Monthly Archives: January 2015


  My apologies to anyone who tried to download the IPA from this post: .  I inadvertently linked the wrong document for the sample IPA.  I’ve now corrected my mistake in the original post.   Please accept my sincere apologies and chalk the error up to my being an overworked, sleep-deprived teacher and not a completely incompetent one.  In the future, I’d be eternally grateful to any of you who are willing to take the time to make me aware of any similar, glaring errors !

Bon Appétit : A proficiency-based unit for Novice learners (Part 3)

bon-appetitAs promised, I’ve prepared additional lessons for my French 1 Mealtime unit around the themes of school cafeterias and restaurants.  If you’re new to my blog, you can find the materials for the first part of this unit here ( and the second part here (

Here’s a packet with the new activities Mealtime Part 2 and below I’ve written a short description of how I will implement each lesson.

La Cantine Scolaire (2 -3 days) I’ll begin this lesson my playing the authentic video using the projector and pausing it often so that the students can jot down answers.  Because understanding details from an authentic source such as this one is considerably above their proficiency level, I’ll invite the more proficient students to share their answers and I’ll add additional support by replaying and, if necessary, repeating the pertinent sections of the video so that all students can complete the task. I don’t generally take a grade on these activities, but I think they’re a good way to engage students at the beginning of a class, provide important (if only partially comprehensible) input, and are a rich source for cultural content. The students will then complete an interpersonal activity in which they interview a partner about his/her experiences and opinions of our school cafeteria.  I like to follow up these activities by using the same questions and asking the students to either give their own answer or report back on their partner’s answer.  My students continue to struggle in identifying the subject in a question that they hear, so these questions/answers provide additional practice in making this distinction. Although I have not included it in the packet, I would consider having the students write a short paragraph about their own answers to these same questions as a homework/writing assignment.  On the second day of this lesson the students will read a comic from Astrapi magazine (Pic et Pik p1 Pic et Pik p2) and complete an interpretive activity.  They will then write a list of cafeteria rules based on the language and structures they encountered in the comic.  I have designed this presentational activity to introduce the expression Il faut, as well as to use the vocabulary from the comic. Next, the students will interview a partner about his/her behavior in the cafeteria and then write a note explaining how their own behavior is better than their partner’s, so that they will be chosen as Student of the Month.  Lastly, I have included two other videos about French school cafeterias.  Depending on timing, I might show these videos in a different order than they are presented in the packet.

Le Restaurant (2 days) This lesson posed a real challenge for me.  I need my students to be able to use and understand phrases that are specific to ordering restaurant meals, as this was the goal for my unit and will be assessed in the IPA.   However, I was not able (during the time I had available) to find an authentic video that I could use to provide input or interpretive communication for these phrases. If you have any ideas, please share!!! Given my time constraints, I resorted to having my students watch a series of educational (not authentic) videos to familiarize them with the phrases they will need to know to order meals.  I assigned the first video as homework, so that the students would come to class with a list of the phrases that they would need.  I will start the class period with a silly restaurant song, and then have the students practice a guided restaurant dialogue.  I have several authentic menus that I will pass out to add authenticity to this activity.  The students will then read an infographic (included in packet) about dining out in Paris. On the second day of this lesson, the students will first interview a partner about his/her dining out habits. I will then project the photo (in packet) showing the terms for doneness of meat, before playing the (non-authentic) podcast of a restaurant dialogue.  Lastly, they will read an article about making healthy choices when dining out.

After this lesson, the students will be ready for their IPA, which will consist of the following tasks.

Interpersonal: The students will discuss various items on an authentic menu and then place their order with the waitress (Madame, bien sur!)

Interpretive Listening: The students will watch authentic cartoons depicting mealtimes.

Interpretive Reading: The students will complete an interpretive task on an authentic menu.

Presentational Writing: The students will write a message to their future exchange student about their own eating habits.

As always, I’d appreciate any and all feedback on these materials.

Incorporating Authentic Resources – Do We Really Have To?

