Category Archives: Celebrations

How Christmas Came to the Santa Maria Flats By Elia W. Peattie

“Peattie’s Christmas story will be appreciated by both children and adults. The Santa Maria Flats’ Lease includes restrictive rules: no running, jumping, and nothing else that might satisfy children’s natural liberties. But it also includes a ‘clause’ about no peddlers or agents entering the building. Is Santa allowed to make deliveries to the children or not?”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

There were twenty-six flat children, and none of them had ever been flat children until that year. Previously they had all been home children. and as such had, of course, had beautiful Christmases, in which their relations with Santa Claus had been of the most intimate and personal nature.

Now, owing to their residence in the Santa Maria flats, and the Lease, all was changed… Though, to be sure—as every one of the flat children knew—they were in the greatest kind of luck to be allowed to live at all, and especially were they fortunate past the lot of children to be permitted to live in a flat… The twenty-six children of the Santa Maria flats belonged to twenty families.

All of these twenty families were peculiar, as you might learn any day by interviewing the families concerning one another. But they bore with each other’s peculiarities quite cheerfully and spoke in the hall when they met. Sometimes this tolerance would even extend to conversation about the janitor, a thin creature who did the work of five men. The ladies complained that he never smiled…’if only the janitor would smile. But he looks like a cemetery.’

Santa Maria Flats

Only Kara Johnson never said anything on the subject because she knew why Carlsen didn’t smile, and was sorry for it, and would have made it all right—if it hadn’t been for Lars Larsen.

Dear, dear, but this is a digression from the subject of the Lease. It was in the Lease not to run—not to jump—not to yell. It was in the Lease not to sing in the halls, not to call from story to story, not to slide down the banisters…It was in the Lease, too, that no peddler or agent, or suspicious stranger was to enter the Santa Maria, neither by the front door nor the back…It was this that worried the children.For how could such a dear, disorderly, democratic rascal as the children’s saint ever hope to gain a pass to that exclusive entrance and get up to the rooms of the flat children?

“You can see for yourself,” said Ernest, who lived on the first floor, to Roderick who lived on the fourth, ‘that if Santa Claus can’t get up the front stairs, and can’t get up the back stairs, that all he can do is to come down the chimney. And he can’t come down the chimney—at least, he can’t get out of the fireplace.’

Roderick could see for himself. There was an inch-wide opening down which the Friend of the Children could squeeze himself, and, as everybody knows, he needs a good deal of room now, for he has grown portly with age, and his pack every year becomes bigger, owing to the ever-increasing number of girls and boys he has to supply…Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, and the boys each and individually asked their fathers—tremendously wise and good men—if they thought there was any hope that Santa Claus would get into the Santa Maria flats, and each of the fathers looked up from his paper and said he’d be blessed if he did! Nobody could laugh because a boy was found crying!

The girls cried too—for the awful news was whistled up tubes and whistled down tubes, till all the twenty-six flat children knew about it. The next day it was talked over in the brick court, where the children used to go to shout and race. But on this day there was neither shouting nor racing. There was, instead, a shaking of heads, a surreptitious dropping of tears, a guessing and protesting and lamenting.

All the flat mothers congratulated themselves on the fact that their children were becoming so quiet and orderly… It was decided, after a solemn talk, that every child should go to its own fireplace and investigate. In the event of any fireplace being found with an opening big enough to admit Santa Claus, a note could be left directing him along the halls to the other apartments.

A spirit of universal brotherhood had taken possession of the Santa Maria flatters. Misery bound them together. But the investigation proved to be disheartening. The cruel asbestos grates were everywhere. Hope lay strangled! … No one suspected the truth, though the children were often heard to say that it was evident that there was to be no Christmas for them! The day before Christmas was gray and dismal. There was no wind—indeed, there was a sort of tightness in the air, as if the supply of freshness had given out… There appeared to be no stir—no mystery. No whisperings went on in the corners—or at least, so it seemed to the sad babies of the Santa Maria…

Even the janitor noticed it. He spoke about it to Kara at the head of the back stairs, and she held her hand so as to let him see the new silver ring on her fourth finger, and he let go of the rope on the elevator on which he was standing and dropped to the bottom of the shaft, so that Kara sent up a wild hallo of alarm.

But the janitor emerged as melancholy and unruffled as ever, only looking at his watch to see if it had been stopped by the concussion… It seemed to the flat children that they had been asleep but a few moments when there came a terrible burst of wind that shook even that great house to its foundations. Actually, as they sat up in bed and called to their parents or their nurses, their voices seemed smothered with roar.

Sounds of falling glass, of breaking shutters, of crashing chimneys greeted their ears—not that they knew what all these sounds meant. They only knew that it seemed as if the end of the world had come.  After a terrible time the wind settled down into a steady howl like a hungry wolf, and the children went to sleep, worn out with fright and conscious that the bedclothes could not keep out the cold.

Dawn came. The children awoke, shivering. They sat up in bed and looked about them—yes, they did, the whole twenty-six of them in their different apartments and their different homes. And what do you suppose they saw—what do you suppose the twenty-six flat children saw as they looked about them?

