“Who knew that gingerbread-house building would be the perfect ‘soft skills’ activity?” English Language Fellow Jennifer Borch asked herself as she watched her Cadi Ayyad University students struggle to cement cookie pieces together with only frosting for glue. With Borch’s help, these English language learners were immersing themselves in a celebration of the U.S. cultural tradition of gingerbread-house construction, but they were also honing their speaking and listening skills.
It was a very full day. First, students learned about the history and popularization of gingerbread houses by reading the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” and then they watched video clips of gingerbread-house master architects. They also performed a read-aloud of a winter tale written by the Vermont-based author Stephen Kiernan, which highlighted the competitive nature of a fictional, annual gingerbread-house contest. Finally, the students teamed up to test their own gingerbread-house building skills and competed against one another to be crowned the champions of gingerbread building.
Gingerbread-house building provided a festive window into a seasonal American tradition that is not tied to any particular religion. The contest provided an opportunity for students to discuss the different December holidays that are celebrated in the United States, to learn specifically about the gingerbread-house tradition, and to celebrate the season in an all-inclusive way. In the process, students practiced listening, speaking, and reading in English. Perhaps most importantly, they communicated and collaborated to build their houses (which required some serious negotiating skills in many of the groups). They put their problem-solving skills to the test as walls fell down, frosting failed, and roofs collapsed. And, in the end, they celebrated their accomplishments together and reflected on the process—while also enjoying the product.