7 Steps to Creating an Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA)

yayAlthough I am embarrassed to admit it, I had never heard of an IPA (or IP-Yay, as one of my classes calls them) until May, 2013 when I attended a presentation by my state’s foreign language association.  Because our state was including a student progress measure on our teacher evaluation system for the first time, our association took an active role in encouraging us to use a measurement of student proficiency, rather than as assessment of vocabulary/grammatical accuracy to document our students’ learning.  Although I had been somewhat familiar with various proficiency descriptors, I had never designed my instruction to increase and assess student proficiency until attending this important session.  However, as the result of this presentation and two others that I subsequently attended, I made dramatic changes to my instructional and assessment strategies in order to encourage student proficiency, rather than simply grammar and vocabulary accuracy.  While I read what I found online about IPA’s, I did not have a good overall understanding of the specifics of this type of assessment until I finally stumbled across the manual found here: http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/implementing-integrated-performance-assessment .  While I make some modifications based on my own teaching situation and students’ needs, I have relied heavily on this manual when developing my own assessments.  However, I am no expert in this process and have not received any specific ACTFL training.  The ideas expressed here reflect only my current understanding of proficiency-based assessment.  What I can say for sure is that the transition from traditional tests to IPA’s, has improved student learning in my classes more than any other change I’ve made during my 25 year teaching career.

Based on my own experience, here are the steps that I suggest when designing an IPA:

  1. Decide what you want to assess. Based on the principle of backwards design, writing the summative assessment is one of the very first steps in developing a unit plan. Therefore, I write my IPA before developing any of my lesson plans for the unit. I recently heard a speaker say, “You teach what you test.”  While this seemed counter-intuitive to me at first, as I thought about it more it made perfect sense.  When we choose how to assess our students, we are demonstrating what we wanted them to learn. If it’s not on the “test,” we probably didn’t think it was that important.  In a proficiency-based classroom, that means that we assess our students’ ability to communicate across the modes of communication.  So, the first step in designing an IPA is to choose a benchmark for each mode based on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements (http://www.actfl.org/global_statements ). Note: The bold print statement is the benchmark, and the statements which follow (preceded by a box) are examples.  Sometimes I choose one of the examples, but other times I create my own based on the theme I have chosen for my unit.


  1. Choose an authentic written text. Based on the interpretive reading benchmark I have chosen, I find an authentic, culturally-rich text that will enable the students to demonstrate that they have achieved the benchmark. The type of text that will be appropriate depends on the proficiency-level of the students. Novice learners are highly dependent on using visuals when interpreting so I use infographics, picture books, brochures, catalogues, or comic strips for these students.  Note: Try using Google Images, rather than just Google when searching for texts for these students. Here are some other resources I use for Novice learners:


https://www.envolee.com/fr/catalogue/1/8-du-plaisir-a-lire (Although there is a fee for downloading these texts, I have found this to be money well spent.)

http://www.scholastic.ca/education/envol_en_litteratie/downloadablebooks.html (Also worth the fee)


While Intermediate Low to Mid learners are able to interpret lengthier texts, they are often unable to understand authentic texts written for their developmental age (in language programs that begin in high school).   These students usually enjoy tapping into their “inner child” by reading magazine articles and online material written for younger students. I find it helpful to use a children’s search engine when researching materials for these students.  Here are a few that I’ve used:








When possible, I use articles from authentic children’s magazines for interpretive tasks. These materials are often more visually rich than online materials. I have found several relevant articles for French 2 students in Astrapi, while I prefer Okapi for my French 3 students. My level 4/5 students are able to interpret the texts written for teenagers in Phosphore.


  1. Write the interpretive reading task. Once I have chosen the authentic text, I write the actual assessment based on the template found here: http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/implementing-integrated-performance-assessment . While I think the template is self-explanatory, I thought I’d share a few tips for each section.

#1: I write the Key Word Recognition section by typing about the English translation of about 10 words/phrases from the text that I think the students will already know, based on prior instruction or the activities in the unit being assessed. Note: Sometimes I “cheat” here to introduce a new vocabulary word that the students will need in order to interpret the text.  I do so by writing the entire phrase in which the word appears.  When searching for the phrase in the text, they will be able to use the context to determine the meaning of the targeted vocabulary item.

#2: Main Idea.  Most of my students don’t write the main idea until they have completed the Supporting Details section. It would probably make sense to move this section accordingly when typing an IPA.  When assigning a literary text, I change the wording here so that the students are writing a 2-3 sentence summary, rather than a main idea.

#3: Supporting Details. This is the core section of the task, where students will really have a chance to show you what they know. Remember that these are statements, not questions.  The students are not providing answers, they’re writing details to show that they understood more than the main idea the text.  I try to give them a chance to really show off here by writing very general statements, so that they can use as many details as possible.  Although the template suggests writing 8 statements (3 of which will be distractors) I often write more based on the length of the text.  I have noticed that I often learn more about my students’ comprehension from their errors on the distractors than on the details they provide for the “correct” statements.  Because most of my texts are informational in nature, the students can use their background knowledge to provide logical answers, without actually understanding the text.  However, when they provide a detail for a distractor, I know that they are using what they know rather than what they’ve read.  Note: I generally omit the requirement that the students “write the letter of the detail next to where it appears in the text.”  I did not find that this step was difficult to assess and didn’t supply me with any additional information about what the students understood.