Why, stockings, stuffed full, and trees hung full, and boxes packed full! Yes, they did! It was Christmas morning, and the bells were ringing, and all the little flat children were laughing, for Santa Claus had come!

He had really come! In the wind and wild weather, while the tongues of the wind licked hungrily at the roof, while the wind howled like a hungry wolf, he had crept in somehow and laughing, no doubt, and chuckling, without question, he had filled the stockings and the trees and the boxes!

Dear me, dear me, but it was a happy time! It makes me out of breath to think what a happy time it was, and how surprised the flat children were, and how they wondered how it could ever have happened.

But they found out, of course! It happened in the simplest way! Every skylight in the place was blown off and away, and that was how the wind howled so, and how the bedclothes would not keep the children warm, and how Santa Claus got in…And of course all the parents thought and said that Santa Claus must have jumped down the skylights.

By noon there were other skylights put in, and not a sign left of the way he made his entrance—not that the way mattered a bit, no, not a bit…In closing it is only proper to mention that Kara Johnson crocheted a white silk four-in-hand necktie for Carl Carlsen, the janitor—and the janitor smiled!

Read full Story here

Author Elia W. Peattie (January 15, 1862 – July 12, 1935) was an American author, journalist and critic. Wikipedia

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Directions:  Have students examine the photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas that group members think might be related to this article. Next, answer the following questions:

  1. Look at the picture what would you call this building?
  2. Have you ever lived in flat?  An apartment? A house?
  3. Which did you like better?
  4. If you are from another country what are the names of buildings where people live?
  5. Have you ever wished for a gift  but thought that you would  not receive ti?
  6. In the U.S. small children believe in Santa Clause. Do children in your country believe in Santa?

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. There were twenty-six flats in the building.
  2. The Lease was a strange  one.
  3. The Lease was a strange forbiddance, a ukase issued by a tyrant
  4. The children were lucky to be permitted to live in a flat.
  5. All of these twenty families were peculiar.
  6. The ladies would often gossip in the vestibule.
  7. “If only the janitor would smile.
  8. This is a digression from the subject of the Lease.
  9. But the janitor emerged as melancholy.
  10. They said that Santa Claus must have jumped down the skylights.

 

Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. There was twenty-six flat children.
  2. They had the greatest kind of luck.
  3. There were many flats in the great city.

II

  1. Cecil were evicted, along with his parents.
  2. He looks like a cemetery.
  3. People wanted a cheerful janitor.

 

III

  1. It was over the Lease not to run and not to jump.
  2. The boys and the girls cried at learning the news.
  3. All the flat mothers congratulated themselves.

 

Reading Comprehension Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

‘You can see for yourself!’ said Ernest ___.Roderick could___for himself. There was an inch-wide opening down which the Friend of the Children could ___himself, and, as___ knows, he needs a good deal of room now, for he has grown___with age, and his___every year becomes bigger, owing to the ever-increasing ___of girls and boys he has to supply.

WORD LIST: number, portly,  squeeze, pack, tragically, see,  everybody,

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Why were the children called ‘Flat’ children?
  2. What was it about the janitor the families didn’t like?
  3. The story states, Only Kara Johnson never said anything on the subject because she knew why Carlsen didn’t smile, and was sorry for it, and would have made it all right—if it hadn’t been for Lars Larsen.” Can you guess what happened with Kara, Lars and Carlsen?
  4. Why did the children think there would be no Christmas that year at the Flats?
  5. Who is the “Friend of the Children” ?
  6. What was the plan the children thought of?
  7. How did the children’s  plan turn out?
  8. In the end, how did Santa get into the flats?
  9. Why do you think the  janitor finally  smiled at the end of the story?
  10. After reading this story name at least one new thing  that you’ve learned. Discuss what you’ve learned with your group members and share as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

The Greatest Gift By Philip Van Doren Stern

The Greatest Gift is a 1943 short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern which became the basis for the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946). It tells the story of George Pratt, a man who is dissatisfied with his life and contemplates suicide. As he stands on a bridge on Christmas Eve 1943, he is approached by a strange, unpleasantly dressed but well-mannered man with a bag. The man strikes up a conversation, and George tells the man that he wishes he had never been born. The man tells him that his wish has been granted and that he was never born.” ~Courtesy Wikipedia

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Note: This is an Excerpt. For the entire story visit: What So Proudly We Hail Library

The little town straggling up the hill was bright with colored Christmas lights. But George Pratt did not see them. He was leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water. The current eddied and swirled like liquid glass, and occasionally a bit of ice, detached from the shore, would go gliding downstream to be swallowed up in the shadows under the bridge.

“The water looked paralyzingly cold. George wondered how long a man could stay alive in it. The glassy blackness had a strange, hypnotic effect on him. He leaned still farther over the railing. . .‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ a quiet voice beside him said.

George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen before. He was stout, well past middle age, and his round cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been shaved. ‘Wouldn’t do what?’ George asked sullenly.’What you were thinking of doing. ‘How do you know what I was thinking?’ ‘Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,’ the stranger said easily.

