English Teacher Article Putting the Grammar back into Christmas

Summary: Putting the seasonal cheer back into grammar

By: |Audience: Teachers|Category: Teaching English


Some of you might be thinking that the problem with Xmas today is an excess of commercialism or the lack of real religious feeling, but the way I see it the problem is an excess of worksheets teaching students vocabulary like “holly” that they will have forgotten by the same time next year (if they even understand the concept of holly anyway) and a lack of tie ins between those seasonal worksheets and everything else students do in the classroom. For those that agree with me that what is needed to make your Xmas complete is lots more grammar, here are some ideas on how to tie in your Xmas lessons with whatever grammar point you are studying at the time (the ideas will also work with other major festivals and celebrations):

Present Simple Xmas (Adverbs of Frequency)
Students are given sentences about Xmas (either dictated or as a worksheet) and they have to guess the correct adverb of frequency for each one, e.g. “British people _______________ go to church on Christmas day” (Answer: sometimes). Either discuss the answers as a class or give them a reading with all the answers in to check their answers.

Present Simple Xmas Two- Present Simple Xmas Bluff

Give out 2 or 3 facts about Xmas traditions around the world written in the Present Simple to each group (e.g. “The British eat pies made from something called “mincemeat” with custard or cream”) and get them to guess which are false. Tell them that they are in fact all true but that you want them to create false sentences from their imaginations (e.g. “In Bulgaria, Santa has orange clothes not red ones”) and read out a mix of the true and their false sentences to the other groups, trying to fool them into mixing up which ones are true.

Past Simple Xmas Three- Xmas Stories
There are lots of traditional Xmas stories, children’s stories that include Xmas or personal Xmas anecdotes you can use with fun tasks such as guessing the ending of the story, putting the story in order, spotting the incorrect information you have added, reading the story and have students act it out etc. Xmas songs such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that are a story and contain the Simple Past can also be used in the same way, e.g. putting the verses into order by how they think the story progresses and then listening to check.

Present Continuous Xmas
Students mime typical Xmas actions, e.g. “You are carving a turkey.” You can then contrast the Present Continuous with the Present Simple by discussing how often such things are done in various countries.

Past Continuous Xmas

Students mime like Present Continuous Xmas above, but when their partners think they can guess what they are doing they shout “Stop” and then use the Past Continuous to describe what the student was doing before they stopped, e.g. “You were writing Xmas cards”. You can show the contrast with the Past Simple by discussing what things students did last year and in what order.

Past Continuous Xmas Two
The teacher or a student picks a time and day around last Xmas and describes what they were doing and what was happening at exactly that time, e.g. “The Queen’s speech was starting on TV” (3pm on 25 December), “I was taking down the Xmas decorations” or “I was doing my last minute Xmas present shopping”.

Going to Xmas (Going to for future plans)
Students pick one thing from their plans for next Xmas and describe all the things they are going to do to prepare for that thing, one line at a time- e.g. “I am going to borrow my friend’s Volvo”, “I’m going to sharpen my saw”, “I’m going to put on some thick gloves” (all preparation for “You are going to get a Xmas tree from the woods”)

Going to Xmas Two (Going to for predictions with present evidence)
Students mime an action like Present Continuous Xmas above, but very slowly mime the run up to the action, making sure they never actually do the action so that the future sentence is true, e.g. for “You are going to crack a nut” they can mime picking up the nut and cracker and then squeezing, but not actually breaking it.

Will for future predictions Xmas
Students choose a year in the future, write it secretly in their notebooks and make predictions about a typical Xmas in that year, e.g. for the year 2100 they could say “There won’t be any real Xmas trees left” and “The Queen’s speech will be in 3D”. After each hint, the other students have to guess what year they are describing. After they have guessed the year, students can discuss if they think those predictions will come true or not. This can also be done with the Future Continuous.

Passives Xmas
Collect some facts about the origins of Xmas traditions and write them out in a mixture of passive and active tenses, e.g. “The word ‘Santa Claus’ was first used in the Netherlands”. Change some of the sentences so that the information is false. Give the sentences out on worksheets or dictate them, and get students to guess which are true and which are false. They can then change the false sentences to make them true. Students can then test each other on the facts or prompt each other with a few words from the sentences and see if they can remember and construct the whole sentences.

Passives Xmas 2- Passives Xmas bluff

The same as Present Simple Bluff above, but with some passive sentences about the origins of traditions.

Verb patterns Xmas
Write some sentences about Xmas in your country, town and family with verb plus verb structures in, e.g. “I used to make snowmen when I was young, but nowadays there isn’t much snow”. Take out the second verb in each sentence (e.g. “make” in the sentence above). Give out or dictate the sentences with gaps and see if students can guess the missing word from their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary and their ideas about your Xmas. Give out or write up the original verbs in the correct form (infinitive without to, infinitive with to, inference plus someone, ing form etc.) mixed up, and get the students to guess which verb goes in each gap. They can then make similar sentences about their own Xmas or other festivals and see if their partner can guess the missing verbs.

Articles Xmas (a/ the/ no article)

Write sentences about Xmas where knowledge of the grammar of articles and knowledge of the world would be necessary to guess which article is used, e.g. because there is only one of that thing (the big Xmas tree from the Norwegian government in London) or it is one of several (mothers sometimes leave a present at the end of the children’s bed as well as under the Xmas tree). Take out the articles and see if the students can guess the correct ones.

