Category Archives: Noel

Noël for Novices

christmas-1084884_960_720It’s hard to believe that this is the third year that I am posting a Christmas unit! This year’s plan, based on my current French 2 students’ needs, includes many resources that I have used in the past with either French 1 or French 2 classes.  However, I’ve added some new resources (some of which were created by an awesome new colleague!), and linked each resource to the corresponding lesson on the agenda.

Here’s the agenda and a quick summary.

Day 1: I’ll introduce some vocabulary by discussing pictures and then play a commercial Loto game. I’ll pass out this vocabulary packet as a reference during the unit.

Day 2: This lesson, which focuses on Saint Nicolas, includes an introductory video, short reading, Edpuzzle and pair activity in which students describe pictures in order to determine whether each one is the same or different.

Day 3: This lesson, on the topic of Santa, includes a reading and pair matching activity.  I didn’t have a great copy of the reading so it’s kind of blurry.  If anyone has a better link, I’d be very grateful for it!  After the pair matching activity, I’ll orally describe a few of the pictures and have the students write either the number or letter (depending on which they have) for a formative assessment.

Day 4: This lesson on Christmas traditions throughout the world includes a video from a family living in France, an infographic about international traditions, and an info gap activity in which students fill in an agenda of Christmas activities.  As a follow up assignment, the students will write a message describing their week’s activities. (This lesson will take place on a day on which we have 90-minute classes.)

Day 5: This lesson, which focuses on traditional Quebecois holiday activities, includes an introductory video and info gap activity.  I hope to add an Edpuzzle to this lesson, too!

Day 6: In this lesson we will watch a video from a site about decorating Christmas trees as a class before the students complete a series of interpretive activities for the text from the same site. The students will then practice explaining the steps to decorating a tree using pictures they have drawn.  Although I’ve included a pair matching activity here, it seems unlikely that we’ll have time for it.

Day 7: The students will interpret an infographic about Christmas eating habits in France, discuss their own eating habits, and then compare them by creating a Venn diagram.

Day 8 & 9: The students will complete a series of learning stations designed to prepare them for the summative assessment on this unit.  Each station is designed to be completed in about 30 minutes.  Because Day 8 is a 90-minute class, the students will have one station remaining for Day 9.

  • Listening Station: Christmas Edpuzzles
  • Reading station:  Story about Santa
  • Speaking station: Students will be given the role of either a French or Canadian student and will discuss their holiday pictures.  
  • Writing Station: Students will write a draft of their summative assessment.

Day 10: The students will complete the interpersonal speaking and presentational writing portions of their summative assessment. (Described on this IPA.) The interpretive portion of this assessment, their midterm, is still a work in progress as we are creating a multiple choice version to accommodate our school’s requirements.

Joyeux Noël!

Integrating Culture Across the Modes: A Noël Unit for Intermediate Low French Students


Christmas decorations

I’m taking just a few minutes for a quick share tonight.  In an earlier post, I shared some activities that I developed to integrate culture in all of the communicative modes with my Novice Mid students.  In this evening;s post I’m including a few lessons I created to do the same with my Intermediate Low/French 3 students.   Click here for a packet of activities and keep reading for a short explanation of each lesson.

Lesson 1: In this lesson I played a short video to introduce the tradition of the yule log cake.  I then assigned partners and gave each member of the dyad a different article.  The students read their articles and filled in the information they could find in the packet.  Then they discussed their information with their partner, who had read the opposite article.  Although I intended for the pairs to fill out a Venn diagram as described in the packet, due to time constraints the students just discussed their information and filled in the missing information for the questions in the packet.  This worked out well, as they did a Venn diagram in the next lesson.  Although I didn’t end up assigning the Presentational Activity, I had originally considered adding it, based on timing.

Lesson 2: In this lesson, one partner watched a video about Christmas tree traditions and the other listened to a video on the same topic.  They then discussed the information they found and completed a Venn diagram comparing the information in each source. As in Lesson 1, time didn’t permit me to assign the Presentational activities.