#4: Organizational Features.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I sometimes omit this section.  While I recognize that identifying the organizational structure is an important top-down process, I do not feel that assessing this skill provides much additional information about the students’ comprehension of a text.  For novice learners who are interpreting infographics or other simple texts, the organization is so obvious that the students often see this step as needless busywork.

#5: Guessing Meaning from Text.  My students consistently score the lowest on this section of the interpretive task.  As suggested in the ACTFL manual, I type the entire sentence in which the word is located, as well as provide a description of where in the text the sentence is located.  The students’ often respond with an English word that is similar in spelling, but not meaning to the French word.  This indicates to me that they are not using the context clues to infer the meaning of the word.  Because of the difficulty of this task, I usually include more than three items in this section so that students have a greater opportunity for success.  In addition, I’ll continue to encourage them to rely more on context for these items.

#6: Inferences. The ACTFL template gives great examples of appropriate inference tasks.  Make sure to note that for novice learners it’s appropriate to give a choice of possible inferences and have the students choose which one is supported by the text and provide justification.  When I began using this template, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this section demonstrates the depth of the students’ comprehension.

#7: Author’s Perspective. While I think this task is very important for my upper level students, it is often not applicable for the types of texts that Novice learners read.  Although I suppose we could say that the perspective of the “author” of a menu is that the food is delicious, I don’t think requiring the students to explain this is a good use of their time or mine.

#8: Comparing Cultural Perspectives. I again rely heavily on the suggestions given in the ACTFL template for this task.  I have found, however, that the students need more specific directions for this section.  For example, I have had to explain that “It would be written in English.” Is not an acceptable response to the question regarding how the article would be different if it was written for an American audience.  I have also been quite liberal in the type of answer that might demonstrate a perspective, rather than just a product or practice.  While this distinction is an important one, Novice learners are sometimes not able to even identify the relationship between practices and perspectives in their own culture, let alone a culture about which they know very little.

#9: Personal Reaction. I generally omit this section from the interpretive task.  Because the instructions state that the response should be in the target language, I consider it a presentational rather than an interpretive task.  I do consider this prompt, however, when I design the presentational task for the unit.


Although it is writing the interpretive task is the most time-consuming part of designing an IPA, I’m only a little bit embarrassed to say that I think it’s kind of fun.  I like the creativity involved in writing the tasks and always look forward to seeing what the students are able to achieve.


  1. Choose an authentic recorded text. In my initial research on IPA’s, I was surprised to find out that most authors advocated using either a reading OR a listening interpretive task rather than both. Even the ACTFL IPA manual has very little to say about listening comprehension. In my opinion, we do a great disservice to our students if we do not adequately address the importance of interpreting oral texts.  As a matter of fact, I believe that of all communicative tasks, this is the one for which the students need us the most.  They may be able to use Google Translate to interpret written texts or provide comprehensible written messages, but they will not be able to understand what they hear without being exposed to a wealth of authentic recorded texts in an instructional setting.  For these reasons, I nearly always include both an interpretive reading and an interpretive listening task on my IPA’s.  When selecting an appropriate “text”, I rely almost entirely on YouTube videos. Because Novice learners need a lot of visual support, I often use cartoons with them.  Trotro l’Ane, Petit Ours Brun, Caillou and Peppa Pig are a few cartoon characters whose videos I’ve used successfully with Novice learners.  More proficient students are able to interpret amateur videos made by French teenagers on a variety of topics or on authentic instructional videos.  My French 4/5 students can generally interpret news videos related to the topic of study.


  1. Write the interpretive listening task. Unfortunately, the ACTFL IPA manual provides very little direction when it comes to interpreting an oral text. While teachers are encouraged to use the same interpretive template to assess both reading and listening, this would not work very well given the constraints of my teaching situation. Because I have only 8 computers in my classroom, students circulate between the reading and listening sections of the IPA. Therefore, I need to limit the amount of time that an individual students spends at the computer.  The nature of the tasks on the Interpretive template would require the students to listen to the videos in their entirety several times, which would be extremely time-consuming without necessarily demonstrating deeper understanding.  In addition, many of the sections on this template would not adequately address listening comprehension.  It goes without saying that any word or phrase that is written in the target language on the IPA becomes a reading rather than a listening assessment.  While I will continue to evolve in my understanding regarding listening comprehension, I am currently relying heavily on English comprehension questions for the videos I include in my IPA’s.  Although I write the questions in the order in which the students will hear them (to save time), I try to vary the types of questions in order to assess the various levels of comprehension that are included in the ACTFL interpretive template.  In addition to informational questions about what is happening in the video (supporting details), I also ask the students to provide a main idea or summary after watching the video.  When possible, I will also include a few items which require the students to infer the meaning of a new word, based on the context of the sentence (with the understanding that the inclusion of the written sentence will negate the role of listening). When appropriate, I might also include an inference or cultural context question.  Note: because some of the cartoon videos might not come from the target culture, they may not provide a cultural context.  However, I consider them to be authentic in that the French translation was produced for a target culture audience.


