The Mardi Gras Procession Strolls into Your Classroom
English, history, and French pupils visit three learning stations and build a float utilizing the symbols of Mardi Gras.
By Stef Durr
Mardi Gras is best known for its wild, colorful, and crazy parades. Horns and trumpets blast, people slip into ornate costumes, and the streets of select cities like New Orleans, are impossible to walk through. This is one party that takes place all over the world! Whether you’re in Paris, Venice, Brazil, or New Orleans, you’re bound to enjoy the party.
I enjoy recognizing holidays, and we all know the kids look forward to them. Use this three-day lesson in your English, history, or French classroom to impart a little holiday history to your middle and high school learners. I planned this lesson to span over three 50-minute class periods, but you could easily organize the activities into two periods. Over the course of the lesson, your class will dig into Mardi Gras history and traditions, learn about krewes that participate in the parades, and design a float for the grand procession.
Prepare for the Party
First, gather the materials you’ll use to set up the learning centers, or stations. I planned on having three learning stations: one that introduces the history of Mardi Gras, another exploring the traditions that evolved over the time its been celebrated, and a third focusing on krewes that participate in the celebration.
I created a simple student guide to keep my class focused on the information presented at each station, but you may want your class to focus on different aspects. You can download the guide and make edits as needed. If you’re hoping to use this in a French classroom, simply translate the questions into French. I have also attached an answer sheet for your convenience.
I used three websites to compile the information presented in the guide. Print a few copies of each webpage, and place them at each station:
- Delve into Mardi Gras history.
- Explore some of the traditions.
- Learn about the krewes: Part 1 and Part 2.
When you’ve printed the online resources and made all the necessary copies, gather some of the extras that will make this lesson memorable.
- Mardi Gras beads: This obviously isn’t a necessity, but it would be fun to pass one out to each class member at the start of the lesson. You can find inexpensive beads here.
- One shoe box for each 3-4 person group: Consider asking groups to bring in their own prior to the lesson
- Feathers, sequins, jewels, ribbon, and any other materials to decorate a float: Keep in mind that purple, green, and gold are traditional Mardi Gras colors.
- Creole music: While kids move from station to station, put some music on to get them in the spirit!
Let the Party Begin
On the first day, I’d introduce the project, have student groups visit each of the three stations, and give the remaining time for each group to begin planning their floats. The second day would be reserved for designing and building their float, and the final day would be for discussing the information and having each group share their float.
To kick-start this lesson and engage your middle and high schoolers right off the bat, play this short video clip. I love playing video clips; it’s an easy way to integrate technology into the classroom. This clip gives a brief glimpse at the popular holiday.
- Divide Pupils into Krewes
I prefer smaller groups sizes, as I think this helps keep everyone engaged and on-task. Consider dividing the class into 3-4 person groups. Then, after everyone is in a group, let them create a personalized name for their krewe!
- Learning Stations
I love learning stations because I favor student-centered lessons that encourage learners to think for themselves and seek their own answers. As hard as it is, I try my best to avoid lecturing and aim to present class material in a hands-on way. But I’ve planned many a lesson that ended up below my expectations because I took a backseat during the day’s events. So, instead of checking your e-mail, or organizing the papers on your desk, aim to engage your learners in their stations. As the students move between the three, set a timer (between eight and ten minutes). Then, as the timer runs, check in with each group to ensure everyone is participating and on-task.
- Planning the Float
There will undoubtedly be time left over if all goes according to plan. When asking the groups to design their float for the mock parade, stress the importance of using symbols, colors, and ideas that relate to the history and traditions of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Pump up the Creole music, and give groups time to plan their float. To ensure that they’re using the gathered information to design different aspects of their floats, consider having them work in groups for the first 10-15 minutes and call you over to get their float approved. They should use their study guides and acquired knowledge in the designing of their float. When they’ve created a detailed plan, let them collect their materials and get started. Elementary schoolers aren’t the only ones who love creating things; middle and high schoolers love utilizing their creativity, too!
It’s time for the parade! Give student groups time to craft a short one-two minute presentation on their float, making sure that each group member has information or commentary to contribute. Then, after giving groups 10-15 minutes to prepare, let each group present their float. If you enjoy friendly classroom competition, let each person vote for their favorite float, and then crown (metaphorically) the winning krewe!
Masks are an important part of Mardi Gras, but a lot more goes into these masks than glitter and gold. There are eight activities included in this lesson to encourage your class to explore masks from different cultures. What are the functions of masks? What can they represent? A rich discussion will surely follow this lesson exploring the mask as a symbol.
The New York Times provides amazing lessons through their Learning Network, and this one is no exception! Interest your learners by discussing celebrations and playing the video clip included. Then, have your class read the attached article, “Mardi Gras Dawns With Some Traditions In Jeopardy.” There is a series of comprehension questions that follows the reading, and a list of extension activities is also provided.
Using the link provided at the top of the worksheet, middle and high schoolers explore Mardi Gras on the web. The worksheet guides pupils to certain sections, and the questions listed are straight forward and easy to understand.