   In the past few weeks I have notice that several of my virtual colleagues have questioned the necessity of using authentic materials for interpretive tasks in their World Language classrooms.   Many fabulous language teachers have expressed their uncertainty about whether it is imperative to limit themselves to those materials that were written “by members of the target culture for members of the target culture”.  Reading the blogs, Tweets, and Facebook posts of teachers whom I respect enormously led me to reflect about my own choice to rely almost exclusively on authentic materials in my classroom.

One of the concerns that my colleagues have expressed is that finding appropriate resources is overly time-consuming. I can’t disagree with this one.  It does take a considerable amount of time to find just the right authentic document that will be accessible to our students, but still have the cultural and linguistic content that we are looking for.  Although I don’t have any magic fixes, I do have a couple of suggestions.  Firstly, and most importantly, I think it’s important to find the authentic resources FIRST.  I suggest that before you write your Can-Do statement (or objective, standard, or goal), create a vocabulary list (if you do), create a vocabulary-building activity (if you do), prepare a grammar lesson (if you do), or write a quiz (if you do), etc., that you select the resources your students will read or listen to during the unit and on their Integrated Performance Assessment.   It is much easier to design lessons around the vocabulary and structures in an authentic text than it is to find resources that happen to have those items you had chosen in advance to focus on.  This was a really scary paradigm shift for me.  I was so afraid that I would accidentally “leave something out” if I didn’t find a way to incorporate certain level-appropriate structures in each unit that I teach.  I have slowly realized, though, that if a structure is important enough for students to know, it will usually appear in those materials which are appropriate to their proficiency level.  My second suggestion for reducing research time is to establish a Pinterest board (or similar forum) for each thematic unit in your curriculum.  Hundreds of other French teachers have spent endless hours looking for exactly what I need for each unit I teach and I’m eternally grateful to them for archiving their resources in a way that allows me to benefit from all of their hard work.

The second criticism that I have seen addressed is that students may become frustrated by having to interpret authentic texts.  I think this is where the teacher’s role is vital.  We have to select texts that are appropriate to the proficiency level of our students.  Novice learners need lots of pictures, and only short sentences.  I have found that infographics and picture books can be interpreted within a few weeks of language study.  Secondly, we need to choose appropriate tasks.  The template designed by ACTFL ( ) works really well in my classes.  Although I don’t use every section for each lesson (reserving the full template for IPA’s), the open-ended nature of the tasks, as well as the focus on both top-down and bottom-up strategies have helped even reluctant readers to be very successful.  I can honestly say that my students seldom complain about reading tasks that I assign and I think this is because of the confidence they’ve gained by using the same strategies to approach increasingly complex texts.  As a matter of fact, a level 1 student who has an IEP for a reading disability recently told me that she “likes reading in French” because she’s “good at it.”

The third reason that many teachers give for not relying on authentic materials is a belief that it just isn’t necessary, especially at lower levels.  In my opinion, it is vital to expose students to authentic language from the beginning of their language study for the following reasons:

  1. Authentic materials help students to understand the connection between what they’re learning in class and the real world. When they read a text that was written for members of the target culture, they understand that French is not just an academic discipline that only exists within the classroom walls. When some of my French I students responded to post on a keypal site that I had assigned as an interpretive task, they made a connection that would never have happened if they had read descriptive paragraphs from a textbook.
  2. I think that authentic materials are necessary to ensure that students are being exposed to relevant cultural content. As an American, I am not always familiar with the “products, practices, perspectives” that are pertinent to a unit of study. However, when the authentic resources that I choose will often provide the direction I need to introduce relevant cultural knowledge to my students.
  3. In my opinion, students need to be exposed to language which is not entirely comprehensible. Each time we present our students with teacher- or publisher-created texts, we deny them the opportunity to develop the skills they need to interpret the non-familiar language in an authentic text. As I see it, there is little value in asking a student to demonstrate comprehension of a text that contains only previously-learned vocabulary and structures. Instead, the purpose of interpretive tasks is to use the context provided by the presence of some familiar language to acquire additional vocabulary and structures.

