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First Lesson After Christmas Break – Top 5 Activities for the Language Classroom

Get the new year off to a fantastic and productive start with my TOP 5 ACTIVITIES FOR THE LANGUAGE CLASSROOM below, which are absolutely perfect to get students in the right frame of mind for learning from the first lesson back, after the well-deserved Christmas break.

Despite loving the last couple of weeks of term in December, I seriously used to dread the first week back in January after a wonderful two-week break. Students (and teachers!) seem to be lethargic and it can often be really difficult to get everyone motivated to get back into the swing of learning. So, I’ve put together my TOP 5 ACTIVITIES FOR THE FIRST LESSONS BACK AFTER THE CHRISTMAS BREAK in the Language Classroom. These include some fab spontaneous speaking activities and writing activities, as well as revision tools for festivals, questioning and the past tense. All of which allows students in the New Year to start lessons in your language classroom with a great, productive start.

My favourite time of the academic year is the run up to the Christmas holidays. Although it’s usually been a hard slog to get there, students are excited and there is so much you can teach about Christmas in different languages; not only words and phrases, but about Christmas culture and traditions in countries where the target language is spoken, too. Some of the ideas below use what I have previously taught students in the last couple of weeks of the December term, others don’t!

1.OVER THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS, I SPENT A LOT OF TIME WITH MY FAMILY AT HOME

‘Skills’: Vocabulary, Grammar, Speaking, Writing
Themes: Christmas / Questions / Past Tense
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced (Secondary School Level: Y8-13, Common European Framework Levels: A2-C1 and ESOL L1 and L2)
Type of Activity: Pair, Small Group
Resources: A3 paper, coloured pens, whiteboards
Prep-time: Low

If you taught students question forms, the past tense and/or Christmas related vocabulary before the Christmas holidays, then this is an ideal activity to do a bit of revision. The ability to work in small groups allows teachers to get things ‘flowing’, as individuals are guaranteed to have forgotten ‘everything’!

What did you get for Christmas?

Instructions:
A. VOCABULARY: Mind-map all Christmas related vocabulary in small groups (3-4 students) on some A3 paper. All students must add at least 3 words and no words can be repeated. Give points to all groups, one point for each word (can be peer-assessed and common errors discussed as a group).

CHALLENGE ELEMENT: Show a list of 20 words you have prepared in Target Language, if any of the words appear on the student’s A3 paper, they lose a point for each. This will try and get students to ‘think outside of the box’, but will also allow you to teach a few new words to the group.

Give a small prize to the winning group, such as some stationery, being able to leave the classroom a couple of minutes early or a ‘jump the lunch queue’ pass, for example.

B. PAST TENSE AND SENTENCES: Put students into pairs and then refer students back to the title of the activity: ‘Over Christmas, I spent a lot of time with my family at home’* and elicit the ‘sparkly’ elements of the sentence. i.e. past tense, adverbs, extra detail, place etc.

*You may wish to amend the title to something that fits with your class if necessary, but it should contain elements of the past tense and lexical and grammatical elements that they should be using in your course.

On one mini-whiteboard per pair, get the students to come up with the longest sentences they can IN THE PAST TENSE. You could award points for number of letters in the sentence, as well as the most number of words for differentiation.

I have found that the competition really adds an extra element and gets students very motivated to participate fully in these activities after the Christmas break.

C. QUESTIONS: Write down 3 different types of questions on the board (what did you do at Christmas? / who gave you the best present? / Where did you sleep on Christmas Eve?) and ask for translations, as well as a quick re-cap on how to form questions.

Get students to work in the same pairs as in part B, but on creating 5,10 or 15 questions about Christmas that they could ask to any of the following :

  • you
  • their favourite teacher
  • a celebrity (prime minister / film star / musician / historian etc)

The students know how to form the past tense, as well as have access to the past tense at this point so it should be easier for them. Go around the class correcting and giving feedback.

Depending on the levels of the students and if you have time, students could go around the classroom, asking and answering the questions, imagining that they were the person the questions were intended for.

I adore this type of lesson, because it combines exam themes (Christmas and festivals, for example), exam skills (speaking / questioning / grammar / writing) with revision.

Have you tried this kind of first lesson back after the Christmas holidays in your language classroom before? How did it go? Did you do anything else?

2. NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

‘Skills’: Speaking and Grammar
Themes: Present Tense for Future / Future Tense / Wishes
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced (Secondary School Y7-13 / Common European Framework: A2-C1 / ESOL Levels: L1-L2)
Type of Activity: Pair, Small Group
Resources: Small Cut Up Paper/Card
Prep-time:Low

This next activity is perfect for students to practise their spontaneous speaking skills and is very low prep, apart from some initial cutting of paper or card.

