Monthly Archives: November 2015

Integrating Culture in All Modes: A Noël Unit for Novices

noelAs a result of a recent #langchat discussion, I’ve been reflecting a lot about how to more fully integrate culture into my instructional practices.  In an earlier post, I shared the essential questions I developed based on my current units that I will use as a baseline for increasing the focus on cultural competency in my classroom.  A greater challenge that I identified as a result of the #langchat conversation, however, is the importance of integrating culture across all communicative modes. While my first thought was that I was that was providing my students with ample opportunities to develop their cultural competence by interpreting authentic materials, this is clearly not enough.  Encouraging students to identify the cultural products, practices and perspectives reflected in these authentic resources is only a first step. The cultural knowledge which is gleaned from these interpretive tasks must be carried over into the other modes to maximize student learning.  With this goal in mind I’ve begun modifying my Christmas units to provide a greater emphasis on cultural integration in each mode.

My French 1 class, with a targeted proficiency level of Novice Mid, provides the greatest difficulty when it comes to fully integrating culture, especially in the interpersonal mode.  The NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do’s for this level (which I use to guide my instructional design) are very speaker-centered.  Students are expected to communicate basic information about themselves and people they know and communicate basic information about their everyday life.  These objectives clearly aren’t appropriate for this cultural unit.  As I explained in last year’s post regarding my Christmas lessons, my students come from varied cultural and religious backgrounds and I consider it vital to honor this diversity. Therefore, it clearly wouldn’t be appropriate to design interpersonal activities that require students to interview classmates about their Christmas traditions (and then make comparisons), as I do in units on family, leisure activities, school, etc.  In the past, I assigned interpersonal tasks that required students to describe holiday-themed pictures in order to avoid personalized questions in this unit.  While these activities helped the students to acquire the new vocabulary, they did nothing to develop the students’ cultural competence regarding Francophone Christmas celebrations. Therefore, this year I’ve decided to use some role-play activities to integrate more culture while at the same time respecting both the cultural diversity and the proficiency level of these learners. While I think that we must ensure that our students are able to express their actual preferences, surroundings, and experiences in the target language, the same memorized phrases which enable communication at this level can be used to play the role of a speaker in another culture.  In these role-plays, in which pairs of students play the roles of French-speakers in Quebec and Paris, the students will not only integrate their understandings of the cultural practices of these regions as they relate to Christmas, they will also learn vocabulary and structures that will enable them to participate in authentic conversations in the future.

Here’s the unit plan I’ve developed for this year. Click here for the student activity packet.

Lesson 1: I’ll play this video to introduce the students to some French Christmas traditions and corresponding vocabulary. Then they’ll complete this pair role play activity to practice talking about cultural traditions associated with Christmas. This resource guide will help them interpret the pictures in the role play.

Lesson 2: I’ll start this lesson with the short video about Christmas traditions in Quebec, pausing frequently to discuss.  Then I’ll assign this guided role-play. As a follow up presentational writing activity, the students will write a message from the person belonging to the culture they played in the role play to a person from the culture that their partner played. In the message, they will demonstrate their new cultural competence by including appropriate facts and asking relevant questions.

Lesson 3: The students will watch and video and read an article about decorating a Christmas tree.  Next they’ll draw pictures showing the steps given in the article, and then present the steps to their partner using their pictures.

Day 4: The students will read an infographic about French holiday eating habits and then interview a partner. Afterwards they’ll complete a Venn diagram comparing French Christmas eating habits to those of their own family during any special celebration.

Day 5-8: The students will spend one day each at these learning stations:

  • Listening: The students will watch Christmas-themed authentic cartoon videos and complete on-line comprehension quizzes.
  • Reading: Students will read an article about Christmas traditions in various European countries and then one about Christmas in France and complete comprehension guides.
  • Speaking: Students assume the roles of a French and a Canadian teen and discuss “their” holiday traditions using a set of pictures. (Noel Speaking)
  • Writing: Students will write a message about French holiday traditions.

Day 9-10: IPA

Reading: Students interpret an article about Christmas traditions throughout the world.

Speaking: Students assume the roles of a French and a Canadian teen and discuss “their” holiday traditions using the pictures on these Google Slides. Slides #1-#7 will be used by the student from France, and #8-#14 will be for the student from Quebec.

Writing: Students write final draft of writing station.

If time permits, I’ll make some modifications to my French 2 and 3 units , but in the meantime click here for the units as I used them last year.


