As Halloween approaches, the staffroom and the web is peppered with talk of Halloween-themed lessons. To be honest, I’ve always thought these festive lessons to be a great idea and extremely topical. Yet, I’ve never done them. A colleague recently asked me about the pros and cons of doing a festive-themed lesson and it really got me thinking. Why do I never do them?
Of course, the obvious answer to that question is that I’m a Dogmetician and ‘doing a themed lesson’ would suggest going in with some kind of lesson plan. But then again, I often do use certain topics as a springboard for personalised discussions, and festivities and traditions sometimes do come up, but strangely enough, never near the time of the festivity in question.
So why is it then that I never get round to doing a festive-themed lesson?
Here are some of the pros and cons that I’ve drawn up.
Let’s be positive and start with the pros.
- It provides a context that is topical. Being topical, we assume that it would trigger more interest and motivate students more, and thus serve as a basis for fluency practice and memorable language work.
- It can educate students about the British/American culture and can help inform students about what is going on around them. I teach in London and when the fireworks start to go off at the end of October, it might be of interest for students to know about Guy Fawkes and how he tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and how we commemorate that day.It might be a good chance for students to have a cultural exchange and share with the other students what that particular festivity means to the people of their country. This of course works best with a multi-cultural class.
- It gets everyone into a festive spirit and is simply lots of fun.
So, why don’t I do them?
- Some teachers see the approaching festivity as a chance to pull out that ‘boil-in-the-bag’ lesson they’ve got so as to avoid planning for another lesson. One could argue that there is nothing wrong with a good ‘boil-in-the-bag’ lesson, especially when it is used after taking the learners’ needs and wants into consideration. However, there is always the danger of it becoming routine and uninspiring, and being something a teacher resorts to instead of truly tailoring a lesson to suit the students’ needs. Just because it’s topical does not mean that it can’t be as hackneyed as a lesson with no topicality.
- Informing students about the British/American culture when they are living in Britain/American might be useful, but for the majority of student learning English, the language serves mainly as a tool for communication and a way to improve their career prospects. Despite the fact that many believe the learning of a language often comes with a glimpse into the target culture, there really is no necessity to feed students with the whole history of why and how Halloween is celebrated, unless they have specifically expressed interest in finding out. Some might even go as far as to claim that such lessons constitute a form of cultural imperialism, and forces the dominant western culture and its values onto the others, and in the process, changing the domestic cultures and socialisation processes with western norms, values and expectations.
- Some teachers get quite excited about the lexis that they could introduce in such lessons. ‘Trick or Treat’, ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ and ‘pumpkin’ for Halloween lessons, ‘baubles’, ‘reindeer’ and ‘mistletoe’ for Christmas lessons. Useful? I’m not so sure about that.
- Imposing a topic onto students in a class often can have the detrimental effect of demotivating students, and can even be insensitive to those who find the topic offensive or inappropriate. A discussion of religious holidays and festivals might not always be appropriate and a well-intended Valentine’s Day lesson might just upset students who are unlucky in love.
Of course, we could say that for almost any topic under the sun, particularly those that lend themselves easily to discussion and debate. So rather than having a list of topics or activities that we should avoid, we should definitely exploit these topics when they come up in the lesson, especially if the students are the ones who brought them up. After all, they might just be interested in less familiar festivities.
With the proliferation of Hollywood films and TV programmes, students might feel compelled by certain characteristics of American culture which may well be seeping into their society. Halloween is a good example of such a phenomenon. Kids around the world might not be going trick-or-treating just yet, but clubs everywhere are now holding Halloween fancy dress competitions and Halloween-themed parties.
So if a festive theme does come up in your language classroom, DO:
- Ask students for their interpretation of the festival and if appropriate, how they celebrate it in their country (and/or who celebrates it in their country);
- Use popular films or music to stimulate interest;
- Select the language you choose to teach carefully. Ensure the lexis is useful and has a high surrender value for day-to-day usage;
- Be aware of what the other teachers in your school are doing. If your students are attending more than one class in your school, having two or more Halloween lessons in a row might just kill any enthusiasm one might originally have for the festivity.
- Impose your views on them;
- Lecture them on the history and traditions. If you really want them to know, get them to find out for themselves and have them report their findings to the class;
- Insist that they talk about this topic if they are clearly not interested or bored by it.And if you are going to bring in boil-in-the-bag festive-themed lessons, it might be nice to prepare some for the students’ local festivities as well, especially if the lessons take place in the students’ home country.
Meanwhile, I’m going to plan a Task-Based Learning lesson on how to carve a face on a pumpkin. A true CLIL lesson in action!
About English Teaching professional’s regular blogger:
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
A self-confessed conference addict, she spends a lot of her time tweeting (@chiasuan@ETprofessional), Skyping, and writing. You can find out more about her on her blogsite:http://chiasuanchong.com