Christmas carols are rich with narrative, cultural significance and timeless lyrics. Packed full of gospel truths, they are also an ideal tool for introducing our students to the most precious gift of all.

Research has shown that music in general is a valuable tool for language teaching. Through song, we can build vocabulary, change the mood and boost students’ creativity, not to mention open up meaningful discussions about the world around us.

Below are some suggestions of how you could incorporate two carols into your English lessons.

What Child Is This

Level: Lower (Elementary- Pre-intermediate)

Activity ideas:

  •  In preparation print off copies of the lyrics for each student.
  •  For low-level classes, print pictures of all the characters included in the song (e.g. child, Mary, angels, shepherds, peasant, king, babe). Encourage them to match the characters in the song with the pictures.
  •  For intermediate level students, ask them to find all the words which refer to people/characters in the song.
  •  For higher levels, describe the person with a partner – student A chooses a character and tries to describe it to partner.
  •  Use these pictures/names of characters to tell the nativity story. Or if students already know the story, encourage them to tell it to each other.

Discussion idea:

  •  What is ‘laud’? What does it mean to ‘bring him laud’? (Explain that lots of the language in carols is archaic and not used in everyday language now).
  •  Discuss how the kings and shepherds worshipped him (ie. By bringing gifts, by coming to visit Him, perhaps bowing down). Why did they do that? If it feels appropriate, this could perhaps lead onto a discussion of why people still worship Him now and what that might look like.

Joy to the World

Level: Pre-Int – Upper Int

Activity ideas:

Christmas pronunciation

  •  Find all the phonemes of a particular sound you have been working on, eg. ‘wonders’, ’love’ = /Λ/
  •  Compare to other words using the letter ‘o’, representing a different sound. Eg. ‘rocks’, ‘songs’ = /ɒ/
  •  Alternative sounds – ‘Repeat’ ‘receive’ = /i:/ vs ‘king’, ‘sing’ = /ɪ/

Rhyming kings

  •  Find all words which rhyme at the end of lines. Eg. sing, king, ring; plains, reigns.
  •  Ask the students to think of more words which rhyme.
  •  Discuss whether rhyming is common in poetry from their culture.

Discussion ideas:

  •  Discuss what the song is referring to when it says ‘joy to the world’. What is this joy? What does ‘joy’ mean? Is it the same as ‘happiness’?
  •  What does it mean ‘Let every heart prepare Him room’?