Le 13 novembre: A Lesson Plan for Novice French Students


Like many of you, I have spent the weekend processing how to address Friday evening’s terrorist attacks with my students tomorrow.  Although I consider myself a planner, this is not a lesson that can be planned.  As of this time, I do not know how much my students will understand about what happened, what questions they will have, and to what extent they have been affected by these horrible events.  So, although I won’t have a plan, I will have some resources available, and will decide how to implement them based on the needs of my students.

In order to show my students the extent to which people around the world have been affected by the events in Paris, I’ll probably show them these pictures:

Depending on their interest, I’ll also show this video of Francois Hollande speaking (with English subtitles):

I think that my students would also benefit from seeing Cecily Strong speak French, in Saturday Night Live’s intro:

In addition to these audio-visual resources, I have prepared both a French 1 and a French 2 comprehension guide  for this Astrapi article: Attentats-Paris

Finally, I will also encourage any interested students to express their condolences here:

In addition to curating these materials for my Novice students, I’ve chosen this post by Rick Steves to share with the families of the students who plan on traveling to France with me in March:

Image Credit: Jean Julien

“Je quitte la maison” a lesson incorporating a vintage text into a 21st century classroom.

As I mentioned in this previous post, a constant in my teaching practice over the years has been the inclusion of several Petit Nicolas stories in my curriculum.  Although the stories were written decades ago,   I find them ideal for my Intermediate Low’s (French 3 students) for the following reasons:

  • The author’s conversational writing style provides lots of input on high-frequency vocabulary and structures
  • Many of the stories have a corresponding cartoon video (on Youtube) that features a similar, but updated story line-great for interpretive listening tasks.
  • The stories are easy to find—I have most of the collections, so a quick trip to the copy machine provides the text to all of my students; no lengthily Google searches required!
  • The stories are humorous and engaging to the majority of the students.
  • My students love the first feature film (They’d probably like the second one, too, I just haven’t bought it yet.)

This week, we read the story called “Je quitte la maison.”  I’ve used this story for several years, not only because it’s cute, but also as a contextualized way to introduce my students to the future tense.  Click here for the comprehension activities I created for this story (described below).

Day 1: I did a quick introduction of a few new vocabulary items, and then had the students make some predictions about what might happen in the first part of the story.  Although I hadn’t yet formally introduced the future tense, my students had seen a few examples, so I could quickly explain the use of the tense in the predictions.  I also have a poster in my room as a resource, so I can refer to it throughout these lessons. After the predictions, the students began reading the story and supplying information regarding details of the story.

Day 2: I began the period by verbally discussing the details that the students had provided. The students then discussed the inference questions in small groups, and then as a class.  I was really happy with the way that these inference questions led to both a deeper reading of the text and some lively conversations.  It was so exciting to see many of the students being able to express their own ideas without relying only on repeated phrases from the story! As a final activity, I had the students fill in possible meanings for the future tense verbs in the sentences I had included in their packet.

Day 3/4: I repeated the Day 1-2 activities with the second half of the story.  Although the students felt that the story was very difficult at first, they were all eventually able to construct significant meaning from this authentic text.

After the students had finished the story, I assigned a series of learning stations to facilitate the extension activities I had created.

Listening Station: I intended for the students to interpret the cartoon version of this story that I have used for the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, I discovered quite late in the game that this particular episode is not currently available on Youtube, so at the last minute I had to punt by finding other videos on the theme of running away.  Due to the time constraints caused by the “missing” video, I created a series of multiple choice questions for these videos directly on Canvas, so I’m not able to share them here.  The first video (  includes interviews and skits (?) about parent-child conflicts, the second ( is a child-made video about a runaway (I only had them watch the first 12 minutes) and the third ( was a news story about an actual runaway.  The feedback from my students is that these videos were very comprehensible and I liked the opportunity to include some current cultural content in the videos.

Reading: The students interpreted an online article with advice for parents of teen runaways and completed an abbreviated comprehension guide.  Although I was concerned the article might be too challenging, most of the students found it appropriate to their level of proficiency.

Writing: The students wrote a letter from Nicolas to his parents, in which he explains his plans to run away gain the following day (as suggested in the story).

Speaking: The students completed two separate communicative activities at this station.  In the first, a pair crossword, students used circumlocution to provide clues which enabled their partner to complete his/her copy of a crossword puzzle (Puzzle A, Puzzle B).  The students really enjoy these activities and they provide an excellent opportunity for the students to create with the language. In the second activity, the students performed a role play between Nicolas and Alceste on the hypothetical next day from the story.  I had the students practice both roles with the other members of their group, and then randomly chose pairs and roles for a speaking assessment.  While the students didn’t include as many details from the story as I’d hoped they would, they were able to create meaningful, unscripted dialogues.  Although I hadn’t expected the students to have any accuracy in terms of the future tense at this point, many of them did use this structure correctly in their role plays.



