10 Tips for Teaching Christmas Around the World


While many adults begin counting down the days till Christmas as early as July, unable to postpone their excitement for the season that promises streets lined with twinkly lights and cozy family gatherings spent by the fire, no one anticipates the magic of Christmas quite like a child does. And as December 25th grows near, a tangible energy seems to illuminate all children as their anticipation for that joyous morning builds.

10 Tips for Teaching Christmas Around the World

By Margot Carmichael from Carmichael’s Class

Now, let’s be real for a moment: while that previous description of children at Christmastime is truly lovely, as elementary school teachers, we know that the holiday season also promises short attention spans, lacking motivation, and a general sense of rambunctiousness in the classroom as the holiday break draws near. With that said, finding activities that help maintain structure and promote learning while still allowing the students to have fun and celebrate is absolutely critical (if nothing else, just for your personal sanity during the month of December).

It’s no secret that kids love presents, and for many kids, Christmas means only one thing – PRESENTS. However, as adults, we know that the holiday season promises so much more than just piles of tastefully wrapped gifts underneath the tree. Sharing the notion with your students that the true magic of Christmas lies in the cherished traditions that families and communities around the world honor every year is a valuable lesson.
So, how do you boost that ‘tis the season spirit in your classroom while still maintaining a rigorous academic focus, and keeping some degree of sanity? Activities that explore the multitude of ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world promise to not only engage and excite students, but also promote a deeper understanding and appreciation for cultural differences in a way that textbook-based curriculum simply cannot.
To help reduce your inevitable levels of stress throughout this magical (yet truly exhausting) time of year, I am sharing some tips and activity ideas that will help you explore Christmas Around the World in a meaningful and engaging fashion!

1. Use mini-books to teach each country.

Incorporating reading activities in every lesson that you teach is ideal, though sometimes finding the perfectly aligned text can be difficult. Even more difficult can be finding enough copies of the chosen text so that every student has the ability to read at their own pace.

This Christmas around the World Unit has mini-books that are great for close reading. Many activities can be used to accompany crafts and centers.

Christmas Around the World Unit


Assembling and utilizing mini books to teach Christmas Around the World offers a multitude of benefits:

• Easy pacing: mini-books can be assembled and explored one at a time as you teach each country
• Personalization: students can underline, highlight, or make notes as it best suits them, unlike in a textbook or library book
• Multi-Use: perfect for guided reading, close reading, or partner reading
• Creativity: add an element of fun and creativity by allowing students to color and decorate the mini-book (likely AFTER you have finished learning reading)
• Purposeful: many holiday activities are mostly ‘fluff’ and provide little, if any, academic purpose. Not only does the use of mini-books supply useful information, but it offers practice with reading comprehension and fluency.

Christmas Around the World File Folder Suitcase
Christmas Around the World File Folder Suitcase

Christmas Around the World Unit

2. Ask students to answer questions to check for comprehension.
This one goes along perfectly with the use of mini books to introduce and inform students about the celebration of Christmas Around the World! However, even without the use of mini-books, creating and posing questions about the information covered is an ideal and easy way to check for comprehension. If the basic model of asking questions to the whole-group and calling on raised hands bores you, try one of these ideas to spruce up your questioning sessions

Christmas Around the World Mini Books and Activities Unit. Use comprehension questions to check for understanding.

Christmas Around the World Unit

• Partner Work: Break away from whole group questioning by posting questions on the board and asking the students to turn and talk to a partner. You can take this a step further by asking students to partner up, discuss a question, then, switch and discuss the next question with a new partner!
• Technology: Everything is more fun with the use of technology and there are ENDLESS ways to use technology for comprehension questioning. You could create a jeopardy game on PPT or use various online/app tools such as Kahoot, Quizzizz, Quizlet, QR codes, or even a classroom blog or Twitter account that allows the students to respond to questions that you post.
• Reverse roles: Take some of the work off of your plate and let the students create comprehension questions! You can even provide sentence stems to help get their question juices flowing. After students create questions, you can pose the variety of questions to the entire class or ask them to switch questions with a partner/group and discuss.
• Games: There are a ton of game-type activities to make comprehension questioning sessions a bit more engaging. Try a carousel activity by posting questions around the room and allowing kids to move station to station; provide sticky notes for students to answer and post their responses around the room. Or, find an old beach ball and with a sharpie, write questions around the ball. Sit in a circle, toss the ball, and when a student catches it, whatever question their thumb lands on is the one they answer for the group. This is a great method for building classroom culture and spurring meaningful discussions.

