"What I love and hate about Christmas" is a rich topic for teenagers. Advertising tells us to aim for "the perfect Christmas". Yet Christmas is a strange and unpredictable mix. Different members of the same family experience it in different ways.
Teenagers love expressing their opinions and feelings about things. Doing so in a foreign language motivates them to extend their vocabulary so they can say exactly what they want to. You can modify the topic to "likesdislikes" if you prefer but teenagers have strong emotions. You will get more honest work if you allow words such as "annoying" or "hate", even if it seems odd to use them about a religious holiday. You might even get some good speech and writing about how far Christmas has departed from its original purpose.
Start by telling pupils to draw a line down a page and write the first things they can think of about Christmas under two headings in the target language. These could be colloquial, such as "great" and "annoying". This need not be too serious: it can be a chance to rant in a foreign language about anything from stressed parents to having to revise for exams with irritating Christmas songs in the background.
Pupils should write down their ideas as much as possible in the target language. Walk around the classroom reading their lists and chatting to them. This will tell you what vocabulary they still need. Pool ideas on the board. Provide new vocabulary for subjects that come up a lot. Annoying relatives, family rows, and overexcited little brothers and sisters are great to speak and write about. These topics revise the language of family relationships while extending learning into the language of opinion, criticism and emotion.
For the things that they love about Christmas, to avoid just getting a list of nouns, prompt specific memories with a title such as "My best ever Christmas present". They will need to revise the past tense for this. You could then look at present and future tenses with "The night before Christmas".
The class could now learn some vocabulary for homework, to prepare for a role play in the next lesson. In groups, they could act out Jerry Springer-style role plays about families at Christmas. Using the remote control from the classroom DVD player, you could press "pause" at certain moments. Then pick a pupil to ask one of the characters a question. This practises spontaneous speaking and listening using the new language - which is what we all want for Christmas.
Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa. Visit www.catherinepaver.com.
Express likes and dislikes in Spanish with a resource from Clairecopp. bit.lyMeGustan
Try s.barfoot's lesson on expressing opinions of music in German. bit.lyGermanMusicOpinion
Or develop pupils' French skills with Rhian_Thomas' guide to expressing extended opinion. bit.lyFrenchSkillsGuide.