Pre-Listening Activities for Novice Students: Examples for teaching school supplies

In my last post, I shared some examples of pre-listening activities for students at the Intermediate level.  It is, of course, equally (or even more!) important to support Novice students by guiding them in activating background knowledge, engaging relevant vocabulary and providing reasons for listening.

Here are a few pre-listening tasks that would be a great fit for Novice Mid students before viewing a video in which a member of the target culture presents their school supplies.

Affinity Mapping For this activity each student is given 3-5 sticky notes and asked to write one French word for something in their backpack on each note.  The students then pair up and pool their sticky notes. The students group similar answers together to form 2 categories and provide a name for each category. (Examples: Things that fit in a pencil case/Things that don’t fit in a pencil case, Things I write with/Things I don’t write with, etc.). The teacher can then lead a class discussion in the target language by asking each pair what categories they created and what items they included in each one. As an additional challenge, the teacher might have the students start over and create 3 categories the second time.  (Note: Because of the limited vocabulary at this level, I would assign each member of the pair  either the letters A – L or M – Z so that they didn’t write down the same items.)

Partner Comparison Activity. In this activity, each student checks the sentence that applies to them. (These sentences and follow up conversation would, of course, be in the target language.) Ex. If the student has a pencil case in their backpack, they check “I have a pencil case.” The student then asks a partner whether each sentence they have checked also applies to them. Ex. “Do you have a pencil case?” If their partner answers affirmatively, both partners write, “We have a pencil case.” in the middle of the diagram. If the partner answers in the negative, the partner who asked the question writes “I have a pencil case.” and the other partner writes, my partner has a pencil case.  

Making Predictions. Listening activities that require students to make predictions about the text they will listen to are especially effective, as they provide the students with a reason for listening. While there are many ways to facilitate predictions, in this case I might provide screenshots from the video and have the students fill in speech bubbles to indicate what the speaker might be saying.

For a complete introductory unit for French 1 students that includes the activities above, click here.

Pre-Listening Tasks: Examples for Earth Day

One of the most rewarding aspects of being an ACTFL presenter is learning more about language learning as I research a new topic for each proposal. This past year I decided to focus on becoming more knowledgeable about the listening process, as I hadn’t seen many sessions on this topic in the past.  

Did I ever have a lot to learn!  Before I started exploring this topic, my approach to preparing a listening activity was to write questions, add them to Edpuzzle or print them out and then instruct my students to go listen and answer the questions.

There was so much more I could have done to support my students before turning them loose with those YouTube videos!  Most importantly, I could have created pre-listening activities to activate my students’ prior knowledge. Doing so would have facilitated my students’ use of top-down processes to derive meaning from the texts they would be listening to.  As Hawkins and Henshaw explain on p. 106 of Common ground second language acquisition theory goes to the classroom, in top-down processing,“we apply our background knowledge, perspectives, expectations, and experiences to anticipate, understand, and infer ideas.”  

When we know better, we do better! Although I don’t currently work with students, I am able to use what I’ve learned about the role of pre-listening tasks in the resources that I create for other teachers.  Here are some of my go-to pre-listening activities.

#1: Review key vocabulary. In addition to top-down processes, students engage bottom-up processing when listening as they identify known words to make meaning from what they hear. As a result, introducing or reviewing key words is an important pre-listening activity. One of my favorites is this Hexagonal Thinking Routine, in which students discuss relationships and manipulate words to create a web. Read more about this strategy here.

#2 Play the video without the sound.  By first playing the video without sound, the teacher can activate students’ background knowledge by asking relevant questions about the images.  This discussion also provides valuable language input to the students, introduces key vocabulary and develops their content knowledge.

Here’s a sample script for the video, C’est quoi la biodiversité.

(0:16) Qu’est-ce que tu vois ici ? Qu’est-ce que l’homme fait ? Qu’est-ce qu’il regarde ? Qu’est-ce qu’il entend ? Tu aimes faire des promenades dans la nature ? Pourquoi ou pourquoi pas?Où vas-tu pour profiter de la nature ?  Comment est cet endroit ? Qu’est-ce que tu y vois ? Qu’est-ce que tu y entends ? Qu’est-ce que tu y sens ?

