Embrace Fat Tuesday: 4 Festive Mardi Gras Activities ESL Students Love

Cue the zydeco, plate up some spicy gumbo and “let the good times roll!”

Mardi Gras is a special event. One for the sinners (and the purer folks who need a little break from purity) before Lent.

During Lent, we will have plenty of time to give up those vices and concentrate more on English learning and teaching. Mardi gras activities will give you and your students a jumpstart on the English learning while embracing these festive times.

Implementing Mardi Gras activities in your February syllabus will be a cross-cultural, colorful, exciting and celebratory way to let your ESL students frolic and dance with various cultures across the globe.

Your ESL students may already have a parading idea about Carnaval in Brazil, so breaking out the beads and masks this February can really bring ESL learning and your classroom to life.

Why Bring Mardi Gras and the French Quarter to Your ESL Classroom?

Holidays or festive days like Mardi Gras are great opportunities to teach both culture and language.

Build on those vital communication skills your students want to utilize more.

Engage them on the topic of Mardi Gras and find out what they know through an open classroom discussion. After a bit of conversation, show them a video about Mardi Gras to expose them to the colors, costumes and traditions of the holiday.

Note: Make sure you screen your videos before hand, since Mardi Gras can be a bit risqué. Here is a wonderful Mardi Gras video for all ages that you can utilize for this purpose in your classroom. For even more fun and native videos like the one before, be sure to explore the full library of FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

It’s the perfect way to bring the festivals to life and get the party started. Be sure to request a free trial here and explore all the other incredible ways FluentU can enhance the classroom experience. 

Jazzy ESL Lessons That Only Mardi Gras Can Teach

There’s a wealth of ESL skills promoted in any holiday-themed lesson for you to toss your students’ ways like festive multicolored beads.

A Mardi Gras lesson is about fun, communication and it is the perfect break from the day-to-day English work your students will welcome with open arms.

Your lesson plan can encompass the history of Mardi Gras and what Fat Tuesday represents, being the last day before Lent and Ash Wednesday. These ESL activities bring culture and excitement to the front of the class and your students will enjoy the collaboration and teamwork involved.

There is also a plethora of new words your students will have the opportunity to learn while engaging in these excellent Mardi Gras activities.

Just to give you a taste, here are some vocabulary words that you will find useful when building your Mardi Gras lesson plans.

  • Artistry
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Fat Tuesday
  • Beads
  • Carnival
  • Crawfish
  • Gumbo
  • Parade
  • Floats
  • Jazz
  • Sequins
  • Indulgence
  • Masks
  • Zydeco

Each of the following activities will go in order with a syllabus in place to end the fourth activity on Fat Tuesday, allowing your students to celebrate the same day as those in New Orleans. Let’s take a closer look at these ESL activities inspired by the French Quarter.

English from the French Quarter: 4 Festive ESL Activities for Mardi Gras

1. Carnival Cloze Activities, New Orleans Style

The carnival cloze activity is a wonderful way to apply all that previous Mardi Gras discussion you and your students have been engaging in. Depending on your class schedule, this would be the perfect lesson for the Thursday prior to the week of Fat Tuesday, if class is not held on weekends. This is your warm-up activity, from which the foundational ESL material for the remaining three Mardi Gras lessons will be drawn.

By now, your students should have had plenty of thought-provoking and imaginative conversation with you and other classmates about this exciting, festive holiday. They have watched a video or two about Mardi Gras and have also discussed those videos, the content, vocabulary and historical undertone as a class.

For this activity, you wll need to develop a cloze worksheet with a few different cloze exercises for your students to work through in pairs. You will also need to gather up some Mardi Gras beads, since you will be tossing them out to your students during this activity. The ESL skills promoted are vocabulary, discussion, collaboration, grammar, reading and plenty of fun!

Here are two festive cloze examples you can use in your lesson plan. The words in the (parenthesis) are the targeted vocabulary words for each cloze exercise. You will need to erase these target words before printing (and leave a sizable space where words can be written in by students) or wipe them out after printing with correction fluid or a black marker. With that in mind, here’s the first cloze text:

Every February, New Orleans is host to (Mardi Gras) and at the same time, Brazil is host to (Carnival). These are big (parties) for people across those (countries). During Mardi Gras there is plenty of (dancing) and delicious (food), like (gumbo). All of these exciting activities end on one day, called (Fat Tuesday), when most of the (festivities) take place.