Lesson 3: As in Lesson 2, half of the students read an article while the other half listened to a video.  I was consistent in assigning A/B roles, so that the students who listened in Lesson 2 did the reading in Lesson 3 and vice versa. After the interpretation phase of the lesson, the students discussed their information and took a pair “quiz.”

Although these activities were challenging, the students remained engaged throughout the three class periods I dedicated to these cultural lessons.  Following the third lesson, I introduced the same story project that I described in this post from last year. I did, however, add an interpersonal communication task to the IPA/Learning Stations in which the students used circumlocution to complete these pair crossword puzzles (Partner A, Partner B). My students love these pair crossword puzzles and they were a very effective way to review aspects of French holiday traditions that the students had learned in past years.

Using Cartoons to Assess Interpretive Listening with Novice Learners

COUV. La Balle.indd

This week’s #langchat discussion about interpretive listening revealed that we language teachers are very diverse in the way we approach this skill, especially with novice learners. Although I reflected at length on the topic of assessing listening in an earlier post, I’d like to specifically address a few of the questions that came up during Thursday night’s discussion.

Question #1: What resources are appropriate for novice learners? While some teachers are hesitant to use authentic resources with early novices, I have found that first semester French 1 students can successfully interpret carefully selected authentic materials when given level-appropriate tasks.  My go-to resource for these students are cartoon videos for the following reasons:

  1. These videos were made for novice language learners—young children in the target culture! As a result, the vocabulary and sentence structures are relatively simple and the linguistic input is supported by strong visual cues. This is exactly what our novice learners need.
  2. The wide selection of these videos ensures that there are several choices available for any theme we’ve included in our novice curriculum. My favorites for my Level 1 and 2 students are Trotro, Petit Ours Brun and T’choupi et Doudou, because of the broad range of topics covered and the comprehensibility. I also occasionally use Peppa Pig with my level 2 students. Although originally recorded in (British) English, the French translation was clearly intended for French-speaking children, so I do consider these to be authentic resources.  However, the target culture would not, of course, be represented in these videos.
  3. Cartoons are very engaging to my students. They look forward to their turn at the computer and a few students have even mentioned that they have watched additional episodes of the series at home, “just for fun.”
  4. As authentic resources, these cartoon videos often integrate cultural products, practices and perspectives of the target culture. When Petit Ours Brun puts his shoes under the Christmas tree, his grandfather comments on the delicious turkey, and he wakes up to presents on Christmas morning, my students learn relevant cultural practices regarding Christmas celebrations in France.

Question #2: What types of tasks are appropriate for novice learners? I realized as I participated in Thursday night’s #langchat that I have interpreted ACTFL’s descriptors regarding interpretive listening differently than many of my colleagues. The Novice Mid (my goal for level 1) NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Benchmark for interpretive listening reads, “I can recognize some familiar words and phrases when I hear them spoken.”  If I understood my colleagues’ responses correctly, many of us may be assessing listening by having students list the words and phrases that they hear.  Because it isn’t clear to me how this type of task would demonstrate interpretation/comprehension, I ask students to answer questions to show comprehension of the video, but phrase these questions in a way that the students can use previously-learned words/phrases (along with visual context clues) to respond.  This year I am using a multiple choice format for my formative listening assessments using our district’s recently-adopted Canvas learning management system.  Although I don’t feel that multiple choice is appropriate for many language tasks, this platform has the advantage of providing immediate feedback to my students.  In addition, since creating and assessing them requires a minimal time commitment on my part, I am able to provide more opportunities for listening than I was using other task types.  Lastly, this format provides students with additional context clues.  Their listening is more purposeful as they are listening for a specific response, as well as to eliminate distractors. While I typically use open-ended question types on my IPA’s, these multiple choice quizzes, which the students complete individually at a computer, provide the majority of my formative listening assessments.