George wondered what the man’s business was. He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly. Nothing else about him was noteworthy. He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly. He was carrying a small black satchel. It wasn’t a doctor’s bag—it was too large for that and not the right shape. It was a salesman’s sample kit, George decided distastefully. The fellow was probably some sort of peddler, the kind who would go around poking his sharp little nose into other people’s affairs.

‘Looks like snow, doesn’t it?’ the stranger said, glancing up appraisingly at the overcast sky. ‘It’ll be nice to have a white Christmas. They’re getting scarce these days— but so are a lot of things.’ He turned to face George squarely. ‘You all right now?’

‘Of course I’m all right. What made you think I wasn’t? I—’George fell silent before the stranger’s quiet gaze.

The little man shook his head. ‘You know you shouldn’t think of such things—and on Christmas Eve of all times! You’ve got to consider Mary—and your mother too.’

George opened his mouth to ask how this stranger could know his wife’s name, but the fellow anticipated him. ‘Don’t ask me how I know such things. It’s my business to know ’em. That’s why I came along this way tonight. Lucky I did too.’ He glanced down at the dark water and shuddered.  ‘Well, if you know so much about me,’ George said, “give me just one good reason why I should be alive.’

The little man made a queer chuckling sound. ‘Come, come, it can’t be that bad. You’ve got your job at the bank. And Mary and the kids. You’re healthy, young, and—’

‘And sick of everything!” George cried. ‘I’m stuck here in this mud hole for life, doing the same dull work day after day. Other men are leading exciting lives, but I—well, I’m just a small-town bank clerk that even the army didn’t want.  I never did anything really useful or interesting, and it looks as if I never will. I might just as well be dead. I might better be dead. Sometimes I wish I were. In fact, I wish I’d never been born!’

The little man stood looking at him in the growing darkness. ‘What was that you said?’ he asked softly.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate -Advanced

Language Skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary activities are included.

Time: approximately 2 hours.

Materials:  Copy of story The Greatest Gift, biography of Philip Van Doren Stern, examples of Components for Literary Analysis, and access to the video clips below.

Objectives:  Students will  read and discuss the short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern. Students will achieve a better understanding of the story by learning literary devices and terms  (e.g., imagery, symbolism, setting,) used for analyzing stories.  They will also learn how to  analyze the relationship between characters, and events in the story by using these literary devices.

I. Pre-Reading Exercises

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Ask students to think about what they already know about  the film It’s A Wonderful Life. Next, have students look at  any pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the story  As a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

Brainstorming Map by rentonschools.us

 

Pre-reading Discussion Questions

Directions: Have students discuss the following questions prior to reading the story.

The Greatest Gift  is a story about a man who is very unhappy with his life and wishes that he was never born. His wish is granted and the story follows how he handles being unborn.

Think about the following questions.  Discuss your ideas with your  group members.

1. Describe a time when you were very unhappy with the way your life was going. First, how did you feel? Second, what did you do to help the situation?

2. In your opinion what makes life valuable?

3. In general, when people are frustrated and unhappy with their lives, what’s the best advice you would give them?

II. While Reading Tasks

Vocabulary:  Word Inference

Directions: Have students  infer the meanings of the words in bold font taken from the story. They can use this great Vocabulary Chart.

  1. The current eddied and swirled like liquid glass.
  2. George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen before.
  3. “Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly.
  4. He was a most unremarkable little person.
  5. Nothing else about him was noteworthy.
  6. The little man made a queer chuckling sound.
  7. You’d better take this with you,” he said, holding out his satchel.
  8. After that, of course, it’s a cinch.
  9. George felt a sudden burst of affection.
  10. His father waved toward the door. “Go on in,” he said cordially.
  11. His voice faltered.
  12. His mother smiled at his awkwardness.
  13. The choir was making last-minute preparations for Christmas vespers.

 

Prediction and Character Organizer Charts

Directions: Students may use these Prediction and Character  profile charts by Pace High School as  a while-reading tool to aid in their comprehension of the events and of the characters in the story.

Questions for Comprehension

Directions: After students have reviewed Components for Literary Analysis have them answer the following questions from the story. They can use their  analysis charts as guides.

  1. During what holiday does the story take place?
  2. What was the one thing George felt was outstanding about the stranger?
  3. Describe the stranger.
  4. What kind of profession did George think the stranger had?
  5. The stranger begins to tell George why his life “can’t be that bad.”  What are some of the things he tells George?
  6. Why is George “sick of everything”?
  7. The stranger tells  George why his life “can’t be that bad.”  What are some of the things he tells George?
  8. Why is George “sick of everything?”
  9. What wish does George make?
  10. Describe the stranger’s reaction to George’s wish.
  11. What is George’s reaction after the stranger grants him his wish?
  12. Why did the stranger give George the satchel?
  13. What was inside the satchel?
  14. What happened when George tried to return the satchel to the stranger?
  15. What quarrel did George have with Hank Biddle?
  16. When George inspected the damaged tree in Hank’s yard, what was his reaction?
  17. Why did the ‘nonexistent scar’ on the tree bother George?
  18. Describe what George saw when he  reached the bank where he worked.
  19. Who was Jim Silva?
  20. Why didn’t Jim Silva recognize George?
  21. Who was Marty Jenkins and what did he do involving the bank?
  22. Who was Art Jenkins?  What problem did Art have?
  23. Who did Art Jenkins marry?
  24. Why do you think this information disturbed George Platt?
  25. Why didn’t George go find Mary right away?
  26. How did George’s parents behave when he visited them?
  27. What did George find out about Mary from his parents?
  28. Who was Harry?
  29. Why did George’s mother get upset when Harry’s name was mentioned
  30. How did George remember the incident with Harry?
  31. What changes occurred because George Platt did not exist?
  32. Why did the stranger let George live again?
  33. When George reached Hank Biddle’s house, what did he do first?
  34. At the end of the story what did George find in his house that made his voice freeze

