What is Sukkot?

Sukkot falls two weeks after Rosh Hashanah and a few days after Yom Kippur, and is quite a fun festival after the more serious ones. It begins on 15th Tishrei and lasts for seven days.

This festival celebrates the Jews being freed from Egypt, and is a commemoration of the following 40 years which they spent in the desert before reaching the promised land. During this time they had to live in temporary shelters, and sukkot is the Hebrew word meaning temporary shelters. It’s a joint thanksgiving / harvest festival as they remember God feeding the Jews while they were in the desert.

For the festival, Jewish people live in a sukkah (singular of sukkot) for seven days. Usually they just have their meals in the sukkah, but some people choose to sleep in them as well. Guests are invited to dine in the sukkah and Abraham and Sarah are thought of amongst the guests.

Although the festival is fun, there are some rules for building a sukkah: it must have at least three walls, it must be made from natural materials such as wood or stone – definitely no plastic (!) , and you must be able to see at least three stars through the roof.

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Michaelmas Day

29th September is the feast day of St Michael. He is said to be the protector against darkness, and so it is natural that his feast day should fall when the nights start drawing in.

According to the stories, St Michael was the archangel who threw Lucifer down from heaven. The story says that when Lucifer fell, he landed in a bramble bush and cursed it and all its fruit, and so you shouldn’t pick blackberries after Michaelmas.

Michaelmas Day used to be the last official day of the harvest until Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic church. Since then we have celebrated the harvest festival separately.

gooseMichaelmas Day was also known as Goose Day because of the tradition of eating goose on this day. The reason why is unclear, but it is possibly because it was one of the Quarter days when the rent fell due. Tenants who needed extra time to find the rent money may have given their landlord a goose as a present when asking for a little leeway.

Goose Fairs, such as the famous one which still takes place in Nottingham, sprung up around the country on or near this day.

Related posts: Autumn Equinox

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Mexican Independence Day

16th September is Independence Day in Mexico. It commemorates Miguel Hidalgo’s cry for freedom of 16th September 1810, which began the uprising, although Mexico didn’t actually gain independence until 28th September 1821.

Miguel Hidalgo, a priest, along with Ignacio Allende, Miguel Dominguez and Juan Aldama and a few others, inspired by their neighbour USA’s successful fight for independence only a few decades previously, had been conspiring for some time to overthrow the Spanish ruling elite so that the country’s wealth could be shared more equally amongst the country’s poor folk. They were going to take their plan to the people in October, but when word of their conspiracy got out, and people from their group began to be arrested and tried for treason they knew they had to act more quickly.

On 16th September 1810, Hidalgo made his famous speech from a church pulpit in the town of Dolores in the north-east of Mexico, motivating people to rise up against their oppressors. Within just a few minutes he had raised a band of 600 men, who despite being poorly armed, with only rocks and stones as weapons, began their march to Mexico City.

Twelve days later, they had an army of about 30,000 men. Despite his charisma, Hidalgo was inexperienced as a military leader and the first uprising did not go well. He was captured and tried for treason, and was executed on 30th July 1811. His head was hung up as a deterrent to others. The fight could have ended there if some of his officers had not picked up the baton and continued.

From 1815 to 1821 fighting was mostly by guerrilla groups rather than battles. Eventually, Mexico was granted independence in 1821.

Nowadays in Mexico, the Independence Day celebrations begin at 11pm on 15th September, with the town officials re-enacting the cry for freedom, or el Grito de Dolores (the cry of Dolores) as it is known. The 16th is a public holiday, and is celebrated with street parties, with food, with music and dancing, with fires and fireworks, and with people flying the Mexican flag.

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Roald Dahl Day

September 13th is the birthday of Roald Dahl – the genius who dreamt up Willy Wonka, the Big Friendly Giant, an oversized talking centipede and Miss Trunchbull. And since 2006 it has been the date for celebrating his life and works.

His books have made the leap from paper to film and to the West End, and almost everyone has a favourite. I remember asking one of my 11 year old pupils once what his favourite Roald Dahl book was and to my surprise he said, “His autobiography.” Having read it on his recommendation, I have to say that I admire his taste and fully agree with him. Dahl writes about his own life with the same quirkiness as he writes about Oompa-Loompas and magic fingers.

Roald Dahl day can be celebrated by reading, dressing up, writing revolting recipes – the sky’s the limit. And if you can find the right button in the Great Glass Elevator, why even stop at the sky?

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How to Learn Children’s Names in September

It’s that time of year again, when teachers are thinking about their new classes, hoping they won’t have too many with the same name, and wondering how they will ever learn all the names if they aren’t all the same.

Seasoned teachers know that there’s nothing really to worry about and that they will learn everyone’s name this year – just as they do every year. NQTs and those about to embark on teacher training courses might be feeling a little more daunted. This is how I do it:

I tell a story along the lines of The Enormous Turnip but about a person who got their hat stuck on their head because it was too small – and I take a flamboyant hat along to use as a prop. I’m a languages teacher, so I do this in French, but it will work in English too.

I call out the children one by one, and each time I retell the story I repeat the names of all the children in the line as well as those who are still watching. Eg: Jack B, Chloe, Izzy, Jade S and Jack C pulled and pulled and pulled, but the hat was still stuck. Dale, Hassan, Jack H, Jade  W, Millie, Ahmina etc were all laughing at them, so they called Hassan up to help.

Everyone joins in with the story, so even those sitting down waiting their turn to join in are repeating the words to the story and calling out the names (useful if you have a blank as there are 29 other children saying each other’s names!).

It’s quite time-consuming – you need to set aside a good 15-20 minutes – but by the time you have called the last person up , the hat has come off and everyone has pretended to fall over, you’ve repeated everyone’s name so many times that you know you’ll never ever forget them!

For me, it’s worth investing the time because I usually teach several classes in several schools so by the end of the first week I need to have learnt well over 300 names!  If you want to give it a go, bear in mind that it needs a lot of space so you will either need to clear all the tables away or better still book the hall! It’s a good opportunity to reinforce behaviour too, with plenty of praise for the children sensibly waiting their turn.

If you don’t have the time or the space to spare, or you don’t like the sound of this, I’ve also found a couple of other blog posts with some different ideas for you to try: https://jamesstubbs.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/learning-names/  and  http://teacherpop.org/2016/07/6-surefire-ways-remember-students-names/

If you have any other ideas for how to remember names, please do share them in the comments.

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How to Improve Pupils’ Ability in Listening Comprehensions

There are some great ideas here for improving listening skills. I already use some of them – spot the silent letter and minimal pairs are particular favourites of mine. What do others do to improve this skill? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments.

Micro-listening tasks you may not be using often enough in your lessons (Part 1) | The Language Gym.

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H is for Hawai´ian

H is for...Hawai´ian is a Polynesian language, related to Maori, and believed to have evolved from Tahitian. It is named after the island of Hawai´i, where it is the joint official language with English. The Hawai´ian language is under threat from English, which is the language used in schools, and for any years it suffered a decline, but in recent years it has been promoted and the number of native speakers is rising again.

Before the 1820s, Hawai´ian was a spoken language only. When missionaries arrived on the island, they learnt the language and then set about devising a writing system so that they could teach the local people to read and write.

The alphabet has 13 letters: 5 vowels and 8 consonants, including a glottal stop. It is written in Latin script with the addition of a character that looks like a back-to-front apostrophe, which represents the glottal stop.

Related posts: G is for German      I is for Invented Languages

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