Category Archives: Musings

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

World Language Teacher Summit 2020

I’m pleased to announce that I will once again be presenting at the World Language Teacher Summit.  If you’re interested in seeing my video, “ Interpretive Tasks for In-class and Distance Learning” or any of the videos submitted by these fantastic language teachers, click here for your free registration. (Note: This is an affiliate link and if you purchase anything I might receive a commission.) The conference starts on Monday, so register soon!

Les Vêtements Francophones: A Project for Novice French Students

I have to admit that I was never a huge fan of projects when I was in the classroom.  There were several reasons for this.  The first was that the class time spent on research and preparing a presentation took time away from the types of communicative tasks that I felt would lead to progress toward proficiency. Of course my upper level students could do research in the target language, but it was very difficult to ensure that they did.  Likewise, although I could have had the students prepare their visual aid at home, I found that some students would not prepare anything and others spent an inordinate amount of time making something pretty that did not in any way reflect their ability to communicate in French. This created a real dilemma for me, as my grading system was designed to reflect language proficiency rather than workmanship, effort, artistic talent, etc. 

Finally, I questioned the value of having students, especially Novices, present in French. Because their ideas (many of which came from research in English) were incongruous with their language proficiency, their presentations often involved reading Google-translated text aloud. It is hard to say whether listening to this type of presentation was more painful to me, the presenter or to their classmates, who didn’t understand a word of the language they heard.

Of course there are many advantages to assigning projects, too.  In fact, there are rockstar language teachers out there who have designed entire curriculums around project-based learning and their students are speeding down the path to proficiency.  Other esteemed colleagues are designing fabulous projects that motivate their students, provide opportunities for independent learning and will be remembered fondly by their students for the rest of their lives.  I applaud all of you!!!!

As for me, in spite of the previously-mentioned challenges, I did find myself assigning projects from time to time.  While I was not able to resolve all of the issues I mentioned above, some students did learn both language skills and content knowledge from their projects and I benefited from having a few days in a row that did not require a detailed lesson plan.  This was important to me then and it would be even more vital if I were teaching via remote, hybrid or socially-distanced face-to-face learning, which is why I recently found myself designing a new project. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have begun creating mini-units based on some of my favorite Troto episodes.  Each mini-unit includes several communicative activities based on the cartoon and then a series of extension activities designed to develop the students’ vocabulary and cultural competence on a topic related to the episode.  Because I had selected Trotro s’habille for my most recent mini-unit, I decided to focus on introducing students to clothing in non-European regions of the Francophone world. After all, as cute as Trotro is, a diet of donkey cartoons alone is not going to introduce students to the diverse and fascinating cultures that make up La Francophonie.  (Although they’re a great way to provide comprehensible input and a context for communicative tasks!)

Of course, there were some challenges inherent in introducing this topic.  Even Novice High/French 2 students would struggle on most authentic texts relating to clothing styles and with so many French-speaking regions in the world, there was no way I could introduce them all. Fortunately, I found an infographic on clothing in Africa that I thought would be at least partially comprehensible at this level and was able to use it to create an interpretive task that was appropriate for Novice High students.  This seemed like a pretty good start, but I wanted to provide students with exposure to additional cultures (I used only the Francophone African countries in the infographic on my interpretive task.) and to provide the teachers with additional lesson plans in the mini-unit.  It seemed like it was time for a project.  

As you can see in this project guide, the project I designed is highly-scaffolded will hopefully prevent many of the pitfalls I identified from previous projects.  The first step of the project will be for the students to select the article of clothing that they would like to research. They will fill their names in on the sign-up list (provided) and then begin researching. Unfortunately, in spite of the many hours I spent researching traditional clothing around the world, I was not able to find comprehensible authentic texts for the majority of the clothing items. Therefore, I would invite students to research in English, or use our frenemy Google Translate to find out some basic details about the article of clothing they have selected.  As you will see on the sign-up list, I did curate one or more authentic texts for each topic that could give the students something to translate or could be used by teachers of upper level students who would like to assign a more in-depth project to their students.

After researching a few basic details about their garment, the students will prepare a script for their presentation. In order to discourage the use of an electronic translator for this portion, I have provided sentence fragments that the students can use to write their scripts. I have then directed students to create a visual aid, but intend for teachers to expand on these directions based on their own expectations.  For example, you may or may not allow the students to have text on their slides or to use notecards.  Lastly, you’ll find a rubric for the presentation itself and a document that the audience members can use to take notes on the presentations.  I think this will help keep their attention and make it more likely that they retain some cultural knowledge.  

I hope that this project might be helpful for some of your clothing units and would be grateful for your feedback.  If you’d like to access the rest of the mini-unit, it’s available here

Assessing Writing During Distance Learning

As I work with teachers around the country, I continue to be in awe of the work that you are doing! While I am very grateful that I am not navigating the demands of distance, hybrid, and face to face but socially distant learning, I have spent considerable time thinking about how I might have modified different aspects of my practice to accommodate these challenges.  

While I previously shared some ideas about using graphic organizers for assessing interpretive reading, I really struggled on how I might have assessed presentational writing.  I have always had students do their writing assessments in class, so that I could be confident that the work I was evaluating reflected their actual level of proficiency.  Based on the assessment and my thinking at the time, I sometimes allowed access to paper dictionaries, online dictionaries, drafts, nothing but their brain cells, etc.