In closing, while we don’t have to rely exclusively on authentic resources when designing our curricula, I think we owe it to our students to do the best we can to incorporate these materials whenever possible.

Bon Appétit : A proficiency-based unit for Novice learners

bon appetitMy goal for today was to complete my French 1 unit on food and mealtimes (See   for the breakfast lessons.). Although I didn’t get everything done that I had hoped to, I wanted to share what I have so far.  Here’s the packet of activities and resources: French 1 Meals Unit

While the packet is fairly self-explanatory, here are a few notes about how this part of the unit is organized.

Les Fruits. (1-2 days) For this lesson I will play a short video with fruit vocabulary using the projector and the students will complete a matching activity in their packets. They will then complete a pair activity in which they describe pictures to a partner who finds the matching picture on his/her own paper. (fruit pair act) I will follow this up with a formative assessment in which I describe a few of the pictures and the students identify which picture I am describing.  The students will then read an article about bananas and complete an abbreviated interpretive task. As a closing activity they will listen to a song about fruits.  I have also included a website for vocabulary practice and worksheet (prendre ws) for this lesson.  Although I’ve managed to avoid grammar/vocabulary worksheets so far with these students, I felt that it was important to focus briefly on form, in order to increase their accuracy and move them along to a Novice High proficiency level.

Les Légumes (2 days) The students will also begin this lesson with a video and matching activity from the Le Monde des Petits series. They will then complete an interpersonal activity (veggiepair) in which they describe pictures to a partner in order to determine whether they have the same or a different picture for each number.  As a formative assessment, I will ask a series of true/false statements about some of the pictures.  I will, of course, only ask questions about the pictures that were the same on both papers.  After this interpersonal activity, the students will watch a video in which a nutritionist talks about eating five fruits/vegetables a day.  Because this video is not from Youtube (which is blocked on my students’ accounts) I intend to have the students complete this activity individually using the department IPads. After the video, the students will interview a partner about their vegetable preferences and then listen to a song about vegetables.  The order of this lesson might change slightly depending on how far we get each day.  I would use the song as either a closing activity or as an introduction at the beginning of a class.  I have again included an accuracy worksheet here (veggie ws), as well as assigned a website for homework that they can use to review vocabulary.

Ce que les Francais mangent (1-2 days) After building the students’ vocabulary with these lessons, I will continue the unit with lessons to develop their knowledge of French eating habits and increase their overall proficiency.  In this lesson, we will first look at a website that shows how much of several different foods/dishes are eaten by the French per second.  After responding in writing to a few questions about the information at this site, the students will interview each other about the frequency with which they eat the same items.  They will then read an article about what the average French person consumes in a year (ce_que-consomme-1-francais) and complete an interpretive task.  Following this activity, they will respond to a series of statements by writing French sentences based on the same article.  Lastly, they will play a Guess Who game (Guess Who) designed to review some of the vocabulary for lunch and dinner dishes.  Because my students are familiar with this game, I did not devote space for the directions.  However, if you’re new to this game, each partner selects the identity of one of the names on the paper.  They then take turns asking questions about what their partner is having to eat in order to determine their partner’s identity.  (Tu prends de la pizza?) This game is easier for students when the papers are placed in plastic page protectors.  This allows them to use dry erase markers to eliminate identities as they ask questions.  I am also able to use this activity on another day, if I need a short filler.

Le Fast Food (2 days) I will begin this lesson by projecting a couple of MacDonald’s commercials.  Although I have included a few comprehension questions in the packet, I would not expect these students to be able to answer them independently.  Instead, I will play the video in its entirety, and then pause it frequently, inviting the students to informally (I just have them shout it out) share anything they were able to understand.  After the video, the students will read an infographic on hamburgers and another on French fries (fries infog) and complete an abbreviated interpretive activity.  For the following activity, they will interview a partner about his/her fast food preferences.  I have provided possible answers, to provide the necessary vocabulary to the students.  As a culminating activity for this lesson, the students will write a paragraph describing their fast food habits.

