Using British holidays for learning English

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Who doesn’t like a holiday or special occasion? And what better than to use those very special occasions for language learning?

When teaching English as a second language we can all agree that it’s important (and effective) to make your lessons fun. And by integrating these typical English holidays into your course you’ll teach some culture along with your English lessons. Here are some of the fun ways you can use the following special dates this autumn and winter in your English classes:

Trick or treat!

Chances are you’re more than familiar with Halloween which is celebrated on the 31st of October. Pumpkins, black cats, witches and ghosts and wearing great or even scary costumes are all part of the Halloween fun. But did you know that originally it was a Celtic pagan festival, Samhain? It was celebrated to mark the end of the summer and the end of the harvest season. Bonfires would be lit, and people would wear (animal) costumes to ward off ghosts.

For kids, being able to show up to class in a costume is great, no matter where the holiday comes from, and for teachers it’s a wonderful way to use some new vocabulary. Describing the costume of the person next to you, scary charades that allow both the actor as the guesser to use a different skill, arts and crafts, there are so many ways to have fun with this. On this ESL blog there are some ideas and free resources to help you prepare.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November…

Using a holiday that is less known to your foreign students can also be interesting, as it makes for a perfect history lesson at the same time. Guy Fawkes night (or Bonfire night), for example, on the 5th of November, is a holiday that’s celebrated by lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks in England, Scotland and Wales. It remembers the prevention of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot where a conspiracy almost managed to blow up Parliament and King James I along with it.

Talk about the monarchy, the era, Guy Fawkes, King James I or even organize your very own bonfire. Marshmallows and warm cider are not to be forgotten, but please do ask for permission from your local fire fighters to ensure the safety of your students and the surrounding area.

Santa’s coming to town!

Even though your students are probably already familiar with Christmas, these end of year celebrations are widely enjoyed and offer a multitude of teaching opportunities. Christmas carols, Christmas crackers with riddles, stockings, a Christmas play, the possibilities are endless!

Even if you want to stay away from the religious aspect of this widely celebrated holiday, you can still decorate your class in a festive winter theme, sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (or any of the other numerous non-religious Christmas songs) to practice pronunciation and read out a cookie recipe that the students need to write down and try to prepare at home so everybody can enjoy some treats. For more tips like these go to

The best way, however, for your students to experience a real British Christmas would be by celebrating with a real British family. One way to do this, would be to look for a homestay English program that allows children to learn while staying with a real English-speaking family. Then after the vacation they can come and tell their friends all about it in class.

Having fun while learning English works

The best way of learning for children and adults alike, is by having fun while doing it. And what better way to have fun than to celebrate all the holidays that foreign language students might not have celebrated themselves, or at least not the British way. By integrating yummy treats, music, poetry and fun activities your students will barely even notice they’re learning English. And the best thing is that having fun is easily adapted to different ages and language levels so that you can make sure that all of your students can share in the fun!