 

Questions for Literary Analysis

Themes are messages or ideas in a story. Usually themes are some beliefs about life or life experiences the author is trying to express to the reader. Examples: honesty, death and dying, love, importance of family)

What are some of the themes in the story?

Symbolism is the practice using an object, place, person or words to represent an abstract idea in a story. When an author wants to suggest a certain mood or emotion they use symbolism to hint at it, as oppossed to just saying it.Examples: flowers can represent romance, fog might represent a bad omen.

What are some of the symbols in the story?

Imagery is descriptive language authors use to create a picture in the reader’s mind. Imagery usually involves the senses: sight, taste, sound, touch andsmell. Examples: ‘the tangy taste of lemon’ ‘the loud ringing of the bells’, ‘the red and gold sunset’)

Identify some examples of how the author used imagery in the story.

 

Questions for Reflection

Directions:  Have  students discuss the following questions.

  1. The stranger says to George, “Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the stranger said easily.   Who is the “we”  the stranger is referring to? 
  2. George opened his mouth to ask how this stranger could know his wife’s name, but the fellow anticipated him. “Don’t ask me how I know such things. It’s my business to know ’em.” What  do you think his  business is?
  3. After George told the stranger his wish, why did the stranger react the way he did? (Why that’s wonderful!) In your opinion, should he have reacted differently?  Were you surprised by this response? Why or why not?
  4. When George tells the stranger, “they need me here.”  Who needs George and why do they need him? 
  5. Do you think George needs those  people?  Why?
  6. When George Pratt asks for his life back, the stranger tells George Pratt,  “You got everything you asked for. You’re the freest man on earth now.”  Give some examples of  how George is “free”.
  7. In your opinion, What is the Greatest Gift?
  8. At the end of the story, George thinks perhaps it was all a dream. What do you think happened to George?  Why?
  9. What have you  learned from this story?
  10. The stranger says to George, “Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the stranger said easily.   Who is the “we”  the stranger is referring to? 
  11. George opened his mouth to ask how this stranger could know his wife’s name, but the fellow anticipated him. “Don’t ask me how I know such things. It’s my business to know ’em.” What  do you think his  business is?
  12. After George told the stranger his wish, why did the stranger react the way he did? (Why that’s wonderful!) In your opinion, should he have reacted differently?  Were you surprised by this response? Why or why not?

Writing Assignment 

Directions: Have students choose a topic from below and write an essay to share with the class.

1.Choose one of the themes and write an essay describing your thoughts about the theme.

2. Write a description for each character that appears in the story.

3. In the The Greatest Gift , Philip Van Doren Stern had a happy ending.See if you can write a different a different ending for the story. Share your ending with the class.

IV. Listening Activity

Compare Opening scenes from film “It’s A Wonderful Life” to opening scenes from the short story The Greatest Gift.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift, which Philip Van Doren Stern published in 1943. Wikipedia

1st clip:

It’s A Wonderful Life | Suicide Attempt | Frank Capra

 

 

2nd clip:

It’s a Wonderful Life Movie CLIP

 

Beginning of Short Story The Christmas Gift By Philip Van Doren Stern

The little town straggling up the hill was bright with colored Christmas lights. But George Pratt did not see them. He was leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water. The current eddied and swirled like liquid glass, and occasionally a bit of ice, detached from the shore, would go gliding downstream to be swallowed up in the shadows under the bridge.

The water looked paralyzingly cold. George wondered how long a man could stay alive in it. The glassy blackness had a strange, hypnotic effect on him. He leaned still farther over the railing. . .“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a quiet voice beside him said.

George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen before. He was stout, well past middle age, and his round cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been shaved.

“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly.
“What you were thinking of doing.”
“How do you know what I was thinking?”
“Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the stranger said easily.

3rd clip:  It’s a Wonderful Life  Movie CLIP – Careful What You Wish For (1946)

 

Excerpt From Short Story The Greatest Gift

“Well, if you know so much about me,” George said, “give me just one good reason why I should be alive.”

The little man made a queer chuckling sound. “Come, come, it can’t be that bad. You’ve got your job at the bank. And Mary and the kids. You’re healthy, young, and—”

I never did anything really useful or interesting, and it looks as if I never will. I might just as well be dead. I might better be dead. Sometimes I wish I were. In fact, I wish I’d never been born!”