(0:24) Quels milieux naturels sont représentés dans cette image ? Quels êtres vivants habitent dans les lacs? Et dans la forêt ? Et dans les montagnes ? Tu as fait de la rando dans les montagnes ? Lesquelles ? C’était comment ? Qu’est-ce que tu y as vu ? Qu’est-ce que tu y as entendu ? Qu’est-ce que tu y as senti ? Pourquoi est-ce que les gens aiment les montagnes ?…

(0:31) Qu’est-ce que ces flèches représentent ? Quelle est la relation entre l’homme et l’abeille? Et l’abeille et la fleur ? Le champignon et l’homme ? L’arbre et l’homme ? L’arbre et l’oiseau ?

(0:44) Qu’est-ce qu’il y a dans cette image ? Comment est l’arbre ? Pourquoi l’homme a-t-il besoin du bois ? Pourquoi le bois est-il important pour les êtres humains ?  Pourquoi est-ce qu’on détruit les forêts ? Quelles sont les conséquences d’un manque d’arbres pour la planète ?

(0:51) Qu’est-ce que tu vois dans cette image ? Qu’est-ce que l’abeille fait ? Qu’est-ce qui se passerait sans abeilles ? Les abeilles sont-elles menacées ? Pourquoi ?Qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire pour aider les abeilles ?

(1:03) Qu’est-ce que tu vois sur cette corde raide ? Pourquoi est-ce qu’on représente ces différentes espèces sur une corde raide ? (Qu’est-ce qui se passerait si une des espèces tombait de la corde ?)

(1:14)  Quelles activités humaines sont représentées dans cette image ? Quels sont les dangers de la déforestation ? Et la pêche intensive ? Et la pollution ? Comment est-ce que tu contribues à ces dangers ?

(1:29) Quelles solutions sont illustrées dans cette image ? Tu achètes des aliments bio ? Lesquels ? Tu plantes les arbres ? Tu donnes de l’argent pour créer des aires protégées ?

#3 Assign true/false questions.  Asking the students to answer true/false questions about the video before watching it encourages them to make predictions and provides a reason for listening.

Here are some sample questions for C’est quoi une espèce menacée ?

  1. Une espèce disparaît toutes les 13 minutes.
  2. Un mammifère sur dix pourrait s’éteindre dans un futur proche.
  3. La plupart des espèces disparaissent à cause de l’activité humaine. 
  4. Les gaz à effet de serre font fondre l’habitat de l’ours polaire.
  5. La pollution de l’eau menace la survie du requin.

I would love to hear from you about your favorite pre-listening activities!

For a complete unit on the environment for French 3 and 4 students, click here.

World Language Teacher Summit

One of my many projects this year was to serve as the educational content editor, as well as a presenter, for this year’s World Language Teacher Summit. Although I have participated as a presenter in the past, this was the first year that I had the opportunity to watch every single video. I was so impressed by the presentations and honored to learn from teachers whose work I have admired for years.

If you’d like to attend this free virtual conference, here’s an (affiliate) link:

Unpacking Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes to the Classroom by Florencia Henshaw and Maris Hawkins

Like many of you, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy of Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes to the Classroom by Florencia Henshaw and Maris Hawkins.  After interacting with these two amazing women on Twitter for the past few years, I couldn’t wait to read this book. I am happy to say that it far exceeded my expectations, as high as they were!  Although I am honored to be part of the team that will lead a #langbook discussion of the book on Twitter this fall, I didn’t want to wait that long to start unpacking this fabulous book. In this post I will focus on Chapters 1 and 2, but look forward to unpacking additional chapters in the future. For another point of view on the book, I highly recommend this comprehensive blogpost by Martina Bex.  

Chapter 1: Guiding Principles

As the chapter title suggests, the authors begin by presenting reader-friendly definitions of the important terms that will be used throughout the text. While these terms may be familiar to many of us, the simple, clear definitions ensure that the readers will not become lost in jargon as they devour the rest of the book. For example, language acquisition is described as “the process of building a linguistic system by making form-meaning connections from the input” and as “what happens to you while you’re busy understanding messages.” (p. 3). I know that many readers will appreciate this simple, comprehensible definition for a complex process!

In addition to providing working definitions, the authors clarify some important aspects of acquisition. On p. 4, they remind us that it is input that builds acquisition and output that helps learners get better at accessing the system. Therefore, “We don’t acquire a language by learning its rules and applying them.” 

Henshaw and Hawkins then turn toward an explanation of communication, which they define as “the purposeful interpretation and/or expression of meaning” (p.6). Unlike Van Patten, they do not espouse the unalterable communicative context of the classroom,  but maintain that “communicative practice” in the classroom most certainly contributes to students’ ability to communicate outside the classroom. I, for one, appreciate their contention that I can go beyond the classroom context in designing communicative tasks for my students.

Next, the authors turn their attention toward the modes of communication. One of the highlights of this section is an excellent table on p. 8 which outlines the role of both the teacher and the students for each mode of communication. I also appreciated their explanation of interpersonal communication as having, at its core, “an information gap between interlocuteur” (p. 10). While I have used several different descriptors when defining this mode, I think this one might clarify even further why a performance, such as a memorized skit, does not exemplify interpersonal communication.

After additional discussion of first versus second language acquisition and the role of teachers, chapter 1 (like the succeeding chapters) ends with examples that illustrate the chapter topics and a list of excellent discussion and expansion questions. 

Chapter 2: Goals and Assessment

Henshaw and Hawkins begin this chapter with a basic explanation of proficiency levels and their role in setting goals.  I especially appreciate the content of the “In case you’re wondering…” box on p. 32, in which they state that “Differentiated instruction is almost impossible if the proficiency differences among students are staggering.” I know many of us will be showing this section to administrators who insist that we teach various levels in one class since “It’s all French.” 

The authors continue this discussion by addressing the often misunderstood distinction between proficiency and performance. They remind us that “proficiency is what a person can do with the language in spontaneous, real-world context, whereas performance is used to describe what a learner can do after having had the chance to “practice” similar communication activities or tasks in the context of the classroom.” (p. 33). They clarify this distinction further by stating that performance “doesn’t mean memorized or scripted” but that “learners have completed activities to help them acquire the language and develop the skills necessary to perform similar (not identical!) tasks.” (p. 33). It seems clear that an important part of the role of teachers is to provide our students with tasks that will allow our students to both acquire language and develop their language skills.

In the next section, “Planning for Proficiency through Performance,” Henshaw and Hawkins provide a clear framework for curriculum design.  I was relieved that their ideas were closely aligned with the process that I use when working with teachers. In a nutshell, they recommend 1)establishing a proficiency target for the course, 2) setting course and unit goals and 3)planning daily lessons around specific communicative goals.  They emphasize the importance of evidence in this goal-setting and provide great examples in the table on p. 35. This table provides a great format for those teachers who are interested in creating communicative can-do statements for their lessons.

It is in the next section, “Assessing and Evaluating Performance,” where my own understandings and experiences most diverge with those of the authors, especially regarding Integrated Performance Assessment. On pages 38-40 they discuss several challenges to implementing IPAs and I’d like to address each of these individually.

The first challenge they describe is the time-consuming nature of the “unique” type and format of the feedback given throughout the IPA process. They state that this feedback is “co-constructed by the instructors and the students through guiding questions, self-assessment, and reflection.” (p. 38). While these are lofty goals, this type of feedback cycle is impractical, if not impossible, for classroom teachers with 30+ students, several of whom may be absent on a given day.  I would never have been able to co-construct feedback in this way, considering that it was sometimes weeks before all of my students had completed an IPA.  In my opinion, it would be unfortunate if teachers hesitated to implement IPA’s, simply because they could not adhere to this feedback cycle. 

The second challenge that Henshaw and Hawkins address is the difficulty in finding multiple authentic resources for novice earners. While I recognize that finding resources for some languages is more challenging than others, I have personally been able to curate appropriate resources for each of the languages taught by participants in the dozens of workshops I have facilitated. Many types of highly-visual texts, such as infographic, catalogs, menus, flyers, emergent reader texts, etc. are readily available for most languages and can be used as the basis for a novice IPA.  In my work with teachers, I suggest that curating pertinent authentic resources is an appropriate first step in creating a unit. The content of the available resources can then guide them in developing an essential question, learning goals, an IPA and the communicative tasks that will comprise the thematic unit. 

As a third challenge, the authors assert that “In most sampe IPAs, the interpersonal and presentation portions appear to be less developed or specific than the interpretive portion.” (p.39). While I agree with this conclusion, I do not find the difference in these tasks to be problematic. In my experience, the “myriad of questions” in the interpretive task of a typical IPA help guide the learners through the process of showing literal comprehension to demonstrating inferential interpretation. In addition, these question types allow all students to show what they can do with a text, regardless of whether they are fully meeting the targeted proficiency range for the course. Furthermore, because some of these question types have right/wrong answers, the teacher is more likely to be able to provide whole class feedback on this section in a timely manner. 

I find the more open-ended interpersonal and presentational prompts to also be vital in assessing the heterogeneous classes that most of us teach. The general nature of these tasks allows all students to experience at least partial success, and also provides the instructor with important data related to each student’s communicative proficiency. As a result, the teacher can provide the specific, individualized feedback needed to help the student to “level up” on the next assessment.  

In describing the fourth challenge, Henshaw and Hawkins explain that “Creating interpersonal communication tasks that resemble real-word use of the target language and are relatable to all students in the class might be somewhat paradoxical.” (p. 40).  In fact, I would say that designing a task that would be 1) authentic to the students in our classes, 2)completed in the target language, and 3)does not involve assuming the identity of a member of the target culture is darn near impossible. I do not, however, think that we should avoid assessing our students’ interpersonal proficiency.  It has been my experience that students are willing to adopt a suspension of disbelief in order to complete interpersonal tasks in the target language even when it is extremely likely that they would do so in the real world. Likewise, there may be instances in which it could be appropriate for a student to demonstrate their understanding of cultural products, practices and perspectives gleaned from authentic texts by responding to interpersonal prompts as a member of the target culture might respond.  

As a fifth challenge to the implementation of IPAs, the authors suggest that “given the fact that novice learners are exclusively reactive” we might “question the merits of having two novice learners perform an interpersonal communication task based on a relatively open prompt.” (p.40).  However, a Novice Mid example from the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements states “I can request and provide information by asking and answering a few simple questions on very familiar and everyday topics, using a mixture of practiced or memorized words, phrases, and simple sentences.” (italics mine). Therefore it seems to me that a prompt, such as “Discuss what you like to do with your partner in order to identify three activities you both like.” seems to be entirely reasonable for Novice Mid learners. In fact, it is my experience that it is often during a conversation between two novice interlocuteurs that “the magic happens.”  As these students use various strategies (repetition, gestures, binary questions, etc.) to negotiate meaning, they gain confidence and become more proficient communicators. Furthermore, speaking with a classmate rather than the teacher may also reduce the affective filter for many learners, enabling them to demonstrate higher levels of proficiency. 

For those readers who hesitate to fully implement IPAs, the authors do provide suggestions regarding assessment, as well as a discussion of rubrics and grading.  They also introduce terms and ideas related to intercultural communication in this chapter.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite for reading this important book. If so, you can order your copy from the publisher using this link or from Amazon using this one

Halloween Hexagons

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having all the fun researching various strategies that we language teachers can use to develop our students’ critical thinking skills for my upcoming ACTFL presentation. One new activity that I discovered via this post, is called Hexagonal Thinking. For this activity, students work in small groups to discuss and move hexagonal shapes (manipulatives or Google Slides) to show connections between words or concepts. In this example, Vampire and Chauve-souris are both touching Sang because both may drink blood. Maison Hantée is connected to Vampire, Effrayant, Sorcière and Loup-Garou because all might be seen at a haunted house. Loup-Garou and Sorcière are both Déguisements and if someone is dressed in a Déguisement as a Loup-Garou or Squelette, they might receive Bonbons. There are, of course, a myriad of ways to connect these words and the longer students spend on the task, the tighter their web will be (and the more interpersonal speaking they will have done) !

Click here if you’d like a copy of the activity to use with your students. For additional Halloween activities, I have added a French I Halloween Mini-Unit, French 2 Halloween Mini-Unit, French 3 Halloween Mini-Unit and a bundle which includes them all to my TPT store.

Joyeuse Halloween !

3 Critical Thinking Strategies for Language Learners

I’ve taken a quick break from working on the second semester of my French I curriculum to finish up my presentation for this year’s ACTFL conference. Because I wrote a proposal for a topic that I’ve never presented on, I’m starting from scratch this time around. Talk about overwhelming! After a period of utter terror as I stared at a blank Google Presentation, I did some research and started filling in those slides.  Here are three of the strategies that I’m including in my presentation along with some French examples. 

#1: Debate Team Carousel

This particular strategy is one that I had been introduced to during a professional development workshop in my last teaching position.  While so many of the school-wide PD sessions I have attended seemed to lack relevance for language teachers, in this case I found that I could apply many of the strategies to my own classroom. I especially liked this one, as it was a great way to incorporate interpersonal writing and can be used alone or as preparation for a class debate. 

Here are the steps for implementing this particular strategy which is described in detail here.

  1. The teacher creates a prompt that requires students to take a position and passes out this graphic organizer
  2. Each student fills in the first box with their position and a rationale.
  3. Students pass their paper to the right and add a rationale to support their classmate’s position, even if they don’t agree. 
  4. Students pass their papers to the right, read the first 2 boxes and add an opposing rationale to the 3rd box.
  5. Students pass the papers to the right and add their own opinion, supporting it with a rationale.

Here’s an example I created on the topic of grades: 

#2: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) 

This strategy was a new one to me, but I thought it was a great way to encourage students to think critically when interpreting authentic resources. Here are the steps to implementing this strategy, which is described here.

  1. The teacher presents a question.
  2. The students write a 1-sentence claim that answers the question. 
  3. Students look for evidence in the text to support their claim.
  4. Students write a conclusion to support their claim by citing and explaining the relevance of the evidence.
  5. Alternative: Students identify Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning in a text they are given

I decided to incorporate this strategy in my recent Bon Appetit unit, but adapted it slightly for Novice learners.  Rather than having the students write a claim, I gave them a list of possible claims from which to choose. I also gave them sentence starters to guide their writing in the conclusion. Click here for the activity, which is based on a reading about breakfast in France. I’d love to have feedback about how this activity works with students!

#3: Always, Sometimes, or Never True

Although very simple, I think this strategy (described here) could be used in a lot of different ways.  In this example, which I created for a unit I’m working on for the second semester of my French I curriculum, I used it as an interpretive task over an infographic about the French school system. I think this strategy can be a great alternative to the True/False with Justification task that I so often fall back on.

I hope to see some of you during my ACTFL session where I’ll be sharing a couple dozen additional strategies!

I also wanted to take this chance to thank all of you who have purchased my French I First Semester Curriculum.  When I set the goal of creating this resource over the summer, I had no idea whether there would be any interest.  I was so thrilled by the response to the resource that I created a Facebook page for teachers to ask questions, provide feedback and share ideas.  Here’s the link for those of you that have purchased the curriculum: 

My First Curriculum Project

I hope that all of you have had a restful and relaxing summer! While I have enjoyed a few road trips and spending time with friends and family, I also spent a lot of time on a new project. Based on the feedback I have received from readers and visitors to my TPT store, there was a need for Novice resources for French teachers that were interested in incorporating more authentic resources and focusing on communicating across the modes with their beginning students. While I had created a few lessons for these learners, I hadn’t devoted the time to creating a comprehensive curriculum that could be used by beginning teachers, long-term subs, teachers new to teaching for proficiency, teachers in districts that have recently adopted new standards, or any other teachers interested in reducing or eliminating their textbooks.

With those needs in mind, I decided to build a curriculum that French I teachers could use. I was able to create the first four units over the summer, and have created a bundle with all four units on Teachers Pay Teachers. Each unit includes a teacher’s resource with directions, answer keys (or rubrics) for each activity, and a Google Slide presentation that can be copied and shared with students. The slide has links to each activity and any necessary materials. As always, I’m grateful for any feedback (you might notice the new comment form on the right side of the blog!). Here’s a link to the bundle:

Teach Grammar as Concept and Use in Context: A Sample PACE Lesson on Adjective Agreement

When presenting to groups of language teachers, I often structure my presentations around the ACTFL Core Practices.  However, I have to admit that I have my favorites when it comes to these tenets of language teaching.  “Guiding Learners Through Interpreting Authentic Resources” ? Yep, I think that could be my middle name. “Designing Oral Interpersonal Communication Tasks”? You betcha! “ Plan with a Backward Design Model”, what else is there???  

The peskiest core practice for me has always been “Teach Grammar as Concept and Use in Context.” I admit that it has taken me awhile to fully deconstruct what this means (and I’m probably not all the way there, yet!).

Fortunately, the PACE model, described in Shrum and Glisan’s Teacher’s Handbook, provides a meaningful framework for addressing this core practice. 

For those unfamiliar with this model, PACE is an acronym for these steps that one might take to teach grammar in a contextualized way:

P = Presentation of meaningful language

A = Attention

C = Co-Construction (Explanation as Conversation)

E = Extension activities

I recently revisited the PACE model in preparing a new mini-unit on the language function “Giving Compliments.”  Having selected adjective agreement as the target structure for this unit, I presented a series of authentic texts (a cartoon video and list of Tweets) that were rich in adjectives. At this stage, the focus is on meaning, rather than form, so I created a series of interpretive tasks for these resources. 

Next, I designed a series of activities designed to draw students’ attention to the adjectives.  In this case, I broke the structure down into four mini-lessons: 1)A sample regular adjective (grand), 2) Regular adjectives , 3) Adjectives whose masculine form ends in “e” 4) A few common irregular adjectives. For each mini-lesson I created a slide with a series of Tweets containing the target structure, which I drew attention to with a purple frame.

I then created a series of questions for each mini-lesson that teachers can use to co-construct an explanation of the structure.

Finally, I provided a series of extension activities.  In addition to the short short practice exercises included in the presentation, I created a graphic organizer for the video, a 20 Questions game and a Presentational Writing task that will provide opportunities for students to use these structures. 

If you are interested in using this PACE lesson on adjective agreement, click here for the Presentation and here for the corresponding document. 

The entire mini-unit is available for purchase here

Bonne Fête de Saint-Valentin !

After a very busy holiday season, I found a few days here and there to create a series of mini-units for Valentine’s Day. Each mini-unit includes interpretive, interpersonal and presentational tasks based on authentic resources. Each mini-unit is organized onto a Google Presentation to which the resources are linked. A teacher’s guide with directions, keys and rubrics is also provided. As always, your feedback is appreciated!

Here are the links to the individual mini-units, as well as the bundle for those of you who teach several levels.

Fêtons la Saint Valentin: A Mini-Unit for Novice French Students

On fête la Saint Valentin: A Mini-Unit for Intermediate Low French Students

La Saint-Valentin dans le Monde Francophone: A Mini-Unit for Intermediate Mids

Valentine’s Day Bundle for French Teachers