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!

18 thoughts on “Culture as Content: An Intermediate Unit on Education in France

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Thank you so much for this great playlist (and for taking the time to share it with me)! I’ll look forward to incorporating these links into this unit!

  1. Stacy Blair

    Bonjour Madame Shepard! I like this unit and am going to try to use some of it in my classroom during the upcoming semester. I was wondering if you had a copy of the 1jour1actu article. I’ve tried to get an international subscription, but can’t seem to make it happen. I’m still waiting to hear back from them about this, but I thought you may have a pdf version of it so I could look at it for my planning purposes.

    I just found your blog and think I am going to love it! I’ll let you know how my education unit goes.

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Stacy! Thanks for your nice comments about my blog. I’ve been having problems with the 1jour1actu site recently. Earlier this summer I was able to download the pdf’s because I have a subscription to Phosphore, but now I’m not having any luck. I’ll send you the pdf if I can find it. I’ll look forward to hearing from you about your unit!

  2. Laura M.

    Bonjour, Madame Shepard! I have the same question as Stacy! I LOVE this unit and I really like the lesson you designed around the 1jour1actu article. Is there any way you could send me the pdf of the article? No worries if it’s too much hassle. Thanks again for making this unit available online! Your ideas are inspiring!!

    Laura M.

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Laura
      Thanks so much for your kind comments! I sent you an e-mail–let me know if you don’t get it. Thanks again, Lisa

  3. Julia Spencer

    Same question here– if you found the pdf and have time, I would love a copy. May I ask how you paid for your subscription to Phosphore ($ or euros)? and was it difficult to arrange? I would need to subscribe personally, my school Library does not currently subscribe to any foreign language materials. I can probably get that changed next year if I demonstrate this year that I can use them. Merci mille fois d’être si généreuse avec votre travail et ressources!

  4. MlleT

    Bonjour, Madame Shepard. I love this unit that you have created! I’m excited to try it (hopefully soon!) with my students this year. I was wondring if you could also send me the PDF of the 1jour1actu article. Merci d’avance! 🙂

  5. Monsieur Nason

    Bonjour Mme!
    I first must say thank you so much for sharing all of the wonderful ideas and resources on your site! It is such a pleasure and is very inspiring! I really love the education unit you have shared here, and I wanted to know if you would be able to share the IPA you created for this unit and any follow up reflections you had on how this unit went with your students. Je vous remercie encore!

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Thank yoou so much for your kind comments! I don’t have the IPA at home, but will try to remember to send it to you tomorrow. As for my reflection, I learned a lot from this unit and made several changes to it this year. My main disappointment in how the unnit went wa that I didn’t feel I had created enough opportunities for interpersonal communication. Although I included an interpersonal task after each reading, I found that my students’ proficiency level did not allow them to have the depth of conversation that I had envisioned for them. My expectations just weren’t realistic, given that most of my students begin French 3 at Novice High. It’s easy to forget the difference between what a French 3 student can do at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. My personal take-away was that there is a big difference between what students are able to comprehend and what they can produce. Even though many of them could read the resources in this unit, they weren’t able to discuss them in depth. Some of the changes that I made this year were substituting a new article for a couple of the readings, and adding a Petit Nicolas story, “Les Carnets.” This year’s IPA is integrated around the theme of grades (I used the 1jour1actu article about the “no grades” middle school on the IPA instead of during the unit.) My students will take this IPA tomorrow, so I’ll have to let you know how it goes. The unit is still a work in progress–a lot of the students really struggled with the Nicolas story, so I might replace it with a less-challenging one next year. I’m learning that I like adding some literature, because I think it creates more opportunity for discussion at lower levels of proficiency. When compared to making interpretations from an infographic, a story has more linguistic support. If you end up using anything from this unit, I’d love to know how it works with your students students, too!

      1. madameshepard Post author

        I checked the IPA from last year and I don’t think it would be very helpful. The reading was quite outdated and I won’t have time to do any scanning over the next few days. This is the IPA I used this year (but it incorporates a reading from last year’s unit) : The students said the reading was easy–but I haven’t graded them yet. The listening, which covers the same topic as the reading, was understandable challenging, but I’ll grade it accordingly. I hope this helps!

  6. Mary Beth Hills

    Merci Madame! I’m excited to start this unit with my French 3/4 next week. About how long does it take for you to do this unit? How much time do you spend per lesson? Merci en avance 🙂
    Mary Beth

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi! I think I spent about 3 days on each lesson. Sometimes I would skip some of the activities if the lesson seemed to be dragging. Lisa

  7. Denise Wagstaff

    Thank you so much for sharing all of your lessons, IPAs and thoughts in general on teaching for proficiency. I will definitely be using some of your resources in my upcoming education unit.

    How many units do you plan for each class each year?

    1. madameshepard Post author

      When I created by own curriculum, I planned about two units per 10-week quarter. The curriculum in my new school has only 4-5 units per year.

  8. Mme Callan

    Bonjour! Long-time follower, first-time commenter 🙂 First, a heartfelt MERCI for all of these amazing resources you have so freely shared with all of us. You are single-handedly going to be the savior of my sanity this year (my first!).

    I’ve been going through your packet of activities for this unit and noticed the link to the “martinelignierescassou” article/infographic? on the réforme des rythmes scolaires is introuvable. You don’t happen to have a pdf version, do you? From your accompanying questions, it looks like it has some valuable information!

    Merci d’avance !

    1. madameshepard Post author

      I’m so sorry but I don’t have a copy of the article/infographic. Maybe another reader has a copy to share?


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