Bringing holidays into the classroom: Ramadan

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I often think about newcomers to Canada, and specifically those coming from challenging circumstances who are building a new life in a new land. How are they settling into their new environment? Are they adjusting? Managing? Dealing? Healing?

Many of these newcomers are from the Middle East and are observing Ramadan, a holy month that’s observed by millions of Muslims around the world, where the central focus is fasting.

So in trying to piece these two realities together, how great would it be for these learners to feel empowered about a subject they’re familiar with? Since we’re currently well into this month of fasting, I thought it would be a great lesson plan/idea.

Let your students take the lead

I think this is perhaps one of the few lessons where one could have the students lead the lesson(s) and teach the instructors about their holiest month.

An example lesson might be having your learners write up important facts about Ramadan.

For example:

  • What makes it a sacred month?
  • Why does the date change every year?
  • How come Muslims follow a different calendar?
  • How long do you fast for? Are there exemptions?
  • What are the benefits of fasting?

These are just a few questions. You could help them by facilitating questions and have them brainstorm presentation ideas.

Working together in community

Have your learners work together and present everything there is to know about the month of Ramadan. Maybe even have several teachers attend their presentations, if possible. It would be a role reversal where the students become the teachers and vice versa for that day.

This is also a great way of empowering these newcomers, who are no doubt feeling isolated, full of self-doubt, misunderstood and disoriented.

Would you partake?

You might even consider partaking in one day of fasting together to experience it as a class or school and to show support.

A reflection lesson

Even if you plan a lesson after Ramadan has ended, students could talk about how the month of fasting went for them. What they had to endure, how they felt about fasting in Canada versus where they came from, and also talk about Eid al Fitr {the festival that celebrates the breaking of the fast} – how do they celebrate? What takes place that day? How long does it last? You get the idea.

What are your thoughts on this topic? I know it’s rather specific, but just like we cover the Canadian holidays in our lesson plans, this is a holiday that many of our friends and colleagues practice and implement as well.

Have any of you explored this topic before? Do you have learners in your classes that you could see this topic being relevant to?

I look forward to your comments, as always.  🙂


Here are a few examples of possible topics for Ramadan/Eid:

Editor’s notes:

  • As this is Laila’s final blog submission for TESL ON Blog, we want to express our appreciation and thanks to her for all of her contributions over the last 3 years.  Her personable and warm nature always came through her blogs as she shared her thoughts and ideas on teaching ESL.  Thanks, Laila! We hope you can come back as an Occasional Blogger from time to time.
  • And to all of our members who are celebrating Ramadan –         Ramadan Mubarak!

Hi! I’m Laila and I’m a mom to two little ones who keep me very busy throughout the day (and night)! I earned a double major in Philosophy and Psychology from Western University, which basically means I can talk a lot and analyze anything! I earned my TESL accreditation and have taught in both school and workplace settings; but I especially enjoy teaching at different work places. I have a passion for cooking, baking vegan desserts, and DIY projects. I enjoy reading and learning about new things, but mostly, I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts and any information I may learn about with all of you. Happy reading!


8 thoughts on “Bringing holidays into the classroom: Ramadan”

  1. I was supplying in a LINC 2/3 class of Syrian and Iraqi students who knew a lot of Ramadan but lacked the language to express their knowledge in English so I gave yhem the vocabulary and they prepared short presentations of their Ramadan memories , what Ramadan is ? And what it means to them?

    1. Rola that makes me so happy to hear! I can guarantee your learners felt empowered that day.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for that touching send-off! I loved every part about being a TESL blogger. Thank you for the opportunity and for the wonderful memories.

  3. Laila, this is a really useful post as all of your past posts have been. I hope it is reposted next year before Ramadan for teachers and students to consider the characteristics and facts of Ramadan.

