Holiday Ideas for Your ESL School

5 Practical Activities for Harvest Time

    1. Fall is a great time to take your ESL students on a field trip. Just one class could go or your entire ESL School. Consider going to an apple orchard and picking apples, or going to a pumpkin patch and picking pumpkins. You could all go back to the church for a chili dinner and have a pumpkin carving contest.
    2. Have a “cooking class” during your regular class time in your church’s kitchen or at another time in a teacher’s home. You could teach them to bake an apple pie or roast a turkey or make some other fall comfort food popular in your area of the country.
    3. Does your church have a Fall Festival? Ask your students to contribute to the festival with booths that introduce their home countries and cultures. Additionally, your ESL Ministry could have a booth – maybe a corn hole game using a map of the world – that would advertise your ESL Classes to internationals in your community that come to the festival for fun.
    4. Create lesson plans that include fall vocabulary – i.e. pumpkin patch, hay ride, maple syrup.
    5. Include fall favorites during snack time: candied apples, candy corn, etc…


4 Practical Activities for Thanksgiving

  1. Teach about the first Thanksgiving in your ESL Classes. Teach about the faith of the Pilgrims. Talk about “who” they were thankful to that first Thanksgiving.  Children’s books can be a great tool (i.e. Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas).
  2. Host a Thanksgiving Party/Dinner for your entire ESL School. It can be held a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving so it doesn’t interfere with your volunteers’ holiday schedules. Click here for suggestions.
  3. At a party or at break time, have the teachers perform a play about the first Thanksgiving. Click here for a downloadable PDF.
  4. Individual volunteers or others from your congregation can invite ESL students and their  families to their homes for Thanksgiving Dinner with their own families.

Throw a holiday party. Click here for suggestions.

Put on a play. Click here for a downloadable PDF. This play is one way to teach your international students the story of Thanksgiving. It is designed to reach students at a beginner level of English. It will have more impact if it is done by teachers that the students already know. I encourage you to have at least minimal costumes. This could be done during break time on a regular school night or at a special party or dinner celebrating Thanksgiving. It was written by Julie Baugh, MNA ESL Trainer. of the play.

5 Christmas Activities for the ESL Classroom

Read a book together. Born on Christmas Morn is a great book to give to your ESL students at Christmas time. It’s a children’s book by Arch Books and can be purchased through Christian Book Distributors (about $2 a piece). The pictures are beautiful, and the wording is not too hard. But the best part is that it doesn’t end with the birth of Christ. It ends with his death and resurrection.

Invite your students into your home. Eighty-five percent (85%) of your students have probably never been in an American home outside of their ethnic group when they first meet you. Christmas is a fabulous time to invite your students into your home. Your Christmas decorations will give you a reason to talk about the birth of Christ and why he came to Earth in the first place.

Teach the meaning behind the symbols of Christmas. Click here for a simple activity that introduces English learners to the Christmas story through traditional Christmas symbols such as the Christmas tree, wreaths, ornaments, and so on. Or show them The Symbols of Christmas PowerPoint Presentation.

Play the Right – Left Game. Click here for a fun and light-hearted gift-giving game to play at your Christmas party.

Study Christmas hymns.

It’s Cold Outside!

Most ESL schools, especially those in cold weather states, take a hit in attendance in the winter.  But there are a few things you can do to improve your numbers.

  1. Get back into the habit of praying for your students by name each week (or even daily).  Pray for them to come to class, to be healthy, to keep warm, to have good jobs, for protection for their families, for their salvation.
  2. Contact each of your students.  You may learn that there is a reason they haven’t been in class.  Perhaps they are sick or someone in their family.  Or maybe their car died.  A phone call and a snail mail note can mean the world to them.  It says somebody cares; somebody notices when I’m not there.
  3. Plan something fun for your class. Invite them to a Super Bowl Party at your home.  Design a lesson around the game of football to do in class ahead of time.  An invitation into their teacher’s home is a big deal to them.  Include their whole family in the invitation.
  4. Do another round of advertising like you did at the start of the school year.  Our lesson planning format is designed so that new students can jump in anytime.


Valentine’s Day

As with Christmas and Easter, we can use the American Cultural event of Valentine’s Day to share the Gospel with our students.

1. Tell the story of St Valentine. He gave up his life in defense of marriage because God created marriage and blesses it. The government had forbidden soldiers to marry (because they didn’t like to leave home if they had families). In defiance of the government order, St Valentine officiated weddings for soldiers. He was arrested and put in prison. There he became friends with the daughter of his jailer. The night before his execution he sent a note to the girl telling her about God’s love and signed it “from your Valentine.”