So, that’s what I have so far.  The final lessons for the unit will be organized around the context of the school cafeteria, and eating out/restaurants.  I’ll post them when I’m finished—make sure to follow the blog for updates!

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have about these lessons and am grateful for any feedback that you have.


7 Steps to Creating an Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA)

yayAlthough I am embarrassed to admit it, I had never heard of an IPA (or IP-Yay, as one of my classes calls them) until May, 2013 when I attended a presentation by my state’s foreign language association.  Because our state was including a student progress measure on our teacher evaluation system for the first time, our association took an active role in encouraging us to use a measurement of student proficiency, rather than as assessment of vocabulary/grammatical accuracy to document our students’ learning.  Although I had been somewhat familiar with various proficiency descriptors, I had never designed my instruction to increase and assess student proficiency until attending this important session.  However, as the result of this presentation and two others that I subsequently attended, I made dramatic changes to my instructional and assessment strategies in order to encourage student proficiency, rather than simply grammar and vocabulary accuracy.  While I read what I found online about IPA’s, I did not have a good overall understanding of the specifics of this type of assessment until I finally stumbled across the manual found here: .  While I make some modifications based on my own teaching situation and students’ needs, I have relied heavily on this manual when developing my own assessments.  However, I am no expert in this process and have not received any specific ACTFL training.  The ideas expressed here reflect only my current understanding of proficiency-based assessment.  What I can say for sure is that the transition from traditional tests to IPA’s, has improved student learning in my classes more than any other change I’ve made during my 25 year teaching career.

Based on my own experience, here are the steps that I suggest when designing an IPA:

  1. Decide what you want to assess. Based on the principle of backwards design, writing the summative assessment is one of the very first steps in developing a unit plan. Therefore, I write my IPA before developing any of my lesson plans for the unit. I recently heard a speaker say, “You teach what you test.”  While this seemed counter-intuitive to me at first, as I thought about it more it made perfect sense.  When we choose how to assess our students, we are demonstrating what we wanted them to learn. If it’s not on the “test,” we probably didn’t think it was that important.  In a proficiency-based classroom, that means that we assess our students’ ability to communicate across the modes of communication.  So, the first step in designing an IPA is to choose a benchmark for each mode based on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements ( ). Note: The bold print statement is the benchmark, and the statements which follow (preceded by a box) are examples.  Sometimes I choose one of the examples, but other times I create my own based on the theme I have chosen for my unit.


  1. Choose an authentic written text. Based on the interpretive reading benchmark I have chosen, I find an authentic, culturally-rich text that will enable the students to demonstrate that they have achieved the benchmark. The type of text that will be appropriate depends on the proficiency-level of the students. Novice learners are highly dependent on using visuals when interpreting so I use infographics, picture books, brochures, catalogues, or comic strips for these students.  Note: Try using Google Images, rather than just Google when searching for texts for these students. Here are some other resources I use for Novice learners: (Although there is a fee for downloading these texts, I have found this to be money well spent.) (Also worth the fee)


While Intermediate Low to Mid learners are able to interpret lengthier texts, they are often unable to understand authentic texts written for their developmental age (in language programs that begin in high school).   These students usually enjoy tapping into their “inner child” by reading magazine articles and online material written for younger students. I find it helpful to use a children’s search engine when researching materials for these students.  Here are a few that I’ve used:


When possible, I use articles from authentic children’s magazines for interpretive tasks. These materials are often more visually rich than online materials. I have found several relevant articles for French 2 students in Astrapi, while I prefer Okapi for my French 3 students. My level 4/5 students are able to interpret the texts written for teenagers in Phosphore.


  1. Write the interpretive reading task. Once I have chosen the authentic text, I write the actual assessment based on the template found here: . While I think the template is self-explanatory, I thought I’d share a few tips for each section.

