Teaching about Holidays in the Winter to English Language Learners

winter holidays

Holidays are a great opportunity to teach students about different traditions and infuse fun into learning. For some English Language Learners they might now be familiar with holidays that their classmates have celebrated for years. It can be helpful to go over basic holiday traditions and facts before the holiday begins. For American holidays such as Martin Luther King Day, Groundhog Day, or Veterans day most students will celebrate them (though it is important to be aware if this is not the case.) For cultural holidays such as New Year’s or Valentine’s day there is a greater chance that some students might not participate.

Teaching about religious holidays requires more care. Not all students will celebrate the holiday. Even aspects of the holiday that may not seem  religious still connect to the religious holiday. One way to integrate these holidays into lessons is to find aspects that are similar across different cultures. For example in the winter time looking at how different cultures and religions use the symbol of light in their winter holidays.

If there are parents, teachers, or students willing to share their own family traditions around a holiday this is a great opportunity for cultural exchange.

If you are looking for an activity or materials to help teach about Hanukkah, here is a FREE resource to use.

Hanukkah Parts of Speech Color By Code, with Illustrated Vocabulary Sheets

Also check out these Hanukkah Search and Find coloring sheets:


The Benefits of Diverse Graphic Novels for ELLs & 10 Books to Check Out

Diverse Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are a category a books that can be highly engaging for students. This is particularly true for English Language Learners and struggling readers. Graphic novels have a large amount of picture support. This helps create context and gives meaning to unfamiliar vocabulary words.  Older students are drawn to graphic novels since even students reading below grade level can enjoy these books.

Having a diverse set of books available is important for all students. This is particularly true for English Language Learners, students of color, and any group of students that do not typically see themselves represented in traditional children’s books.

If you are looking to add to your classroom library or children’s book collection here are some great books to consider:

Giants Beware (The Chronicles of Claudette):  This series features a strong female main character who seeks out adventure.




Akissi: Feline Invasion This books tells about everyday life in Senegal from the point of view of Akissi, a young girl. The author Marguerite Abouet grew up in the Ivory Coast and brings a first hand perspective.

El Deafo This is a memoir of the childhood of Cece Bell. It tells how she lost her hearing as a young child and then had to navigate elementary school with a large hearing aid box. You can find a more extensive review of this book here.

Freddie Ramos Takes Off (Zapato Power) This series tells about the adventures of Freddie Ramos and his new super power shoes. Spanish words are used throughout the series but with enough context that non Spanish speakers will be able to understand their general meaning.

Princess Princess Ever After This is the story of two princesses and their adventures together. It highlights how the girls use their own strengths and come to rely on each other.

Pashmina Priyanka is a second generation American whose mother immigrated from India. This story tells many of the struggles of growing up while living between two cultures.

Here I Am This wordless graphic novel tells the story of a newcomer to the United States. It shows his confusion over the language and customs that are foreign to him. The author immigrated to the United States and intertwines her personal experience into the events but the vivid pictures allow readers to create their own versions of the story.

Azzi in Between This wordless graphic novel tells the story of a child that has the flee her home due to conflict. She has to adjust to a new culture and language along with worrying about family she left behind.

Luke on the Loose: TOON This book features an African American boy and his adventures chasing pigeons around New York City.

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth This series tells the adventures of Hilo who crashed to who from another planet. He becomes friends with a diverse set of children and tries to figure out how he came to Earth. The main characters are Asian American and African American.

TPT Sitewide Sale & $10 Gift Card Giveaway

farmto table

Teachers Pay Teachers is having a sitewide sale on Monday and Tuesday, November 27th and 28th. I am setting my store to 20% off.  Use the Promo Code CYBER17 to get an additional 5% off for a total of a 25% savings.

Check out some of these winter themed items:

I am giving away a $10 Gift Card to Teachers Pay Teachers. Follow the Rafflecopter link for details. a Rafflecopter giveaway

TPT Gift Card Giveaway & #Sale


Check out some great deals by using the #tptsupportsmallshops. I am joining with other small Teachers Pay Teachers stores for a sale November 25th and 26th. You will be able to find items up to 50% off. I have three products that are 50% off:





I am giving away a $10 Gift Card to Teachers Pay Teachers. Follow the Rafflecopter link for details. a Rafflecopter giveaway

STEM With English Language Learners


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities are highly engaging for students.  This is particularly true for English Language Learners. A key component is that the disciplines are integrated. Students typically have a real world problem to solve or project to create.

