We all know the scenario – it’s nearly Christmas time. The children are distracted and over-excited, the teachers are tired and rather stressed with all the mock exams. What happens? Someone cracks out the same old Christmas worksheet which is used every year and all classes learn the keywords to describe a British Christmas – because it’s easy, because it’s what they are interested in right now, and because…… well, because that’s the way it’s always been done.
It doesn’t matter which festival you look at, when it comes to GCSE Modern Foreign Languages they are all in the syllabus as the students are encouraged to learn about the “standard” ones for their target language and then also to express themselves in talking about their own festivals. All too often though, this can be left until the end of the course or done as a vague afterthought which the students don’t even realise is important for the course (see the worksheet scenario above) and a learning opportunity is missed, or diluted. Here are five ideas to liven up the festival module.
1. Use realia. Yes, it can be a bit of a hassle, and you will always need to be careful of allergies, but talking about German Christmas biscuits (Plätzchen) or a French “Galette des Rois” is always more interesting if you can see one, or EAT one. Watch out for nuts though, as both commonly contain almonds. You could also use other festive items in a “feely bag” (a cloth bag which can’t be seen through) to set the scene and teach the vocabulary.
2. If you can’t use realia then you could always use some good pictures of the items, or look for a video (there are instruction videos for baking all kinds of treats on a popular video-sharing website!). This could then lead to a great practice of the imperative as the students can reproduce the instructions for making the recipe – or give instructions for how to make one of their own traditional treats.
3. Exploit the topic blatantly to practise grammar, while hiding the fact that you are doing so! “I went to the shops and I bought…” is a popular memory game where each person adds an item which was bought, and then has to remember all the items which went before. Make it more complicated by encouraging the use of adjectives. Discuss gender differences for the use of those adjectives and help the children to get some oral practice at the same time. You could extend the game further by listing different activities which will be done (or which must/could/should be done – squeeze in some modal verbs!) in order to prepare for the festive season.
4. Try to highlight the similarities and differences between the country in which you are teaching and the way that the festival is celebrated in the target language area. This kind of cultural input is what brings language-learning to life and makes it all more interesting. You could produce a “letter from a penfriend” to talk about their country and encourage students to write back to them for an independent writing task.
5. Use traditional tales, legends etc. You could use card sorting to order the traditional nativity story, to explain about St Nikolaus visiting German children on December 5, to tell the story of how the church bells bring the chocolate eggs to French children at Easter etc. Students could be encouraged to tell the story of one of their own festivals in a similar way.
Time pressure is always a challenge, especially in the GCSE course, but the ideas above could also be adapted to be used in an extra-curricular language club, or as a one-off lunchtime activity for those who have more than 20 minutes to eat.
In the meantime – Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten – and Merry Christmas!