Food for Thought

The title of this post comes not only from the fact that I have prepared a couple of food-related French 2 lessons to share, but because I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the changes that I have been making in order to focus more on increasing student proficiency. When a colleague asked me what I meant by proficiency-based teaching, I realized that I could not explain in only a sentence or two what this term meant to me. Since even a Google search did not identify a universal definition or specific methodology, I can only share what I have been doing and how the paradigm shift has worked in my classroom. To see specific examples of the types of lessons I’ve designed, please see my other posts on this blog.
Curriculum: The most important change that I have made is to develop a curriculum that is totally independent of any textbook series. In the absence of this resource to guide my instruction, I chose ten to twelve broad themes for each of the classes (Level 1-5) that I teach. I then follow the following steps to create a unit for these themes.
Step 1: Choosing the unit goals
In order to ensure that I’m choosing appropriate goals for each of these thematic units, I rely heavily on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements for the targeted proficiency level of the class. For French 1 I am beginning with Novice Low statements, but will transition into Novice Mid later in the year. In French 2 I use mainly Novice High statements, in French 3 I use Intermediate Low-Mid, and in AP I use Intermediate Mid-High. In many cases I can use an exact statement as a goal, but when necessary I modify a statement to reflect the content of the unit. In this way I am essentially filling in the blank line after the prepared statements.
Step 2: Choosing the authentic texts
In planning the learning activities for each unit, I have relied heavily on Amy Lenord’s description of the authentic lesson cycle ( Based on my understanding of her ideas, I select an authentic text for each lesson and then create interpretive, interpersonal, and presentation tasks related to the text. I have found that each lesson cycle takes about two to three class days, so I choose about four authentic texts for each unit. This enables me to cover a unit, including the IPA, in about three weeks.
I begin my search for authentic texts for these lessons by checking the Pinterest boards I have created for each theme. Relying on my colleagues to pre-select relevant, high-interest and appropriate texts has saved me countless hours of research. As described in my earlier posts, I rely heavily on infographics, especially for novice learners and to introduce a theme. Based on the proficiency level of the students, I also use children’s magazine articles, children’s stories, and lots of web-based materials.
In addition to these written texts, I also choose authentic recorded texts related to the theme of the unit. Usually videos, these texts might not be directly related to the written text, they do reflect the theme of the unit. In my lower level classes, I use lots of cartoons, because their visual nature provides important context for the novice learners. Some of my favorites are Trotro l’Ane, Petit Ours Brun, Caillou, and Tchoupi et Doudou. Youtube searches on each of these characters will reveal the titles of several different episodes, many of which complement commonly used themes. With my Intermediate students, I usually opt for news videos or other more formal recorded materials.
Step 3: Creating the learning activities
After choosing each text, I develop an interpretive reading task based on the template provided by ACTFL in Implementing Integrated Performance Assessment ( Based on the text I have chosen, I will use some or all of the sections on this template. I do not personally feel that this template works for well for listening, so I usually develop basic comprehension questions for the videos I use, although I try to include multi-level (main idea, supporting detail, inference) questions.
After preparing the comprehension guides for the interpretive tasks, I develop the interpersonal tasks that the students will complete after reading and listening. For my Novice learners, I usually provide personalized questions based on the reading that they will ask a partner. For the Intermediate students, I write more open-ended discussion questions related to the information in the text.
For the last step of each lesson, I design at least one presentational task. For this activity, I give the students some type of scenario related to the authentic text (usually the written one), and they respond in writing or orally.
Although I have been mostly pleased with these lessons, I’ve found that adding a vocabulary-building game or other not-quite-authentic activity here and there helps to add a little bit of variety while still increasing proficiency. As the year progresses I hope to find the right balance between these types of activities.
Step 4: Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA)
Since each lesson is essentially a “Mini IPA,” this type of assessment works well in my classes. In addition, my students are very comfortable with IPA’s, because I began implementing them last year, as a result of some professional development that I had done. Although I am describing the IPA as Step 4, it is actually the first step that I complete when designing the unit. By writing the IPA before creating any of the other lessons, I can ensure that each task prepares the students for what they will be expected to do on the IPA.
Before beginning an IPA, I give the students a day or two to prepare. During this stage, I give them time to practice the interpersonal task (although they will not be allowed to choose their partner on the actual IPA) and to write rough drafts of the presentational writing task. My interpersonal IPA tasks are less structured than the tasks that I assign for the individual lessons. For example, rather than a set of specific questions, I will give them only a general situation or theme and they will be required to ask the appropriate questions to develop the conversation. Based on the needs of the students, I might also give them time to practice some of the specific skills needed for the IPA during this time. For example, in a recent French 1 unit on school supplies, I gave the students time to complete interactive vocabulary activities on the computer in addition to the rough draft and interpersonal practice time.
When writing the IPA, I again begin by choosing both an authentic written and recorded text, and then creating a comprehension guide, based on the ACTFL template. The students usually complete these two tasks on the first day of the IPA. On Day 2, I assign the final draft of the presentational written task and then call up pairs of students to my desk for the interpersonal assessment.
While these steps seem to be working well for me so far, only time will tell whether they will enable my students to meet the proficiency goals I have set for them. I’d love to hear back from any of you that have developed other methods of increasing student proficiency in your classrooms!
In the meantime, here are a couple of examples of authentic lessons from my current French 2 unit on Mealtimes.
le temps de l’alimentation

8 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. Jessica

    I’m so glad that I found your blog! You have so many great ideas and I’m grateful that you have shared all of your hard work. Your explanation is very helpful and hopefully I’ll have time to try and replicate an upcoming unit. I have used part of your education unit with some of my resources and feel that the students have a better understanding. Now if only they could stay in the target language the entire hour! Thanks again and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  2. Skylar

    Great unit outline! I can see what you mean about vocabulary practice, particularly for levels1/2. By the time they get to 3, they are usually able to internalize the vocabulary that is most relevant to their needs with minimal direction from the teacher. However, level 1/2 kids still need to a) build up a basic stock of vocabulary and b) develop the skills for learning/internalizing vocabulary for real-task use. I think that 1-2 days at some point in the cycle would be suitable for that. In trying to still keep the vocabulary lesson TL-based, you could present the vocabulary in an interactive/deductive type lesson where you are only speaking the TL to them, but they have visual cues to help them deduce the vocabulary. It would basically be an interpretive activity, just with you as the source! There could be some time at the end of the lesson in English for students to confirm that they had deduced info correctly.
    I also had good success with TPR storytelling. I used it at the beginning of each unit, particularly when there were phrases/structures that I wanted them to learn without overthinking. TPRS begins as a hybrid TL/English exercise but quickly evolves to a TL activity. It is GREAT for getting 1/2s to speak in connected strings of sentences, even at the beginning of the year!

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi,Skylar. It’s so funny that you mentioned the difference between the lower and upper levels when it came to direct vocabulary instruction, because I had been having the same conversation with my student teacher a few hours earlier. I told him the same thing you said–that I though the novice learners really need direct instruction in vocabulary so that they can start participating in communicative activities. Like you mentioned, it’s pretty easy to do it in the target language, especially since a lot of their vocabulary is pretty concrete at this stage. My student teacher did a great lesson in which he introduced leisure vocabulary using manipulatives. Like everything else, of course, it takes a lot of prep time to do a really good job. I really need to do some TPRS training. Even after all this time, I only know the basics. It’s definitely on my To Do list. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  3. Brandy

    Has the website for L’alimentation Veg. been changed and would you know the new site, by chance? I know this is an older post, but it’s worth a shot. Merci d’avance!


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