Have you covered the Platinum Jubilee in your English classes? Does the theme fill you with enthusiasm or would you prefer to ignore it altogether?
Love her or loath her (and British opinion goes both ways) Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is certainly making history this year. Not only has she celebrated her Platinum Jubilee (70 years on the throne) but she recently overtook Thailand’s King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years and 126 days between 1927 and 2016, to become the world’s second-longest reigning monarch in history. For now, France’s Louis XIV remains the longest-reigning monarch of all time, with a 72-year and 110-day reign from 1643 until 1715.
There are often references to the British Royal Family in English course books and syllabuses. Throughout much of the world stories about the British Monarch and her family frequently appear in newspapers and magazines. So, in this article we look at ways in which the Platinum Jubilee could be used by English Language Teachers in the classroom, and we go on to consider what these celebrations might say more generally about British Culture.
We will begin with some suggestions for activities with younger classes
Reading and Writing
(The reading element of the following ideas stems from the research in books or online that will lead to the written tasks described).
Write a biography of Queen Elizabeth II. This could be a big and daunting assignment because The Queen has certainly lived a long and eventful life. However, broken down into sections, it could form the basis of an interesting class project or magazine. You could also tell the story in comic book style. Linguistically there will be opportunities to employ descriptive and adverbial phrases and to revise past tense forms.
Create a newspaper front page about the Jubilee Celebrations in The United Kingdom or imagine going back in time and create a front page about the day of the Queen’s coronation. There have been special editions of British Newspapers dedicated to the Jubilee which students could refer to about this year’s celebrations and there are plenty of film clips still accessible via YouTube showing the coronation.
Write a report about an incident from the Queen’s life. There will be plenty to choose from and could include, for example, ‘The Day Princess Diana Died,’ or ‘The Day Somebody Broke Into My Palace.’ Alternatively, students could focus on one of Queen Elisabeth’s many tours which might even include a visit to the country where you are living. There are opportunities here to explore narrative forms and write from different perspectives or points of view.
Write a poem to celebrate the Jubilee. This activity can be adapted to different levels and could involve different forms of poetry including rhymes, limericks or haiku.
Write a letter to the Queen. Think about who would write to the Queen and why? This activity gives opportunities to compare formal and informal letter writing. Perhaps students could imagine Prince Harry writing a letter to his grandmother (for older/more advanced students this could include references to more difficult and controversial family issues). More formal letters could include an invitation to visit the student’s school.
Organise a Jubilee Event (real or imaginary) and write an article about it or a summary of how the event was organised. Perhaps interview some of the participants and write up the interviews.
Listening and Watching
There are literally hundreds of short clips or longer videos about Queen Elisabeth II and the Platinum Jubilee available on YouTube or in various educational resources that can be used as listening comprehension exercises. Radio clips are also available via the BBC or other media organisations.
Speaking (Drama, Dialogues and Role-Play)
Many of the writing activities described above can be adapted into speaking activities. Perhaps the simplest activity to organise would be a drama about meeting and interviewing The Queen. One way to framework such an activity would be for you as the teacher to play the part of The Queen (ham it up as much as you can!) while your students ask questions and note down your answers. They can then form groups in which one student plays the monarch, while the other act as reporters. This can then develop into more general drama or dialogues involving members of the Royal Family. Indeed, using caricature-style portrayals’ of members of the Royal Family can be a way to defuse dramatic explorations of everyday family life and conflict. Generation gap disputes and potentially triggering subjects can be easier to digest when presented through comedic representations of famous personalities of the royal family.
If your students are a little shy about drama, the Royal family and the Jubilee Celebrations can of course be interesting subject matter for oral presentations using pictures, posters, PowerPoint or other media to illustrate their talk.
Lower Level Students
One of the main ways in which the British public were invited to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee was to organise street parties. This is something younger or lower-level students might be able to emulate within the class; possibly inviting parents or other classes to their Jubilee Party. Linguistically it would be a setting to learn or revise vocabulary associated with traditional English party food. It is also an occasion to practice the language of meeting and greeting, offering and accepting and general small talk. Higher level and more mature students could examine British Street Parties in more nuanced ways that we will return to later.
Intermediate and Advanced Students
For older and more advanced students of English, The Queen’s Jubilee offers an opportunity to debate and discuss some of the more controversial aspects of The Royal Family. While Queen Elizabeth in particular, and the inner members of the Royal Family in general, remain quite popular in Britain, their popularity is not universal. There is a quite well-established Republican movement in the country and a lot of media criticism of individual members of the Royal Family who are perceived to be undeserving of their royal privileges. These facts could be used to experiment with different debate styles within the class. You could hold a traditional Oxford/Team Policy debate in which teams of speakers propose and oppose a motion and a vote is held at the end to decide which side won by virtue of the strength of their arguments. Some students might like to look into the history of this style of debate which would enrich their cultural and historical knowledge of Britain. Of course, there are other forms of debate such as jigsaw debates and goldfish bowl debates which you could experiment with in class.
Topics for formal debate could include motions such as ‘This team believes the money wasted on Jubilee celebrations would be better spent on helping the poor,’ or, ‘We believe the concept of The Monarchy is anti-democratic.’ More general debate topics could include the advantages and disadvantages of Monarchy, or, ‘should we have a monarchy in our country?’
In all the above mentioned debates the key thing is to practice speaking English at or perhaps a little beyond the level the students have reached, but these activities also provide insights into British life and culture. Even pre-intermediate students are capable of recognising a slightly rebellious streak in the British psyche when they learn about the fact that people can and do openly criticise The Queen in places like Hyde Park Corner. Plenty of video clips can be found to illustrate that fact.
Advanced and Mature Students
As mentioned previously, Street Parties are key features of the Platinum Jubilee. In fact, historically street parties have been a feature of all previous jubilee celebrations and other major British events and celebrations. More mature and linguistically advanced students could probe more deeply into the cultural and social aspects of these events. Britain, more than many other Western Democracies, has been dominated by a class system which still has an influence on politics and daily life. Some of the key works of English Literature from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to P.G. Wodehouse and even Agatha Christie are dominated by references to the class system. Even popular recent film and television series such as Downton Abby take place in a context in which a person’s class is clearly defined and informs all that they are able to achieve. Yet the idea of a street party seems to assume that people from all British Classes can come and brake bread together around a table to salute those whose privileges they will never share, and all will be well. It is certainly a jumping off point from which to explore some of the darker or more controversial aspects of British life.
Essays, debates and dramatic reconstructions of Jubilee street parties can enable students to grapple with more complex aspects of British life and culture and bring together what they have learned from English Literature, History, Politics and Language.
One of the popular highlights of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations in June 2022 was a short video which was shown at the beginning of a pop concert. The video (see below) featured Micheal Bond’s Paddington Bear having tea with The Queen. In the books, Paddington is a stowaway/refugee from Peru. He claims he ‘came on a lifeboat’. Michael Bond has said he was inspired to create the character of Paddington after watching Jewish refugees arriving in London during the second world war. Two weeks after the Paddington video was shown to much acclaim at the Jubilee celebrations, the British Government began enacting a policy to remove refugees who had arrived by boats across the English Channel to a third country, Rwanda.
At a simple level, the Platinum Jubilee can be used to learn and practice many aspects of the English language. On a deeper level, it can provide a gateway to much more complex aspects of British life and culture.
Please share your thoughts and ideas related to this subject in the comments section below.