Bilingual Students: Using Holiday Celebrations to Promote Language Development in Multicultural Classrooms

Bilingual Students: Using Holiday Celebrations to Promote Language Development in Multicultural Classrooms

Bilingual Students: Using Holiday Celebrations to Promote Language Development in Multicultural Classrooms

Now that the New Year has arrived and school is back in full swing, students are sure to be filled brimming with enthusiastic stories of what they did during their winter holiday. Ice skating in the park, opening gifts at the fireplace, lighting candles in beautifully wrought candelabras are just a few  activities that children might share with an overjoyed twinkle in their eye. How could they not?!

As we all know first-hand, getting students to engage in conversations works best when they are inspired and excited about the topic.  This is particularly true of bilingual students, especially those who may still be mastering the community language. What better time than now to get your bilingual students talking with you and one another? Their minds are so full of wonderful memories from the holidays, they will most likely want to share as much as possible.

Here are 5 tips on how to help your students direct their holiday excitement into fun language opportunities:

  • Mini Circle Chats:  Have your students sit together in circles of 4-5 students each. They can either go around the circle to share their favorite memories from their winter holiday, or they can pick out names from a jar to decide who goes next. If your students are reluctant to talk in a group setting, give them a list of fun questions that encourage more than single-word answers. Let students know that they can engage in discussions together as a group. This will give them the opportunity to talk about their similar or different holiday activities and celebrations.  If you have a very diverse classroom, ensure that each circle includes a mix of cultures so that children can experience a variety of traditions.
  • Word Play: Ask students to write 5-10 words (in any language) that relate to their winter holiday. Have each student share one of their words with the class. Ask the student to explain why he or she chose to write down that word. Does it represent a feeling or an event that took place during the winter holiday? Find out how many other students wrote down the same word and why they wrote down that word. Go around the classroom so that each student shares at least one word from their list and discusses why they chose to write it and share it with the class.
  • Memory Drawings: Have students start by drawing some of their favorite memories from their holidays on a piece of paper. Let them draw as many or as few things as they want. Then have them present their picture to others at their table (or to the whole classroom), explaining the different elements of their picture. Make sure to allow each child to finish their picture presentation before allowing other students to ask questions and share their thoughts.
  • Wall Mural: Rather than having students do individual pictures, spread out a long piece of paper and have students draw their holiday memories at the same time! Encourage them to draw as many memories as they want. When the time is up, hang the mural up on the wall and let everyone spend a good amount of time looking at it up close and talking about it. Eventually you can have the students sit down on the floor in front of the mural and talk as a group about what they see and what thoughts come to their minds.
  • Multicultural Traditions:  Have students sit together in a circle. Start the conversation by asking a student to share one of their winter holiday traditions. Have the student explain how their family celebrates the tradition. Then ask others in the circle if they also participate in the tradition with their family and if so, whether or not they celebrate it in the same way. Once one tradition has been discussed, ask students to share another winter holiday tradition. Help students notice that not everyone has the same tradition during the winter holiday season and that even the same traditions can be celebrated in different ways.


They joy of having students talk about their favorite winter holiday memories helps to make the transition back to the classroom lively and joyful. It also helps everyone remember and appreciate the wonderful diversity of our bilingual students’ multicultural celebrations and traditions during the winter holiday season. The excitement with which children share their favorite memories is sure to make the first few days and weeks in class memorable events themselves!

Photo credit: Meindert Arnold Jacob

What are your tips for using holiday celebrations to get your students talking?

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