Present Perfect Simple Xmas (Have you ever for life experiences)

Students ask each other if they have ever done various interesting or unusual Xmas traditions from around the world, e.g. “Have you ever eaten reindeer for Xmas?” The person who is replying must say “Yes, I have”, even if it isn’t true. After 3 questions about the details of that experience (to which the person answering can still lie if they have really never done it), the person who asked the question should guess if the original answer was true or not.

Modals of deduction and probability Xmas (must have, could have, might have etc.)
Collect information about Xmas traditions in different countries from the internet. Choose one of the countries and give the students one clue about it, e.g. “In this country, people eat turkey for Xmas”. In reply, the students must make a correct assumption about a country it could or can’t be, e.g. “It can’t be Saudi Arabia, because they don’t celebrate Xmas” or “It could be America”. Give points for any assumptions that are correct. When you have given enough information that it could only be one country, students must move from these uncertain expressions to using the certain expression “must”. If you want to practice the past forms instead, play the same game but talking about last Xmas, e.g. “Last year, I spent Xmas abroad staying with a foreign family and I ate Xmas dinner on Xmas Eve”

Used to Xmas
Tell students about your Xmas habits from your youth and from your present, but with the verb missed out, e.g. “________________ get a present at the bottom of my bed at my parent’s house”. Students have to guess if it is something you used to do or something you still do now and make the full sentence in the correct tense. You can also add “have got used to doing” and “have never got used to doing” if you have moved countries and now do something different for Xmas than you used to in your childhood days.

Question Formation Xmas
Students test each other with trivia questions about Xmas.

Subject Questions Xmas
The same as Question Formation Xmas, but make sure you give them information or questions they have to use subject questions for, e.g. “Which company first used a red-suited Santa in an advertisement?” (Answer: Coca Cola)

Relative Clauses Xmas
Students define typical Xmas characters and objects and see if their partner can guess which one it is, e.g. “It is a vegetable that looks like a carrot” (parsnip).

Can Xmas (can for abilities)
Students ask Yes/ No Can questions to guess the Xmas character or object their partner is thinking of, e.g. “Can you eat it?”/ “Can you cook it?”/ “Can you speak English?”

Can and Could Xmas (Requesting and politely refusing requests)
Brainstorm a list of people and other characters who are connected to Xmas, e.g. the Queen, Rudolph, Santa, your mother, your grandparents. Students secretly pick one of those people and the other students have to guess which person it is from their replies to Xmas related requests, e.g. “Can you unwrap my present for me?”, “I’m sorry, I can’t pick it up” (Rudolph, because he hasn’t got hands)

Possessives Xmas
You describe something connected to Xmas and someone you know sentence by sentence and the students try to make a full sentence with the name of the object and the correct possessive, e.g. “Is it your mother’s home-made Xmas cake?”, “Is it the Queen’s speech” or “Is it your Xmas tree?”

Prepositions of Position Xmas
Students draw a decorated Xmas tree and describe it to their partner who tries to draw it from the instructions, then compare the original drawing and the dictated version.

Infinities of purpose Xmas

Students guess the purpose of Xmas superstitions or guess which superstition from the reason.

Countable and uncountable Xmas (Determiners)

Describe how many of a thing connected to Xmas there are in certain places, e.g. “There is sometimes some of this in London at Xmas”, “There is lots of this in Finland every year” (snow). Students can use their logic and the grammar of seeing if they are looking for a countable or uncountable noun to guess what object it is.

Adverbs of manner Xmas
Students describe how they and other people or characters do typical Xmas actions and people guess which action it is, e.g. “I do it enthusiastically and messily”, “My father does it quickly and efficiently”, “My mother does it slowly and carefully” (carving the turkey)

Comparatives and Superlatives Xmas
Students give hints on what Xmas object they are thinking off by comparing it to other Xmas objects, e.g. “It is smaller than a Xmas tree”, “It is sweeter than gravy” (a Xmas cake)

Question tags Xmas
Students have to make factual statements about obscure Xmas facts using the prompts the teacher gives and the correct intonation on the question tag depending on how sure they are. If they use the falling (certain) intonation and the information is correct, they get five points. If they use that intonation but the information is incorrect they lose a point. If they use the rising (uncertain, questioning) intonation on the question tag, the teacher should answer the question. If they were correct they get two points. If the information was incorrect, they still get a point as they used the correct uncertain intonation.

Reported speech Xmas
Re-write some famous quotes about things connected to Xmas as reported speech and with reference expressions replacing the name of the thing. Students guess what they were talking about, then put the sentences back into direct speech with the name of the object put back in. This can also be used with reporting verbs.

Conditionals Xmas (First or Second Conditionals)

Students say what they will do if something goes wrong at Xmas, e.g. “If I burn the turkey, I will carve off the outside and just eat the inside”. The other students add more and more problems to it in a chain of first conditionals, e.g. “If you carve off the outside, there won’t be enough for everyone to eat”. The first person to give up loses.

Conditionals Xmas Two (Third and Mixed Conditionals)

Talk about things that might have been different if Xmas had never existed, then make a chain of events in that alternative universe until you reach the present consequence with a mixed conditional, e.g. “If Xmas had never existed no one would have eaten turkey” “If no one had eaten turkey, our cities would be swarming with wild turkeys instead of pigeons”

Copyright © 2007

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com