#1: I write the Key Word Recognition section by typing about the English translation of about 10 words/phrases from the text that I think the students will already know, based on prior instruction or the activities in the unit being assessed. Note: Sometimes I “cheat” here to introduce a new vocabulary word that the students will need in order to interpret the text.  I do so by writing the entire phrase in which the word appears.  When searching for the phrase in the text, they will be able to use the context to determine the meaning of the targeted vocabulary item.

#2: Main Idea.  Most of my students don’t write the main idea until they have completed the Supporting Details section. It would probably make sense to move this section accordingly when typing an IPA.  When assigning a literary text, I change the wording here so that the students are writing a 2-3 sentence summary, rather than a main idea.

#3: Supporting Details. This is the core section of the task, where students will really have a chance to show you what they know. Remember that these are statements, not questions.  The students are not providing answers, they’re writing details to show that they understood more than the main idea the text.  I try to give them a chance to really show off here by writing very general statements, so that they can use as many details as possible.  Although the template suggests writing 8 statements (3 of which will be distractors) I often write more based on the length of the text.  I have noticed that I often learn more about my students’ comprehension from their errors on the distractors than on the details they provide for the “correct” statements.  Because most of my texts are informational in nature, the students can use their background knowledge to provide logical answers, without actually understanding the text.  However, when they provide a detail for a distractor, I know that they are using what they know rather than what they’ve read.  Note: I generally omit the requirement that the students “write the letter of the detail next to where it appears in the text.”  I did not find that this step was difficult to assess and didn’t supply me with any additional information about what the students understood.

#4: Organizational Features.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I sometimes omit this section.  While I recognize that identifying the organizational structure is an important top-down process, I do not feel that assessing this skill provides much additional information about the students’ comprehension of a text.  For novice learners who are interpreting infographics or other simple texts, the organization is so obvious that the students often see this step as needless busywork.

#5: Guessing Meaning from Text.  My students consistently score the lowest on this section of the interpretive task.  As suggested in the ACTFL manual, I type the entire sentence in which the word is located, as well as provide a description of where in the text the sentence is located.  The students’ often respond with an English word that is similar in spelling, but not meaning to the French word.  This indicates to me that they are not using the context clues to infer the meaning of the word.  Because of the difficulty of this task, I usually include more than three items in this section so that students have a greater opportunity for success.  In addition, I’ll continue to encourage them to rely more on context for these items.

#6: Inferences. The ACTFL template gives great examples of appropriate inference tasks.  Make sure to note that for novice learners it’s appropriate to give a choice of possible inferences and have the students choose which one is supported by the text and provide justification.  When I began using this template, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this section demonstrates the depth of the students’ comprehension.

#7: Author’s Perspective. While I think this task is very important for my upper level students, it is often not applicable for the types of texts that Novice learners read.  Although I suppose we could say that the perspective of the “author” of a menu is that the food is delicious, I don’t think requiring the students to explain this is a good use of their time or mine.

#8: Comparing Cultural Perspectives. I again rely heavily on the suggestions given in the ACTFL template for this task.  I have found, however, that the students need more specific directions for this section.  For example, I have had to explain that “It would be written in English.” Is not an acceptable response to the question regarding how the article would be different if it was written for an American audience.  I have also been quite liberal in the type of answer that might demonstrate a perspective, rather than just a product or practice.  While this distinction is an important one, Novice learners are sometimes not able to even identify the relationship between practices and perspectives in their own culture, let alone a culture about which they know very little.

#9: Personal Reaction. I generally omit this section from the interpretive task.  Because the instructions state that the response should be in the target language, I consider it a presentational rather than an interpretive task.  I do consider this prompt, however, when I design the presentational task for the unit.


Although it is writing the interpretive task is the most time-consuming part of designing an IPA, I’m only a little bit embarrassed to say that I think it’s kind of fun.  I like the creativity involved in writing the tasks and always look forward to seeing what the students are able to achieve.