This next one targets a few different words:

Once a year in (February) the city of (New Orleans) is transformed into a (colorful) event called (Mardi Gras). There are (parades) with many passing (floats) that are (decorated) in different ways. The French Quarter is were most people gather for the (festivities), like eating (gumbo) and (dancing) to (jazz) music. There is a final party on (Fat Tuesday), when everyone has one (final) party before (Ash Wednesday).

Your students will work through these cloze exercises and you will take a break after each one for your students to share their cloze with the other students. For each correct cloze answer, you can throw your students beads, which they can keep and use for later exercises.

2. Mixed Gumbo Vocabulary

Mixed Gumbo Vocabulary is a great way to keep building new words that encompass Mardi Gras and all the fun and excitement of this holiday event. This activity will be a team activity, where each team will compete for more beads while finding the target vocabulary in a few different word searches. Here is one great word search example you can print out for your classroom. You can also opt to create your own customized word search using this nifty online tool, thus giving you the ability to adjust the difficulty level and quantity of words.

Your students will have plenty of communication, vocabulary, writing and speaking skills in this activity!

Divide your class into two teams. Have each team come up with a Mardi Gras inspired name and let them design a team sign that they will use during Fat Tuesday. Breaking out the markers and construction paper is an excellent way to keep your students engaged and learning, without them even knowing it. Encourage them to write and draw some of the words and themes they have seen and heard thus far. You can help them along using this printable worksheet.

Once each team has a name with a colorful sign, the activity can begin.

Pass out the worksheet with a different word search on each side. Teams will have ten minutes to find the words in the word search before you stop them and tally points. Each word is one point.

Throw beads to the teams who have found the most words so far and allow them more time to finish the word search. The team with the most points is the victor, but don’t be stingy on the beads.

3. French Quarter Parade Dialogue

This dialogue activity is an exceptional way to check comprehension as you and your class of bead-toting Mardi Gras revelers approach Fat Tuesday.

For this activity you will pair your students up within their previous mixed gumbo vocabulary activity teams (or mix things up if you wish).

You will give each pair 10 key words relating to Mardi Gras. Your students will have to develop a script using those 10 key words in the dialogue, five for Student A and five for Student B.

Give them ample time to discuss, write and develop their scripts while you float around the room and answer any questions that may arise. Once everyone is ready, bring each pair to the front of the classroom to act out their script. Your students will get practice in writing, critical English thinking, collaboration, communication, grammar and vocabulary. Remember to award each pair with some beads after they read their scripts.

Here is a short example dialogue you can share with your students to get them moving in the right direction. Maybe even enlist the help from one of your students to play the role of Student B while you take on Student A.

Student A: Hello, is this your first time to New Orleans?

Student B: Yes, it is. I have always wanted to come to Mardi Gras. It sure is beautiful this time of year.

Student A: I agree, February is the perfect month to visit.

Student B: Are you going to watch the parades?

Student A: You bet, I can’t wait to see the colorful floats.

Student B: I see you have plenty of beads to throw and share.

Student A: I bought them at a shop in the French Quarter.

4. Parade Floats and Fat Tuesday Festivities

Fat Tuesday has arrived, so your students should be well versed in Mardi Gras vocabulary, history and culture.

On Fat Tuesday you will have your teams put their Mardi Gras skills to the test. For this activity you will need some Mardi Gras music, like this compilation, to set the mood for mask making. You can find a wealth of mask outlines on the web like this one for your students to cut out and decorate.

Once your students have their masks ready and beads around their necks, you can begin with some Mardi Gras questions. You will ask each team a question about Mardi Gras, or present them with a fill in the blank sentence. This will all be done verbally to hone your students’ listening skills.

Give out more beads to each team, so they have a plethora of colorful beads around their necks. Each team will have 30 seconds to answer your question. If they get it correct, the opposing team must throw beads to them. If they get the answer incorrect, they will throw beads to the awaiting team.

Here are a few excellent questions you can utilize during this Fat Tuesday activity.

  • What are the two main ingredients in gumbo?
  • Why do you celebrate Fat Tuesday on Tuesday?
  • Where else do they celebrate an event that is similar to Mardi Gras?
  • Where are most of the festivities of Mardi Gras held?
  • Where is the most famous place to celebrate Mardi Gras in the United States?
  • In what month is Mardi Gras celebrated?

Combining English with holiday events is the perfect way to break from traditional ESL learning, let your students get loose and have fun.

Holiday-themed activities are always a wonderful way to share cultures and allow your students an often rare glimpse into what specific holidays are all about.

Ensuring your students get plenty of acculturation and excitement while employing these interactive Mardi Gras activities will surely allow them to embrace the Mardi Gras spirit and apply it to their learning.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 8 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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