3. Give students a Passport for each country that you “visit”.
Kids love “stuff”…especially stuff that gives them a sense of behaving like an adult or being part of new and exciting experiences. By providing students with a pretend passport, you allow them the opportunity to simulate traveling around the world. As you study each country, allow students to ‘stamp’ their passport by providing them with an actual stamp, sticker, cut-out, or even allowing them to really get creative and draw what they think the stamp should look like based on what they have learned!! To really put a stamp of approval on their learning, do not allow them to stamp their passport until you believe that they have mastered the information learned on a particular country!

Christmas around the World Passport for students! Travel each country and add passport stamps and record and reflect on travels!

Christmas Around the World Unit

4. Use graphic organizers to record and reflect on learning.
Teachers are (usually) extremely organized people by nature, even sometimes a bit OCD about their organizational skills. So, it goes without saying that most teachers love a good graphic organizer. After all, what is better than an activity that allows your students to neatly organize all of their learning?

Graphic organizers are a concrete way to check for comprehension as well as deepen understanding and scaffold the entire learning process. While they sometimes can be perceived as the ‘dreaded’ worksheet, you can always spruce up the whole experience by allowing students to work with partners or in groups, add illustrations, or use non-traditional graphic organizers such as 3-D or oversized.

If you utilize the mini-books to teach Christmas Around the World, offering a different graphic organizer for each mini-book helps to keep things interesting and make the mini-book learning purposeful!

Christmas Around the World Graphic Organizers to record information.

Christmas Around the World Unit

5. Have students complete a writing journal, recording the “places” they have been.
Solid writing skills will prove useful to your students throughout their entire lives, so finding opportunities to improve and practice these writing skills is important. Incorporating journaling into your Christmas Around the World lessons is a perfect opportunity to get those kids writing!

By providing students with either pre-made journals or mini-journals that they assemble, and asking them to record information about the “places” that they have been is a simple way to incorporate writing practice into the unit.

The great thing about journaling activities is that they offer students a less formal, low pressure forum to express their thoughts and hone in on their writing craft. Often, struggling writers simply need more practice in order to build their writing confidence…but formal paper writing can be way too intimidating! Allowing students to journal supports comprehensive review, improved writing skills, and creative expression all in one simple and straightforward activity. Furthermore, holiday traditions are often a very personal topic and with journaling often being a very personal activity, the two kind of go hand in hand.

Holiday's Around the World Journal to accompany travels and learning!

Christmas Around the World Unit

6. Use centers.
I LOVE centers. Honestly, I could write an entire book about how useful I think centers can be for meaningful classroom learning. For now, I will just share how perfectly centers and Christmas Around the World fit together.

There are a million different ways in which you could incorporate centers throughout this holiday unit, but I will share with you how I would set centers up in my classroom…

Whether you want to spend one day or several days on a country, setting up 2-4 centers for each country will help keep the students engaged and allow for them to really explore different aspects of each country’s holiday culture.

Let’s say you are studying Christmas in Mexico. You could set up 3 different centers around the room: one focusing on the various food traditions, one focusing on cultural and art traditions such as music or dancing, and one focusing on comparing and contrasting the US to Mexico during Christmastime. Or, to take it in a totally different direction, you could first have a mini-lesson that covers the broad Christmas traditions in Mexico and then have each center represent a different city or region in Mexico for the students to explore further.

No matter how you choose to set-up your centers, the students are able to really focus on one finite aspect of that country and digest it before moving on and exploring another aspect. Plus, they get to carry their passport and journal with them from station to station, kind of simulating the entire travel experience, minus the luggage, of course.

7. Do a map activity
While studying anything that involves various geographical locations, it just makes sense to include some type of map activity. After all, there is a good chance that the location of some of the countries that you are studying might be totally foreign to your students (pun intended).