  1. Choose an authentic recorded text. In my initial research on IPA’s, I was surprised to find out that most authors advocated using either a reading OR a listening interpretive task rather than both. Even the ACTFL IPA manual has very little to say about listening comprehension. In my opinion, we do a great disservice to our students if we do not adequately address the importance of interpreting oral texts.  As a matter of fact, I believe that of all communicative tasks, this is the one for which the students need us the most.  They may be able to use Google Translate to interpret written texts or provide comprehensible written messages, but they will not be able to understand what they hear without being exposed to a wealth of authentic recorded texts in an instructional setting.  For these reasons, I nearly always include both an interpretive reading and an interpretive listening task on my IPA’s.  When selecting an appropriate “text”, I rely almost entirely on YouTube videos. Because Novice learners need a lot of visual support, I often use cartoons with them.  Trotro l’Ane, Petit Ours Brun, Caillou and Peppa Pig are a few cartoon characters whose videos I’ve used successfully with Novice learners.  More proficient students are able to interpret amateur videos made by French teenagers on a variety of topics or on authentic instructional videos.  My French 4/5 students can generally interpret news videos related to the topic of study.


  1. Write the interpretive listening task. Unfortunately, the ACTFL IPA manual provides very little direction when it comes to interpreting an oral text. While teachers are encouraged to use the same interpretive template to assess both reading and listening, this would not work very well given the constraints of my teaching situation. Because I have only 8 computers in my classroom, students circulate between the reading and listening sections of the IPA. Therefore, I need to limit the amount of time that an individual students spends at the computer.  The nature of the tasks on the Interpretive template would require the students to listen to the videos in their entirety several times, which would be extremely time-consuming without necessarily demonstrating deeper understanding.  In addition, many of the sections on this template would not adequately address listening comprehension.  It goes without saying that any word or phrase that is written in the target language on the IPA becomes a reading rather than a listening assessment.  While I will continue to evolve in my understanding regarding listening comprehension, I am currently relying heavily on English comprehension questions for the videos I include in my IPA’s.  Although I write the questions in the order in which the students will hear them (to save time), I try to vary the types of questions in order to assess the various levels of comprehension that are included in the ACTFL interpretive template.  In addition to informational questions about what is happening in the video (supporting details), I also ask the students to provide a main idea or summary after watching the video.  When possible, I will also include a few items which require the students to infer the meaning of a new word, based on the context of the sentence (with the understanding that the inclusion of the written sentence will negate the role of listening). When appropriate, I might also include an inference or cultural context question.  Note: because some of the cartoon videos might not come from the target culture, they may not provide a cultural context.  However, I consider them to be authentic in that the French translation was produced for a target culture audience.


  1. Write the interpersonal task. Based on my observation, I think this may be the area in which we have the greatest opportunity for growth. I think that many of us are labeling oral performances as interpersonal when there is little or no negotiation of meaning.  It seems to me that if a student knows in advance what s/he or the other speaker will say, it is not an interpersonal task.  In addition, if a speaker is required only to give answers, rather than also questioning, the task cannot be considered interpersonal.  While Novice Low to Novice Mid learners can only communicate using memorized phrases, this does not mean that they should be expected to reproduce memorized dialogues. For these learners, I often rely on an information gap types of activities to provide contextual support while at the same time allowing for unscripted language use.  For example, students might be given a series of pictures and asked to discuss them in order to ascertain whether each one is the same or different. This type of activity allows for a continuum of proficiency (some will use single words, while others will use simple sentences) and requires each student to both ask and answer questions.  As students become more proficient, they can manage more open-ended tasks such as discussing familiar subjects such as preferences, activities, family, eating habits, etc.  While the actual task will be highly dependent on the theme of the unit, the benchmarks in the ACTFL manual provide many good examples.  Because my upper level classes are organized around a novel or film, rather than a broader theme, I often assign role plays for interpersonal speaking tasks.  Rather than asking them to replay a scene from the film/book, I create a hypothetical situation (which could have, but did not happen) and ask the students to role play the situation.  Although I might allow them advance practice in class, they will not be assigned a role or a partner until I call on them to be assessed.   Note: With more open-ended tasks, I think it’s important to give the students a minimum time limit.  While students might prepare some of their statements in advance, based on the topic, I think it’s the “stretch” that takes place when they run out of things to say that increases proficiency in this skill.


