February is a month full of fun dates: there’s Valentine’s Day (and International Book Giving Day on the same day), and Carnival season starts right in the middle of the month. If holidays are great opporunities for your Book Club and reading class to motivate your students to start exciting projects, Carnival has to be the queen of holidays. It is packed with cultural research opportunities, giving you the chance to focus on countries all over the world, and it also offers activity ideas for all age groups. Young learners will feel just as excited about Carnival as teens or adults.
What’s the secret of Carnival?
It is traditionally the season when the whole world can be turned upside down. In the Middle Ages it was the time when powers of the state were inverted, with a liberating series of festive events beginning just before Lent.
What words come to your mind in connection with the idea of Carnival? Here is the result of a quick brainstorm activity:
playfulness – topsy-turvy – anarchy – masquerude – party – mockery – laughter – colours – dance – fancy dress – temporary – food – fun
Let’s look at some Carnival activities you can do with your classes.
1 CARNIVAL PROJECTS
Ask your teen, young adult and adult students to prepare a big Carnival project by the beginning of the festival. Here are some questions and focus points for them to consider:
- What is the origin of Carnival?
- What is the meaning of the word? How many different explanations can you find?
- Which ancient culture started celebrating this festival?
- Which countries have the most famous Carnival seasons?
- Focus on the following cities: New Orleans, USA; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Venice, Italy; Cologne, Germany; Montevideo, Uruguay; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
- How do people celebrate Carnival in different countries? How do you celebrate it in your own country?
- What are the festive traditions, meals, events?
You can either suggest this as an individual project, but it is always more fun to let students work and present their findings together. Create groups, and ask them to focus on different questions and countries. For the final lesson everyone can hand in their presentations (either on paper or as a PPT) or posters and you can have a full lesson of Carnival fun and discussion.
For more advanced adult learners here’s another idea. Ask them to research the idea of the ‘Carnivalesque’ in social history and philosophy. The term was introduced to our literary and philosophical thinking by Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian linguist and literary critic in 1968. Here you can find a concise desciption of the term. It can be a great discussion starter for advanced learners.
2 FANCY DRESS PARTY
This is probably the most classic Carnival idea you can have, and it usually turns out to be a great success. Let your students (even your whole school might organize a Carnival day) wear fancy dress all day at school. In the English class let them describe who they are and why they chose their particular costume.
Why not ask them to choose characters from famous literary works? You will find an endless list of inspiring characters!
3 TOPSY-TURVY LANGUAGE ACTIVITIES
1. Do a brainstorm activity, just like the one above focussing on the word CARNIVAL. Create a mind map after your brainstorm activity. On the British Council Learn English Teens website you can see an excellent example of mind maps. In the Helbling Photocopiable Resource Book, Teaching Young Learners to Think (written by Marion Williams and Herbert Puchta), you will find several examples of using mind maps and visual tools.
2. Try to read a chapter from a reader turning the book upside down! See who is most fluent at upside-down reading!
3. You can also do a writing competition. Dictate a few sentences or a short passage, and students have to write them down backwards.
As a general Carnival rule, just have fun, let your students decide what they’d like to do for a whole lesson!