Category Archives: French 3 Units

Petit Nicolas: How to incorporate children’s literature in a proficiency-based curriculum.



I have been reading Petit Nicolas stories with my students since I began teaching 25 years ago. Although a lot of the resources on interpretive reading assessment tend to focus on non-fiction, I think that it is important to make sure that we are also exposing our students to literature from the target culture.   My students have always enjoyed reading these stories, and look forward to watching the live action film in the spring.  In addition, the cartoon videos provide an excellent authentic resource for interpretive listening.  For these reasons, I developed a mini-unit around the Petit Nicolas story, “Les Campeurs” for my French 3 students after our vacation unit this fall.     Here’s a pdf of the story, if you don’t have a copy of the book. 4-Les campeurs

I began this mini-unit by presenting some of the new vocabulary that the students would be seeing in the story.  To do so, I made a PowerPoint with a slide for each of the images on the handout included in the file.  I showed the PowerPoint and asked questions which included the words in order to familiarize the students with the vocabulary and scaffold the interpretive task.  Although I don’t often pre-teach vocabulary in this way, the feedback from the students was that it was really helpful.  An unintended consequence of this activity was that the students began to make predictions about what the story would be about—an important step in the reading process.

After the vocabulary presentation, I gave the students the interpretive task for Part 1 of the story, which I developed according to the template in the ACTFL IPA manual. Due to the length of the story, I divided it into two parts, and wrote a separate assessment for each one.  In order to avoid requiring the students to spend two days on silent reading, I allowed them to complete the assessment for Part I in small groups.   This also allowed the Part 1 task to serve as a formative assessment for the mini-unit.

While the students did well on this assessment and enjoyed reading the first part of the story, I wanted to include some target-language discussion of Part 1 before assessing their comprehension on Part 2.  A drawback to using the ACTFL IPA template is that the questions are in English.  While I agree that this is the best way to assess reading, it doesn’t provided the springboard I needed for a target language discussion.  Therefore, I designed a series of inference-based French questions and had the students discuss them in small groups, after which we discussed them as a class.  Their responses to these questions let me know that even those students who had performed well on the formative assessment were not reading deeply enough to understand many of the humorous details in the story.  I also discovered that my students would have benefited from being given additional background information about the stories.  For example, one student asked, “Why do you keep calling this story Petit Nicolas, there’s not even a Nicolas in it?”  I had not realized that it would not be obvious to these students that the story was being narrated in the first person—Oops!

I was pleased with the students’ discussion of these inference questions, and felt that they really encouraged a more detailed reading of the text.  I also realized that the ACTFL IPA template was most likely not designed for this type of reading task.  While reading for the main idea and a few supporting details are appropriate authentic tasks for non-fiction texts, literature is best enjoyed when read with attention to more subtle details, in order to more fully appreciate the humorous aspects of the text.  I’ll make sure to develop more appropriate interpretive assessments for these stories in the future.

After the discussion of the inference-based French questions, I felt the students were ready for the Part 2 Interpretive assessment.  They completed this individually so that I could use it as a summative assessment/part of their IPA for the mini-unit.

In addition to this Interpretive Reading task, I assessed the students’ interpretive listening skills by having them watch the cartoon video which corresponds to this story.  Note: the plot of the two stories is significantly different!  These differences are important, because they allow me to assess the students’ listening comprehension, rather than their memory of the story.  While this video is somewhat more difficult than others they had watched, the students felt very confident about their ability to understand it.  I think that the questions themselves provided a lot of scaffolding for the interpretive task.

For the Interpersonal Communication task, I assigned a role play in which Clotaire asks Nicolas to go camping again.  I allowed the students to practice this role play for about 30 minutes before being assessed, but did not allow them to choose which role they would play, or who their partner would be.  In this way I can ensure that the task is actually interpersonal, and not just memorization of a script.

For the Presentational Writing task, the students wrote a note from Nicolas to his grandmother, asking for a tent for his birthday.  As is my practice, the students wrote a rough draft (formative assessment), I provided feedback (using the abbreviations on the feedback form) and then they wrote a final draft, which was their IPA score.  In the future I would make my expectations more clear, as some of the letters were general in nature, rather than incorporating specific details from the story.

Here’s a file with the materials I created for this story:campeurs_file

I’d love to hear from others who have incorporated Petit Nicolas stories into their proficiency-based classrooms.  What types of interpretive tasks have worked for you?


Vacation all I ever wanted: a unit for Intermediate Mid students.