A great way to educate a little bit about geography would be to post a giant world map on the wall or bulletin board. As you study each country you could ask students to locate and color the specific country on the map, post sticky notes with facts that they learned about that country directly on the map, or even find pictures in magazines that potentially represent various aspects of Christmas in that country and use them to form a collage on the map. Activities like this give your bulletin board an interactive appeal, allowing it to do more than just look pretty while also providing students with pertinent information.

8. Skype!
A lot of teachers are hesitant to utilize Skype in the classroom, perhaps due to a lack of understanding how exactly it works or maybe a bit of uncertainty regarding its actual effectiveness. I am here to tell you, go give it a try—now!! Students today are practically born with an iPhone in their hands, so learning experiences based in technology are a surefire way to engage and reach all of your students.

Skyping with other classrooms is an exciting tool for your students to make meaningful connections to other students, inevitably teaching them about diversity and differences. While I have never Skyped with international classrooms, I do know other teachers that have found massive success in doing so. For the purpose of teaching Christmas Around the World, skyping with a classroom from each or several of the countries that you study would provide priceless insight into their traditions.

If you don’t know where to start, my first advice would be to ask your kids. I’d be willing to bet any one of them could set you up a classroom Skype account in a matter of minutes. After that, a great resource for international academic Skyping is a website called Around the World with 80 Schools. Here, you can connect with other like-minded educators and give your students a learning activity that will not soon be forgotten.

9. Create and Send Christmas Cards to International Schools
Kind of piggybacking off of the previous Skype suggestion, if you are looking for a slightly craftier and very worldly learning activity, having student create multi-cultural holiday cards is a fun idea!

While there are numerous ways that you could implement this activity, using it as a culminating and summative project to wrap up either each country or the unit as a whole may be an effective option. In order to keep it somewhat academic, you might require your students to incorporate at least 2 or 3 pieces of information specific to holidays in that country on their card. This information could be expressed with written word, drawings, or even a collage.

To really ramp up the higher order thinking skills, you might ask students to create a card that reflects the foreign country learned about on one side and then comparatively reflects our country on the other. This offers a very tangible comparison of two different countries, appealing to those students who process information more visually

10. Throw a multicultural Christmas Fair in the classroom.
At the elementary school that I used to teach at, we hosted an International Night every year that was a huge hit with not only the students, but the entire community. While it was quite a large undertaking, it offered students an exciting opportunity to really celebrate diversity and cultural differences. Each grade chose a continent, and each classroom chose a country within their grades continent. For weeks, we would study everything about that country, for my classroom it was always Greece. Once International Night rolled around, parents and community members would pour into the school, get a “passport” and walk from “country” to “country” exploring and admiring all of the various posters, brochures, and food samples that each class had created.

While doing something so large-scale in your own classroom might not be feasible, putting together something slighter smaller would still have a huge impact on your students. After studying the Christmas traditions in various countries, you could break your class into groups and assign each group a country. Then, ask each group to use a small area of the room and turn it into Christmas in (insert country here). This is the type of activity that truly breeds creativity and allows for total engagement. It is also an activity that many teachers who, shall we say, struggle with control, might have a hard time with because it will likely be messy and loud and unorganized. But, truly meaningful and purposeful learning doesn’t always fit into a neat and tidy box. Sometimes you have to get a little bit messy to do a whole lot of learning.

{While some schools or school districts do not permit curriculum that directly focuses on the teachings of Christmas, or any other religious-based holiday for that matter, many academic institutions do offer some degree of flexibility when it comes to teaching lessons that incorporate holiday-ish activities. Items from this list offer a non-religious exploration of Christmastime around the world and will likely be suitable for most institutions.}

Guest post by Margot Carmichael from Carmichael’s Class

“Teaching 4th grade for four years has helped shape me as a teacher who is passionate about creating a classroom that engages and inspires my students, integrates technology-driven learning, offers real-world experiences, and breeds creativity. I have taught highly diverse classes with high populations of ESL learners, Special Ed learners, and behavior challenges–granting me a deep understanding on the importance of personalizing learning for each and every student. As a teacher, I am constantly learning and evolving, but the one constant is always putting my students first!”


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