When the weather turns cold there is nothing quite like curling up in front of a fireplace with a hot drink and a slice of spicy, brown gingerbread. Your classroom may not have a fireplace, but that does not mean you cannot benefit from some of winter’s special comforts.
The next time you are looking to spice up your ESL classroom, try one of these activities, but don’t forget the napkins!
How to Proceed
A Real Gingerbread House
In 1985, a life-sized gingerbread house was built in Rockefeller Center in New York City. The giant confection was big enough for people to walk through (though they were probably not encouraged to lick the wallpaper). If you are lucky enough to teach at a school with a home economics program, see if the teacher will lend you the ovens for this activity. Part of having good reading comprehension is being able to follow directions. Put your class into groups of three students each to follow the directions on a box mix of gingerbread. Before throwing your students to the kitchen, review any unfamiliar vocabulary that they will find on the box. You may also need to include a short lesson on the Western system of measurement since most other areas use the metric system. Provide all the ingredients that your students will need and then encourage the students in each group to talk with one another as they bake the cakes. To test how successful each group was at following directions, have them taste a sample of their own culinary creation and watch their faces for reactions! Please note, as with any cooking activities you are thinking about doing in class, make sure none of your students has allergies to the food that you will be working with.
If you really want to give your students a challenge, see if they can figure out how much gingerbread they would need to make a room the size of your classroom. They should start by determining the area of the walls, floor and ceiling and then determine the area of the cake they baked. Then using their imaginations and math skills, see how many box mixes it would take to make a room out of gingerbread. This will be more than just a math challenge to your students. If they work in groups to do the figuring, they will have to use numbers in English, one of the most challenging second language skills. With this in mind, try to make sure your groups are made up of students with different native languages.
Hansel and Gretel
Who is more familiar with gingerbread houses than the beloved brother and sister Hansel and Gretel? The famous fairytale by the Grimm brothers tells a gruesome tale of two children drawn into a witch’s house made of gingerbread and candy. Many artists have illustrated the tale over the years, and there are more than enough pictures available online. Print a few for your students to look at and see if they recognize the story from the pictures. Then using the pictures as inspiration have students work in pairs to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel to one another. It is okay if they do not get all the details right in their tale telling, but individuals should be creative if they make up their own gruesome tale. The only requirement for their version is that the story contains a life-sized gingerbread house. Then after your students have talked through the story, have each person or groups of students write their stories down. How close did they get to the original? If your students are up to the challenge, give them a copy of the Grimm brother’s version to read and compare to what they wrote. Have each person note the similarities and differences between their version and the classic version. If you like, give your students a chance to illustrate their own stories and post them along with the text on a bulletin board titled “Sugar, Spice and Anything But Nice” in reference to the witch.
No Place Like Home
If you are able, bring in a decorated gingerbread house for your students to see, pointing out to them how icing and different candies are used to make the house colorful and detailed. If you know someone who decorates cakes or makes gingerbread houses, invite him or her to talk to your class about the process. Some areas even hold public contests for the best decorated gingerbread house around the holidays. If there is one near you and you can get transportation, take your class to look at the sugary buildings!
Using what they have learned for inspiration, ask each of your students to plan candy decorations for their own gingerbread house on a blank house diagram. They can use any candies they like in their pictures. Then ask each person to present to the class his ideal candy and gingerbread house design. Each person should explain the different types of candies he would use for his house and why he chose them. You can then display the pictures around your Hansel and Gretel bulletin board.
The bravest teachers may decide to make gingerbread houses in class as a final activity! Ask each student to bring in a bag of candy (any kind) and a cardboard milk carton. You should supply graham crackers and icing but make sure you have a few parent volunteers ready to come to class and help with the houses. Students should share their candies, and when everyone’s house is finished let your class vote for their favorite.
Snow, cold weather and gingerbread…what could be better? Only using some of winter’s favorite things to help your students practice their language use.
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