Monthly Archives: November 2014

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!

Le Petit Prince: A communicative approach


Le Petit Prince: A Communicative Approach

Although my teaching has evolved considerably over the past 25 years, one constant has been Le Petit Prince.  This novel has been part of my French 4 curriculum nearly every year and I love it more every time I teach it! Fortunately, my family understands my passion for this character, and I now have a wonderful collection of Little Prince memorabilia including jewelry, a lunchbox, and even a pair of hand-painted shoes.  Most of my students grow to love this novel as much as I do and often buy their own copies after they graduate. I was especially touched to receive an e-mail last spring from a former student who wrote to me to share an article he had read about the novel in The New Yorker.  Although I hadn’t realized it when he was in my class, this novel had meant a lot to this student and he was excited about coming across the article years after reading the novel in my class.

Last year, because my French 4 students were placed in the same class as my French 5 students (who had read the novel the previous year), I had to take a short break from my beloved novel.  For this reason, I’m especially excited to teach it this year!  Although I won’t start until January, I’ve spent the last two weekends revamping my materials in order to make sure that my approach reflects my current understanding of best practices.  I’ve included a link to the workbook I created at the end of this post.  Here’s a description of how I’ll teach each chapter. (The information in parentheses refers to the corresponding workbook section.)

#1: Advance Organizer (Part A)

For each chapter I’ve included a question or two related to the theme of the chapter.  The students will discuss these questions in order to prepare for the reading.

#2: Vocabulary (Parts B/C)

I’ll start each chapter by presenting a few key words from the chapter.  I’ve provided pictures for the concrete nouns (and some verbs) and French definitions for the others.  I’ll project the pictures on the screen and ask the questions which incorporate the new vocabulary so that they are familiar with the words before we begin reading the chapter.

#2: Introduction to the text (Part D)

I’ll begin by playing the animated audio version of the text I found on Youtube.  Here’s a link to the Chapter 1 video: . After they’ve listened, they’ll read the text and answer the comprehension level true/false questions for the chapter. The students will work in groups to read and answer these questions, and we will then go over them as a class.  I have chosen true/false questions here, because I find that they encourage discussion more than other types of objective questions.  When I go over this section, I always ask students to justify their responses with specific details from the text.  They have to explain why the item is either true or false.

#3: Inference Questions (Part E)

In this section, students read inference-based questions and choose whether they agree or disagree with each statement, providing evidence from the text.  I often have the students respond to these individually, and then discuss with their groups.  The nature of the questions encourages both an in-depth reading of the text and lively discussions, as there is often not a clear cut “right” answer.

#4: Role-Ply (Part F)

Next, the students work with a partner on the role-play based on a hypothetical discussion related to the chapter.  These role plays provide additional opportunities for interpersonal communication, as well as help the students to synthesize the material from the chapter.

#5: Key Quotes (Part G)

Lastly, the students discuss a key quote from the chapter and how it relates to their own personal experience.

While I developed these activities to maximize opportunities for interpersonal communication, they can also be adapted for other modes or for assessment purposes.  Because my grading system is based on language skill categories, I include assessments for each skill through this instructional unit. Therefore, I might occasionally have the students work individually on the true/false questions and submit them for an assessment of their accuracy (interpretive reading), rather than discussing them in class.  I might also prepare comprehension questions for the videos, in order to assess their interpretive listening skills. The “Citation Clé” sections can easily be turned into a writing assessment, rather than/after being discussed orally in class. I record interpersonal speaking grades as I circulate among the students each day, but students could also prepare a response to an inference question, quote, or role-play, for an assessment of their presentational speaking.

Here’s a link to the workbook I’ve developed. Le Petit Prince .  Although I condensed it into 25 pages for the purposes of sharing, I will probably add spaces for student responses so that the copy I give them will be considerably longer.  Also, since I just finished this work I haven’t yet seen it in printed form or used it in class you’ll probably find some typos or other errors—please accept my apologies in advance!  I’ll update the link if I find any glaring errors!

I’d love to hear your feedback on these materials, as well as your ideas for this novel.  Please share by adding a comment using the link above!

La Famille: An IPA for Novice Learners

familyI have just enough time for a quick post before heading off to work this morning, so I thought I’d share the IPA that my French 1 students will be taking today. In this unit the students learned family vocabulary and how to describe people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really happy with the reading I had used for the IPA on this unit last year, so it was back to the drawing board on this one. I think this one will work a lot better.

As you can see by clicking on the link below, the students will read the post of a family who is advertising for an au pair. I loved that this resource gave me a chance to talk to my students about a way they might continue their language study—maybe one of them will be an au pair someday? It is something that could be a real possibility with all the benefits it holds! The text is also rich with other vocabularies they have learned this year, such as sports and activities. Although the post does not provide much visual support, there are a lot of cognates and other contextual support. I included the link to the website, as well as the snipped copy of the post that I chose. I didn’t have enough time to read many of the posts on the website, and there might be others that work even better.

While I would have liked to find a listening excerpt that supported this theme, the videos that I found by au pairs would have been too difficult for these novice learners. Instead, I had to go with a “not quite authentic” video in which a native speaker describes himself, his family and his activities. I’ll keep working on this for next year—if you have any ideas, please share!

For the presentational writing portion of this IPA, the students will write their own posts in search of an au pair for their own families. Although having them write physical descriptions for this prompt is a bit of a stretch, I like the way that it recycles previously learned vocabulary and structures. The presentational speaking repeated this prompt, but this time the students were given the context that they were making a video to send to the au pair agency. With my students, it worked better to just have them present in class rather than making an actual video.

Link to IPA:Family IPA (revised)

What authentic texts do you use to assess the students on family and descriptions? Have you used an authentic recorded text with this unit?

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?