Making French Class More Communicative

I’ve been changing around how I order and present topics in French 1 this year.  I wanted to slow down, build in lots of time for students to listen to language and communicate in the language, and build in more cultural themes to the lessons.

I read this summer about Integrated Performance Assessments, which take an authentic resource and plan an interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational task based on the language made available in that authentic resource.  I like the idea of pulling language chunks from authentic resources, but it’s seemed like I’m constantly torn between presenting expressions that I want to teach and relying only on language from the authentic resource.  So, I’ll be honest, I didn’t use 100% authentic resources for these themes.  But I did want to ask students to do interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive tasks every day, using materials that I created for them.

So, what I’ve created is a hodge-podge of resources, activities, and ideas for a beginning unit in French 1.  I’d like to share them here.

First, I decided what I wanted students to cover in the first unit.  So some teachers at this point might ask, “But don’t you have a common curriculum that all of the teachers in your district have to cover?”  Yes, we use a textbook in our district.  Yes, we French teachers as a district team agreed to teach certain chapters in this textbook.  But since our common assessment is a pre/post-test that is given at the beginning of the year and then in the spring, I have the flexibility to change around the order and the pacing of how I cover information with my students, as long as I keep that post-test in mind and have the students ready by the time spring rolls around.  So, in planning my fresh take on the usual first unit, I made a list of themes that I thought would be realistic topics to cover in the first month.  Here’s what I had come up with:

  • Greet Madame.
  • Great my classmates.
  • Ask Madame how she is.
  • Answer how you are.
  • Take leave of someone.
  • Count to 10.
  • Count to 20
  • Count to 60.
  • Tell my age, nationality, home town.
  • Tell today’s date.
  • Answer questions with comment, quel, and où.
  • Tell basic time.
  • Express likes, dislikes, desires, and abilities.
  • Name some nouns (things, places).

Most of these topics are ones that I usually cover in French 1, and have been for years.  But I decided that I would commit to taking topics slowly, giving students more practice with all four skills (reading, listening, speaking, writing) and using more technology in ways that will really help students develop all four skill areas.

We had Mawi Asgedom as a keynote speaker before school started, and he talked about the power of expressing “not yet” as opposed to “can’t”.  Teaching my students to say “I can’t count to 60 yet” as opposed to “I can’t count to 60” makes the task seem more possible, and helps me to emphasize that language is a process and naturally takes time to acquire, and will eventually happen.  So I used Mawi’s Can Do / Not Yet circles to create this student self-check (Fr1 Unit 1 Can Do Not Yet Student Self Check) to help students track where they are in covering this unit’s themes.  We’re three weeks into the unit, and I’ll finally be giving this to the students to see what they know so far.  I’ll ask them to reflect on what they know how to do, and write the corresponding themes in the part of the circles that represent their progress on learning that theme.  Along with writing the theme, I’m going to ask them to label it with R, L&C, S, W (reading, listening and comprehending, speaking, writing) to express which skill they can do related to that theme.  I waited a while before giving students this checklist so that they would have more topics to be able to put into the Can Do part of the circle than in the Not Yet section, to help keep them encouraged.

Here are some of the new ideas/tasks that I gave students.  Keep in mind- I have Chromebooks in the classroom (one per student).