The little man stood looking at him in the growing darkness. “What was that you said?” he asked softly.

“I said I wish I’d never been born,” George repeated firmly. “And I mean it too.”

The stranger’s pink cheeks glowed with excitement. “Why that’s wonderful! You’ve solved everything. I was afraid you were going to give me some trouble. But now you’ve got the solution yourself. You wish you’d never been born. All right! OK! You haven’t!” “What do you mean?” George growled.

“You haven’t been born. Just that. You haven’t been born. No one here knows you. You have no responsibilities—no job—no wife—no children. Why, you haven’t even a mother. You couldn’t have, of course. All your troubles are over. Your wish, I am happy to say, has been granted—officially.”

 

Questions

Directions: Review the clips from the film “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Read the excerpts from the short story The Greatest Gift. Answer the following questions:

1. In the beginning of It’s A Wonderful Life what are the differences between the opening scenes in the film (directed by Frank Capra) and the opening scenes in the short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern?

2. Which version do you prefer? Explain Why?

ANSWER KEY

 

Refugees Give Gratitude and Thanks for First Thanksgiving In America!

“Recently arrived refugees in the United States prepare to cook the most American of feasts… From the day of arrival, food is an integral part of adjustment to a new country.” By J. Moskin, The New York Times (11/2018)

Note: This article was written ‘before’ Covid-19. Please remember to follow rules about wearing masks and distancing this year. Please stay safe —  ESL Voices Nov. 2020 

Everyone Can Make Thanksgiving Safer November 2020 — CDC (Center for Disease Control)

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Members of the church’s refugee task force, which sponsored Ms. Anjari’s family for resettlement in the United States.Credit Christina Holmes for The New York Times

 

Excerpt:  The First Thanksgiving By Julia Moskin, The New York Times

“Two years ago this month, Mayada Anjari was only dimly aware that a holiday was approaching. After the family’s three-year journey as refugees from Syria, her sons — Hayan, Mohammed and Abdulrazaq — had just started school here; her husband, Ahmad Abdulhamid, was looking for work; She had cooked for the church group that sponsored the family’s resettlement…A new friend who was also Muslim gave her a turkey from a local halal butcher for Thanksgiving. Ms. Anjari cut it into pieces, covered it with water, and simmered it into soup with potatoes, carrots, ginger and cumin. Her family liked it, she said, but it didn’t seem very special to her. So she decided to take a test run at making her first Thanksgiving feast.

Preparing for her first Thanksgiving dinner, Mayada Anjari roasted a turkey in her kitchen in Jersey City.CreditCreditChristina Holmes for The New York Times

The family left their home city, Homs, on March 31, 2013, when the daily violence of the civil war had made their lives untenable. They walked across the Jordan border in darkness, were picked up by the Jordanian military… They registered as refugees with the United Nations, so the boys could attend school, but the adults couldn’t work legally. Food and money were always scarce.

Working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Department of State brings a certain number of refugees each year — most of them families with young children — to resettle in the United States. Only people displaced by violence or the threat of violence (like asylum seekers) can apply; the program is separate from other American immigration quotas and regulations…So far in 2018, about 22,000 people have been allowed in, and just 50 of them were Syrian. Despite the continuing civil war and refugee crisis, Syria is one of seven countries from which the Trump administration has forbidden people to enter the United States. On the State Department’s list of things that sponsors must provide immediately is a ‘culturally appropriate’ meal for the family. Some sponsors interpret this in religious terms, and provide store-bought halal fried chicken or kosher pizza.

For Congolese and Rwandan arrivals Moambe Chicken (Poulet à la Moambé) Explorers Kitchen

‘The culturally appropriate hot meal is simply the best federal regulation of all time,’ said Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugees & Immigrants Services, a New Haven agency that has resettled more than 6,000 refugees in Connecticut since 1982. For Congolese and Rwandan arrivals, volunteers have made chicken moambe, a braise with tomato, onion, peanut butter and rich red palm oil, a basic ingredient in those countries and for many, the taste of home.

Afghanistan traditional pulao of lamb and rice with raisins

For an Eritrean mother and children, an Ethiopian family who had arrived earlier supplied a meal with injera, the soft, spongy flatbread that is a staple in both countries.

Fereshteh Ganjavi, who arrived from Afghanistan in 2013 and now works at Integrated Refugees, said the meal is particularly powerful for refugees who arrive after years of exile from their home country. Her welcome dinner included a traditional pulao of lamb and rice with raisins, and green tea spiced with saffron and cardamom, a brew specific to the mountainous Hindu Kush region that stretches across northern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dima King, a native Russian practiced for his first Thanksgiving dinner by making a pumpkin pie.Credit An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Dima King, who arrived in the United States last year, is seeking asylum because of the anti-gay persecution and legislation that have taken hold in his native Russia since 2013. He is cooking his first Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Just to give an idea of how welcoming Nichols School students were to our refugee clients at Journey’s End’s Buffalo’s First Thanksgiving!