Since my French 3 students are coming to the end of their unit on Education in France, I’ve been working on their next unit—The French and Vacations. Although I was generally pleased with Unit 1, I’m making a few changes in the way that I structure the lessons based on what I learned from my first units.
Unit Design
This vacation unit is designed to address the following Intermediate Mid Can-Do Statements:
Interpretive Reading: I can understand basic information in ads, announcements, and other simple tasks.
• Students will read two infographics, an article about the history of vacations in France, and a web page about vacations in the world.
Interpersonal Communication: 1) I can start, maintain and end a conversation on a variety of familiar topics. Subtopic: I can ask for information, details and explanations during a conversation. 2) I can talk about my daily activities and personal preferences. Subtopic: I can give some information about activities that I did.
• Students will discuss pros/cons of vacation destinations/lodging, a vacation they have taken, their opinions about vacations and a vacation they would like to take.
Presentational Writing: 1) I can write messages and announcements.2) I can write short reports about something I have learned or researched.
• Students will write messages about real, imaginary, and ideal vacations and a report about the history of vacation in France.
Presentational Speaking: 1) I can make a presentation about my personal and social experiences. Subtopic: I can describe a childhood or past experience. 2) I can make a presentation on something I have learned or researched.
• Students will present photos of their actual (or imaginary) vacations, leave a message about an imaginary awful vacation, prepare a presentation about the history of vacation in France, and prepare a presentation about their ideal vacation.
Interpretive Listening: I can understand the main idea of what I listen to for personal enjoyment. Subtopic: I can understand a short YouTube clip.
• Students will watch several cartoon videos in which the characters go on various types of vacations. (These activities are found in a separate document. One will be chosen for each of the lessons and will be included in the lesson handout.)
Unit Plan
I anticipate that each of the four lessons in this unit will take 2-3 days. On the first day the students will complete the interpretive reading task. As they are reading, they will be taking turns using the 8 computers in my room to complete the listening activities. In Unit 1 I played the videos to the class as a whole, but found that this made my lessons too teacher-directed. Students were intimidated by answering my questions in front of their peers and/or struggled to understand what I was asking. I am hoping that by having the students work individually on these tasks they will have the opportunity to listen to the videos repeatedly, and improve their comprehension. In addition, I will be able to use these tasks as formative assessments and will be able to give individualized feedback on their performance. Students will spend any remaining class time working on the written presentational task, which will be finished for homework.
Students will begin the second day of each lesson by completing the interpersonal task. I will circulate among the students as they engage in the discussion, choosing some pairs to assess formatively. I will also call upon students to present the results of their discussions to the class. These students will also be assessed formatively, so that I will have provided specific feedback/a formative assessment for each student by the end of the unit. Students will spend the remaining part of the period preparing for the presentational speaking, and will continue this preparation for homework. On the third day I will randomly choose a few students to present what they have prepared to the class for a formative assessment. The rest of the students will present to a partner who will evaluate them using a peer assessment rubric.
After all of the lessons are completed, the students will complete their summative assessment, an Integrated Performance Assessment. This assessment will similar to each of the lessons, in that it will assess Interpretive Reading (an article about vacations) Interpretive Listening (another cartoon video), Interpersonal Communication (a vacation discussion), Presentational Speaking and a Presentational Writing. I am considering giving the students the opportunity to choose one of the Presentational Writing and Speaking Tasks from the unit and having them revise their original draft/practice their speaking and then using the same prompt for the Summative Assessment/IPA. In this way there would be an element of student choice in the assessment process.
Here is a copy of the documents that I prepared for this unit: vacation unit
Vacation Listening Activities
If you have any feedback for me on this unit, please post a comment above!

Culture as Content: An Intermediate Unit on Education in France

When we make the switch from teaching about the language to teaching content by using the language we are able to build a curriculum that focuses on the products, practices and perspectives of our target cultures.  For my first French 3 unit of the year, I designed a unit around the French educational system.  This topic is a high interest one for the students and also provides important background information for the AP Theme: Contemporary Life.

If you’d like to see the unit packet, click here: Education Unit

Note: The template I use for designing interpretive tasks comes from Implementing Integrated Performance Assessment :  (


Since most of the students in this class are currently performing at the Intermediate Low level of proficiency, I chose the following Intermediate Mid ACTFL Can-Do Statements as the goals for this unit.

Presentational Writing: I can compose a simple letter, response, or article for publication.

Interpersonal Communication: I can talk about my daily activities and personal preferences.

Presentational Speaking: 1) I can make a presentation about my personal and social experiences. 2) I can make a presentation on something I have learned or researched.

Interpretive Reading: I can understand basic information in ads, announcements, and other simple texts.

Interpretive Listening: I can understand a short YouTube clip.

Lesson I

Interpretive Task #1: Students will read a diagram and short article explaining the organization of the French educational system.

Interpretive Task #2: Students will listen to a cartoon video in which French students discuss their school experiences.

Although these texts are not authentic (they were published for French language learners), they were published by members of the target culture and the cartoon does feature a native speaker.  Because they present important background information about the organization of the French educational system, I chose to include them in the introductory lesson of this unit.

Interpersonal Task:  Students will compare the French and American educational systems and complete a Venn diagram.

Presentational Writing: Students write a note to a French foreign exchange student.

Presentational Speaking: Students address an audience of future exchange students.

Lesson II

Interpretive Task: Students read an authentic news article about a French middle school which has done away with numerical grades.

Interpersonal Task: Students discuss statements about the role that grades play.

Presentational Writing: Students write a letter to the principal requesting a change in the school’s grading system.

Presentational Speaking: Students prepare a presentation to the principal.

Lesson III

Interpretive Task: Students read a pair of infographics about changes to the French school schedule. .

Interpersonal Task: Students discuss opinion statements about the length of the school day/year.

Presentational Writing: Students write an e-mail expressing their opinion of the American vs. French school day/year.

Presentational Speaking: Students prepare a presentation about the American vs. French school schedule.

Lesson IV

Interpretive/Interpersonal Task: Students read and discuss an infographic about school dropouts in France.

Role Play: Students prepare a role play between a student who wants to drop out and his/her parent.

Additional Materials

1. I have included a set of school-related “Trotro” jokes for this unit.  I have the students read/translate (!) these jokes as an enrichment activity if they have time left after completing the communicative task that has been assigned.

2. I prepared a couple of listening activities (youtube videos) to use as hooks for the lessons.  Although not authentic, they do feature native speakers and will help prepare students for the authentic listening tasks that will be included on their IPA.

Please help yourself to any of the materials I’ve developed—I’d love to hear your feedback!