It’s winter! What a magical time of year—and where better to let the inspiration of the season make its mark than in adding a new layer of fun to your everyday ESL activities. Whether it’s silly songs from your childhood or new topics for discussion amongst your advanced level speakers, there’s something about this cold, dark season that still enchants and delights us all.
Many of the changes that happen in winter provide outstanding educational opportunities for students of all ages and grade levels.
Let’s dive into some fun winter-inspired ESL activities for your classroom!
Tips for wherever you’re TEFL interning
Even if you’re teaching English in the steamy jungles of Cambodia, you can still incorporate some of your favorite winter activities into your ESL classroom. Maybe not skiing or making snow angels, but those would be kind of hard activities for your students even if you were in a snowy wonderland, no?
How to adjust if you’re “winter” is actually really hot
It can still be fun to try to enrich your classroom with wintry fun—even when it’s 40+ degrees outside. You can have students draw or recreate things like coats, hats, scarves, or something more festive like Christmas trees, snowflakes, and snowmen. This is a great opportunity for you to get creative and utilize whatever materials are available to you to communicate a topic that is opposite your reality. Are you up for the challenge?
How to adjust if you’re winter happens in June and July, not your normal December
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas in July—in fact, there’s a whole pseudo-holiday around it! Feel free to focus your winter lessons in the northern hemisphere’s summer on the actual winter season rather than the holidays that are celebrated therein. This is also a chance for YOU to experience winter in a new place and with a new climate, and to challenge your preconceived ‘norms’ around what holiday celebrations look like the world over.
You need to decide your pitch
Winter AND holidays? Just holidays? Holidays and mostly winter? Have a good sense of what you are hoping to accomplish through your winter ESL activities and make a game plan for how you are going to present these to the class. Take this also as an opportunity to learn about your TEFL internship destination instead of only grappling for your past experiences (it’s okay to want to recreate them, but not at the expense of allowing you to be fully present and enjoying your time abroad, too!).
Keep in mind that religious celebrations, such as Christmas or Hanukkah, can be rocky territory if your TEFL destination is not 100% friendly or accepting of outside influences. Your best bet is to discuss your game plan (as mentioned above) with your principal or course advisor to ensure you won’t step on any toes!
9 ESL lesson plans for winter
1. Teach them how to make snowflakes from paper—then decorate your classroom!
This is a great activity for those who are teaching in hot locations, as it can still make your ESL classroom feel like a winter wonderland. Walk students through folding paper and creating snowflake designs, then monitor them as they cut out their creations. Have each student do a handful and admire the different designs that each creates.
Take it a step further by asking students to write an essay about what makes themselves unique—just like their snowflake!
2. Number races
Draw a variety of images on the board. Have students count the number of presents, the number of elves, the number of snowflakes, the number of ornaments in the tree, etc. Make it a little harder by asking students to only count the pink elves or the polka-dot ornaments. Whichever student completes the task first, wins!
3. Worksheets are always a great back up
If you have younger students who are still just getting the hang of learning any vocabulary word that isn’t related to the weather or greetings, stick to something easy to excite them for winter—like pre-created worksheets. ESL Kidz has ample resources to help you plan the perfect ESL lesson plan for kids for winter. From matching snowflakes to coloring Christmas trees, your younger students will LOVE their winter-themed assignments.
4. Host a holiday talent show
Have each student prepare a small reading, a song, a joke, etc. to give to the entire class. Ideally, whatever the student brings to share will be inspired with a wintry element. Offer prizes to get more buy-in from students to do their best!
5. Make a holiday wish-list for different people in your life
Have students select 2-3 individuals in their life—maybe their parents, their grandparents, their siblings, their classmate, their teacher—and write what they think that individual would want for holiday presents! Have different students present their lists, or a few items from their list, in small groups.
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6. Practice opposites with Olaf
What would the life of a snowman who loved summer look like? Play In Summer by Olaf and share the lyrics to the song (hopefully this will invite a couple laughs from your kiddos!). Then, have the students practice opposites and antonyms by writing either a story about Olaf’s experience living in a warm destination OR by creating a brand new storyline of their own.
7. Ask the students to teach YOU about their winter holidays
Nothing makes students excited for school quite like “swapping roles” with the teacher and stepping into your shoes for the day! Ask small groups of students to prepare 1-2 activities for the whole class with the end-goal to be to teach you, the foreigner, about some of their own local traditions. Take it a step further by assigning different groups different holidays to eliminate potential overlap.
8. Snowy similes
Teach students to use this figure of speech with a wintry twist! This is a great lesson for introducing similes and to use vocabulary in new and creative ways. Similes compare something to something else, but that “something else” is often very unlike the thing being described! Pair this with a “vocab for winter” lesson to really connect the activity to the winter season.
The boy is as ______ as a ______. I.e. cold as a snowman or hot as a cup of cocoa! Or happy as a kid at Christmas!
9. Write a winter haiku
There are a few things that a 5-7-5 lined poem can’t quite capture, but it’s up to your students to find ways to do their best within these strict confines! Have them describe holidays, playing outside, a favorite cozy activity, getting dressed in layers—whatever makes them feel capable of accomplishing this task. Bonus points if you include a small lesson about Japan and one of their winter holidays, such as the Japanese Doll Festival that happens every March or the Coming of Age day that is celebrated in January.