Integrating Culture – Step 1: Essential Questions

globeAs the World Language teachers in my district continue to work on revising our curriculum, one of our most important goals is to be more purposeful in teaching our students the products, practices and perspectives of the cultures who speak the languages we teach.  In Ohio, where I teach, the role of culture in communication is made clear by the inclusion of an interculturality component in both the performance and proficiency rubrics.  As a result of this week’s lively discussion on #langchat, I have realized that my local colleagues and I are not alone in our desire to more fully integrate culture in spite of the challenges inherent in doing so.

While it is clear that cultural knowledge plays an important role in communication, we face certain difficulties as we strive to develop culturally rich lessons for our students.  Designing units that address the breadth of our target cultures, are accessible to learners across proficiency levels, and are respectful of our students’ own varied cultural backgrounds is not an easy undertaking.  While designing our lessons around authentic resources helps us to infuse our lessons with relevant cultural information, it is often challenging to find appropriate materials that reflect Francophone cultures outside of Europe and North America. As a result, we must sometimes choose between the authenticity of the texts we select as sources of linguistic input and the diversity of the cultural information we present to our students. Furthermore, novice students, whose communicative proficiency may be limited to expressing their own basic needs,  may not be able to adequately represent their knowledge of the target culture in the target language. Lastly, the lack of a common culture among our diverse students sometimes makes cultural comparisons nearly impossible.

In spite of these challenges, there is no doubt that it is our responsibility to develop our students’ cultural competence.  As a first step to improving my own practices in this area, I looked over this year’s course outlines for my French 1, 2, and 3 classes and listed some cultural essential questions that are addressed by the instructional activities I’ve planned for each one.  (I’ve slightly modified the topics since my initial reflection in this post.)  For each unit, I identified a general essential question for the topic, as well as some more specific questions that will be answered in the authentic resources I’ve chosen for the unit. While most of the resources I’ve used in the past reflected mostly French culture, my first goal will be to incorporate more materials from other Francophone cultures in order to more fully address these essential questions.

French 1

  1. Why is it important to learn French?
  • Who speaks French?
  • How do French people greet each other?
  1. What is school like in a Francophone country?
  • What school supplies do students need?
  • How and where do students get their school supplies?
  • What classes do kids take in Francophone countries?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures spend their free time?
  • How much leisure time to people have?
  • What sports, games and hobbies are popular?
  • What role does technology play in leisure activities?
  1. What are families like in Francophone cultures?
  • What members of a family live together?
  • How common are divorce and blended families?
  • What are the roles of each member of the family?
  • What role do pets play in the family?
  1. What is a year like in different Francophone cultures?
  • What is the weather like at different times of the year?
  • How does the weather affect people’s activities?
  • What major holidays are celebrated throughout the year and how are they celebrated?
  1. What are mealtimes like in Francophone countries?
  • When do people eat each meal?
  • What do people eat at each meal?
  • Where do people eat each meal?
  1. Where do people in the Francophone culture live?
  • What are their homes like?
  • What are their neighborhoods like?
  • Where do they go for various activities?
  • Where might a visitor to their area go and why?

French 2

  1. What is a typical day like for teenagers in different Francophone countries?
  • When do they wake up, how, and why?
  • What do they do after school and why?
  • When do they go to bed and how do they fall asleep?
  1. What do Francophone teens do with their friends?
  • What do they do when they get together at someone’s house?
  • What do they do when they go out together?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures buy their food?
  • Where do they go to buy food?
  • What ecological and nutritional values are reflected in their shopping habits?
  • What dishes are commonly prepared at home?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures stay healthy?
  • Where do people go for health care?
  • What role does exercise play in their daily lives?
  • What diseases cause the most concern?
  1. What are schools like in Francophone cultures?
  • What are relationships between students and teachers like?
  • What role do parents play in the education of their children?
  • What are the relationships among the students like?
  1. What was it like to live in a castle?
  • How were castles built?
  • Who lived in castles?
  • How did a boy become a knight?
  • How did castles evolve?
  • What did people do for fun during medieval times?
  1. What are some things you can do for fun in Quebec?
  • What is there to do in Montreal?
  • What do you need if you want to go camping in a provincial park?
  • What role did the French play in Canadian history?