  1. Write the interpersonal task. Based on my observation, I think this may be the area in which we have the greatest opportunity for growth. I think that many of us are labeling oral performances as interpersonal when there is little or no negotiation of meaning.  It seems to me that if a student knows in advance what s/he or the other speaker will say, it is not an interpersonal task.  In addition, if a speaker is required only to give answers, rather than also questioning, the task cannot be considered interpersonal.  While Novice Low to Novice Mid learners can only communicate using memorized phrases, this does not mean that they should be expected to reproduce memorized dialogues. For these learners, I often rely on an information gap types of activities to provide contextual support while at the same time allowing for unscripted language use.  For example, students might be given a series of pictures and asked to discuss them in order to ascertain whether each one is the same or different. This type of activity allows for a continuum of proficiency (some will use single words, while others will use simple sentences) and requires each student to both ask and answer questions.  As students become more proficient, they can manage more open-ended tasks such as discussing familiar subjects such as preferences, activities, family, eating habits, etc.  While the actual task will be highly dependent on the theme of the unit, the benchmarks in the ACTFL manual provide many good examples.  Because my upper level classes are organized around a novel or film, rather than a broader theme, I often assign role plays for interpersonal speaking tasks.  Rather than asking them to replay a scene from the film/book, I create a hypothetical situation (which could have, but did not happen) and ask the students to role play the situation.  Although I might allow them advance practice in class, they will not be assigned a role or a partner until I call on them to be assessed.   Note: With more open-ended tasks, I think it’s important to give the students a minimum time limit.  While students might prepare some of their statements in advance, based on the topic, I think it’s the “stretch” that takes place when they run out of things to say that increases proficiency in this skill.


  1. Write the presentational task. Most of my IPA’s include a written presentational task, but not a spoken one. Because I assess their interpersonal skills, it would often be repetitive to also assess their presentational speaking, as they would use many of the same vocabulary and structures. In addition, multiple class periods are required to listen to 30 students present on a particular topic, which I have determined is not the best use of my limited instructional time.  When developing written presentational tasks, I again rely heavily on the wording used in the IPA manual.  Thus, Novice Low-Mid students write lists and Novice High – Intermediate Low students write hypothetical blog posts, e-mails, etc. in which they express their personal experiences as they relate to the theme.  Ideally, this task will be dependent on the interpretive task.  For example, when my French 1 students read an authentic post by a family looking for an au pair, they wrote a similar post for their own family.  Likewise, after my French 2 students read a magazine article about a Canadian student’s typical day, they wrote a magazine article about their own typical day.  Because many of my upper level students will be taking the AP test, I rely heavily on prompts requiring persuasive speech that is expected on this exam.  As with the role plays, I often ask them to write a letter from character in a film/novel to another, persuading him/her to perform some action. Given the nature of each of the Presentational context, in most cases I assign a rough draft of the task as a formative assessment. I then provide feedback on this draft before having them produce a final draft on the IPA.


Whew, I think it took longer to write about it than it does to actually write an IPA!  If you’d like an additional example (or if you’re using the French 2 unit I described in my previous post), here’s the IPA developed for my current French 2 unit.School Unit IPA

As usual, I’d love to hear how IPA’s are working for you as well as any suggestions that you have!

Saying “Au Revoir” to Dr. & Mrs. Vandertramp

Student Waving from DeskMy 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. (IPA)

L’Amour – A Unit for Intermediate Low French Students

je t'aimeWhew!  This unit was a lot more challenging than I expected it to be when I typed the word “Amour” as a unit theme writing my French 3 syllabus in August.  Never having taught this theme without a textbook, I had my work cut out for me when planning this unit.  There is such a wealth of authentic written and recorded resources related to this topic that I didn’t know where to start.  Deciding that it would be simplest to start at the beginning, I chose a chronological organization for the unit (La Rencontre – Le Rendez-vous – L’Amour – La Rupture – Le Mariage), and then began the process of selecting materials that I hoped would be engaging, comprehensible, and appropriate to my students’ ages/developmental stage.  Trust me, as soon as you type “amour” into any search box, you will get a lot of hits that you would never want your students to see!  As an additional challenge, I wanted to make sure that the resources I chose helped to establish an inclusive classroom environment for my GLBT students, as well as respect for the beliefs of my students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.  Lastly, I wanted to focus on the language function of giving advice, which was a natural fit with the theme of this unit.  Here’s the 15-page activity packet that I came up with—I’d love to hear your feedback! Amour Activities

Here’s an explanation of the activities in the packet, and approximately how long I think each lesson in the unit will take.  Note: My lessons tend to take longer than I think they will!  If it seems that this unit is taking too long, I will assign some activities as homework, or eliminate them, based on the needs of my students.