    1. Thank you so much John! It really means a lot 🙂
      Such a great idea to repost it next year – maybe I’ll send the team a friendly reminder then :))

  4. Hullo Laila,
    Yes, throughout the year we do include Canadian stat holidays in our lessons. And many of the non stat holidays and celebrations marked by our friends and neighbours and our learners – Divali, Nourruz, Tet, Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Kwaanza, Valentine’s Day. But ut takes awareness and dedication to keep doing this. I think you did a great thing posting about Ramadan.
    I think I once commented on one of your posts that during December my classroom is decorated with symbols from all the great religions and philosophies as we celelebrate oue commonalities. I teach Christmas songs ( so good for rhythm and stress and vocabulary) but I do not teach Christmas Carols as I respect that these are religious devotional songs. I think it is important to keep church and state seperate.
    I would like to comment on your question “Would you partake?” in which you suggest consudering partaking of one day of fasting together as a class or school to experience it and show support. I think this would be very irregular and not appropriate to suggest to an ESL class. It could be thought of as proselytizing. (If individual teachers or learners wanted to do this – that’s a private matter) About experiencing fasting – I think all religions have fasting as part of their practice and many organisations that are fighting poverty will have a day of fasting (24 hours) to experience a little of what it is like to feel hunger.
    I like to use a combinatiin of written/video resources AND student contribution (where possible) for all holidays.
    Lary Ferlazzo has a list of Best resources for Ramadan, Esllibrary also has a good lesson plan,
    My Ramadan resource ( I don’t have the reference with me – sorry!) also gives background and talks about Islam and the Five Pillars. The information is always appreciated by all – including the Moslem students who are able to get the English vocabulary to then explain their beliefs and feelings to others..
    In my class this month there was an unspoken agreement not to bring the usual homebaked treats that find their way to the coffee corner. Also instead of brewing coffee we used instant ( again, not discussed, just intuitive.)We did have tea and coffee and cookies** And a couple of the Moslem students who are not fasting made tea – which resulted in a very civil side discussion 🙂
    Luckily our potluck is on Thursday – after Ramadan. Had it fallen during Ramadan it would not have been cancelled. As before we would have suggested to those students who were fasting – maybe cook extra for iftar, bring it to the potluck to share, there will be containers for you to take food from the potluck to take home.
    To you dear Laila and to all our Moslem colleagues and learners -Ramadan Kareem for the final days and Eid Meburak!
    ** ( ever since I discovered I had students who came to class hungry I have always had food in the class. One day there were no cookies. A student, whose first action every day was to go to the corner turned round and said “No cookies?” My heart broke)

    1. Claudie, of course I remember you and your comment from December! It was very touching. As is this one.
      Thanks so much for your input and for being so kind and respectful about your views regarding my post. I didn’t mean that everyone would have to participate but maybe those who felt they wanted to could give it a try just to experience a day in the life of a fasting Muslim. But nevertheless, I get where you’re coming from and I appreciate your point of view.
      Thanks for providing some helpful resources! I know they will come in handy for some if not most 🙂
      And thank you for the well wishes! Ramadan is truly one of my favourite times of year, and I’m sad that it’s about to end. Although I’m also happy for the celebrations {Eid} that’s to come! It’s bittersweet 🙂
      Have a great day and I look forward to reading more of your comments on fellow bloggers’ posts!

  5. Laila,
    I’m so sorry to hear that you’re leaving as a regular blogger here, as your posts count among those I have found most valuable, including this one.
    The vast majority of my Muslim students are in my afternoon literacy class where the level of English skills is still rudimentary, so it did not occur to me to have the students observing Ramadan teach us about it. However, I did make a point of modelling for all the newcomers what respect looks like. We had a moratorium on potlucks and for our school-wide “olympics” day, we moved the refreshments to an out of the way room so we were not waving food and drink under the noses of those observing the fast. Also, our supervisor asked all teachers to wind up assessment and artifact collection before the first day of Ramadan. I told students that classes were going to become more laid back with assessments out of the way, more fun. It was wonderful to see the literacy students run with this. Indeed I had no idea they were capable of chatting with each other in English until the pressure was off and we slipped into a more Dogme mode.
    Well, I have way more to say on this topic than is appropriate for a comment box on this blog–don’t want to hijack the conversation! So perhaps I will continue on my own blog this Sunday.
    My best to you, Laila! I hope you will continue to inspire us via Twitter or on your own blog or as an occasional blogger here.

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