‘I understood it right away as a celebration of new Americans and Native Americans,’ he said. Holidays that celebrate a good harvest are universal, he said, but Thanksgiving also honors the practice of treating strangers with generosity, charity and humanity. ‘Of course, that is a holiday I want to cook for.’

Mr. King is a graduate of Emma’s Torch, a nonprofit restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that offers professional culinary training to resettled refugees; he is soon to start a job as a line cook at Temple Court, a chic restaurant in the financial district.”

ESL-VOICES

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Ask students to think about what they already know about how  Thanksgiving is celebrated in The United States. You may wish to begin here because one refugee in this article speaks about the significance of the American Indians and Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving in the United States-Wikipedia

Next, have students look at the pictures in this  text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article.  Regroup as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

Brainstorming Map by rentonschools.us

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. The civil war had made their lives untenable.
  2. They registered as refugees with the United Nations.
  3. From the day of arrival, food is an integral part of adjustment.
  4. Food and money were always scarce.
  5. Chris George is a passionate advocate for refugees.
  6. The program is separate from other American immigration quotas and regulations.
  7. The vetting process for resettlement takes about two years.
  8. Sponsors must immediately provide a culturally appropriate meal for the family.
  9. Some sponsors stocked the family’s new kitchen with key ingredients.
  10. Dima King, who arrived in the United States last year from Russia, is seeking asylum.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Two years ago this month, Mayada Anjari was only dimly aware that a holiday was approaching.
  2. Mayada  Anjari’s family is from from Pakistan.
  3. The family left their home city, Homs in 2013.
  4. They registered as refugees with the  U.S. Refugee Camp so the boys could attend school.
  5. The children could attend school and  the adults could work legally.
  6. Working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Department of State brings a certain number of refugees each year.
  7. Sponsors must provide a ‘culturally appropriate’ meal for the family.
  8. Chris George is a refugee  at Integrated Refugees & Immigrants Services,  in New Haven.
  9. Fereshteh Ganjavi, who arrived from Afghanistan in 2013 and now works at Integrated Refugees.
  10. Dima King, who arrived in the United States last year, is seeking asylum because of the anti-gay persecution.

Grammar: Identifying English Articles

Directions: Have students choose the correct English articles (THE, A, AN)  from those provided to fill in the blanks.

  1. By last fall, ___boys (now 14, 12 and 10) had learned about the Pilgrims.
  2. Ms. Anjari had memorized ___two-mile walk to ___nearest store.
  3. She had cooked for ___church group.
  4. Fans of Ms. Anjari’s food helped her publish ___cookbook of Syrian recipes.
  5. ___daily violence of ___civil war had made their lives untenable.
  6. From the day of arrival, food is ___integral part of adjustment to ___ new country.
  7. Mr. George is ___passionate advocate.
  8. ___Eritrean mother and children arrived earlier in the year.

 

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Are any students celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time in America?
  2. Have students discuss the ways Thanksgiving is regarded in their countries. 
  3. Students might  list things they personally associate with Thanksgiving.
  4. Students could create drawings of their families, food, or other items connected to Thanksgiving.
  5. Ask students to make a list of things for which they are thankful.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

 

The Wonder of Global Christmas Festivities

“It’s that time of the year when people world-wide celebrate Christmas. The following article highlights six countries and their uniques versions of celebrating Christmas.” J. Margolies, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post  with Answer Key

Excerpt: Six Christmas Traditions From Around the World, By Jane Margolies, The New York Times

Christmas trees, Santa Claus and gingerbread lattes are all well and good. But with the homogenizing creep of Yuletide customs, travelers might well worry they’ll go to the trouble of getting somewhere new over the holidays only to find it’s just like everywhere else. Not the six places here. Each has its own way of celebrating Christmas, and with the festivities unfolding in plazas, parks and other public places, travelers are free to join right in.”

Castleton, England

Directions near Castleton in the Peak District in Derbyshire, England, where Christmas singing resounds in local caves. Credit- Jamie Duff

This pretty English village in Derbyshire’s Peak District is known for its walking paths and, high on a hill, the picturesque ruins of a Norman castle. It’s also home to four spectacular caverns bristling with stalagmites and stalactites. On weekends leading up to Christmas two of the caves offer caroling sing-alongs.

Jerusalem

The Basilica of the Nativity, on the place where Christ was born, in Bethlehem.Credit- Nasser Shiyoukhi

In most parts of Israel, where Christians make up about 2 percent of the population, it’s business as usual on Dec. 24 and 25. But in this city where Jesus lived and died, Christmas is joyously celebrated in the Christian quarter of the Old City. Churches decorated with trees conduct nonstop services in many languages (see cicts.org for listings of services), with Jews and Muslims often sitting in.Marching bands and bagpipers led by Arabian horses weave through the narrow streets to Manger Square, the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the grotto where Jesus was born.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Sculptures made of radishes are shown at Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) in Oaxaca, Mexico. Credit:Judith Haden: DaniaDelimont.com

Posadas — door-to-door processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter — and a parade with candlelit paper lanterns fill the streets of this city in southwestern Mexico… But the most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as the Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) on the evening of Dec. 23. In the zócalo, the city’s central square, under a canopy of lights, farmers display elaborate sculptures — nativity scenes, robed kings, musicians — all carved out of the giant radishes grown locally.