  • I spent almost two weeks on “Présentez-vous” themes, and added more content there.  Students had to not only give their name, age, and hometown, but they also had to discuss their town of birth, where they live, their nationality, their grade level in school, their likes, and their dislikes.   Students had to be able to answer to randomly selected questions on these themes.
  • I didn’t have students write down all of the nationalities, all of the preferences, and all of the grade levels, etc.  I SHOWED them thorough lists of vocabulary for these themes (Présentez_vous expressions), but had them note ONLY the ones that personally applied to them.  I printed out a copy of these notes for students to use during games and partner activities instead of requiring students to write them all down.  I also posted a copy on our class Canvas site, as I do with everything I show/use in class.  In the past, I’ve had students write down entire lists of vocabulary for these themes, but really, since most of these are cognates, they are easily recognizable when spoken / read.  Students only really need to know to write the ones that they are responsible for speaking/writing about themselves.  This saved us a lot of time and student effort, and they could instead focus on communicating their personal information.
  • I wrote sample dialogues (Comment t_appelles_tu Dialogues) to help students practice the expressions we were learning, with the intention of having students repeat these aloud with me, then read them out loud in large groups, similar to call-and-response style.  I would color code the roles in the dialogue (one part in blue, the other in red, for example).  Then, you can do some immersion work getting the students to read.  I told students “Je suis rouge, vous êtes bleus” and gestured to help them understand.  We’d read the lines in the dialogue that corresponded to our respective colors.  Then I’d do something similar, but splitting the room in half “Vous êtes bleus, et vous êtes rouges”, and students as a group would read their respective parts.  I didn’t do this, but you could even then ask for individual volunteers, and ask them “Tu es rouge ou bleu” and they can decide which color they want to read.  We repeated this procedure with a second dialogue, changing the colors (I used orange and vert next).  It’s a good way to introduce a few basic colors.  And then, when I have students underline/write notes in different colors later on, I can refer to those colors in French.
  • I used Google Voice to give small speaking assessments.  One week, I had students use notes and present themselves.  The next week, we worked on presenting personal information in response to questions, so I had them call Google Voice (I gave them a signal, then they hit the call button all at the same time), state their salutation to me and their name, then I asked them questions out loud, and they answered into the phone.  On this second call, they couldn’t use notes, and I selected questions at random.  Here’s the checklist I used to grade each voice recording: Google Voice Checklist Présentez_vous.
  • I recorded myself speaking.  A lot.  Once on video, then lots of other times with just sound clips.  And once using Screencast-o-matic to create a screencast.  I posted everything on our class Canvas site (this is only accessible within our district, unfortunately, otherwise I would share them here) and had students spend time in class listening, speaking out loud/repeating, practicing with each other, and listening again.  I created an practice quiz on Canvas where I recorded myself asking a question, then gave four possible answers, and students had to choose the answer that best matched the question they heard.  In the screencast, I showed a Powerpoint where I asked a question, left a pause to give students time to answer, then presented possible answer choices.  They heard me pronouncing both the questions and the answers.  And I created a video of me presenting myself, but with some extra cognates.  I created this video in Canvas (which reminds me, I need to see if Canvas will let me download and save videos that I create there).
  • I created sets on Quizlet to help students practice spelling, but I always do that.  So I added a step for the personal questions practice- I created a template set in Quizlet that had questions in French on the right, and sample student answers with blanks on the left.  For example:
    • J’ai __________ ans.                             Quel âge as-tu?  Tu as quel âge?
    • I taught students how to copy my set, rename it by adding their own names, and then change the answers to fit their personal responses.  That way, they could practice writing their own personal responses over and over again.
  • I’m going to introduce some nouns, but I’m choosing France-related nouns to introduce (Lesson Sheet 03 – France Nouns Prefs).  I figure that this would be a good way to begin the nouns/articles discussion while also getting students excited about common cultural symbols of France.  And at the same time, I’ll be introducing preferences phrases, so that they can right away talk about what they like/don’t like.  (Also: I’ve been using the excellent KG Happy font by Kimberly Geswein to use as the headings for all of the French 1 notes sheets this year.  I figure that they’ll be easily recognizable if I keep a consistent look to the headings.)
  • I taught numbers 1-60 right away, starting the second week of school.  Now, I am planning on teaching basic time.  This will include hours/minutes (since they have numbers through 60) and discussion of the 24 hour clock.  I’m going to save quarter/half past and AM/PM in a future unit.  Also, I’m going to introduce time by reading this Emploi du temps (Schedule _ Telling Time) that I made up with lots of cognates and expressions from the likes/dislikes that I introduced already.

So far, these activities are working great.  I need to be sure to keep providing recordings, because students have really relied on being able to listen, repeat, and interpret what’s being spoken.  I could do better with providing reading passages, so that will be a future goal.

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