It's a Wonderful Outline

I’m sharing  my detailed notes on showing It’s a Wonderful Life in class. Once upon a time, I had four days of extra class days around the holidays and I planned to show It’s a Wonderful Life in class–it takes four classes to cover it since it’s a good two hours long and presumably you want to do some kind of discussion.

What happened is,  I was working in Kazakhstan where Christmas isn’t celebrated but New Year’s is. So the students had their final exams during Christmastime, but I was teaching on a independent contract and so I was expected to teach X number of class-hours. To fulfill that contract, I was going to have to have classes while students were taking exams. I thought that there was no way students would want to learn anything. So I thought we could watch a long movie and discuss it and discuss American Christmas and have some fun.

In the end, the extra classes got cancelled. However I still have the notes on It’s a Wonderful Life and I thought someone might need to  use them. It includes a summary of the film, a list of characters, and notes on the whole film broken down by scene with every scene including running time, elapsed time, brief summary of the action, and key vocabulary or cultural notes students may need.

There are no comprehension questions or discussion questions or anything of that matter. I don’t want anyone confused about what this is. It’s a detailed outline that you can use to select scenes to watch with your class, or help you guide students through the film.

I’d be curious if anyone ever does use this for any purpose at all.

Holiday Field Trip

I love taking students on field trips. Even as the world turns to virtual field trips for their ease, I still feel getting students to leave the classroom and talk to people or explore real texts is worth the extra hassle of the logistics.

This is a nice activity I came across when I was working at an Intensive English language program that works well getting students to talk to native speakers in authentic conversations and also helps them to understand a little bit of American culture. I’m posting it here with Christmas in mind, but it can work with any holiday or cultural event. To simplify planing on your part, students could do this as homework. I’ve had students interview butchers at the grocery store, old men playing chess in the park, people waiting for the bus…It’s amazing who will speak to an ESL student wanting to practice English.

And as with any activity that has a productive component, it’s easy to throw in a vocabulary or grammar focus as well by asking students to use particular words or a specific grammar form.

What follows are the instructions I usually give students:

Holiday Interviews


Your mission is to interview two Americans about Christmas. You will need to prepare questions in advance. To do so, think of something that you want to know about Christmas. It might be about how or why we celebrate. Maybe you have seen something you don’t understand and want to know more about it and its connection to Christmas. Or perhaps you have a question about the history of the holiday.

Once you have decided on your topic, write 4-7 questions that will help you find out what you want to know. For example, if you want to know how people celebrate Christmas, you could ask, “What kind of food do you eat on Christmas?”

Now that you have written your questions, find two Americans to interview. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you are doing this interview first. Ask if they have time for a short interview. Then ask your questions. Take notes on their answers.

Write a short (one-page double-sided) summary of what you learned about Christmas.


Ireland WebQuest for St. Patrick's Day

This is an activity I designed to introduce St. Patrick’s Day to my students. I really like Webquests as a way to pique students’ interest in a topic or to show them how what seems like a simple topic is actually quite complicated and broad. Many of my students knew about leuprachauns and so on, but not about any of the history of Ireland or its rich culture. So this Ireland Webquest introduces it to them. I find that students come back with a lot of questions about Ireland. You can almost fill the whole class just answering their questions or giving them even more research time on the computer!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Is there any better place to turn to start a discussion of a holiday than the Charlie Brown special about it? This comprehension and discussion lesson plan has students watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, discuss the true meaning of Christmas, and also be introduced to traditions like the Christmas pageant and snowball throwing!

Note: This video does quote the Bible and while it does not preach, the religious meaning of Christmas is referenced as are parts of the birth of Christ. Some students might not be comfortable discussing such things so do be sensitive.


  • Students will learn about traditions surrounding Christmas in America.
  • Students will be able to discuss different meanings of Christmas.
  • Students will be able to discuss the commercialization of Christmas
  • Students will have fun watching a fun cartoon.

This lesson plan has been moved to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. You can purchase and download the complete A Charlie Brown Christmas Lesson Plan there, including a guide to the video, key vocabulary, comprehension and discussion activities and ideas for extension.

Once Again Christmas is Coming

Last year I had a post that linked to all my Christmas lessons. I won’t just repost the same thing and I’m not creative enough to say the same thing in slightly different words, so I’ll just link to it: For all my Christmas lessons, go here. (Some of them aren’t my own creations but resources I really like).

I am still proud of this post, though perhaps I just needed to vent at the time. But for some awful ideas for Christmas lessons that you absolutely should not do, check out Inappropriate Christmas Lessons.

And I have a reliable New Years and Future tenses lesson plan as well that I’ll add to the mix in case it’s useful.


As I’m working on my ESL Discussion Lessons for Every Day of the Year project, I discovered that Sean Banville has beaten me to it with ESL Holiday Lessons. Not surprising given how prolific he is and how fast he gets topical lesson plans up.

Sean’s site only covers unusual or fun holidays–today is No Housework Day, and the lesson plans are done in his usual format of a short reading, a phrase match, gapfills, comprehension questions, vocab work, ordering the text, a short writing with discussion questions written by the students. So it’s a bit different from my lessons which are more pure discussion questions for use in the classroom plus a few warm-ups and a few suggested research extension tasks. Sean’s lessons are a great resource, and I hope mine are too.

Christmas is Coming!

I’m putting up a few of my Christmas lesson plans. Keep checking this post because as I digitize my lesson plans, I’ll put links up here. The first one I have put up is on Santa Claus and other cultural figures. I find this is a nice way to introduce what I call American Christmas through the lens of your students’ holiday traditions and the gift giving figure. It can be eye-opening to both you and your students how much Santa Claus differs from country to country (and even family to family). I also have a reading lesson plan on the editorial, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Students discuss why they believe or don’t believe in Santa Claus and the symbol of Santa Claus. See if you can turn some of your Scrooges into true believers. I do want to add some resources by other people that I often use for Christmas lessons: Christmas Conversations from is nicely divided up into questions about past, present and future Christmases. English Page has a good list of Christmas vocabulary and then two exercises using those words in a dialogue and a then a passage about Christmas and Santa. And Sean Banville has pretty much the definitive list of 101 Christmas conversation questions Finally, there’s this fun article on The Physics of Santa Claus and some rebuttals. Obviously this is perfect if you are teaching mathematics or physics in English. But as a conversation starter, you can start by asking how it is possible for Santa to fly, or for him to visit all the children in the world. Start collecting theories and rebuttals of those theories. See how technical your students can get with their English.