Quebec City

Père and Mère Noël stroll the streets of Quebec City. Credit- Christinne Muschi for The New York Times

You would think temperatures in the teens and wind whipping off the St. Lawrence River would drive everyone indoors. But the 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime, when stone buildings sparkle with lights. Fortify yourself with maple sugar pie from the Ferme Line & Steve Morency stand at Le Marché de Noel in the farmers’ market in the Old Port area.

Rome

Christmas lights decorate the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Credit Alseeandro Bianchi:Reuters

Although the larger-than-life nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square is under wraps until Dec. 24, when this year’s still-top-secret version will be unveiled just in time for the Pope’s midnight Mass, you can feast your eyes on the remarkably detailed 18th-century Neapolitan carved-wood crib… Piazza del Popolo, to see crib elements made of everything from coral to chocolate. Or just duck into any church or cathedral you happen by.

Taos, N.M.

Farolitos, paper bags with votive candles inside, illuminate Taos, N.M. Credit- Walter Bibikov:DaniaDelimont.com

Bonfires blaze nightly in the plazas, bringing a block-party vibe to this New Mexico town. Farolitos (brown paper bags lighted with votive candles) line streets, snaking past galleries and art studios… When the Spanish came here in the 17th century, they brought their culture, and today celebrations blend Catholic and Native American traditions.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, to find out what they already know about Christmas celebrations in different countries.  Next, have students look at the pictures in the article to generate ideas or words about the topic.  Discuss as a class and list these ideas on the board.

Colorful Brainstorming chart from Live It Magazine.

II While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. This pretty English village in Derbyshire’s Peak District is known for the picturesque ruins of a Norman castle.
  2. At Peak Cavern’s evening songfests participants sit inside the cave — which has great acoustics — to belt out “We Three Kings” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
  3. From Jerusalem, many people make the pilgrimage six miles south to Bethlehem.
  4. The plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the grotto where Jesus was born.
  5. Posadas are door-to-door processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter.
  6. Tthe most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as the Noche de Rábanos.
  7. The 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime.
  8. Just visit into any church or cathedral you happen by.
  9. In Italy there are burlap-and-straw depictions of the Italian witch called La Befana.
  10. Bonfires blaze nightly in the plazas, bringing a block-party vibe to this New Mexico town.

Reading Comprehension

True / False

Directions:  The following statements were taken from the article.  If  a statement is true, write (T) if  a statement is false  write (F). 

  1. Each country mentioned in the article has similar ways of celebrating Christmas.
  2. The English village in Derbyshire’s Peak District is known for its walking paths.
  3. On weekends leading up to Christmas in Derbyshire’s Peak  people can sing in the caves.
  4. From Bethlehem  many people make the pilgrimage six miles south to Jerusalem, to celebrate.
  5. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as El  Día de los Muertos on the evening of Dec. 23.
  6. Creations such as Nativity scenes, robed kings, musicians, are all carved out of the giant radishes grown locally.
  7. In Quebec City the 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime.
  8. In Rome the larger-than-life nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square is kept under wraps until Dec. 24.
  9. La Befana, is an Italian santa  said to fly around on a broomstick.
  10. In Taos, N.M. celebrations blend Catholic and Native American traditions.

Grammar Focus

Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.

For a review of Adjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar

III Post Reading Tasks

Reading Comprehension Check

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Questions

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. After, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can choose to write an essay on one of the discussion topics.

  1. Describe how Christmas is celebrated in your country.
  2. Which celebration described in this article is your favorite? Explain why.
  3. Can you see any similarities between the six celebrations?
  4. What new information have you learned from this article? Share it with your group and then as a class.

 

Group Project

Directions: Have students go to this site Santa’s Net  which has a large collection of traditions  from different countries.  Have each group choose a country that celebrates Christmas differently from the ones mentioned here, and describe that  country’s celebration.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

ANSWER KEY

The Truth About Santa Claus Revealed!

“Don’t tell the kids, but we’ve got Santa Claus all wrong. Countless Christmas songs tell us that Santa is basically the Judge Judy of juveniles. He decides who’s been naughty or nice, and doles out presents or punishments accordingly. But historians say Kris Kringle was originally created to keep ‘adults’, not children, off the naughty list. Being crafty codgers, we ducked Santa’s surveillance, turning the spotlight on kids and dramatically changing Christmas celebrations.” D. Burke, CNN

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Santa in the famous Macy's Day Parade in New York City, U.S.A. dailymail

Santa in the famous Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, U.S.A. dailymail

Excerpt: The real story behind Santa Claus, By Daniel Burke, CNN

“How did we achieve this very important historical victory? Picture this: It’s the early 1800s, and America’s Christian leaders — most of whom were Protestant Reformation-types — had banned religious celebrations of Christmas as unscriptural and paganish.

