc.  If done well, there’s nothing wrong with the ol’ Christmas lesson, but if you’re looking for a bit more this year, this issue’s Five in Flash aims to go beyond the crossword delights of mes-english.com (which also has free Christmas printables).

5 ways to deck your (school) halls with boughs of jolly. Jolly Students that is.

1. Have a not so Silent Night.

A friend recently complained to me that that last year she went to a carols evening they ‘didn’t have Santa’. Taken aback I replied, ‘But carol evenings aren’t about Santa!’. Back home in Australia I used to love ‘Carols by Candlelight’. Hundreds of people, strangers throughout the year, coming together and sitting side by side smiling and singing in harmony and soaking up all that lovely ‘togetherness’. A carols event can be a great way to create that sense of community among your students and remind them that they are part of something bigger than themselves and their class. Help them feel they are a part of your school. ‘Your English Family.’ You don’t even have to celebrate Christmas to hold a carols evening. Carols are nice, but any familiar songs will do. Classes perform their songs. Guests sing along. Evening is great but really, any time of day works.

Don’t forget the project aspect leading up to the event too. You could ask each YL class to choose a song (Christmassy or otherwise). Arrange for students to send out invitations, make flyers/ posters, organise a potluck of snacks could be an idea too. Print all songs (with words and maybe pictures drawn by the class or a paragraph detailing why they like it or chose it) in a songbook which is printed for the guests. Make sure everyone feels welcome and is encouraged to join in and be a part of the event and you can’t go wrong. A student who feels a part of their school is a happy student and more likely to remain a student.

2. Christmas Exchange

As much as I miss eating prawns on the beach on December 25th, I just love hearing about different customs and celebrations in other countries and am equally fascinated by the beauty of snow and the craziness of eating Brussels sprouts!

Instead of relying on Google, why not get your class to contact students in other schools around the globe and find out firsthand how they celebrate Christmas, or about other important celebrations and customs. Students could share their finished research on posters, on a blog, in a YouTube video or via any medium they enjoy using.

3. Christmas is for giving

It’s all very nice to have pretty baubles and Christmas trees, but I think the best thing about Christmas is the giving. Instead of you giving your students sweets, or getting them to write letters to Santa detailing all the goodies they want to receive, help them to ‘give’ this year. As a class or as a whole YL department, children could research ways to ‘give’ and then decide on who and how e.g. they might decide to donate warm socks to an orphanage overseas or sponsor an endangered animal at a local zoo. Each class or student can be allocated roles and/or tasks to complete such as writing a letter to explain to the parents, creating posters, reporting on the progress in a blog/ newsletter, taking photos etc. If this isn’t possible, how about projects where they research and present on what/who they would give to if they were a millionaire.

4. Reflections and Resolutions

Christmas is a great time to reflect back on the year and also to write some (English language learning) resolutions which can be read again after the Christmas break (if you have one).

Cut up paper stars (it’s up to you if the paper is coloured or glittered). On one side of the stars students should write something they achieved in 2013 (in regards to their language learning). On the other side, or on separate stars, students should write something they hope to achieve in 2014. Stars can be stuck to a poster, hung from a mobile or put in a sealed envelope to be read again in a future lesson. Be sure to really highlight to students how much they have achieved in 2013 and how much potential they have for 2014.

5. Demand High this festive season

If you haven’t heard of Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill’s Demand High meme, you must have been living under a rock in 2013. Instead of ‘covering’ the whole Christmas thing, makes some tweaks and adjustments to use it as an opportunity for real learning. I find young learners either love or hate Christmas lessons. Some students are bored with the same old material year in year out and some just love sweets and colouring. Either way, it couldn’t hurt to vamp it up a little, right? By all means bring in the tried and trusted Christmas card lesson, but really ask yourself ‘What are they learning? What could they be learning? What opportunities for extra learning can I exploit further?’ I challenge you as a teacher who cares (you must, otherwise why are you taking 5 minutes to read a teaching journal?) to get the most you can out of each Christmas lesson this year. Feel free to share them with me too. I’d love to hear about them J

Wishing you and your young learners a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Author’s Bio: Kylie Malinowska started with IH many moons ago at IH Newcastle, and is now a Teacher, YL ADOS, Pre-School Coordinator & IH CYLT tutor at IH Prague. She also works part-time at the YL Advisor for IHWO, as well as one of their IH CYLT online tutors & IH CYLT (TiT) Mentor. She is currently working towards an MA TESOL (Applied Linguistics) and tries to find time to post on her TEYL blog when she can.