La Préhistoire: A project-based unit for Intermediate Low French students

prehistory My French 3 students will spend 4th quarter learning about a few different eras in French history.  I haven’t taught this content for a few years, but when I did so my students were engaged by the project-oriented approach to the mini-units.  In most cases my students know little about early man’s way of life and are naturally interested in it.  In addition, the numerous prehistoric caves in France make this content-based unit culturally relevant.

In order to provide the students with important background knowledge about prehistoric humans, I will begin with an interpretive task in which the students will read an article about two prehistoric people—Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal (p.1p. 2). Because it is my intention to provide content knowledge, rather than assess in-depth comprehension, I am providing only a supporting-detail task for this article.  The students will respond in French in order to prepare them for next year’s assessments which will all be in French, as well as to enable my recent non-English-speaking new student to fully participate in the lesson. After the reading activity, I will play part of a Ce n’est pas Sorcier video about Neanderthals. Here’s the document with these activities (prehistoryunit)  In order to familiarize the vocabulary for this unit (vocabulary pics), we will play Password.  I have also chosen to insert a quick lesson on relative pronouns here.  I have done very little direct instruction of grammatical structures this year, and most of my students are correctly using qui/que, but I wanted to do a brief presentation to reinforce their understanding. I will also introduce dont, which they will most likely not be able to use correctly for some time, but might at least recognize after this lesson.

After these activities to develop the students’ background knowledge and vocabulary for this content, I will move onto the project portion of the unit. As the packet (prehistory project ) explains, I will give each pair of students a photograph of a prehistoric artifact used by either Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon people. This Google Presentation contains the photographs I will use: and this document (slide links) lists the sites where I found the pictures, to serve as a key.  The students will begin by filling in a graphic organizer with their hypotheses regarding the object. The students will first jot their own ideas in the graphic organizer, and then discuss their ideas with their partner, adding his/her ideas to the table.  On the following day, the students will read articles about various aspects of prehistoric life in order to support or refute their hypotheses.  Because I have a collection of children’s books about prehistory, I will photocopy relevant pages and make them available to the students.  While scanning all of the pages I will use is time-prohibitive at this point, this step could easily be completed using online resources. As the students research, they will fill in the graphic organizer with information that either supports or refutes their hypotheses about the objects. They will then share their information, so that each has a completed graphic organizer with both of their research findings.  The students will then use the information they have recorded to write a letter to a prehistoric art dealer to whom they would like to sell their artifact.  They will then present their information orally to the art dealer (me), answering any questions that “I” may have.  As a final assessment the students will complete these IPA-style interpretive tasks on an article and video about Lascaux (Lascaux IPA).  While I have included pdf’s for the relevant pages of the article (p. 10p. 11p.12p. 13p. 14p. 15), you will also find a link to a site that will enable you to buy a copy of the article in its entirety.  I was thrilled to find the video that I have used here.  Not only does it include wonderful images of Lascaux, but it is narrated by elementary children which will make it comprehensible for my students.


14 thoughts on “La Préhistoire: A project-based unit for Intermediate Low French students

  1. Sarah Longcore

    Bonjour Madame Shepard,
    I also do a unit on the grotte de Lascaux and I was very impressed with your in depth lessons. Merci beaucoup! My unit is for the younger students (8,9,10 years of age) but I found some additions that I could use with them. I do have a question for you. Can you please send me the link to purchase the DVD that explains Lascaux in French – with children’s voices – as you mentioned? I cannot find it and would love to show it for my Lascaux unit next year.
    Merci beaucoup et Bonnes Vacances!
    Sarah Longcore
    French Teacher
    Emerson School

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Thanks, Sarah! It’s not a DVD, just a YouTube video. The link is in the IPA packet. Let me know if you have trouble finding it!

    2. Tracy E Rucker

      Your work is absolutely amazing!!! I visit your blog often to find ideas. Thanks for being collaborative, sharing, and caring!!! Merci mille fois.

  2. Polly Henshaw

    Hi Lisa! I used the iPA that you made for this unit. It was so thorough and challenging for the students. It worked!
    I am trying to gather a reading for L’Age Gallo-Romain – Vercingétorix or Roman Architecture. I saw that you used arkeojunior with La Préhistoire. Did you have to purchase a copie or did you just take screen shots of the pages you found?
    I am looking for a source that I can use for reading part especially for Trésors du temps- additional reading as for an IPA. Anything that you can recommend would be most helpful!
    thanks Lisa

    Polly Henshaw – Tabor Academy Marion Ma

    1. Cheryl Shank

      great idea to do a Gallo-Romaine unit of histoire.
      Would you be able to share your resources with me?

  3. Madame Smigel

    I love teaching my students about pre-histoire. We’re going to team up with the art teacher to talk about the cave paintings more in depth, and even create our own on butcher paper on our classroom walls!

    Do you have any examples of the childrens books you use or of the articles the kids read to support and refute their hypothesis?

  4. Kathy Zetts

    Hi Lisa,

    File this anecdote under “How French class impacts students’ lives”–along with the instances of someone adopting a pet after the pet unit, or booking a trip to Martinique after the Martinique unit, considering becoming an au pair after the au pair IPA etc.

    My French 3 class is currently doing this unit. We had a snow day last Friday due to high winds and wet, heavy snow, which caused significant power outages. When we came back yesterday, we were discussing what we did on the “journee de neige”. One student told me that her family was worried about the food in their freezer going bad due to no electricity, but she told them some info she had learned from the article about the Cro-Magnon and Neandertal–the part about keeping reserves of meat in the snow. So they put their frozen food and some ice cubes in a cooler, and set it outdoors in the snow–problem solved!

    Just thought you’d like to know the impact your lessons continue to have! 😉 Merci beaucoup!

    Kathy Zetts

  5. Kathy Zetts

    Hi again,

    Could you recommend some children’s books that I could buy to use for this unit?

    I showed my students examples of business letters in French, since they were writing a letter to persuade me to buy their artifacts. The lengthy closings provided some interesting cultural contrasts!


    Kathy Zetts

  6. Lana

    Chère madame, comment s’appellent les livres que vous avez employés pour ce projet, s’il vous plait? Merci!

  7. Paula McLaughlin

    I am wondering if the first article on Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons is missing a page. I could not find answers to the last four questions at all: les outils des Cro-Magnon, Où il dessinait, ce qu’il sculptait, et les outils qu’il utilisait.

    Thanks so much for clarifying! And thank you for this awesome unit!

    Paula McLaughlin

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Paula. I’m so sorry about this! I never realized there was a missing page! Unfortunately, I no longer have the book. Can you just delete this questions? I apologize for the inconvenience!

  8. Paula McLaughlin

    No apologies necessary! In fact, you spoil us. I did exactly what you suggested and eliminated the questions. I’ll likely find another article for next time. Thank you for providing us with such interesting material. My students thank you as well!


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