  1. Write the presentational task. Most of my IPA’s include a written presentational task, but not a spoken one. Because I assess their interpersonal skills, it would often be repetitive to also assess their presentational speaking, as they would use many of the same vocabulary and structures. In addition, multiple class periods are required to listen to 30 students present on a particular topic, which I have determined is not the best use of my limited instructional time.  When developing written presentational tasks, I again rely heavily on the wording used in the IPA manual.  Thus, Novice Low-Mid students write lists and Novice High – Intermediate Low students write hypothetical blog posts, e-mails, etc. in which they express their personal experiences as they relate to the theme.  Ideally, this task will be dependent on the interpretive task.  For example, when my French 1 students read an authentic post by a family looking for an au pair, they wrote a similar post for their own family.  Likewise, after my French 2 students read a magazine article about a Canadian student’s typical day, they wrote a magazine article about their own typical day.  Because many of my upper level students will be taking the AP test, I rely heavily on prompts requiring persuasive speech that is expected on this exam.  As with the role plays, I often ask them to write a letter from character in a film/novel to another, persuading him/her to perform some action. Given the nature of each of the Presentational context, in most cases I assign a rough draft of the task as a formative assessment. I then provide feedback on this draft before having them produce a final draft on the IPA.


Whew, I think it took longer to write about it than it does to actually write an IPA!  If you’d like an additional example (or if you’re using the French 2 unit I described in my previous post), here’s the IPA developed for my current French 2 unit.School Unit IPA

As usual, I’d love to hear how IPA’s are working for you as well as any suggestions that you have!

Saying “Au Revoir” to Dr. & Mrs. Vandertramp

Student Waving from DeskMy French 2 students are going to begin the second semester by learning how to discuss what happened at school.  Planning this unit proved to be a huge challenge for me.  While I have managed to focus on meaning, rather than form, in designing their proficiency-based units so far this year, this one would be different.  For the first time, I would be expecting these students to use a different tense when speaking and writing.  I just wasn’t sure how to teach them the rules, without resorting to what I have done for the past 25 years–direct instruction on the conjugation rules for 1) regular verbs, 2) irregular verbs, 3) être (Vandertramp) verbs, and 4) reflexive verbs. Since none of these groups occurs in isolation within authentic sources, I had found myself relying on worksheets and other instructional materials to provide the students with the practice that they needed to master each new set of rules.  In spite of my carefully organized lessons and exhaustive, repetitive exercises, most of my students needed several additional months of instruction before they were able to use the passé composé accurately. As I have become more knowledgeable about how language proficiency develops, my expectations have become much more realistic.  The unit that I am sharing here will not teach your students to accurately use the passé composé with only three weeks of instruction. However, I believe it will familiarize them with the structure to the extent that they will be able to discuss school experiences in a comprehensible way.

Here’s the unit packet of activities and an explanation of how I plan to teach the unit.  The length of each lesson is an estimate at this point—some lessons might extend to the following day so that the unit might take longer than this plan shows.

Unit Activity Packet: French 2 School Unit

Day 1.  I’m beginning this unit by watching the first three minutes of an authentic video in which a teenager describes a horrible day.  I will play the video to the whole class, stopping it frequently to ask them questions about what the girl did. (Ex. Elle s’est réveillée en retard? Elle s’est habillée? Elle a pris le petit dejeuner?)  While my students have not had much exposure to the past tense, I think they will be able to understand these questions and answer with a oui/non.  I will then have them individually check the statements that reflected what the girl did and then replay the video so that the students can check their answers.  Finally we will orally discuss the correct answers as a class, giving the students lots of comprehensible input of the passé composé.  Next, the students will interview each other in order to find out how their partner’s day compared to the one shown in the video.  The students will not be required to formulate their own responses at this point, but will read either the affirmative or negative response that is given. Lastly, the students will write a short note describing their (real or imaginary) morning.  This activity will most likely be completed as homework. I will give them this resource packet Unit 6 Resource Packet with model sentences to help them with this and other tasks in the unit:

