Superstitions are a rich topic for the EFL/ESL classroom. Some teachers use them for controlled practice of ‘if’ statements. E.g.
If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years of bad luck.
Others use them for discussion practice and cultural comparison. You can do either or both with this lesson.
It’s a video lesson with two parts. First there’s a conversation that will warm students to the topic and check the meanings of the words ‘superstition’ and ‘superstitious’. You might want your class to act out the conversation after watching it. And the second part of the lesson comes in the form of a song which has a built-in puzzle.
The other day I noticed that Google had cleared permissions for Stevie Wonder’s terrific ‘Superstition’ song on YouTube. Wow! What a great opportunity for a puzzle! So I’ve made a video that’s packed with images of different superstitious events and objects, and the students’ task is to see how many they can spot. You might want to set up competing teams so they watch the video and see which team can spot the most.
The video is designed to prompt lots of discussion and the advice in the song is very sensible and clear: don’t believe in superstitions!
Here are some things students will see:
Situations where people often get superstitious
- When gambling
- When they see a fountain. (People often throw a coin in and make a wish.)
- At weddings (What colour do brides wear? Do they have ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?’ Do they throw the bouquet to find out who will get married next?)
- Black cats – If a black cat crosses your path, does it bring good or bad luck? The answer seems to vary.
- Spiders – Finding a spider on your clothes is sometimes said to be lucky and killing a spider is often frowned upon. ‘If you wish to live and thrive, let a spider run alive.’
- Snakes – As well as being associated with voodoo, there are lots of superstitions surrounding snakes. For example, hanging a snake from the rafters is supposed to protect a house from fire.
- Lady birds (AmE: Lady bugs) If a lady bird lands on you, some say you shouldn’t brush it off. Instead you should count the spots to see how many years of good luck you’re going to get.
We get a fleeting glance of chrysanthemums in the video which seem to have a lot of superstitions attached in different cultures. But other flowers do too. Are there flowers you’re not supposed to bring into the house? Do you have to present an odd number, unwrapped, when you give flowers as a gift?
Speaking of gifts, it’s unlucky to give knives in some cultures as it’s supposed to foretell the severing of the relationship. Are there other things you should and shouldn’t give as gifts?
Ladders, mirrors and candles
- Walking under a ladder is supposed to be unlucky
- As Stevie Wonder tells us, breaking a mirror is supposed to bring seven years of bad luck.
- Candles have a variety of superstitions surrounding them. For example, if a candle suddenly goes out on its own it can be an omen of death in the family. On the other hand, some say lighting a new white candle in a new house is supposed to bring good luck.
Some lucky objects in the video include:
- a horse shoe (Which way up should it be? Customs seem to vary)
- a four leaf clover (or maybe it’s an Irish shamrock – that’s supposed to be lucky too)
- a rooster of Barcelos – a lucky symbol in Portugal
- a daruma doll – lucky in Japan (we also see a Japanese symbol for luck)
- the Chinese character for luck and also a Chinese fortune cookie, which contains lucky numbers.
13 is often associated with bad luck, as is 4 in some cultures. Meanwhile 7 is sometimes associated with good luck and 666 with the devil.
- A new moon – The story goes that if you turn a coin over in your pocket when there’s a new moon, your money will grow
- A rainbow – Supposedly there’s a pot of gold buried at the end of every rainbow.
- Crossing your fingers
- Throwing salt over your shoulder if you spill it.
- Voodoo, fortune telling (tarot cards and a crystal ball), psychics, water dowsing (divining rod) and astrology.
We also see Stonehenge in the video, but why it was built is one of history’s great mysteries. Maybe it actually fulfilled a practical purpose, serving as an astronomical clock. Or maybe it was a place for sun worship, crazy rituals and superstitions. What do you think?
Where to find the videos:
I’ve made a playlist of the two video files, so both videos will play right through. Click here for the YouTube playlist link.
The first video is available with a clickable transcript that you can copy and paste on our Simple English videos website. Click here for the link. It is also available on our YouTube channel. Click here for the link.
For copyright reasons, the second video (the Stevie Wonder song) is only available on our YouTube channel. Click here for the link.
If you use this lesson in class and have time to come back and tell us how it went, please do! We’d love to hear from you!
And if you have other favourite songs you like to use in class, please tell us which ones. You never know. Google might have cleared permissions so I can make another video.
Oh and happy Friday the thirteenth, everyone!