Thanksgiving. The word that evokes such a variety of emotions: the warmth of family reunions, that unique tryptophan-induced exhaustion, the intensity of shopping the day-after sales, the perfect satiety after second helpings of pumpkin pie.
Ask any American living abroad, and Thanksgiving is almost always bound to stir up fond memories of food and family. It is the one holiday we all share in all its overindulgence, and the one that doesn't seem to be matched in excess by any nation throughout the world.
As an ESL instructor, the holiday is a prime time to take a lesson beyond lists of vocabulary and surface grammar guidelines. While I was well-skilled in posing incessant questions to my students (no one improves without practice), when Thanksgiving arrived, I did away with the question marks. I quieted my students, upped the amount of teacher talking time, and instead of inquiring about their traditions, I shared some of mine.
Every course, whether ESL or not, needs a day or two that break from the norm. The holidays are an ideal time: half your students may have already left for their exceptionally lengthy vacations, and if they haven't, their minds may very well have. Everyone is distracted, preparing for guests or for travel, planning out holiday menus, brainstorming gift ideas for that impossible-to-buy-for uncle. What better time to forgo the present perfect in favor of a bit of culture?
A Thanksgiving lesson doesn't need to be expertly planned. Though the holiday is unique to our country, the concept of holiday gatherings is obviously not. As I described my national traditions, my students willingly chimed in with their own tales. I came out of those lessons having exchanged decorating tips and holiday recipes, in addition to a few embarrassing tales of that year someone had a bit too many pours of wine.
The beauty of a conversation-based class such as this is that grammar corrections inevitably pop up. So, the lesson will naturally develops an ESL focus, with a practical cultural twist.
Plus, an extra perk: one holiday lesson can easily be used for every course, no matter the level. With that lesson planning time freed up, there's no excuse not to dirty the pots and pans for a full international Thanksgiving feast. If you're brave, you can even ask your students to attend.
Leslie currently lives in New York, where she freelances in publishing and writes a food and health blog, The Whole Plate. Aside from travel, she is (almost) equally addicted to theater, thrift shopping, yoga, and cooking with natural foods.