Etape 1 – La Rencontre (Days 1-3). In this lesson the students will first read an article with tips on how to approach someone that they’re interested in.  I thought that the students, who often feel socially awkward at this stage, would be interested in the concrete advice given in the article.  After this reading, the students will discuss some of the suggestions from the article in their small groups.  I have included a space for them to fill in their group members’ responses, in an effort to ensure that all students are actively participating in the discussion.  I will also circulate around the room and provide feedback during this portion of the lesson.  Next, the students will watch a video in which an animated character gives advice to a human teenager.  I wasn’t familiar with this series of videos, but I think that the animation in the video might be engaging to the students.  As a culminating activity, the students will write a message to a friend in which they give advice on how to approach a potential love interest.  As with all of the learning activities in this unit, I have kept the directions gender neutral in order to be as inclusive as possible.  On the second (?) day of this lesson, the students will both read an infographic and watch a news story on the theme of dating websites.  They will then practice and perform a role play between a teen and parent who are in conflict over the teen’s participation on a site de rencontre. I envision giving everyone about 10-15 minutes to practice, and then randomly choosing 3-4 pairs (not the same dyads as the practice activity) to present in front of the class for an assessment.  Because there are several role plays in this unit, I will be able to assess all students by the end of the unit.  Furthermore, by focusing on this type of interpersonal communication, rather than personalized discussion, I can avoid requiring students to discuss feelings that they might not be comfortable sharing.   For a presentational activity, the students will then write a message in which they make suggestions to a younger sibling who has enrolled in a meeting website.

Etape 2 – Le Rendez-Vous Amoureux (Days 4-5) In this lesson, the students will watch a video on how to call someone to ask them on a date, and complete a role play in which one calls the other for a first date.   They will then read an article with first date advice (Le premier rendez-vous) and write a note to a friend which incorporates suggestions from the article.

Etape 3 – L’Amour (Days 6-7) The students will begin this lesson by watching a video in which young children explain their ideas about what love is.  They will then read an article in which French teens discuss how they expressed their feelings/kissed someone they liked for the first time.  (Quand se declarer…) One of the couples in this article is a same sex couple.  While I thought about eliminating this portion of the article, I decided to leave it in to support my desire to provide an inclusive classroom environment.  While I do not expect this to create problems in my school, I understand that the same might not be true in other school cultures.  After these interpretive activities, the students will practice and perform role plays in which they give each advice about giving a first kiss, and then write a real or imaginary story about their own (hypothetical?) first kiss.

Etape 4 – La Rupture (Days 8-9) Since all good things must come to an end, the students will watch another video in the previously-described partially animated series with advice about breaking up.  They will also read an article with break-up advice, before discussing the suggestions in the article with a partner.  As a follow up activity, they will write a note to a friend who is going through a break-up and offer him/her advice.  The students will then read a more in depth article with suggestions to parents about how they can help their teenager survive his/her first broken heart.  They will then role play a conversation between a parent and teenager.

Etape 5 – Le Mariage (Day 10-12?) This lesson continues to be a work in progress, and I am not sure whether I will actually use it.  I struggled to find materials related to marriage that I thought would be engaging to students who are most likely several years away from being married.  While I wanted to introduce some cultural connections, as well as vocabulary related to marriage, I’m not finding a good fit between the videos and articles I found about Mariage pour Tous/French weddings and making suggestions/giving advice.  I may keep working on this—and add my revisions to this post, or drop it all together.  In the meantime, I’m leaving what I came up with in the document, in case it’s of use to anyone else.

Bonne Année!

Le Petit Déj: An introductory unit on French mealtimes for Novice learners

petitdej Although food is the last thing I want to think about after several days of holiday feasting, my syllabus says that my French 1 students will begin studying French mealtimes when we go back to school on January 5th.  Therefore, in my downtime during the first few days of winter break, I’ve developed the following unit to teach my students how to discuss and describe what they eat for breakfast as well as to compare typical American and French/Belgian breakfasts. Here’s the packet I will give the students which contains all the materials and resources for the mini-unit.   Le-Petit-Dejeuner (1)

I think these activities will take about 4 days, and this is how I plan on conducting each lesson.

Day 1 The students will first watch a short instructional video showing the students what food items are included in a typical French breakfast.  They will check each item that they hear and we will then discuss the correct answers.  Afterward, the students will interview a partner about how often s/he has each of the items on the list.  I will then ask a series of questions (Ton partenaire prend souvent du café? Ta partenaire prend souvent du yaourt ? etc.) before assigning the writing activity in which the students compare their breakfast habits to a partner’s.  If there is time remaining in the class period, the students will begin the interpretive activity in which they read an article about breakfast in Belgium. (Edited 11/5/19: Click here for the infographic. )

Day 2 I will start the period with the video (III) activity since I will be conducting this as a whole class activity using the projector.  After discussing the correct responses, the students will do the accompanying interpersonal pair activity, with a partner other than the one they spoke to in the previous day’s lesson.  Lastly, the students will have time to finish the interpretive reading activity about breakfast in Belgium.  Because this is an individual activity, I like to assign it as the last activity in the period to allow for differences in reading pace among the students.

Day 3 I will begin this class with a video (IV) after which the students will complete the “Guess Who” interpersonal activity.  After a couple of rounds of this game, the students will write a paragraph about their own breakfast habits.

