By Teachers, For Teachers
Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, right? Well, in the spirit of shamrocks and leprechauns, here are ideas to celebrate the wearin’ of the green in an educational way.
Potatoes played a critical role in Irish history, so why not do some potato science? Grow a potato in a jar of water so young students can see the root system.
For older kids, grow several potatoes in a variety of solutions – plain water, water with fertilizer, water with bleach, etc. – and see which grows best.
Teach a quick lesson on a great Irish writer – W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, or George Bernard Shaw are all terrific choices.
For younger students, introduce them to some traditional Irish folklore. You can start with this Google ebook called Tales from Old Ireland, it shares some of the best known children’s tales from the land of Eire.
For older students, encourage them to think about how these writers’ identities as Irishmen may have influenced their writing – particularly Wilde’s and Shaw’s works that lampooned English society. Yeats’ poetry was also influential in recording the events during the Irish revolution.
Don’t be afraid to indulge in some modern Irish humor and drama, like Frank O’Connor’s short story First Confession, Roddy Doyle’s book The Commitments, or Conor McPherson’s play The Seafarer. Irish literature is known for adding humor to even the most dramatic work, which makes for more student-friendly reads.
St. Pat’s Math Adventure, based on the story of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, asks kids to solve math problems as they attempt to prevent the snakes from launching a counter-offensive. It’s a fun way to practice basic math skills.
Combine legendary leprechaun magic with a lesson on chemical change with this experiment. For older students, follow these steps to turn pennies into gold coins. Using zinc, your students can change the color of copper objects to look silver and even gold.
These are pretty, but cannot be used as legal tender. Still, it’s fun chemistry for the holiday.
The Irish Potato Famine fits into any social studies curriculum.
World History? Obvious.
American History? Consider the Irish immigrants who came to the U.S. because of the famine.
Government? What responsibility did the British government have to prevent or ameliorate the famine?
For older students, consider holding a debate on whether or not the potato famine qualifies as genocide, as some historians have suggested.
What’s the official cereal of St. Patrick’s Day? Lucky Charms, of course. Buy a box and use it to practice math skills as appropriate for your students.
Younger children can count the different shapes, while older kids can add, subtract, multiply or divide.
To make it even more challenging for the older ones, try assigning each shape a different value – a heart equals eight, while a horseshoe equals five – and then ask them to solve four hearts minus three horseshoes. At the end, the students can help you “clean up” the cereal, which will be their favorite part of the day!
Playwright Brian Friel has written movingly about Irish history and culture in plays like Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa. Choose a scene from one of these plays and have students read it aloud in class.
Pair this with the “learn to speak Gaelic” activity to help students determine how to pronounce those “unusual” names in the script.
Introduce students to the science of rainbows. If time is short, bring in a prism and demonstrate how it bends light.
If you have more time, let kids make their own rainbows, using this more involved rainbow creation experiment. If you’re feeling extra generous, you could get gold-covered chocolate coins for kids to find at the end of their rainbow.
Use classic A Modest Proposal by Irish writer Jonathan Swift to teach the concept of satire to middle school or high school students. For maximum effect, don’t tell the students that it is a satirical proposal, and see how long it takes them to figure it out.
If your students are learning about motion, momentum, or other basic physics concepts, put these concepts in action by having students build a leprechaun trap.
Gather a bunch of items – pulleys; string; sticks or Lincoln logs; a “cage,” box or bowl to hold the little fellow; and “bait” (candy works well). Encourage students to approach it as an experiment – form a hypothesis about how the pieces will fit together, test the hypothesis, and revise their plan based on the results.
As a class, learn the most authentic way to wish someone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day – in Gaelic/Irish!
Check out these common Irish phrases with some audio examples or use this Irish language handout with phrases, their Irish spellings and phonetic spellings. To actually hear the words spoken, play some audio pronunciation examples, play a few for your students from IrishSayings.com. (Note: You should choose these examples yourself rather than giving students access to this site. It includes some “colorful” sayings.)
Students can use the story (or notes) for guidance, but use this opportunity to teach oral presentation skills like volume, timing, and delivery. Divide the class into groups and let them present their stories to each other on St. Patrick’s Day.
Whatever you choose, the best of luck to you for a happy – and educational – St. Patty’s Day!
Share your favorite St. Paddy's Day lessons in the comments section!