Songs are meant to be sung for others to enjoy, books are meant to be read for others to be absorbed by, plays are meant to be performed for others willingly to suspend their disbelief as they watch. In the same way, magic has a purpose too. Although it’s fun to practise it, just as learning a song is great if you love singing, and the mere process of writing can be a joyful, liberating experience, magic is only half of what it’s intended to be if it’s never performed for other people. (A bit like spending 5 years in an MFL class but never communicating genuinely or meaningfully through the language with other people, native or otherwise).
So if we accept the value of learning magic tricks through the foreign language because of the quality of engagement with the language in the process, how do we go about providing for our classes the opportunity to perform the tricks they learn in an equally meaningful way, which provides something of a product? In this post, I’m going to look at the logistics for running a language-intensive experience for more than one class at a time. Many schools have a morning or a whole day off-timetable for one year group to engage in a subject-specific event. In languages, this might be for the European Day of Languages in September or later in the year as a Challenge Day-type event. Running a Magic Day in modern foreign languages is an excellent way to make the most of the opportunities this sort of day provides. Pupils grow in their communicative competence and their self-confidence, and it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money from a cash-strapped budget to run it. And once the format of the day is in place, you can run it year after year with successive year groups.
Let’s start by looking at how to run this with just two classes studying the same language that are on at the same time of day. In fact, if you don’t have a languages day as such, you can do this within normal lesson time over a couple of lessons.
Class A learns a card trick while Class B next door is learning a coin trick, both classes following the sequence for demonstration, explanation and learning the trick that I outlined in gramMAGICal structures #2. When they get to the stage where they have all learned their trick, practised it (both how to do it and how to present it in the foreign language), and they are all ready to go, each class is divided in half. (Note to magicians, divided in half, not sawn in half. That’s a different trick).
Half of Class A goes next door to Class B’s room, and half of Class B goes into Class A’s room. As long as one of the groups goes out and lines up on the corridor before the other group moves rooms, there shouldn’t be any crushing problems in the doorways. (Remember I said in gramMAGICal structures #1 that a lot of this came from trial and rather a lot of error? Well, trying to move pupils between two classes without thinking it through properly first was one of my early errors!). It’s easier if, when dividing the groups in half, you number round the room: 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, etc. All the 1s go next door, all the 2s stay where they are. Then when half of next door’s class comes in, they can just sit in the empty chairs and everyone has a partner.
They perform their tricks to each other and say how amazed they are! Time-wise, it’s a bit like baking a cake: it can take ages to get it all ready and cooked, but then it’s eaten in a matter of minutes! That’s why it’s important to get as much out of the process as possible and not to rush it.
Before everyone goes back to the room they came from, they learn another trick. Those in Classroom A (half of Class A, half of Class B), learn a trick with a pen, those in Classroom B (half of Class B, half of Class A), learn a trick with a tissue (for example).
Again, when they are ready to perform it, the pupils who moved rooms earlier go back to their normal rooms, so the groups are back to how they were at the start. Class A is now made up of those who learned a pen trick and those who learned a tissue trick, and so is Class B. They can now perform this second trick to their partners.
So in total 4 tricks have been taught and everyone knows 2 of them, but not everybody knows the same 2 tricks. If this process has been mirrored by two other classes, Class C and Class D, half of Class A can now swap with half of Class C and half of Class B can swap with half of Class D, to perform their two tricks to each other and to learn a third before returning to their classrooms to show their partner the third trick they have learned.
At first reading, this may all seem rather complicated! It’s worth making the effort to run the logistics along these lines, though, in order to have the genuine opportunity to perform. You don’t have to have everyone in the year group learning the same language for this to work. You can run the day within language groups, so that the French groups swap with each other, the Spanish groups swap with each other and the German groups do the same. You can, if you want, set some context to the day by bringing in a professional magician to perform a short show to everyone at the beginning and/or the end of the day. It does increase the cost of the day, of course, and it would probably have to be in English, but it can add something very special. If you want to do this but have no idea who to contact, drop me a line and let me know whereabouts in the UK your school is and I may be able to recommend someone not far from you.
I promised a second trick you could use – this is one really for more able groups or KS4 classes, mainly because the instructions are a little more complex. As in the last trick I explained, you’ll need to put them in the target language yourself, based on the level of the class you have.
Click here for The Vanishing Coin
Here’s another clip I’m sure you’ll enjoy, this time from Pathé and filmed in 1964! You’ll see Ali Bongo, the magician in whose memory I gave my presentation at the Language Show in London last month, and also Alan Shaxon, another magician who was one of my childhood heroes and who immediately preceded Ali as President of The Magic Circle. Sadly, Alan Shaxon passed away just a week ago. An outstanding magician, he is respected all over the world amongst magicians. Alan didn’t always perform to music as he did in this clip, and he learned to present his ‘patter act’ in German. Enjoy! Click here