The Passion play is an active way to prepare for Easter, dramatising the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Originally in Latin, it developed in European vernacular languages during the medieval period and is still performed in many countries, including Germany, Spain and Poland. From Europe, the tradition has spread as far as Australia and Brazil.
The Passion play at Oberammergau in Bavarian Southern Germany has a unique history. Bubonic plague hit the small town in 1633 and villagers vowed to stage a Passion play every 10 years if they could be spared further deaths. They were, and they have kept their promise.
You could start by showing your class a short film explaining that Passion plays are community-based and often performed in the open air. Follow this with illustrated accounts of the Easter story in books or on modern foreign language websites. Use these as the basis for pupils to create their own Passion play.
Divide the class into groups and allow each one to perform a section. It does not have to be realistic drama with lines learned. Simplify it. For instance, the characters could all speak in unison as a chorus that tells the story. That way, everyone has a chance to practise the target language.
Some of the words associated with Easter are useful only in that context, so just teach the important ones, such as "crucify" and "Resurrection". Pupils need to know that the original meaning of "Passion" was "suffering". Other words, such as "love", "death" and "father", are more general in usage. Children could practise this new vocabulary by creating simple storyboards.
Passion plays often go beyond the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, so you do not have to restrict yourself to these events: even Satan figures in German and Czech Passion plays. The entrance into Hell was sometimes pictured onstage as the mouth of a monster, through which the Devil and the souls captured or released during the plays passed back and forth.
The Vienna Passion starts with the fall of Lucifer and the fall of Man. Some German Passion plays include the creation of the world and of Adam. All these topics expand the range of vocabulary you could teach.
Finish with a discussion of the idea of sacrifice. Teach "to give up for" in the target language. Then hold up a series of flashcards. Which of these would you give up for your little brother? An ice cream? A puppy? Your life?
Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa. www.paversongs.com
Read the Easter story in Spanish - with cartoons. bit.lySpanishCartoons
Get pupils reading the Bible in French, Spanish, German and other languages.
Find out about Passion plays in the UK and around the world - traditional dramatisations of the last week of Jesus' life.