Social studies involves three major areas of study: geography, history and culture (including traditions, religion, food and customs). One of the best ways to explore all aspects of social studies in your classroom is to host a holiday heritage festival. You can host a heritage festival anytime of the school year, but the holidays are an especially appropriate time. The holidays, specifically the winter holidays, focus on family, tradition and culture. Classroom heritage festivals call upon the cultural and family background of each student and weave them into a fascinating learning experience. Here’s how to organize a classroom heritage festival.
Communication: Explain to students that as part of your social studies lessons you will be assigning a group project in which each student’s family will bring in something that is special to their family heritage or background. The project can focus on family ethnic background, culture, religion or tradition. Projects students might prepare can include:
a religious or ceremonial dance
ceremonial music and instruments
ceremonial dress display
a family holiday custom
artifacts or family heirlooms
a poster with information and pictures about their country of origin or family roots
a video travelogue
a travel brochure
a family timeline or tree
Festival: The word festival comes from the word ‘feast’. No Heritage Day celebration is complete without an ethnic food buffet. Each student should bring in a favorite family recipe or food for the class to sample. Students can bring in a store bought item, but give extra credit if they make it at home as a family. Samples foods may include: Polish kielbasa or pirogi, Irish soda bread or Shepherd’s pie, scones or haggis from Scotland, regional Vietnamese, Chinese, Asian or Indian dish, Native American fry bread or pemmican, soul food, Middle Eastern baklava, gyro or kebabs, Dutch lettuce, Belgian chocolate, Jewish gefilte fish, French mousse, German saurbraten, Italian cannoli or pasta… the list is endless.
Give each student a 3×5 index card. Assign them to write out the recipe for their dish. Create a classroom Heritage Festival cookbook by taping four index cards to an 8.5×11 sheet of copy paper. Students may illustrate if they have room. Photocopy each page and staple in a booklet. Print enough copies for each family to have a copy. Save one for your classroom archives.
After students understand the project, assign them to write a letter to their family members (biological, adoptive, foster, grandparents, caregivers). The letter should detail the purpose of the assignment in their own words. If parents speak a different language that the one spoken at school, the student should communicate the project in the family’s native tongue. The letter should also include an invitation to family members to participate in the Heritage Festival. It will be easier to manage the Heritage Festival if you set the time during school hours. Encourage lots of videotaping and photographs.
Arrange student desks or tables along the edges of the classroom or school multi-purpose room. Use desks to display items brought in for sharing. Give each student 3-5 minutes to share his presentation. Make sure you have a projector and CD player available for student use. End your Heritage Festival with an ethnic foods sampling party.
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