Day 4 I will begin this activity with a short interpretive activity about typical American breakfasts.  After all students have completed the reading (early finishers can start the presentational activity), the students will complete the pair interview based on this article.  Lastly they will fill in a graphic organizer comparing French and American breakfasts.

Day 5 The students will take a formative assessment on breakfast vocabulary.

Whew.  Week one is planned for French 1—only 3 more preps to go!

Have a peaceful holiday season and winter break!


A literature-based Christmas lesson for Novice High learners


Although I created a complete unit on the theme of Christmas for my French 1 students, my curriculum allowed me to spend only a few days on Christmas with my French 2 and French 3 students.  Since these students had learned Christmas vocabulary and French holiday traditions in previous years, I decided to focus on literature-based activities and assessments for these students. I felt that it was especially important for my French 2 students to get some exposure to narrative texts, as they have read primarily informational texts so far this year.  Although my French 3 students have read a few Petit Nicolas stories, I knew they would enjoy reading and writing holiday-themed stories during the last few days before Winter Break.

I began this lesson by having the students read a Christmas-themed story.  I prepared a simple set of English comprehension questions to help guide their comprehension, but did not assess them.  The purpose of this first story was to provide a model of a narrative text.  The French 2 students read Le cadeau du Père Noël (le cadeau) and answered these questions : lecadeau The French 3 students read La Galette de Père  Noël (la galette) and answered these questions: galette

Next, I had the students fill out the following graphic organizer with the plot elements for the story that they read.  Because I had never specifically taught plot elements in the past, I didn’t know what background knowledge they had regarding narrative texts. Fortunately, they were able to match up the French vocabulary for various plot elements to those that they had learned in language arts classes and were able to complete the graphic organizer in a few minutes. This is the graphic organizer I prepared for this activity: conte_graphicorg

Now that the students had reviewed the plot elements of a story, they were ready to begin writing their own.  I passed out a blank copy of the same graphic organizer, and asked the student to fill it out with information about their own story.  I hoped that by beginning with this step, the students might be less overwhelmed than if I had just asked them to make up a French story.  Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, the students seem very excited about writing their stories and one even mentioned that, “This is the most fun thing we’ve ever had to write in French.”

Now that each of the students has an outline of his/her story, I am going to have them continue to work with narrative texts over the next few days as they complete a series of learning stations (which will be their IPA for this mini-unit, as well as their Midterm Exam grade).  At the Listening Station, they will watch to 2-3 videos about Santa Claus and complete a comprehension guide.  At the Reading Station, they will read another Santa-themed story and complete an interpretive reading assessment, while at the Writing Station they will write the first drafts of their stories. The French 2 classes will have an additional Interpersonal Speaking station at which the students will describe the pictures on Christmas-themed stickers to a partner who will choose the correct match from his/her set of stickers.

French 2 Learning Stations/IPA:French 2 Noel IPA     French 3 Learning Stations/IPA: noel_ipa 3

Note: I have one French 3 student whose religion prevents her from participating in any activity which relates to any type of holiday/birthday celebration.  These are the alternative reading and listening activities that I developed for her: Alternate Interpretive

After the students have completed these stations, they will produce a final draft of their story as well as present it orally to the class.  I think these presentations will be a great way to use the block of time that is set aside for our midterm exams, as the students will have already completed the other portions of their performance-based exam while at their learning stations.  For the presentations, the students will prepare a Google Presentation a visual aid to support their storytelling.  The images on the Google Presentation can be drawings, clipart, photographs, etc.—any media that will help the students retell their story and help their audience (classmates) to comprehend it.  I know the students are nervous about this part of the assessment, but I explained that they don’t need to memorize their written story exactly, they just need to summarize/retell it to the class.

The students seem excited about this project and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re able to produce!



Joyeux Noël : A unit for Novice Learners


One of the great things about being a French teacher is that a wide variety of themes can be used to advance the proficiency levels of the students.  For this reason, I’ve always felt very comfortable teaching a unit on Christmas.  I know that the students will be introduced to a variety of vocabulary and structures as they complete the interpretive tasks in this unit and that the fluency and accuracy they develop through the interpersonal and presentational tasks will increase their overall proficiency.  While I have always focused on Christmas as a target culture celebration (avoiding religious-themed texts), the diversity of my students this year makes this essential.  In my French 1 class alone, I have students from 17 different countries!  As a result, my activities will focus on vocabulary acquisition and Francophone culture, with few or no personalized responses.

I will begin this unit by passing out a packet with the communicative goals, vocabulary, and structures for this unit.  In my French 1 class, I am going to concentrate on question words as a structure.  I chose this structure because of its important role in increasing proficiency in the Interpersonal mode.  I’ve introduced the vocabulary by presenting each word in the context of a sentence, which is depicted in a picture.  I’m hoping that this will help the students increase their sentence-length communication as we work on the vocabulary.  Here’s the packet:2014 packet_noel

For the next week the students will begin memorizing the vocabulary through a variety of activities.  For the first couple of days we will play a Loto game that I purchased from Teacher’s Discovery.  This helps the students hear the correct pronunciation of the words over and over again.  While I sometimes call just the isolated word, at other times I say a sentence which includes the word.  The winners have to say the words in their winning row, which enables me to provide further feedback on pronunciation. After we play as a whole class, I also have them play in small groups, with the students taking turns calling the words they need to make a Bingo.  This enables me to circulate around the room, providing additional feedback on pronunciation.