2. Do a devotion about God’s Love. There is a video called “Father’s Love Letter,” which is all scripture, read slowly to music. Click here to view.

3. Make large paper hearts – one for each of your students – and on each put something that you like about that student with a Bible Verse about how God loves them.

4. Help your students understand the American traditions around Valentine’s Day. I buy a pack of Valentine Cards at Walmart and show them to our students so they know what kind of Valentines to buy when their elementary school student is expected to bring a Valentine for each classmate. I started this when a student told me that her first Valentine’s Day in America she went to Hallmark (the only card store she knew) and spent $5 per card for each student in her son’s third grade class.

5. To acquaint them with Conversational Heart candy, use them during a Bingo Game. Have a vocabulary lesson and repetition drills on the words and phrases.


1. The Jesus Film

You can show part of the Jesus Film during class time. Just extend your break to 45 minutes long and you will have time to watch from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. You can watch it all together in English with subtitles (some of your students can read English better than they speak it) or if you have enough televisions and DVD players you can show it concurrently in multiple languages. If your budget allows, it’s great to be able to purchase copies in all your students’ languages and give one to each student/family.

2. Resurrection Eggs

Though initially made for children, these are wonderful to use with your students. There are 12 eggs, each a different color, with symbols inside representing events the last week of Christ’s life on earth. A booklet comes with them explaining the significance of the content of each egg.  There is a simple English explanation for each egg here..

3. Plastic Easter Eggs

Did you know that the egg was the symbol of new life in Jewish culture when Jesus walked the earth? Your students will see lots of eggs around Easter. Your church may even hold an Easter Egg Hunt (which I hope you invite your students to). Explain new life in Christ to your students and give them each an egg (filled with candy). The hope is that every time they see an Easter Egg they will now think of Jesus!!

You can add a little more fun and American culture to your presentation by explaining how the Easter Bunny came to fame.

“Hundreds of years ago in Germany, people had started to paint beautiful eggs to display on Easter. Then a very smart Mom came up with the idea of hiding these eggs and having the children hunt for them. As the children were looking for the eggs outside in the yard, a bunny hopped away. From then on, Moms would say that the bunny brought and hid the eggs.”

Lastly, to add a bit more fun to this you can have door prizes of chocolate bunnies and stuffed bunnies. It’s great to have 3 sizes of each – a tiny one, a medium one and a large one – and give them away in that order. Of course keep them under wraps before you give them out. Everyone from every culture loves winning a 2 foot tall chocolate Easter bunny!!

4. Jelly Bean Prayer

You can use Jelly Beans just like a wordless book to tell the story of Jesus. You can buy small packs of jelly beans that have the prayer printed on the outside of the package at Hobby Lobby or through Oriental Trading. Or you can just print out the poem and give it with an egg full of jelly beans. Here is one version of the prayer. You can find others by googling “Jelly Bean Prayer.”

Red is for the blood He gave.
Green is for the grass He made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright.
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made.
White is for the grace He gave.
Purple is for His hour of sorrow.
Pink is for a new tomorrow.
And handful of jelly beans,
Colorful and sweet,
Is a prayer, a promise,
A loved one’s treat!

Ideas for using Resurrection Eggs, Easter baskets, and more. Click here.

The Last Words of Christ Bible study

End of School Year Activities

Host a Graduation Party

  1. Extend your big break time and have a Graduation Party on the last day/night of classes. Use all the “Party City” type graduation decorations. Play “Pomp and Circumstance” as you give each student a certificate of participation. If you have any students that have 100% attendance acknowledge that with a special reward/certificate. Take pictures of each student with their teacher and certificate. Snail mail them a copy. Use the pictures to make a bulletin board at church.
  2. Host a graduation party outside of class on a Sunday afternoon/evening. Make it potluck and have everyone bring food from their home countries. In good weather do it outside. Otherwise host it in your fellowship hall, etc… Decorate with flags from all the nations represented in your school.

Appreciate your volunteers

  1. Have a special lunch after Church to recognize all your ESL volunteers. Make sure to include everyone, i.e. childcare workers, snack workers, etc…. This could be pot luck or provided by the church.
  2. Host a picnic on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to thank all of your volunteers. Plan games that will make them work together as a team. (We are all so busy during ESL Classes that we don’t get to visit/talk with other teachers. This is a great time for them to get to know each other better and encourage each other.)
  3. Give each volunteer a small gift of appreciation and/or write a hand-written note letting them know how much you appreciate all of the time and effort they’ve put into the ESL Ministry.