Celebrating Valentine's Day with ELLs

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Here are some ideas to make sure that all English language learners are included and welcomed in your Valentine's celebration!

Valentine's Day can be a time for lots of special activities at school and beyond. Yet English language learners (ELLs), especially newcomers, may be experiencing it for the first time or for the first time in the U.S. Here are some ideas for making sure that ELLs feel welcome and included in any Valentine's Day celebrations.

Teaching the "hidden curriculum"

ELL expert Judie Haynes explains that ELLs may need explicit instruction in "the hidden curriculum," which she says "encompasses various characteristics of schooling that 'everybody knows.'" This includes social skills and classroom expectations, customs around holidays such as wearing costumes on Halloween or exchanging Valentines, and cultural norms.

1. Share an overview of Valentine's Day.

If your class will be celebrating Valentine's Day, take some time to talk about the holiday, its traditions, and what to expect (decorations, what people might be wearing, etc.). You may wish to show a short video, read a story, or find an activity that gives a little background on the holiday.

In addition, ask ELLs what they have heard about Valentine's Day, if it's celebrated in their home countries, or if they have any holidays that celebrate friendship. For example, students who are from countries that are major flower exporters such as Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Thailand, Kenya and Guatemala may be familiar with the floral industry in those countries.

For ideas, see:

2. Teach Valentine's vocabulary or expressions.

Identify some of the key words and phrases that students might come across, especially if you do any activities or read-alouds. Give students a chance to practice with the words and expressions you teach.

3. Prepare students for what will happen on Valentine's Day.

Explain to students what will happen in the classroom or at school on Valentine's Day. Will there be a special assembly, activity, or celebration? Will the schedule be any different? Imagine that you are experiencing Valentine's Day for the first time and consider what might be new or surprising.

Note: If food is involved in your Valentine's Day celebration, ensure you have updated information any student allergies.

4. Think about how Valentine exchanges will work.

If your class will be exchanging valentines, ensure that students know what to expect.

  • You may wish to do a craft before or on Valentine's Day so that ELLs can make simple valentines for their classmates at school.
  • If students do bring Valentines in, ensure they bring them for all students so that no one is left out.
  • Keep in mind that purchasing and filling out Valentines may not be a realistic expectation for newcomer families who are navigating several other challenges.
  • If you do send home a class list with students for a Valentine exchange, be sure to send any instructions in families' languages and to let families know that this activity is optional.

5. Select books and activities that focus on a positive theme.

Look for books and activities that focus on positive themes, such as:

  • Friendship & Family
  • Gratitude
  • Empathy

For example, you may wish to brainstorm ways to be a good friend, welcome a new classmate, or create thank-you notes for someone who works at your school.

You might also wish to try a writing activity, such as writing Valentine poems. Reading Rockets has lots of ideas (along with related booklists) on their Valentine's Day resource page.

For older students, you might wish to use a text such as Dizzy In Your Eyes: Poems About Love by Pat Mora.

Activity Ideas

Related booklists


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