Day 2 Warm up: I will begin this period by asking the students questions about their previous school day.  I will choose questions from the resource packet, so that the students will not have to formulate a response on their own.  I will then give them a few minutes to interview each other using these same questions.  As a follow up, I will ask them questions about their partners’ day. This will provide additional comprehensible input of the third person forms of the verbs. Next, I will assign the interpretive activity in which the students will read an authentic comic strip about a boy who got caught cheating at school. (Pablo a copie) In addition to writing a summary and answer true/false comprehension questions, the students will identify specific phrases in the comic which are written in the passé composé. In this way, the text will not only provide an opportunity to increase interpretive skills, it will also provide contextualized examples of the new structure. After the students finish the reading activity, they will complete the interview activity which follows. For homework, they will write a paragraph about a real or imaginary experience in which they cheated.

Day 3 I will begin this day with the warm up activity described above. I will then show them the first part of an authentic video about a French middle school student’s day.  Although the video is not narrated in the past, I chose it for the cultural information that it presented about French schools.  I will stop the video frequently so that the students can answer the comprehension questions. These are written in English, since their purpose is to assess the students’ listening comprehension.  This will be an informal, formative assessment as we will most likely discuss the correct responses as a class.  Next, the students will review what they saw by checking the statements which reflect what happened in the video. These French sentences, as well as the follow up discussion of them will provide additional  passé compose input. In the next activity, the students will interview a partner in order to compare how his/her school day compared to Arthur’s (the student in the video).  Lastly, the students will write the script of a hypothetical video for Arthur, in which they tell what their day was like. Again, this writing assignment will probably be completed as homework.

Day 4 After the warm up activity described in Day 2 (students will switch partner’s each time), the students will read an authentic blog in which a character from Astrapi magazine describes an incident that took place at school. The students will work individually on interpretive tasks before interviewing a partner about his/her own experiences on the subject of class punishment.  Lastly, they will write a hypothetical follow-up post in which “Lulu” explains how the issue was resolved.  (They will be reading Lulu’s follow up post later in the unit.)

Day 5 After the warm up, the students will watch the second section of the video about Arthur.  They will again answer English comprehension questions, check the French statements which refer to events that happened, and interview a partner.  As a presentational activity, they will continue their script for their hypothetical video to Arthur.

Day 6 By this time, I think the students will need a little break from the routine of the Interpretation-Interpersonal Communication – Presentation cycle. So, today I will mix it up a little bit by devoting the entire class period to interpersonal communication. The students will begin the period with this Guess Who game: Devinez-Qui-Game (1) (The directions will be on one page and the pictures will be copied back-to-back.) Next, the students will interview each other in order to complete a Venn diagram comparing their previous day at school.friendship circle (I will handwrite some examples of the correct “nous” forms, as they won’t have had much exposure to these forms at this point.

Day 7 For today’s warm up, the students will play a two truth’s and a lie game.  Each student will write three sentences about their previous school day (relying heavily on the sample sentences in the resource packet).  Two of these students should be true and one should be a lie.  I will then call on students to say their sentences to the class.  Next, I will call on a student to guess which of the sentences was a lie.  If s/he is correct, it will be his/her turn to say the sentences s/he wrote.  Play will continue for as long as the students are engaged—probably 5 to 10 minutes.  After this warm-up, the students will complete the interpretive and interpersonal activities for the last part of the Arthur video. Because there is no presentational component, they may have time to begin the final interpretive task, Lulu’s blog entry in which she describes how the situation in her earlier post was resolved.

Day 8 After an additional round of two truths and a lie, the students will complete the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational tasks related to Lulu’s second blog.

While it will be some time before the students can accurately communicate about past events (ACTFL says this is an Advanced task), these introductory lessons should provide an important first step at contextualized use of these structures for communicative tasks.  Stay tuned for how I will use learning stations to further reinforce the concepts in this unit, as well as for the IPA that I will use to assess their learning. (IPA)