Celebrating holidays in the classroom can be tricky. What we celebrate may not be what all of our students celebrate, and we want to keep our classroom inclusive. Inclusivity means we are creating a sense of safety and belonging for all of our students, no matter where they come from, how long they've been here, or their cultural and educational backgrounds.
In the ESL classroom, we are already sensitive to creating this space for our students. We also want to make the space special for them- especially if you serve Newcomers. This is their space where they most likely feel the most comfortable. So of course, when the holidays come, we want to share some of the magic with them!
There are different approaches to sharing the magic of the holidays. Some teachers may feel that they do not want to bring in the holidays so that no one is left out. They may focus on more winter-themed activities, lessons, or decorations. Some absolutely love Christmas and want to share their love by bringing it in the classroom (if you are a Christmas lover and enjoy walking into HomeGoods or Macy's this time of year, this is you, am I right?). And some teachers may celebrate Hanukkah and may feel a little left out and unsure about sharing their Hanukkah spirit for personal or societal reasons.
My philosophy is: bring out all of the magic! Just let it all out for our students to enjoy and learn about each other. Does this mean we have to include all holidays under the sun? Not if you don't want to! Although I think it is fun to bring in different cultures and celebrations from around the world. Here are some of my suggestions for keeping our classrooms inclusive during the holiday season and beyond.
Survey Your Students
At the beginning of the school year, it's a good idea to survey your students and see what holidays they observe so teachers can plan for them throughout the year. Here are some possible winter holidays students may celebrate in November, December, and January:
After you survey your students, you can either let them decorate or you can bring in some of your own if you have any! I'm a big fan of crafting and including students in your classroom atmosphere, so go ahead and get crafting away and don't forget to turn it into a language development activity by getting students SWiRLing about their crafts (speaking, writing, interacting, reading, and listening)!
Example craft + SWiRL: Kindness Countdown Chains to their holiday they celebrate
1. Make the chain (or start of the chain)- listening domain (directions from teacher)
2. Students write about the chain and/or their holiday (with appropriate scaffolds)- writing domain
3. Interview a partner (with appropriate scaffolds)- listening, speaking, and interacting
4. After interviewing, have students switch writing to read- reading domain
5. Students compare and contrast their chains and holidays with a graphic organizer together- interacting, writing, speaking, listening!
There you go! You could change up the order if you'd like, stretch it out for a couple of days or a week, or just do it for a quick one day lesson! You can vary this lesson for any craft idea you have.
Include Holidays in Your Lessons
After you get to know their holidays a little bit (you don't have to become an expert, but you just might over the years!), think about how you can strategically integrate these into your lessons.
Some ways could be:
Continue Celebrations All Year
Don't just celebrate holidays during the winter season! Keep them going and keep them included in your classroom. For example, just because Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15-October 15th, that doesn't mean we stop discussing student's heritage in our classroom; it is an intentional time to celebrate it, but not the only time. Get some new ideas for Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month All Year Long on the blog!
Here are some other holidays that students may celebrate in your classroom throughout the year:
Do you have any fun ways to include your students' holidays in your classroom and lessons? Share them in a comment below!
I support middle and high school teachers through monthly lesson plans, coaching, and guest speaker offerings in our Secondary ESL Teacher Membership.