Here are some overviews of using STEM in the elementary classroom:

Reasons to use STEM Activities with ELLs

  1. Builds Background Knowledge- Having students take part in or observe an experiment, engineering challenge or other STEM activity creates shared background knowledge. It allows all students in a class to have a shared experience to refer back to.
  2. Keeps students engaged- Building, creating, and using technology are all highly engaging activities. For ESOL students learning reading, writing, listening, and speaking, it gives them an authentic reason to take part in these language areas. STEM activities are hands on.  They give students the opportunity to use their hands.  STEM activities also give students real life experiences.
  3. Speaking opportunities- STEM activities lend themselves to group work, and this creates authentic reasons for student to use academic oral language.  ELLs need many opportunities to speak in the classroom. Participating in a whole class discussions can be intimidating. Taking part in a small group building task  can be much less intimidating.

Ideas and Resources for Using STEM with ELLs

  • Preview vocabulary with students before they begin planing and building. This makes sure that ELLs are able to take part in group discussions with their peers and practice using the new vocabulary.
  • Provide graphic organizers.
    • Use for planning before building.
    • Use to reflect on a STEM challenge after it has been completed.
    • Use to record the steps a group uses to complete an activity.
  • Use sentence frames.
    • “First use the ______.”
  • Review prepositions. Particularly if students will be building and you have lower level ELLs this is an authentic opportunity to practice prepositions.
      • Provide students with a poster or handout to refer to if these are new terms.

  • Read a children’s book and then have students build something out of the book or solve a problem for one of the characters
Lakeshore Fairy Tales Problem Solving STEM Kits 
Lakeshore Fairy Tales Problem Solving STEM Kits

Writing About Photographs With English Language Learners

writing about photographs

Photographs offer excellent support for English Language Learners to use in writing. They can be used to help students generate ideas.  Visual vocabulary support is built into a high quality photograph. You can easily differentiate a writing assignment based around photographs.

Writing about Photographs with Newcomers 

  1. Label objects in the photograph.
  2. Provide students with a list of objects found in the picture and have them label it.
  3. Write simple sentence frames. (I see _______. I hear ______. The _____ is blue.)

Writing about Photographs with Level 1 and 2 ESOL Students 

  1. Have students talk about what they see in the photograph.
  2. Present students with a writing prompt around the photograph.
  3. Review sentence frames and additional vocabulary to assist with writing.
  4. Allow students to talk about ideas with a partner or in a small group before writing.





Writing about Photographs with Advanced ESOL Students 

  1. Present students with a writing prompt around the photograph.
  2. Allow students to talk about ideas with a partner or in a small group before writing.
  3. You can use sentence frames to introduce complex grammar structure or new vocabulary words for students to include.

Check out these picture writing prompts I designed that come with a writing prompt, vocabulary bank and sentence frames.

Thanksgiving Tips and Activities for English Language Learners

thanksgiving tips

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to integrate American culture into lessons. Some ELL learners will have celebrated Thanksgiving their entire life.  These students will be able to share their family’s traditions around the holiday. Other students will have never experienced the holiday before and will benefit from a basic overview of what the holiday is. Here are some ideas for integrating the holidays traditions into your lessons.

Speak and Write about Thanksgiving Traditions 

Students can share family traditions around Thanksgiving day. Some students may need assistance identifying what these traditions are. Food is one place to start that is concrete even for young students.  For ELL learners give opportunities for them to draw and/or orally share before moving on to writing.

I have writing task cards to help students write about Thanksgiving. I include pictures to help with vocabulary and to generate ideas. Topics include what students are thankful for and describing food that they eat.

Thanksgiving themed illustrated vocabulary sheets









Use Read Alouds to Introduce the Holiday
There are many picture books that can be used to introduce students to the history and cultural practices surrounding Thanksgiving. Check out my list of books to use with your ESOL students.

Integrate Thanksgiving Vocabulary into Content Lessons 

I have created coloring sheets that cover parts of speech using Thanksgiving themed vocabulary and Thanksgiving themed coloring sheets.

In math students can practice graphing skills with Thanksgiving themed pictures.

**Check out my Pinterest board for additional Thanksgiving ideas.