French 3

  1. What role does travel play in Francophone culture?
  • Where do people go on vacation?
  • With whom do they travel?
  • What vacation activities are popular?
  1. How have educational reforms affected Francophone schools?
  • How are students graded?
  • What high stakes tests do students take?
  • When do students go to school?
  1. How do people form romantic relationships in Francophone cultures?
  • What role does dating play in forming a relationship?
  • What role does marriage play in the culture?
  • Who has the right to marry?
  • What is a marriage ceremony like?
  1. What role do sports play in Francophone culture?
  • What sports are popular in various countries?
  • What teams are popular?
  • What Francophone athletes play in the U.S.?
  • What athletic competitions are important?
  1. What is Impressionism?
  • How did Impressionism develop?
  • Who are the major artists associated with the movement?
  • How did Impressionists influence later artists?
  1. What are the ecological challenges in some Francophone countries?
  • What do people do to conserve resources?
  • How do economic factors influence conservation efforts in various countries?
  • What animals are endangered?
  1. What was France like during prehistoric times?
  • How did early humans live?
  • What prehistoric sites can people visit?
  • How are characters from ancient cultures portrayed in literature?

I have a long way to go before I will be satisfied with the degree to which I’ve integrated the diversity of Francophone culture in my instructional practices, but this list of essential questions will give me someplace to start.  I’d love to know more about how you integrate culture into your classroom, as well as authentic resources you’ve used to adress any of these topics as they related to French speakers outside of France and Canada.

5 Tips for Grading IPAs

teacherThe first grading period ended in my school this week so there was lots of talk in my department about how time-consuming it is to grade IPA’s.  While I am enough of a teacher nerd to actual enjoy creating IPA’s, I cannot say the same for grading them!  Here are a few suggestions that have helped me streamline the process and cut down the time I spend on this task.

  1. Assign a rough draft for the Presentational Writing. I often incorporate a series of learning stations before an IPA and one of these stations consists of writing a rough draft for the IPA. Since I have only 8 students at each station per day, the process of providing feedback is less overwhelming. The students benefit from this feedback on this formative assessment and usually do much better on the IPA as a result.
  2. Use rubrics. I began using the Ohio Department of Education rubrics this year and I really like them. Since Ohio has not yet created an Interpretive Rubric, I use the ACTFL rubric, which I’ve modified to meet my needs.  (See this post for a detailed explanation.) When grading the reading and writing sections of an IPA, I lay a rubric next to the student’s paper and check the corresponding box, making very few marks on the student’s paper. Since I will go over the interpretive sections with the class, I don’t find it necessary to mark each response on each student’s paper.  Likewise, having given specific feedback on the rough drafts, there is no need to do so on this final copy, which I will keep in my files after returning temporarily for feedback purposes.
  3. Avoid math. After I have checked the appropriate box in each section of the rubric, I determine a score for that section of the IPA. (My gradebook is divided according to language skills—reading, writing, listening, and speaking, so each IPA task gets its own score.) I use a holistic system, rather than mathematical calculations to determine an overall score for each task. If all of the checks are in the “Good” column, the student earns a 9/10.  If there are a few checks in the “Strong” column (and the rest are Good), the student earns a 10/10.  If the checks are distributed between the Good and the Developing column, the student earns an 8.  If the checks are all in the Developing column, the student earns a 7.  If there are several checks in the Emerging column, the student earns a 6.  If a student were unable to meet the criteria for Emerging, I would assign a score of 5/10, the lowest score I record.
  4. Grade the Interpersonal Speaking “live.” I know that many teachers have their students record their conversations and then listen to them later. If this works for you, you have my admiration. I know myself far too well—I would procrastinate forever if I had 30 conversations to listen to when I got home at night!  It works much better for me to call up two randomly-chosen students to my desk while the rest of the class is working on the presentational writing.  I can usually get most of the class done in one period, in part because I also place a time limit on their conversation— usually about 3 minutes for my novice students and 4-5 for my intermediates. I find that I can adequately assess their performance in that amount of time, and the students are relieved to know that there is a finite period of time during which they will be expected to speak.  I mark the rubric as they’re speaking, provide a few examples, and then write a score as they next pair is on their way to my desk.
  5. Use technology for lnterpretive Listening. Each of my IPA’s includes both an Interpretive Reading and an Interpretive Listening. Because I haven’t found the ACTFL Interpretive Template to work well with listening assessments (see this post), I am currently using basic comprehension, guessing meaning from context, and sometimes main idea and inference questions to assess listening.  Although I’ve used a short answer format for these items in the past, I am starting to experiment with creating multiple choice “quizzes” on Canvas (our learning management system).  I know that other teachers have had success creating assessment items using Zaption and other programs.  I’m still reflecting on the use of objective questions to assess listening, but these programs do offer a way for teachers to provide more timely feedback and for students to benefit from additional context to guide their listening.

If you have any tips for grading IPA’s,  please share!

Photo Credits

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