Instructions:

A: As students enter the classroom, ask them to write 2-5 individual words, related to ‘New Year’ on each individual piece of cut up paper or card and then put them upside down on the table. You can give them your own examples written on the board, for example, for German, I could write: ‘Silvester’, ‘trinken’ and ‘Schokolade’ (New Year’s Eve, to drink and chocolate). As you can see these are fairly general words, so advise your students that their words can also be loosely related to New Year.
B: In pairs, fours and as a whole group, get students to think about why people make New Year’s Resolutions, as well as some examples (ideally in Target Language). Write the reasons and examples on the board, as well as sentence starters, which could include, for example: ‘In 2019, I will only eat one chocolate bar per day, rather than three chocolate bars.’ or ‘My goal for my sister and I is to celebrate New Year’s Eve with our family at the end of 2019’ etc. Discuss any useful grammar points related to these types of sentences. Perhaps write 5 sentences on the board with New Year’s Resolutions and get students to correct the mistakes if necessary.
C. Then, set students up in a speed dating style setting and get two stronger students to demonstrate the concept. I.e. One student chooses one the upside down words on a table near them and create a New Year’s Resolution with it. It can be a funny one, as well as a serious one. The main thing is, is to get students speaking. After one minute, get one student to move clockwise, so students get to speak to a variety of students.

3. FIND SOMEONE WHO…

‘Skills’: Spontaneous Speaking / Grammar
Themes: Questions and Answers / Past Tense / Revision
Level: Intermediate, Advanced (Secondary School Y9-13 / Common European Framework: A2-C1 / ESOL Levels: Entry 2-L2)
Type of Activity: Whole Group
Resources: First Lesson After Christmas Break – Find Someone Who Worksheet (Differentiated German)

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Prep-time: Low

This activity for the first lesson back after the Christmas holidays is a super fun speaking activity suitable for all classes which gets students speaking from the very outset, as well as revising question forms and the past tense.

INSTRUCTIONS
A: Write down 3 words or phrases on the board in the past tense, related to activities students can do over the Christmas holidays: ‘Went Skiing’ ‘Played Board Games’ ‘Ate Turkey’.

B: Quickly re-cap how to form the past tense, as well as how to ask questions. Get students to write down 3 questions they could ask you to find out if you ‘did’ those things over the holidays. Elicit answers, write the correct versions on the board and clarify any common errors.

C: Give each student a ‘Find Someone Who’ Activity Sheet and advise they must go around the room, talk to every student in the classroom and write the names of students they come across who have done the activities.

Ensure you, as the teacher, are listening to students’ speech and discussing issues where necessary.

4. REFLECTIVE CREATIVE WRITING

‘Skills’: Spontaneous Writing
Themes: Mini Essay Writing
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced (Secondary School Y8-13 / Common European Framework: A2-C1 / ESOL Levels: L1-L2)
Type of Activity: Individual
Resources: Paper and Pen
Prep-time: Low

Writing is a great skill to practise in the first lesson back after the Christmas holidays, because it gets students to work individually, work in silence and produce something that is worthwhile to their learning! On the down side, students are a bit rusty, so there are normally a lot of mistakes. However, you could get students to peer-assess with a pro-forma, which could make your task of marking somewhat easier!

INSTRUCTIONS:

A: Give students instructions to think about the following questions and discuss either in Target Language or in Language 1 to get ideas flowing.

  • What were you most thankful for in 2018 and why?
  • What food did you enjoy the most in 2018 and why?
  • Write about what you did over the Christmas holidays.
  • How will 2019 be different to 2018? Why?

B: After 5 minutes, advise students they must choose two of the questions and make a quick plan for 5 minutes about how they will structure and present their work. Ensure they are prepared to include ‘sparkly’ elements, which will allow them to access the highest marks or achieve their target grades.

C: Give the students 20-30 minutes to answer one question. If they finish, get them to do the second. If time, allow students to peer assess using a coloured pen, as well as a pro-forma and success criteria. If necessary, take work in and mark.

5. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE?

‘Skills’: Speaking and Vocabulary Building
Themes: Giving Opinions and Justifications
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced (Secondary School Y7-13 / Common European Framework: A2-C1 / ESOL Levels: L1-L2)
Type of Activity: Individual
Resources: Dictionaries
Prep-time: No-prep

Everyone likes to give their opinion, but not everyone celebrates Christmas or New Year so this activity for the first lesson back after the Christmas holidays is a fantastic ‘Christmas-free’ alternative.

INSTRUCTIONS

A: Get students to think of a variety of phrases (5/10/15) they can use after ‘favourite’ in target language, i.e. favourite- drink / food / game etc, allow use of a dictionary for differentiation.
B: Add these ideas to the whiteboard
C: Elicit ideas for reasons that students could use, as well as justifications and share on whiteboard.
D: Let students wander around the room asking: ‘what’s your favourite… and why?’ and allow students to give their answers. Encourage correct word order and extended justifications, as well as sharing opinions of family members and friends to extend speech.

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