In addition to the Loto game, the students complete a variety of interpersonal activities to practice the vocabulary as well as increase their fluency and ability to negotiate meaning.  In the following document I have included three separate partner matching activities— each focusing on either snowmen, Christmas trees, or Santa Claus.  For each of these activities the students will number a sheet of paper according to the number of pictures in the activity.  They will then take turns describing a picture to their partner, who will tell them the number or letter of the picture on their paper which is the same as the picture that their partner describes.  Each partner will fill in the letter next to the corresponding number on their sheet of paper.  While I don’t grade these papers, I will often do a quick formative assessment in which I describe five of the pictures and they write down the corresponding number or letter, depending on which they have on their paper.  In this way I don’t penalize a student whose partner has given him/her the wrong number or letter during the interpersonal activity.  Here’s a document with the activities:noel_matching

In addition to these matching activities, I’ve created several activities which require partners to describe their picture in order to figure out which items are missing.  These are easy to create by beginning with a coloring page (see Google Images), printing two copies, and whiting out several items from each copy and then photocopying the originals.  I also have used Christmas stickers to make activities in which a pair of students are each given the same ten stickers (stuck onto cut up index cards).  One student places the stickers in a row and then describes each sticker to his/her partner (a binder between the two prevents them from seeing each other’s stickers).  After all ten pictures are described, they remove the binder to check whether they completed the activity correctly.

Throughout this week, the students will also complete a variety of interpretive reading activities designed to teach them about holiday celebrations in Francophone and other cultures.  I have included some interpersonal activities with these readings, but have changed the context of these interview questions so that they are not Christmas specific.

In this activity, the students read about Christmas traditions throughout the world and complete an interpretive activity: Quelques traditions de Noel dans le monde

In this one, they complete an interpretive activity about Christmas shopping, and then interview a partner as a follow-up interpersonal activity: Shopping de Noel dans le monde

The presentational activities that the students do during this unit will mostly involve describing pictures orally and in writing.  This skill is appropriate to their proficiency level and will avoid requiring the students to use the vocabulary in a personalized context, which I don’t feel would be appropriate for these students.

Here’s the IPA that I prepared for this unit: noel_ipa

For the interpretive listening the students will watch a video about a donkey who goes sledding.  For the Interpersonal speaking, they will take turns describing holiday pictures in order to decide whether each one is the same or different.  For the Presentational writing they will write an e-mail about French holiday traditions and for the Interpretive reading they will read an article about European holiday traditions.

Joyeux Noël!

Le Petit Prince: A communicative approach


Le Petit Prince: A Communicative Approach

Although my teaching has evolved considerably over the past 25 years, one constant has been Le Petit Prince.  This novel has been part of my French 4 curriculum nearly every year and I love it more every time I teach it! Fortunately, my family understands my passion for this character, and I now have a wonderful collection of Little Prince memorabilia including jewelry, a lunchbox, and even a pair of hand-painted shoes.  Most of my students grow to love this novel as much as I do and often buy their own copies after they graduate. I was especially touched to receive an e-mail last spring from a former student who wrote to me to share an article he had read about the novel in The New Yorker.  Although I hadn’t realized it when he was in my class, this novel had meant a lot to this student and he was excited about coming across the article years after reading the novel in my class.

Last year, because my French 4 students were placed in the same class as my French 5 students (who had read the novel the previous year), I had to take a short break from my beloved novel.  For this reason, I’m especially excited to teach it this year!  Although I won’t start until January, I’ve spent the last two weekends revamping my materials in order to make sure that my approach reflects my current understanding of best practices.  I’ve included a link to the workbook I created at the end of this post.  Here’s a description of how I’ll teach each chapter. (The information in parentheses refers to the corresponding workbook section.)

#1: Advance Organizer (Part A)

For each chapter I’ve included a question or two related to the theme of the chapter.  The students will discuss these questions in order to prepare for the reading.

#2: Vocabulary (Parts B/C)

I’ll start each chapter by presenting a few key words from the chapter.  I’ve provided pictures for the concrete nouns (and some verbs) and French definitions for the others.  I’ll project the pictures on the screen and ask the questions which incorporate the new vocabulary so that they are familiar with the words before we begin reading the chapter.

#2: Introduction to the text (Part D)

I’ll begin by playing the animated audio version of the text I found on Youtube.  Here’s a link to the Chapter 1 video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvRIccSAHEwk . After they’ve listened, they’ll read the text and answer the comprehension level true/false questions for the chapter. The students will work in groups to read and answer these questions, and we will then go over them as a class.  I have chosen true/false questions here, because I find that they encourage discussion more than other types of objective questions.  When I go over this section, I always ask students to justify their responses with specific details from the text.  They have to explain why the item is either true or false.

#3: Inference Questions (Part E)

In this section, students read inference-based questions and choose whether they agree or disagree with each statement, providing evidence from the text.  I often have the students respond to these individually, and then discuss with their groups.  The nature of the questions encourages both an in-depth reading of the text and lively discussions, as there is often not a clear cut “right” answer.

