Even though the Eurovision Song Contest has been around for over 60 years, I didn’t discover it until a few years ago when the wonderful Cécile Lainé wrote about a French Eurovision participant in her wonderful resource Le Petit Journal Francophone.
If you aren’t familiar with Eurovision, it is an annual song contest. Participants from Australia, every European country, and a few countries geographically outside of Europe like Israel and Armenia are eligible to compete for the title of Best Eurovision song for the year. The winning country hosts the contest the following year, which can potentially generate millions in revenue from tourists for the competition.
After I learned of this competition, I started developing what may be called an unhealthy obsession with it. My obsession started in earnest when Netflix released the Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which was about an Icelandic band performing in Eurovision. My obsession then solidified when the 2021 Eurovision competition became available for streaming in the USA for the first time on Peacock (I think Netflix has plans to show it on their platform also).
I love sooooo many things about Eurovision. I love the elaborate sets, the freaky costumes, and, most especially, the diverse selection of songs and performers in the competition. I’ve seen a heavy metal band dressed as demons, a group of singing grandmas, a man in a hamster wheel, a puppet, and millions of dollars worth of pyrotechnics. Year to year, it is impossible to predict what one will see on the Eurovision stage.
I also love how Eurovision has come to symbolize inclusivity. Countries that we think of as being predominantly White send performers of color, thus highlighting the growing racial diversity in Europe. Eurovision’s first transgender contestant was in 1998, which was incredibly groundbreaking at the time. They’ve also had drag queens, openly gay and bisexual performers, and performers with disabilities ranging from cystic fibrosis and Tourette’s Syndrome to autism and down’s syndrome. Performers are free to be completely genuine and honest about who they are, and I love that.
This year, I have channeled my Eurovision obsession into the final unit of my French 1 class. Here is what my lesson included.
Day 1: Since most of my students have never heard of Eurovision, I started with this presentation. In the first part, I explain what Eurovision is, how long it has been around, and a few other facts such as voting rules, which country has won the most number of times, well-known participants, and the most well-known song. In the second part, I discuss some memorable Eurovision performances and milestones. I make sure to mention some performers that I think my students will know, like Céline Dion, who performs the signature songs from both Titanic and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Alexander Rybak, whose song “Into a Fantasy” was featured in the movie How To Train Your Dragon. This presentation was especially great for practicing numbers because we could talk about what year something happened. This is especially needed in French since the numbers 70-99 can be problematic.
Day 3: Since I had done a clothing unit with my students this past year, I showed them this presentation about some of the more outrageous Eurovision costumes worn over the years. I did a Picture Talk activity with the presentation, but in the future I may print out the presentation and have students do a Gallery Walk activity with the pictures, matching descriptions of the photos written in French with the correct pictures.
Day 4: I told students that we were going to do our own mini-Eurovision contest. First, I grouped students in teams of two or three. Then, I assigned each group a country (I printed out flags of each country, which students put in the center of their group). Then we located each country using Google Maps and talked about its major cities and its location (which gave us ample opportunity to use prepositions and directional words).
Day 5: We watched the videos that were part of our mini-Eurovision contest (Please make sure you preview ALL your videos ahead of time!). Since I knew that almost none of my students knew anything about this year’s winners, the videos in my competition were the top ten performances for 2021 (I did this activity two weeks after the Eurovision contest aired). If you replicate this, you can choose any group of videos you want, but using this year’s winners gave this unit a degree of authenticity and made it more exciting for my students, because we were able to compare our results with the real winners. I also recommend that the videos you include in your contest come from the countries you assigned students previously. This makes things a little more interesting since students cannot vote for their own country.
Day 6: In the target language, we tallied votes. In the real contest, countries give a series of points ranging from one to twelve, and viewers at home call in to cast votes too. To keep things simple for us, our country teams just gave points for first, second, and third place (twelve, eight, and four points respectively). Once we tallied up all our votes, we established our class winners and compared our list to the real list of winners.
This was a really fun unit for the end of the year. Many of my students got really excited and very animated as they made their case for their favorite performance. The fact that my students were all in groups required them to compromise and collaborate, which are always important skills to practice and refine. I hope that my students also started to develop an appreciation for songs that aren’t sung in English. Since I teach in the US, students don’t usually listen to songs in anything other than English, which means that they are missing out on some fantastic music!