In order to save time, I create these quizzes directly in Canvas, which unfortunately makes them very difficult to share.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve uploaded a Word document of screenshots from a quiz I made this morning for the video, Trotro et les cadeaux de Noel ( ). As this document shows, the questions that I’ve created enable these Novice Low-Mid students to demonstrate their ability to interpret this text using only previously-learned words and phrases and visual clues. While most of the items assess literal comprehension, I’ve included a few questions that require the students to make inferences and guess the meanings of new words using context clues. Here’s a quick explanation of my thought process for each question.

#1: While each of these questions would be appropriate to the context, my students will probably understand “pour moi” when they hear it.  They will also be able to eliminate the 2nd choice, because they know the word for Santa.  Although I’ve used the other question words in class, the students are not using them yet.  I included them in the distractors to encourage the students to start thinking about how questions are asked.

#2: This question is a “gimme.”  The students know the word for book and have visual clues as further support.  I created the question to improve the students’ confidence, enable all students to have some “correct” answers, and to provide more context for further questions.  As you can see, I write LOTS of questions, because I find the questions themselves provide important context and help the students follow along with the video.

#3: “Chouette” is a new word for these students, but it appears in a lot of children’s literature/videos and I think they’ll enjoy using it.  The context should make the meaning of this word clear.

#4/#5: The students have learned the word “jeux-video” so I think they’ll get “jeu.”  Also because Trotro also uses “jouer” I think they’ll understand it’s something to play with rather than listen to.

#6/#7 Students can answer by recognizing the previously-learned words “gros” and “belle.”

#8: Although this question does not assess listening comprehension (the word appears in written form), it does provide a contextualized way to introduce a new vocabulary word.

#9: The students can listen for the word “content” as well as eliminate the distractors based on previously-learned words.

#10: The students have heard “maintenant” repeatedly, but it hasn’t been formally introduced.  If they don’t recognize it, they should still be able to eliminate the other choices.

#11: Although the students will not understand the entire sentence in which it appears, they should be able to answer this question by identifying the word “cadeaux.”

#12: I’m curious what my students will do with this inference-based question.  They should recognize the phrase, “Moi, aussi” which should enable them to infer that Boubou got the same gift.

#13: The students should recognize the word “jouer” as well as be able to eliminate the distractors based on previously-learned vocabulary.

#14: The students should be able to use the visual context to guess the meaning of this new vocabulary.

#15: The phrase “c’est moi” should enable the students to choose the correct response for this one. As with several other items, I’ve included the transcription of the entire sentence to introduce new vocabulary—the verb “gagner.”

#16: Although my students won’t be able to use the linguistic content to answer this question, I’ve included it to encourage inference based on visual context clues.

#17: I’ll be curious how they do with this one.  “Bateau” is an unknown word and although they’ve seen “mer,” I’m not sure they’ll pick up on it.  Some might pick out “pirate” but I’ll be curious how many are able to answer this one correctly.

#18: The students have heard “rigolo” and this word even appears in Trotro’s theme song.  In addition, they should be able to eliminate the distractors based on previously-learned vocabulary.

While there’s nothing especially innovative about this assessment format, after completing many similar tasks during their first semester of language study most of my level 1 students are pretty accurate when completing this type of formative assessment.

Question #3: How should interpretive listening be assessed? I did want to make a point about grading these formative assessments.  Although I do my best to create questions that are mostly at the students’ current proficiency level, with a few items thrown in to encourage “stretch,” I rely heavily on my students’ results to determine how close I came to hitting this target.  Therefore, I do not decide how to grade these assessments until I have data on how the class scored as a whole.  In other words, this particular formative assessment will not necessarily by worth 18 points.  If, for example, the highest score is 16, I might make this the maximum score. For teachers that do not record a score on formative assessments, this isn’t an issue of course.  I only suggest that we expect and allow for student errors when assessing interpretive listening (even using objective evaluations) just as we do when assessing the other modes.

I’d love to hear from any of you who are willing to share your experiences and ideas about assessing listening with novice learners!

Image credit:

A literature-based Christmas lesson for Novice High learners


Although I created a complete unit on the theme of Christmas for my French 1 students, my curriculum allowed me to spend only a few days on Christmas with my French 2 and French 3 students.  Since these students had learned Christmas vocabulary and French holiday traditions in previous years, I decided to focus on literature-based activities and assessments for these students. I felt that it was especially important for my French 2 students to get some exposure to narrative texts, as they have read primarily informational texts so far this year.  Although my French 3 students have read a few Petit Nicolas stories, I knew they would enjoy reading and writing holiday-themed stories during the last few days before Winter Break.

I began this lesson by having the students read a Christmas-themed story.  I prepared a simple set of English comprehension questions to help guide their comprehension, but did not assess them.  The purpose of this first story was to provide a model of a narrative text.  The French 2 students read Le cadeau du Père Noël (le cadeau) and answered these questions : lecadeau The French 3 students read La Galette de Père  Noël (la galette) and answered these questions: galette

Next, I had the students fill out the following graphic organizer with the plot elements for the story that they read.  Because I had never specifically taught plot elements in the past, I didn’t know what background knowledge they had regarding narrative texts. Fortunately, they were able to match up the French vocabulary for various plot elements to those that they had learned in language arts classes and were able to complete the graphic organizer in a few minutes. This is the graphic organizer I prepared for this activity: conte_graphicorg

Now that the students had reviewed the plot elements of a story, they were ready to begin writing their own.  I passed out a blank copy of the same graphic organizer, and asked the student to fill it out with information about their own story.  I hoped that by beginning with this step, the students might be less overwhelmed than if I had just asked them to make up a French story.  Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, the students seem very excited about writing their stories and one even mentioned that, “This is the most fun thing we’ve ever had to write in French.”

Now that each of the students has an outline of his/her story, I am going to have them continue to work with narrative texts over the next few days as they complete a series of learning stations (which will be their IPA for this mini-unit, as well as their Midterm Exam grade).  At the Listening Station, they will watch to 2-3 videos about Santa Claus and complete a comprehension guide.  At the Reading Station, they will read another Santa-themed story and complete an interpretive reading assessment, while at the Writing Station they will write the first drafts of their stories. The French 2 classes will have an additional Interpersonal Speaking station at which the students will describe the pictures on Christmas-themed stickers to a partner who will choose the correct match from his/her set of stickers.

French 2 Learning Stations/IPA:French 2 Noel IPA     French 3 Learning Stations/IPA: noel_ipa 3

Note: I have one French 3 student whose religion prevents her from participating in any activity which relates to any type of holiday/birthday celebration.  These are the alternative reading and listening activities that I developed for her: Alternate Interpretive

After the students have completed these stations, they will produce a final draft of their story as well as present it orally to the class.  I think these presentations will be a great way to use the block of time that is set aside for our midterm exams, as the students will have already completed the other portions of their performance-based exam while at their learning stations.  For the presentations, the students will prepare a Google Presentation a visual aid to support their storytelling.  The images on the Google Presentation can be drawings, clipart, photographs, etc.—any media that will help the students retell their story and help their audience (classmates) to comprehend it.  I know the students are nervous about this part of the assessment, but I explained that they don’t need to memorize their written story exactly, they just need to summarize/retell it to the class.

The students seem excited about this project and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re able to produce!



Joyeux Noël : A unit for Novice Learners


One of the great things about being a French teacher is that a wide variety of themes can be used to advance the proficiency levels of the students.  For this reason, I’ve always felt very comfortable teaching a unit on Christmas.  I know that the students will be introduced to a variety of vocabulary and structures as they complete the interpretive tasks in this unit and that the fluency and accuracy they develop through the interpersonal and presentational tasks will increase their overall proficiency.  While I have always focused on Christmas as a target culture celebration (avoiding religious-themed texts), the diversity of my students this year makes this essential.  In my French 1 class alone, I have students from 17 different countries!  As a result, my activities will focus on vocabulary acquisition and Francophone culture, with few or no personalized responses.

I will begin this unit by passing out a packet with the communicative goals, vocabulary, and structures for this unit.  In my French 1 class, I am going to concentrate on question words as a structure.  I chose this structure because of its important role in increasing proficiency in the Interpersonal mode.  I’ve introduced the vocabulary by presenting each word in the context of a sentence, which is depicted in a picture.  I’m hoping that this will help the students increase their sentence-length communication as we work on the vocabulary.  Here’s the packet:2014 packet_noel

For the next week the students will begin memorizing the vocabulary through a variety of activities.  For the first couple of days we will play a Loto game that I purchased from Teacher’s Discovery.  This helps the students hear the correct pronunciation of the words over and over again.  While I sometimes call just the isolated word, at other times I say a sentence which includes the word.  The winners have to say the words in their winning row, which enables me to provide further feedback on pronunciation. After we play as a whole class, I also have them play in small groups, with the students taking turns calling the words they need to make a Bingo.  This enables me to circulate around the room, providing additional feedback on pronunciation.

In addition to the Loto game, the students complete a variety of interpersonal activities to practice the vocabulary as well as increase their fluency and ability to negotiate meaning.  In the following document I have included three separate partner matching activities— each focusing on either snowmen, Christmas trees, or Santa Claus.  For each of these activities the students will number a sheet of paper according to the number of pictures in the activity.  They will then take turns describing a picture to their partner, who will tell them the number or letter of the picture on their paper which is the same as the picture that their partner describes.  Each partner will fill in the letter next to the corresponding number on their sheet of paper.  While I don’t grade these papers, I will often do a quick formative assessment in which I describe five of the pictures and they write down the corresponding number or letter, depending on which they have on their paper.  In this way I don’t penalize a student whose partner has given him/her the wrong number or letter during the interpersonal activity.  Here’s a document with the activities:noel_matching

In addition to these matching activities, I’ve created several activities which require partners to describe their picture in order to figure out which items are missing.  These are easy to create by beginning with a coloring page (see Google Images), printing two copies, and whiting out several items from each copy and then photocopying the originals.  I also have used Christmas stickers to make activities in which a pair of students are each given the same ten stickers (stuck onto cut up index cards).  One student places the stickers in a row and then describes each sticker to his/her partner (a binder between the two prevents them from seeing each other’s stickers).  After all ten pictures are described, they remove the binder to check whether they completed the activity correctly.

Throughout this week, the students will also complete a variety of interpretive reading activities designed to teach them about holiday celebrations in Francophone and other cultures.  I have included some interpersonal activities with these readings, but have changed the context of these interview questions so that they are not Christmas specific.

In this activity, the students read about Christmas traditions throughout the world and complete an interpretive activity: Quelques traditions de Noel dans le monde

In this one, they complete an interpretive activity about Christmas shopping, and then interview a partner as a follow-up interpersonal activity: Shopping de Noel dans le monde

The presentational activities that the students do during this unit will mostly involve describing pictures orally and in writing.  This skill is appropriate to their proficiency level and will avoid requiring the students to use the vocabulary in a personalized context, which I don’t feel would be appropriate for these students.

Here’s the IPA that I prepared for this unit: noel_ipa

For the interpretive listening the students will watch a video about a donkey who goes sledding.  For the Interpersonal speaking, they will take turns describing holiday pictures in order to decide whether each one is the same or different.  For the Presentational writing they will write an e-mail about French holiday traditions and for the Interpretive reading they will read an article about European holiday traditions.

Joyeux Noël!