#4: Role-Ply (Part F)

Next, the students work with a partner on the role-play based on a hypothetical discussion related to the chapter.  These role plays provide additional opportunities for interpersonal communication, as well as help the students to synthesize the material from the chapter.

#5: Key Quotes (Part G)

Lastly, the students discuss a key quote from the chapter and how it relates to their own personal experience.

While I developed these activities to maximize opportunities for interpersonal communication, they can also be adapted for other modes or for assessment purposes.  Because my grading system is based on language skill categories, I include assessments for each skill through this instructional unit. Therefore, I might occasionally have the students work individually on the true/false questions and submit them for an assessment of their accuracy (interpretive reading), rather than discussing them in class.  I might also prepare comprehension questions for the videos, in order to assess their interpretive listening skills. The “Citation Clé” sections can easily be turned into a writing assessment, rather than/after being discussed orally in class. I record interpersonal speaking grades as I circulate among the students each day, but students could also prepare a response to an inference question, quote, or role-play, for an assessment of their presentational speaking.

Here’s a link to the workbook I’ve developed. Le Petit Prince .  Although I condensed it into 25 pages for the purposes of sharing, I will probably add spaces for student responses so that the copy I give them will be considerably longer.  Also, since I just finished this work I haven’t yet seen it in printed form or used it in class you’ll probably find some typos or other errors—please accept my apologies in advance!  I’ll update the link if I find any glaring errors!

I’d love to hear your feedback on these materials, as well as your ideas for this novel.  Please share by adding a comment using the link above!

La Famille: An IPA for Novice Learners

familyI have just enough time for a quick post before heading off to work this morning, so I thought I’d share the IPA that my French 1 students will be taking today. In this unit the students learned family vocabulary and how to describe people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really happy with the reading I had used for the IPA on this unit last year, so it was back to the drawing board on this one. I think this one will work a lot better.

As you can see by clicking on the link below, the students will read the post of a family who is advertising for an au pair. I loved that this resource gave me a chance to talk to my students about a way they might continue their language study—maybe one of them will be an au pair someday? It is something that could be a real possibility with all the benefits it holds! The text is also rich with other vocabularies they have learned this year, such as sports and activities. Although the post does not provide much visual support, there are a lot of cognates and other contextual support. I included the link to the website, as well as the snipped copy of the post that I chose. I didn’t have enough time to read many of the posts on the website, and there might be others that work even better.

While I would have liked to find a listening excerpt that supported this theme, the videos that I found by au pairs would have been too difficult for these novice learners. Instead, I had to go with a “not quite authentic” video in which a native speaker describes himself, his family and his activities. I’ll keep working on this for next year—if you have any ideas, please share!

For the presentational writing portion of this IPA, the students will write their own posts in search of an au pair for their own families. Although having them write physical descriptions for this prompt is a bit of a stretch, I like the way that it recycles previously learned vocabulary and structures. The presentational speaking repeated this prompt, but this time the students were given the context that they were making a video to send to the au pair agency. With my students, it worked better to just have them present in class rather than making an actual video.

Link to IPA:Family IPA (revised)

What authentic texts do you use to assess the students on family and descriptions? Have you used an authentic recorded text with this unit?

Petit Nicolas: How to incorporate children’s literature in a proficiency-based curriculum.



I have been reading Petit Nicolas stories with my students since I began teaching 25 years ago. Although a lot of the resources on interpretive reading assessment tend to focus on non-fiction, I think that it is important to make sure that we are also exposing our students to literature from the target culture.   My students have always enjoyed reading these stories, and look forward to watching the live action film in the spring.  In addition, the cartoon videos provide an excellent authentic resource for interpretive listening.  For these reasons, I developed a mini-unit around the Petit Nicolas story, “Les Campeurs” for my French 3 students after our vacation unit this fall.     Here’s a pdf of the story, if you don’t have a copy of the book. 4-Les campeurs

I began this mini-unit by presenting some of the new vocabulary that the students would be seeing in the story.  To do so, I made a PowerPoint with a slide for each of the images on the handout included in the file.  I showed the PowerPoint and asked questions which included the words in order to familiarize the students with the vocabulary and scaffold the interpretive task.  Although I don’t often pre-teach vocabulary in this way, the feedback from the students was that it was really helpful.  An unintended consequence of this activity was that the students began to make predictions about what the story would be about—an important step in the reading process.

After the vocabulary presentation, I gave the students the interpretive task for Part 1 of the story, which I developed according to the template in the ACTFL IPA manual. Due to the length of the story, I divided it into two parts, and wrote a separate assessment for each one.  In order to avoid requiring the students to spend two days on silent reading, I allowed them to complete the assessment for Part I in small groups.   This also allowed the Part 1 task to serve as a formative assessment for the mini-unit.

