I’ve never been much good at April Fool’s Day jokes, but today I think I pulled off a pretty nice one.
Jónsi, the Icelandic musician, was asked a few years ago to write a theme song for the animated movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” The song, “Sticks and Stones,” is catchy and good for driving fast. The first few verses plus the chorus are in English, then he switches to Icelandic for the third and fourth verses–but the key (for my purposes, as you’ll see) is that both the English and Icelandic parts could believably be English. The English verses are fast and hard to understand in the first place, and even as a native English speaker, if you told me the Icelandic was English, I might believe you.
With this in mind, I copied a sheet of lyrics for the students and we listened to the song. The English parts had a few words missing here and there (“Orange and white, dark red, green and _________”). For the Icelandic verse, I left only four blank lines on their sheet.
Of course, they wouldn’t be able to understand enough to fill in the blank lines just from listening, so I used a technique from the wonderful English Fellow Laura Mihuza: leave a large-print master copy of the lyrics on the floor on one end of the room, and conduct a “lyrics relay race.” One student from each team is a “writer,” and two are “runners.” The writers sits on the opposite side of the room as the lyrics, and the runners must run to the lyrics sheet, memorize a word or two, then run back to communicate them to the writer, who fills in the students’ lyric sheet (the one with blanks) appropriately. If someone doesn’t understand, they must express that in English: “Can you say that slower?” “How do you spell that?”
Of course, in this case, the last verse is in Icelandic. (Inn um ermar, upp hryggjarsúluna is just an example.)
It was so funny to watch them running frantically, successfully carrying English words and phrases back to their writers–until slowly they all begin to look at the Icelandic, make outraged noises, and panic. “Is this English?” “I’m so confused!” My answer, of course: “Well obviously it’s English! Have you been paying any attention in class? These are words we use every day!” (In one class I even pulled in one of the school’s directors to corroborate–“You guys obviously have to study more, because this is definitely English!”)
After an appropriate period of outrage on my part, I said “Ok fine–I’ll tell you what chapter all this vocabulary is in,” and wrote on the board, “Happy April Fool’s!” After we all cleared up what that meant (in Portuguese it’s “Dia da Mentira,” Day of Lies), I was rewarded with some very satisfying sighs of relief and exclamations of offense/delight. Especially when a class curriculum is based out of a book, it’s always important to throw in some silly moments.