In Tokyo Japan Santas from the Harley Santa Club deliver toys in a campaign against child abuse. CNN

In Tokyo Japan Santas from the Harley Santa Club deliver toys in a campaign against child abuse. CNN

But people still wanted to party. Because, why not? It was midwinter, the crops were harvested and sailors were waiting for better weather to disembark. So, on December 25, working-class stiffs got fall-down drunk and stumbled around cities looking for stuff to loot. Imagine Black Friday, spring break and New Year’s Eve — then smash them together like sumo wrestlers full of saki. That was Christmas in the early 1800s.

Colorful Santa in Italy. CNN

Colorful Santa in Italy. CNN

A bunch of blue-blood New Yorkers decided all this fun must stop. They wanted to domesticate Christmas, bring it indoors, and focus it on children, says Gerry Bowler, author of Santa Claus: A History and professor of history at the University of Manitoba in Canada. These grinches, who formed the Saint Nicholas Society of New York, would change the world with two little poems. Yep. Poems.

Father Frost (equivalent of Santa) rests on a high-rise building in Kemerovo Russia

Father Frost (equivalent of Santa) rests on a high-rise building in Kemerovo Russia

But let’s back up for a minute. When the Dutch came to the New World in the 1600s, they brought a fellow from folklore named Sinterklaas with them, Bowler says. Sinterklaas, who wore a red bishop’s miter and a snowy white beard…Despite being a bishop, this Nick was a bit of a bad boy.  An archaeologist who dug up his bones in 2005 found that Nicholas had a broken nose, perhaps a result of the persistent persecution of Christians around that time… Or could it have been Christian-on-Christian violence?

Volunteer Santas in Seoul, Korea. CNN

Volunteer Santas in Seoul, Korea. CNN

Early icons of Nicholas depict him without bishop’s garb, a subtle suggestion that he had been demoted, possibly for fisticuffs…Thankfully, St. Nicholas, was known for more than brawling. He also had a reputation for giving gifts and protecting children…While staying at an inn, Nicholas discovered three dismembered children in pickle barrels. He reassembled and resurrected the briny kids and punished the guilty innkeeper.  These deeds, along with his everyman persona, (he wasn’t a martyr or hermit like so many other model Christians of the time), made Nicholas the greatest male saint of the Middle Ages.

Santa in the U.S. toovia.com

Santa in the U.S. toovia.com

Bowler says that St. Nick’s feast day, December 6, (the day he supposedly died) was celebrated across Europe for hundreds of years, often by giving gifts to children…About a decade later, in 1821, an anonymous poem called The Children’s Friend, featured a magical figure called ‘Santeclaus,’ who drove a reindeer-led sleigh full of “rewards” and filled obedient children’s stockings with little presents. Building on that, an Episcopalian scholar named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem for his big brood called A Visit From St. Nicholas. It’s now better known as The Night Before Christmas.

 

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

 

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. How did we achieve this very important historical victory?
  2. They wanted to domesticate Christmas.
  3. They brought a fellow from folklore named Sinterklaas.
  4. An archaeologist dug up his bones in 2005.
  5. The meeting in 325 formed the first consensus on Christian doctrine.
  6. There was a suggestion that he had been demoted possibly for fisticuffs.
  7. St. Nicholas, was known for more than brawling.
  8. He reassembled and resurrected the briny kids.
  9. In some early depictions, Santa Claus looks like an overgrown elf.
  10. By the early 1900s, Santa became benevolent grandfather that we all know and love.
Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

 

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Kris Kringle was originally created children.
  2. In the early 1800s, America’s Christian leaders encouraged celebrations of Christmas.
  3. From this article we learn that in midwinter, the crops were harvested.
  4. Back then on December 25, the working-class donated money to the poor.
  5. A  group of blue-blood New Yorkers  applauded the working class for their donations.
  6. They wanted to domesticate Christmas, bring it indoors, and focus it on children.
  7. When the English came to the New World in the 1600s, they brought a fellow named Sinterklaas.
  8. Sinterklaas had five children of his own.
  9. Sinterklaas wore a red bishop’s miter and had a snowy white beard.
  10. An archaeologist who dug up his bones in 2005 found that Nicholas had a broken nose.

 

 Grammar Focus

Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article  and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following  three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“These deeds, along with his everyman persona, (he wasn’t a martyr or hermit like so many other model Christians of the time), made Nicholas the greatest male saint of the Middle Ages…One measure of his popularity is the long list of people, places, churches and Christian groups that list St. Nick as their patron….St. Nick’s feast day, December 6, (the day he supposedly died) was celebrated across Europe for hundreds of years, often by giving gifts to children.”

“Some countries… such as the Netherlands, kept alive traditions associated with Sinterklaas. And it was these customs that 19th century New Yorkers wanted to revive. As they sought to make Christmas more family friendly, the Saint Nicholas Society found the perfect front man in their namesake, who, after all, was known for being nice to children.”

“The real goal was getting drunks off the street, remember? Now they could do that by turning Christmas into a family event when children — who had it pretty rough back then — would receive gifts for good behavior. Drawing on the Dutch legends about Sinterklaas, the American author Washington Irving wrote a series of sketches featuring St. Nicholas soaring high above New York houses, smoking a pipe and delivering presents to well-behaved children.”

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the origins of Santa Claus from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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