While the students did well on this assessment and enjoyed reading the first part of the story, I wanted to include some target-language discussion of Part 1 before assessing their comprehension on Part 2.  A drawback to using the ACTFL IPA template is that the questions are in English.  While I agree that this is the best way to assess reading, it doesn’t provided the springboard I needed for a target language discussion.  Therefore, I designed a series of inference-based French questions and had the students discuss them in small groups, after which we discussed them as a class.  Their responses to these questions let me know that even those students who had performed well on the formative assessment were not reading deeply enough to understand many of the humorous details in the story.  I also discovered that my students would have benefited from being given additional background information about the stories.  For example, one student asked, “Why do you keep calling this story Petit Nicolas, there’s not even a Nicolas in it?”  I had not realized that it would not be obvious to these students that the story was being narrated in the first person—Oops!

I was pleased with the students’ discussion of these inference questions, and felt that they really encouraged a more detailed reading of the text.  I also realized that the ACTFL IPA template was most likely not designed for this type of reading task.  While reading for the main idea and a few supporting details are appropriate authentic tasks for non-fiction texts, literature is best enjoyed when read with attention to more subtle details, in order to more fully appreciate the humorous aspects of the text.  I’ll make sure to develop more appropriate interpretive assessments for these stories in the future.

After the discussion of the inference-based French questions, I felt the students were ready for the Part 2 Interpretive assessment.  They completed this individually so that I could use it as a summative assessment/part of their IPA for the mini-unit.

In addition to this Interpretive Reading task, I assessed the students’ interpretive listening skills by having them watch the cartoon video which corresponds to this story.  Note: the plot of the two stories is significantly different!  These differences are important, because they allow me to assess the students’ listening comprehension, rather than their memory of the story.  While this video is somewhat more difficult than others they had watched, the students felt very confident about their ability to understand it.  I think that the questions themselves provided a lot of scaffolding for the interpretive task.

For the Interpersonal Communication task, I assigned a role play in which Clotaire asks Nicolas to go camping again.  I allowed the students to practice this role play for about 30 minutes before being assessed, but did not allow them to choose which role they would play, or who their partner would be.  In this way I can ensure that the task is actually interpersonal, and not just memorization of a script.

For the Presentational Writing task, the students wrote a note from Nicolas to his grandmother, asking for a tent for his birthday.  As is my practice, the students wrote a rough draft (formative assessment), I provided feedback (using the abbreviations on the feedback form) and then they wrote a final draft, which was their IPA score.  In the future I would make my expectations more clear, as some of the letters were general in nature, rather than incorporating specific details from the story.

Here’s a file with the materials I created for this story:campeurs_file

I’d love to hear from others who have incorporated Petit Nicolas stories into their proficiency-based classrooms.  What types of interpretive tasks have worked for you?


Monsieur Lazhar: An IPA for AP students


When a colleague told me that she thinks this is the hardest part of the school year, I readily agreed with her. As she said, all of the materials and lessons that we created over the summer have been implemented, and we don’t have nearly enough time to develop the ideas we have for our current units. With winter break still several weeks away, we’re forced to “fly by the seat of our pants” all too often.
For my Advanced French students (Level 4/5 combined, AP class), this meant that they watched Monsieur Lazhar with very little preparation. I had never taught the film before, and just didn’t have the time to prepare the introductory materials that would have enhanced their background knowledge of the film’s setting, themes, etc. However, they were very moved by the film and we had great discussions throughout the week we spend viewing it. After which I administered the following IPA: MLazhar
In the interpretive listening task, the students watched a video and completed the multiple choice assessment. I continue to be challenged by writing this type of assessment. While I don’t think this is the best way to assess listening comprehension, I feel compelled to prepare the students for the AP exam. As always, I would be grateful for any feedback that those more experienced with the AP test can provide. Because my students received dual enrollment credit from a local college, I have only had a couple of students who have taken the latest version of the AP test, so I have not spent nearly enough time looking at sample exams. While I have tried to replicate the types of questions that they might expect to see (main idea, inference, language in context, etc.), I am not confident that I am getting it right. My students continue to struggle, and I’m wondering whether my questions are too difficult or if they are just not yet proficient enough for the texts that I am choosing.
In the interpretive reading task, the students read an interview with the director of the film. Again, I did my best to write an AP-style multiple choice assessment. I actually had a student who achieved a perfect score on this one. Whoo-Hoo! He is, of course, a genius and probably one of the most gifted students I’ve ever taught. Many other students did very well, too, although I noticed that there were more errors at the end of the assessment. I’m not sure whether the questions were more difficult or if their brains were just exhausted and they started to shut down.
In the interpersonal communication task, the students practiced each of the role plays with a partner, and then I randomly chose pairs to present one or the other to me. (They did not have the same partner with whom they had practiced.) These went well, although I need to remind them to incorporate more detail from the film in their role plays.
In the presentational writing task, the students wrote a letter from M. Lazhar to the school board, asking for his job back. I chose this prompt in order to focus on the future tense after a few students requested specific review on “verbs.” Although I had not planned on focusing on specific grammatical structures in this course, I felt it was important to consider the students’ requests in this case. I can’t offer any information about how they performed on this task, as they wrote them with substitute teacher this week and the papers haven’t yet made it to the top of the “Grade me” folder, but there were no complaints upon my return. No news is good news!
I’d love to receive feedback on this work, please leave a comment!