St. Patrick’s Day is an extremely popular holiday in the United States, in part because such a large number of Irish people immigrated to the U.S.
More than 45 million Americans can claim Irish heritage, making this group the second largest in the nation.
And yet the chances are good that your students don’t know everything there is to know about Ireland. Try out one of these low-prep lesson plans to bring some Irish flavor to your classroom for St. Patrick’s Day.
No Irish need apply
People who imagine that the immigrants of the 21st century face more discrimination than those of the past don’t know their history. Irish immigrants faced stereotypes that portrayed them as violent, drunken, and lazy. A collection of old political cartoons on the subject provides background for teachers or data for older students if carefully presented.
During the Irish Potato Famine, large numbers of Irish people came to the United States with little English, no money, and few skills. These immigrants faced a language barrier and religious intolerance (most were Catholic, and there was widespread anti-Catholic discrimination in the United States at the time). Many were in poor health when they arrived and ended up living in squalid conditions that led to further health problems. Finding work was difficult for these new Americans. There was even a song written about this subject: “No Irish Need Apply.” Read the lyrics and listen to the song. Then go on to do some research and writing:
- Was there really anti-Irish discrimination? Richard Jensen argues that there wasn’t. Have high school students read his paper, do their own research, and decide for themselves. Add a creative YouTube take on the slogan for added visual literacy practice.
- Can employers now specify nationalities in their want ads? Have students conduct research to find the answer.
- Learn about the potato famine from Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire on the PBS website.
Ireland is the source of much familiar folklore — and some that aren’t so familiar to people in the United States.
- Irish folklore coloring pages has a lot of ads, but it also has original coloring pages. If you decide it’s worth it, give yourself some time to click through all the stuff and print out some clean pages for your classroom — trying to do this quickly between activities will be frustrating.
- PBS has a middle school lesson plan on ancient Irish mythology culminating in the creation of a museum exhibit and a newscast.
- Take a simpler approach by dividing the class into groups to do some research on a few Irish mythical creatures: the banshee, the leprechaun, and the selkie. The selkie is found in other folklore traditions of the British Isles, as well as in Ireland. Have each group research their mythical creature and prepare a report for the class. Once the class is familiar with all three, decide why the leprechaun, and not the others, is associated with St. Patrick’s Day.
Enjoy some Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day, and give your students some practice with intensive listening as well.
A traditional tune called St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a good example. Listen with your class. Then discuss some of the questions below, listening again when appropriate:
- Is this music happy? sad? thoughtful? In a music class, discuss major and minor keys.
- Listen closely for repeated phrases. Are there parts that are exactly the same? parts that are similar?
- Does this sound like music for dancing or music for marching?
- Notice that there are long notes and short, quick notes. Is the rhythm of this piece even, staying the same all the way through? Have students clap to the music (it’s in 3/4 time).
Before you leave the piece, you might want to learn more about it. Some of the resources listed below have religious content; your school and community are your best guide to how religious material is used in the classroom.
- This tune is supposed to be an ancient Irish tune, written down by Charles Villiers Stanford in 1902. Stanford was an Irish composer.
- St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a long prayer attributed to St. Patrick and his followers.
- A lesson plan for the text would be suitable for a religious studies or Sunday School class.
- Tomie de Paola’s Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland is a good book for learning about St. Patrick.