My 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.