Customs and traditions are a great subject for conversations, discussions at any age/level.

Photo by Mike George | All rights reserved

Nina M.K., Ph.D.

Customs and traditions are a great subject for conversations, discussions at any age/level. Even very young children enjoy talking about such family holidays as Christmas or the New Year. Older pupils love reading about the other countries, or fantasizing about a celebration they would like to have in the future. Some rituals may seem strange, a few may be perceived as quite exotic. For example, what would a male visitor think if a group of girls stopped him in the street on a winter evening, among the snow mounds, and ask for his first name, then run off giggling? Yet this is still done in my country on the twelfth night after Christmas, which incidentally falls on January the 19th by the old calendar. Quite confusing, isn’t it? All it really means, according to the old superstition, is that the stranger’s name is the name of the future fiancé. My father, who possesses a rather unusual name, invariably answers “Ivan” or “Peter” on such occasions, so as not to spoil the fun.
Occasionally traditions spring up all over the globe. It is easy to explain why they are so widespread, the internet and the accessibility of information being one reason. It is much more difficult to understand why this or that custom acquired a certain form. For instance, when someone dies tragically in an accident or a shooting, people arrange a sort of memorial, and bring in flowers, toys, messages and candles to the site. One can see those street shrines literally everywhere. Another recent custom is the little locks which are placed on bridges, parapets, trees, fences. In my town, a special little structure was erected this month, and it immediately attracted the usual adornments.
We can show the picture with the little lock proposing marriage and have a nice discussion lesson with the senior classes or adults. First of all, let us ascertain that the audience knows about this modern ritual of fixing tiny locks to bridge railings, trees et cetera. Then we can offer a few questions:
*Why do people do it?
* Why did the man who placed this lock in a public place not pop the question in person?
* Are we sure it was a man? Today, women can propose too!
Depending on how well or how poorly the talk goes, we may continue in one of the following directions. If the students show enthusiasm and activate their vocabulary, we can let them talk, then suggest that they summarize their ideas in the customary written form, be it 200 words or 10 sentences. If you can see that the interest is flagging and they have trouble producing ideas, turn it into a grammar/translation, writing or even vocabulary dictation lesson. The important thing is, we should not “force-feed” our pupils. Some of them may be going through the agonies of unrequited love, others may be suffering due to a divorce in the family, yet others may be blissfully in love.
Teenagers may be ready to talk about Love, but marriage is probably not a subject they are interested in. We can steer the talk into some other topics, for instance, is it always easy to ask a direct question? If our aim is to encourage our class to talk, any theme that excites their active participation and provokes a good discussion is fine.
Naturally we can offer a list of questions, or ask students to produce one. The biggest question most probably will be, would they do it, would they put a lock with a message where anybody can see it? We can divide the class into two groups, and ask them to produce some arguments for and against using a public place as a venue for a private announcement.

Photo taken by Mike George | courtesy of ELTPics (
All rights reserved

Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments