Monthly Archives: August 2014

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!

How to Maintain 90% on the First Day of School

My first challenge in meeting my goal of 90% target language use this year was in planning the first day of school for my French 1, 2, 3, and 4/5 class.  While I was confident that I could skip the reading of the syllabus, which bores us all to tears, I didn’t want to jump right into the first unit either.  I wanted the students to feel confident that they were ready for the year, and also to have a fun first day, so this is what I came up with.

In French 1, I’m going to teach the phrases, Je m’appelle…, Comment tu t’appelles?, Il s’appelle…, and Elle s’appelle…by introducing myself, introducing my student teacher, and then asking various students their names, the names of the others around them, etc.

I felt a good follow up to learning how to give your name would be to be able to spell it, so I’m going to play a video of an alphabet song, and then dictate the spellings of the names of several students in the class. The students will write the letters I dictate on individual whiteboards, and then the student whose name I have spelled will stand up.  If I have enough time, I will then give a short formative assessment in which the students write words that I dictate such as bonjour, Paris, France, etc.  I’ll use my 10% at the end of the period to assign the reading of the syllabus as homework and give the students information about various class procedures.

In French 2, I’m going to have the students interview a partner and then present that person to the class.  Here’s the form that they’ll use to conduct the interview: French2_firstday


In French 3, I’m going to have the students use pictures on their cell phones to discuss their summer vacations and then present the information they find out to the class.

Here’s the handout: French3_firstday


In French 4/5, I’m going to play the M & M game that I’ve seen described on several sites and blogs.  Here’s the directions sheet:


Wish me luck, tomorrow’s the first day with students!

Bonne Rentrée et Bon Courage à Tous!

4 Games to Develop Interpersonal Communication Skills

Games are a great tool to develop students’ interpersonal skills.  While I’ve always used games in my classroom, the types of games have changed as I became more focused on proficiency.  The following games, which I’ve “borrowed” from colleagues over the years, are popular with my students and can be used for a variety of communicative goals.  In addition, these games can become formative assessments as the teacher circulates around the room providing feedback.

Pair Crossword Puzzles

This is one of my students’ favorite games, and it can be used for students at many different proficiency levels, and in many different contexts. This game takes awhile to prepare, but I think it’s worth the effort!

How to play

1. Students are divided into pairs and each is given a partially completed crossword puzzle.  Partner A has the vertical responses filled in, Partner B has the horizontal responses filled in.  There are no clues on the puzzle, just the partially completed puzzle

2. The students take turns asking their partner to give them oral clues for the words that are not filled in on their puzzles.

Partner A: Quelle est la réponse pour numéro deux?

Partner B : C’est une légume orange.

Partner A : C’est une carotte ?

Partner B : Non, elle est ronde.

Partner A : C’est une citrouille ?

Partner B : Oui, c’est une citrouille.

How to prepare (using

1. Make a list of words that will appear in the puzzle.  The clue isn’t important, so I just use 1, 2, 3 as the clues, because it’s quick. You need to press enter after each item.  I type this in a Word document, rather than in program so that I’ll have it in my files.  Here’s an example of a word list (but you’ll probably want to have at least 20 words):

carotte 1

citrouille 2

banane 3

chou 4

2. Go to and choose Criss-Cross.

3. Type a title for your puzzle, and then go to Step 4 (I usually use the default settings for Steps 2 & 3). Copy and paste your word list in Step 4 and click Create my Puzzle.

4. Print 2 copies of the puzzle, as well as a copy of the word list.

5. Fill in the horizontal answers on one copy and the vertical answers on the other. This is the trickiest part, because the computer randomly places your words in the puzzle.  So the clue for 1 Across might be “3.”  You will have to look back at your word list to see which word was 3 (banane).  This will not be confusing to the kids, because they will never see the clues (see below).

6. Depending on the size of your puzzle, the clues (1, 2, 3, etc.) might be on the bottom of the paper (or it might be on the second page).  Make sure to white them out/cut them off before copying the puzzles to distribute to the students.


Here are some ideas for contexts that work well for this game:

French 1: Family vocabulary (C’est la soeur de ta mère, c’est le père de ton père, etc.)

French 2: Most concrete thematic vocabulary works well (food/house/clothes/school supplies/classes/sports/etc.)

French 3: I use it for thematic vocabulary, but also for stories. (We read a lot of Petit Nicolas in French 3.)  In this case, I don’t necessarily choose new words, but instead focus on key words from the story.  This makes it a great way to practice story-telling skills.  If you had read Little Red Riding Hood, some clues might be C’est ce que la mère a préparé  pour la grand-mère, C’est le personnage qui a tué le loup, C’est ce que la fille aimait porter, etc. The ability to use the language needed for these clues, such as relative pronouns, is a key component in increasing proficiency.

AP French (4/5) I’ve used this game for complex thematic vocabulary, such as in a unit on the environment, as well as to review literature and films.

Jeu de Pyramide

I call the Pyramid game, because it’s based on the game show, $100,000 Pyramid. If you’re old enough to remember this game, you’ll know that the game is based on the first part of the game, not the Big Money (?) part at the end.  Like the pair crossword game, this one involves using circumlocution.  However, it’s played as a whole class activity, rather than in pairs.  I often use this game the day after a pair crossword, because the students will have already practiced describing the words.  Fortunately, this one only takes a few minutes to prepare.

How to play

1. The class is divided into two teams.  The first 2 players on Team A come to the front of the room.  One of them is seated in a chair facing the Smartboard/screen/chalkboard, etc.  The other student has his/her back to the Smartboard/screen/chalkboard.

  1. The student who is facing the screen/board begins by describing the first word on the list  to his/her partner who keeps guessing until s/he has guessed all 5 words or time runs out.  (I think I give them 90 seconds?, but you could experiment to find the amount of time that works best, depending on your group.)
  2. Next, the first 2 players on Team B will come up.  The game continues until every student has had a chance to play.

How to prepare

1. Because I have a projector, I create a powerpoint with a slide for each word list.  In the past, I put them on an overhead.  You could also jot them on the board, if that’s all you have.

Devinez Qui

While the board game Guess Who is a great way to increase students’ ability to describe people, I’ve created paper versions that help students practice a variety of other communicative tasks.

How to play

It’s much easier to show you than explain, so here’s an example for a French I unit on school supplies.  Devinez qui

How to prepare

1. Find 15-20 clip art pictures that represent images related to the theme you are studying and paste them in a Word document.

2. Type a name and then insert a table (I use 1 row, 10 columns) below the name.

3. Copy and paste 10 of the pictures you have selected in the table.

4. Repeat step 2, but vary the pictures.  Ideally, each name will have most of the same pictures because this requires more communication to guess the name. However, you have to make sure that no two names have the exact same pictures.  I’m sure there’s a mathematical way to create a template for this, but I just play with it.


One reason I like this game is that it can be used to develop both vocabulary and grammatical structures. For example:

Vocabulary Items: in a backpack, in a refrigerator, in a bedroom, leisure activities, daily routine, etc.

Grammatical Structures:

1. Students can be directed to ask whether the person will do pictured activities (pictures represent various professions, travel destinations, getting married, different colleges, winning the lottery, buying a house, buying a car, etc.)

2. Students can be directed to ask whether the person did the pictured activities.  I’ve used this with a unit on vacation, so the pictures showed people flying on an airplane, swimming, sailing, picking up shells, etc.

3. Students can be directed to ask whether the person would do the pictured activities if they won the lottery (pictures represent things that could be purchased, vacation destinations, etc.)

Note: When there is doubt as to what the pictures might represent, I include a copy of all of the pictures and phrase explaining what the pictures represents at the top of the handout.

Qui suis-je/Qu’est-ce que je suis?

How to play 

The teacher groups the students in pairs and attaches a paper with a word or picture on one student in each pair.  This student must ask his/her partner questions in order to guess what is written/shown on his back.

How to prepare

As it is traditionally described, this game involves taping the papers to the students’ backs.  As a result, I never used this game because of the amount of transition time required to make the papers, add tape to the pictures, and attach the papers to the students, none of which could be done in advance because there was no way to store 30 pieces of paper with tape on them.  Recently I saw someone describe the same game, but instead of tape, the paper was placed in a blank ID badge holder (see below), that the kids wore so that it hung on their back.  I was able to get a class set of these for only a few dollars, and I’ll use yarn to hang them rather than a lanyard, to save money.



In addition to typical novice vocabulary themes, I thought this game might work well for more content-based units that I use with my French 3 classes such as artists (or paintings), endangered animals, historical figures, Fairy Tales, etc.



What games do you use to develop your students’ interpersonal communication?

The Ugly Eggplant: A Novice-High Unit on Food Waste



I’ll start this post by admitting that I knew nothing about European Parliament’s resolution to reduce food waste until the adorable ads, videos, and infographics on this topic started appearing on my Pinterest feed.  I was excited to develop this theme because I thought the visuals would pique the students’ interest in the topic. Although I originally thought I would add this theme to my AP curriculum (because of its fit with Global Challenges), I realized as I began to create learning activities that students at a lower proficiency level would be able to interpret the materials I had chosen. I loved the idea of being able to introduce an AP Theme at this level of instruction!

Unit Goals/Can-Do Statements

I chose the following Novice High ACTFL Can-Do Statements as the learning goals for this unit.

Presentational Writing: I can write basic information about things I have learned.

Presentational Writing: I can write information about my daily life in a letter, blog, discussion board, or email message.

Presentational Speaking: I can present basic information about things I have learned using phrases and simple sentences.

Presentational Speaking: I can present information about others using phrases and simple sentences

Interpersonal Communication: I can exchange information using texts, graphs, or pictures.

Interpersonal Communication: I can exchange some personal information.

Interpretive Listening: I can understand simple information when presented with pictures and graphs.

Learning Activities

This unit continues three lessons on the theme of food waste, each of which is organized around 1 or more authentic infographics/visuals.  I’m anticipating that each lesson will probably take 1.5-2 class periods.

Hook: I’ve included a short video as a hook for each lesson.

Interpretive Tasks (Reading):

Lesson #1 and #3 begin with an A/B interpretive task.  Students will be divided into pairs and assigned either the Partner A or the Partner B infographic + corresponding comprehension guide.

Lessons #2 begins with an authentic visual listing ways to prevent food waste.

Interpersonal Tasks:

In Lesson #1 and #3, the students will discuss the information from their respective infographics in order to complete a graphic organizer.

In Lesson #2, the students will interview each other about their own habits as they refer to food waste.

Presentational Tasks:

Speaking: Each lesson includes a directive to be prepared to present the information from the interpersonal task orally.  I will call on just a few students to do so each time, as a formative assessment.

Writing: Each lesson has a written task which involves synthesizing the information from the interpretive/interpersonal tasks.  In Lesson #1, they will write a message in which they summarize what they learned about food waste.  In Lesson #2, they will write a note to their partner, based on his/her responses to the interview questions.  In Lesson #3, they will write a short report comparing food waste in France and Canada.

Interpretive Tasks: Listening

At the end of each unit I included an authentic video and corresponding comprehension guide.  I’ve placed this task at the end of the unit because I think that the students will be more prepared for it after completing the other tasks.  I am expecting these tasks to be extremely challenging for the students and I would only consider their work as a formative assessment. In addition, I will provide extensive support in terms of playing the video several times, stopping the video at key points, or arranging to have the students complete the activities individually, using the classroom computers, so they can pause and replay as needed.

Here’s a link to the unit Le Gaspillage Alimentaire

(I’ll include the IPA in my next post).

Feel free to use any of these activities if you find they fit with your style and curriculum—just proofread for errors, especially since I haven’t used them yet.

I’d love to hear any feedback you have on this unit!

Do French Women Have Hairy Armpits?: An Intermediate Unit on Cultural Stereotypes

Today I’ve decided to share a unit I developed on the theme of French/American stereotypes for my combined French 4/5 class.  I’ve never taught a unit on this theme before, but I think it will be a great way to start the year with this class!

These are the steps I used to create this unit (which you can download using the link at the bottom of the post).

1. Choose a theme

The theme of cultural stereotypes was suggested by a colleague in my district and I think it will be a high-interest topic for these students.  I like to make sure that I’m addressing the AP themes and contexts for this class, because some of the students will be taking the AP Test at the end of the year.  The theme of cultural stereotypes will touch on each of the following AP themes/contexts.  (I added the notes in parentheses).

Theme: Global Challenges / Les défis mondiaux

  • Diversity Issues / La tolerance (Stereotypes)
  • Health Issues / La santé (Smoking)
  • Nutrition and Food Safety / L’alimentation (Typical foods)
  • Peace and War / La paix et la guerre (French and war)

Theme: Contemporary Life / La vie contemporaine

  • Leisure and Sports / Les loisirs et le sport (Petanque)
  • Professions / Le monde du travail (Strikes and demonstrations)
  • Travel / Les voyages (Tourism)

Theme: Personal and Public Identities / La quête de soi

  • Gender and Sexuality / La sexualité (« Feminine » characteristics of French men, sexual behavior)
  • Nationalism and Patriotism / Le nationalisme et le patriotisme (French and war)

Theme: Families and Communities / La famille et la communauté

  • Age and Class / Les rapports sociaux (social roles)
  • Citizenship / La citoyenneté (social mores)
  • Friendship and Love / L’amitié et l’amour (stereotypes about women, sexual behavior)

Theme: Beauty and Aesthetics / L’esthétique

  • Ideals of Beauty / Le beau (Ways of dress/make-up)

2. Develop goals for the unit.

To develop the goals for this unit, I looked at the ACTFL Can-Do Statements for the Intermediate level of proficiency and modified them to fit the specific content of the unit.  I modified Intermediate Mid (Interpersonal/Presentational) and Intermediate High (Listening/Reading) Can-Do Statements when writing the following goals.

Interpersonal Communication: I can exchange information about cultural stereotypes.

Presentational Speaking: I can give a short presentation on a cultural stereotype.

Presentational Writing: 1) I can write a short report on a cultural stereotype.  2) I can write a message to clarify cultural stereotypes.

Interpretive Listening: I can understand a few details in a simple video about cultural stereotypes. (Intermediate High)

Interpretive Reading: I can understand the main idea and a few facts in an article about cultural stereotypes. (Intermediate High)

3. Write the IPA. 

I will discuss the process I use to write an IPA in a future post!

4. Plan the learning activities.

The final step to planning the unit is choosing which activities I will give my students so that they will achieve the goals I have determined for the unit.  I have included the following learning activities in this unit:

1. A small group discussion of French cultural stereotypes + graphic organizer

2. An introductory video

3. A reading activity (authentic online article about stereotypes)

4. A listening activity (youtube video about stereotypes)

5. A small group discussion to synthesize information from the article and video

6. A quick research activity regarding a cultural stereotype

7. A short oral presentation to present research findings

8. An essay about French-American stereotypes

5. Administer the IPA (See below for the link)

 I’d love to hear from any of you who have addressed the theme of cultural stereotypes!

Here’s a link to a packet of learning activities: Stereotype_Unit

Here’s a link to the IPA: advfr_unit1IPA

(Edit 10/22/19: The link to the reading is no longer valid. Click here for a Google copy.)

Comics: Now that I’ve pinned them, what do I do with them?


In the year or so that I’ve been active on Pinterest, I’ve collected quite a few French comics on various subjects.  Although I’ve dutifully pinned each one to the appropriately-themed board, I was never quite sure what to do with them. On a few occasions I tried projecting the comics on the screen and asking the students what they thought they meant, but that was as far as I got.

This summer I took a little bit of time to compile some of the comics I’d pinned about school for my first French 3 unit of the year.  I pasted each one onto a document and added a few target language questions to spark discussion. I included questions that were related to the comic, as well as personalized questions on the same theme.  I tried to anticipate what vocabulary the students might need, and included a couple of key words for each image.

I’m going to try using these comics as a “hook” at the beginning of each class during this unit.  I’ll project a slide of the comic at the beginning of the period, and give the students a few minutes to discuss the questions in French with a partner. As they’re discussing, I’ll circulate and give feedback/formative assessment to a few of the dyads. Then I’ll select a couple of students to present their responses to the whole class. I’ll also give these students feedback/formative assessment.  In this way, all of the students will begin the period with 5-10 minutes of interpersonal communication and I will have had a chance to provide individualized feedback to everyone after a few class periods.

While I intend to use these comics as a springboard to spoken production, I could also have the students respond to the questions in writing.  This would be an effective way to ensure that I had a few minutes to take attendance, conference with absent students, etc. at the beginning of class.  I would then provide feedback to using a written/presentational rubric.

Here’s the document I put together with the comics and questions about school for my French 3 students: french3unit1comics

Do you use comics in your teaching?  How do you incorporate them into your lessons?

Formative Assessments: What Not to Do

I clearly remember the excitement I felt in my first workshop about formative assessments.  I was thoroughly convinced that by giving quizzes over each (grammatical/vocabulary) learning goal, re-teaching the students who scored less than 80% on these quizzes, and then retesting them on the same material, I would ensure that all of my students would be successful in learning the language. Always willing to reinvent the wheel, I dutifully began setting measurable goals, writing several different formative assessments for each goal, planning remedial activities for the students who scored less than 80% on the quizzes, and developing enrichment activities for the students who had mastered the goal the first time.  I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do and my administrators were happy to check the “uses formative assessment to guide instruction” boxes on my annual evaluations.

If only I could contact each one of those students and apologize for putting them through that process!  The students who struggled with grammatical accuracy continued to suffer through boring exercises while those that had mastered the verb conjugations, pronoun substitutions, adjective agreement, etc. were able to spend time on the authentic reading and listening activities that I had developed so that they would have something “fun” to do while I worked with their classmates.   The problem was that even when the “low achievers” were eventually able to show mastery on the structural learning goals on the objective formative assessments, these skills did not translate to a high level of proficiency on the performance-based summative assessments. To make matters worse, these students never had the opportunity to spend time on the interpretive activities that would have no doubt increased their proficiency in a more meaningful way that the “drill and kill” activities I used for remediation.

It now seems to me that the mistake I made was not in accepting the value of formative assessments, but in failing to consider what the terms “data” and “differentiation” would mean in a proficiency-based classroom.  At that point in my understanding, I defined data as a numerical value, leading to my mistaken assumption that my formative assessments needed to have right and wrong answers so I could determine my arbitrary 80% cutoff score. Furthermore, I considered differentiation to refer to dividing students into separate groups based on their score and to give each group entirely different types of assignments.  While these understandings may have worked in other subject matters, they did not lead to greater language proficiency!

As my understandings have involved, I have modified my definition of data and differentiation.  Rather than a score on a grammar quiz, I will now derive data by completing a rubric on performance-based formative assessments.  By providing feedback rather than a score on their work, I hope to encourage my students to focus on their learning and not their grade.  Differentiation is inherent in this new framework, as the individualized feedback provides the information the student needs to progress along the proficiency path.  Students will be given multiple performance-based formative assessments throughout the unit, and then encouraged to use the feedback they receive to set goals for the summative assessment.  As an added benefit of these new grading practices, I am no longer correcting stacks of grammar quizzes or entering multiple columns of scores into my gradebook.  Instead, my students will now submit a portfolio showing their achievement on a formative assessment for each proficiency-based learning goal.  I will assign a score only on the portfolio, which will be based on both the quality of the performance and the student’s goal-setting.

Click here to see the rubrics I use for formative performance-based assessments: Formative Rubrics

Click here to see the portfolio guide that I use for student goal-setting: Portfolio de Progrès 

How do you use formative assessments in your class?


Separation Anxiety: Planning a Novice Low unit without even looking at the textbook.

With less than two weeks before school starts I’m trying to get my first couple of units planned for each of the four courses that I teach.  As I continue on my journey to leave the textbook behind in favor of a proficiency-based approach, I find the beginners (French 1) the most challenging group.  There’s something a little scary about being solely responsible for deciding what they need to know at each step along the way!

As I planned their curriculum for the year, I decided that after a week or so spent on greetings, I would begin by teaching them the vocabulary and structures they would need to talk about school supplies.  It seemed to me that if they successfully acquired this vocabulary, it would be an important first step in my maintaining a 90% target language classroom.

I began the process of planning this unit by choosing the authentic materials that I would use to introduce the vocabulary to the students. As you can see by downloading the link below, I came up with an office supply website, two YouTube videos where teens presented their new school supplies, and a school supply list from a French middle school.

For each of these resources I developed both Interpersonal and Presentational tasks to reinforce the vocabulary from the Interpretive activity.  Each of these tasks will result in a formative assessment, as I will collect and assess the Interpretive tasks (Reading/Listening), assess some of dyads for the Interpersonal tasks (by spending a few minutes with various pairs as they complete the task), randomly select pairs to orally present the information gleaned from the interpersonal task (Presentational-Speaking), and collect and assess the Presentational Writing task.

Although I did not have a specific grammatical/structural goal for this unit, I found that I was incorporating the verb avoir into most of the interpersonal activities that I developed– an important novice level structure.  While I haven’t yet written the Integrated Performance Assessment for this unit, I feel comfortable that I can expect the students to use this structure (at least the first and second person singular forms) on the interpersonal task on this evaluation.

If you are looking for proficiency-based activities to teach school supply vocabulary to French 1 students, feel free to use any of these activities—and make sure to let me know how it goes!

Here’s the document with the activities: schoolsupplieslessons

For those of you who are farther along in the process of proficiency-based teaching, please consider sharing the process you use to plan a unit without relying on the vocabulary/structures presented in the textbook.

I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

How not to go crazy or Why I’m going to try portfolio assessment

As I become more proficiency-oriented in my teaching practices, I find myself devoting more and more time preparing lessons for the six classes (four different preps)  that I teach each day.   Finding authentic resources and developing proficiency-based lessons and assessments require an enormous amount of time, but are one of my favorite aspects of teaching!  However, these types of lessons generate more open-ended products that require greater amounts of time to grade—and more scores to record. Last year I found myself working an average of 80 hours a week.  As much as I love my job, this did not feel like a balanced, healthy lifestyle!  As a result, I spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how I can reduce the amount of time I spend grading and recording student scores, while still ensuring that my students receive the feedback they need to improve proficiency.

I began by identifying the following problems with my current grading practices:

#1: I record too many grades in my online gradebook!  The amount of time that I spend on the monotonous task of recording student scores on every in-class activity, homework assignment, formative assessment, etc. has become overwhelming.  Due to the sheer number of scores that my students accumulate in one quarter, the grades are so diluted that each one makes very little difference to their overall grade.  (I use a weighted system in which the categories Speaking, Reading, Writing, Listening, and Miscellaneous are each worth 20% of the total grade.) As a result, I am spending an enormous amount of time correcting papers and recording scores that are not going to change any student’s overall course grade. As a further challenge to my already limited time resources, each of these individual scores has the potential to generate an e-mail that must be answered from an anxious parent or student, many of whom are constantly checking (and questioning) each gradebook entry.

Problem #2: I do not encourage my students to take ownership of their learning. When I assess myself on my school’s annual goal-setting questionnaire, I always score lowest on the portion having to do with student self-assessment/goal-setting.  It has been difficult for me to share the responsibility for monitoring student progress with those who are the largest stakeholders—the students themselves.  As I began to spend more and more time on maintaining records of student achievement, compiling data from formative assessments, planning remedial activities, etc., the students have become more and more passive in their own learning. Those who are motivated by high grades look only at the score they’ve earned on a given assignment while those that are less grade-motivated crumple up their returned papers without even looking at the scores.  Neither group devotes much attention to the carefully constructed feedback I have provided on their work.

Possible Solution: Portfolio of Progress Assessment 

In order to address these problems, I’m going to try portfolio assessment for the first time.  I’m not exactly sure what this will look like yet, but these are my current thoughts:

1. The students will continue to complete proficiency-based interpretive, interpersonal and presentational activities throughout each unit of instruction.  I will collect their work and provide feedback, but not a score, before returning the papers to the students.

2. At the end of the unit, I will have students compile and submit a portfolio of their best work for each language mode/skill.  I will have the students complete a form in which they reflect on their progress and explain why they have included each work sample.

The grade on this portfolio would be the major (only?) Miscellaneous grade for the unit, while the Integrated Performance Assessment, would provide the Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking scores that make up the other 80% of the overall grade.

I am hoping that being able to record one portfolio grade, rather than a separate score for each formative assessment/activity/assignment will significantly reduce the amount of time I spend entering scores into the computer.  Completing a feedback checklist is also less time-consuming than the calculations required to assign a score, further decreasing the time spent on grading without limiting the amount of feedback that the students receive.

In addition, I believe that this portfolio assessment will encourage the students to be more reflective of their own learning, as they will be choosing some of the work that will be used to formulate their grade.  Furthermore, they may be more motivated to consider the feedback they receive in order to improve before having to submit their portfolios.

I’ll let you know how the Progress Portfolio works in my classes in a few weeks, but in the meantime I’d love to hear from any of you who use portfolio assessment in your classes!

Update: I was not able to make this system work for me!  I felt like I was spending more time, rather than less time grading and the students didn’t really “buy in” to the idea.  I also felt very disorganized!  As a result, I discontinued this process after the first few weeks of school.  I know that other teachers produce great results with portfolios, and I may revisit the idea in the future.

Five Steps to Creating a Lesson Using an Infographic

As a follow-up to my earlier post about using infographics, I’ve written a five-step plan to designing a lesson based on an infographic.

1. Find the infographic.

Most of the infographics I use have come from Pinterest.  I have a separate board for each theme that I teach, so that as I begin each unit this year I will start by checking the appropriate board.  Feel free to follow me (Madameshepard) if you need someplace to start.  I have also found infographics on my own by typing in a theme (vacances/education/famille/etc.)  and the word “infographie” under Google Images at  When choosing infographics, I look for those that are easily comprehensible (based on visual clues, previously-learned vocabulary/cognates, etc.), contain a wealth of cultural information, and are relevant to the students’ lives.

2. Prepare the infographic for student use.

Many infographics are too large to be printed in their entirety on a sheet of paper for the students (the print would be too small to read).  I use the snip tool to snip separate sections of an infograph and then copy the section to a Word document.  I can then enlarge each snip so that it can be read by the students.  I also like to project the original infographic so that the students can see how it is set up, how colors are incorporated, etc. in the original image.

3. Design an interpretive task.

I use a modified version of the ACTFL Implementing Integrated Performance Assessments ( to design my interpretive tasks.  Most of my infographic interpretive tasks include the following sections: Key Word Recognition, Main idea, Supporting Details, Guessing Meaning from Context, and Cultural Comparisons. I found that these activities really help the students to build the vocabulary they need for the unit in a contextualized way.

4. Design an interpersonal task.

For novice learners, I provide personalized questions related to the content of the infographic.  The students interview each other and then I choose a few students to present their information to the class as a formative assessment.  For intermediate learners I design a more open-ended task such as a role play, graphic organizer, etc. These interpersonal tasks are a great way to help the students develop the skills they’ll need on the IPA.

5. Design a presentational task.

The final step to using the infographic is to design a presentational task.  I usually make this a written task that requires the students to relate the content of the infographic to their own experiences.  The students can use the feedback they receive on this task to guide their summative writing performance on the IPA.

Here’s another lesson using an infographic for a unit on Vacations. vacationlesson2

How do you incorporate infographics in your lessons?