Heroes and heroines is a great subject for language lessons because it involves strong characters and exciting stories. Children can explore what they think a hero is and who may be a hero to them. A good starting point is to introduce them to some of the major heroes and heroines of European literature.
These are characters that resonate far beyond the books in which they first appeared. Give children a taste of the great writers who immortalised them. That way, pupils will grow up unafraid of big names such as Cervantes and Dumas.
You could start with The Three Musketeers. Show the class the exciting trailer in French for the 2011 film starring Matthew Macfadyen. Give them some of the key words and phrases. The first line describes why we need heroes: "Il y a des choses dans ce monde qui meritent qu'on se batte pourelles". What is worth fighting for? Does fighting always mean killing, or are there other forms of struggle?
The word "hero" comes from the Greek heros, which means "demi-god". Superhuman in strength, courage and often intelligence, the hero is a protector who will sacrifice himself to save others if he has to. What if you wanted to be a knight in shining armour in today's world? This is the dilemma of Cervantes' hero, Don Quixote. Long after the age of chivalry has passed, Don Quixote decides that a knight is just what the world needs.
Show the class a film clip in which this most famous of deluded optimists rides bravely up to the molinos de viento (windmills). He fights them with his sword, believing them to be desaforados gigantes (monstrous giants).
"Are any of these heroes real?" a child will probably ask. Now is a good time to introduce Joan of Arc. The 1962 Robert Bresson film, Proces de Jeanne d'Arc, uses transcripts from her actual trial. You could compare a short extract from Jean Anouilh's play, L'Alouette (The Lark, 1953). The last speech in the play conveys a beautiful image that says something important about heroes. "The story they will always tell" will not be about Jeanne d'Arc as a "miserable cornered animal" at Rouen. It will be about "cette petite alouette chantant dans le ciel de France, au-dessus de la tete des fantassins" (this little lark singing in the sky of France, above the heads of the infantry). All heroes and heroines have this in common: they are remembered.
Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa
Explore CatherinePaver's resources on Don Quixote and Les Trois Mousquetaires. bit.lyPaversDonQuixote
Check out Emmamartinez1507's resource pack on Spain, which discusses Don Quixote. bit.lyPackOnSpain
Try cathsockhead's lesson-friendly text about the life of Jeanne d'Arc. bit.lyJeanneDarcLife
Find out about German sporting heroes and more on this website for children. bit.lyGermanSportsHeroes.