Distance learning, of course, presents a whole new set of challenges as we cannot physically prevent students from using Google Translate. While I agree with others that there is an appropriate time and place for using GT, when I was teaching I wanted to avoid having students write entire paragraphs in English and then plug them into any translation program. Like all of you, I could easily identify when students had done so, but this realization just created additional obstacles. Firstly, I preferred that my students’ grades reflect their proficiency rather than their behavior, so I needed to provide an alternate assessment  rather than simply give them a zero.  Secondly, the disciplinary measures that I was sometimes required to take did little to improve my relationships with students who already lacked the confidence to do the work as directed.  

As a result of these challenges, I decided to turn my attention to how I might make it more difficult, rather than less difficult, to complete an assignment using translation software. Here’s a link to a Google Presentation with the steps I came up with.

  1. On Slide 1 the students brainstorm the vocabulary they will use to complete the task (a message about a typical day in their life.) While they might use a translation program for this step, I am somewhat confident they will have made these words their own by the time they complete the assessment.
  2. On Slide 2 the students write simple sentences about their day using the vocabulary they have selected.
  3. On Slide 3 the students rewrite (or copy/paste) their simple sentence but add additional details.
  4. On Slide 4 they organize their sentences, add transitions and proofread.
  5. On Slide 5, they submit the final draft.

It is my hope that by following these steps, the students will be much less likely to resort to Google Translate. In fact, I’m not even sure what that would look like.  In addition, I think this writing process could lead to increased proficiency in presentational writing even for students who are learning in a classroom environment.  

I’d love to hear back from any of you who use a similar process. I have so much to learn from you that are doing the work!

Lou! A 9-Week Curriculum for Intermediate French Students

Based on the encouragement of my readers, I have spent the last month continuing my work creating mini-units based on the Lou! cartoon series. I have now posted mini-units for the first 9 episodes as well as a bundle that includes all 9 episodes at a discounted price. It is my intention that these 9 mini-units could provide a stand-alone first quarter curriculum for Intermediate students (Level 3+) regardless of whether they are attending class face-to-face, in a hybrid situation or entirely via distance learning. Because of the focus on communicative tasks and authentic resources, these units are also appropriate supplements for AP or IB classes.

Since I am so new to creating resources that I am not actually using with my own students, I would be very grateful for feedback from any of you that have used the mini-units. I have no doubt that you are finding typos and other errors (which is why I have provided editable documents) and I would love to correct those. It would also be helpful for me to know which activities you are finding useful and which do not meet your needs so that I can focus on providing more beneficial resources in the future. Please send your feedback to me at [email protected].

Here’s a link to the bundle:

Bonne Rentrée à Tous!

Lou! Episode 1: An in-class, online, hybrid or independent study mini-unit for intermediate students

My work with language teachers this summer has been one of the most humbling experiences of my career. I see your sacrifice, dedication and courage in impossible situations and I’ve spent some time thinking about how I might help a little bit. 

Since I’ve heard a few teachers (especially our valued newbies) mention how much they were struggling to find time to create a curriculum for their upper levels, I decided to start there.  I think that many of us face planning challenges with that group.  Due to the smaller numbers, we often find our level 3s and 4s or 4s and 5s (or all of the above!) mixed together. We might even find ourselves with one single student whom we so want to provide an independent study for but just don’t have enough hours in the day.  The pandemic, of course, adds the nearly insurmountable problems of having to provide a curriculum for distance learning, hybrid learning and face to face learning (while keeping these faces from getting too close).  

While I cannot do nearly as much to help as I would like, I have spent some time during the last week or so working on a mini-unit that I thought might provide a jumping off point for some of you.

For this mini-unit, rather than a typical content-based theme, I chose to design my activities around the first episode of the French cartoon Lou! .  I was introduced to this program through my position with FluentKey where I’ve been working on transcribing and creating quizzes for the episodes.  (It will take a while, I’m only on episode 14!)  I would have loved to use this series with my own students–the characters are diverse, the main character’s family is non-traditional (in many ways) and the series addresses issues that affect adolescents in an engaging way.  Although the episodes have recurring characters, each one could stand alone if necessary.  As a result, I thought a mini-unit on the first episode could be used regardless of the regular curriculum, or with independent study students, or with the students who can’t be in school if you’re face to face, or with that small group of level 4’s that got put in with your level 3s or any of the myriad unimaginable challenges that you’re facing.

So feel free to skip to the link at the bottom, because I’m about to get pretty wordy as I describe the process I used to create the unit for any of you that might like to create units of your own for other episodes. 

An Essential Question: I started here because backward design just makes sense to me and helps me frame my work.

Can-Do Statements: I created one Can-Do for each mode of communication based on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Intermediate benchmarks. 

Avant de visionner:  I included a few discussion questions to use as an advance organizer before introducing the video. These questions could be discussed in-class, via videoconference, in writing using an LMS, etc.

Vocabulaire: I selected ten vocabulary terms from the video and used pictures to introduce them.  

Choisissez le bon mot: I created a matching activity in which students will select the word that corresponds to the French definition. This activity can be completed on paper, inserted into a Google Doc, or made into an online quiz using an LMS or other platform.

Regardez la vidéo: I’ve included a link to the FluentKey video for teachers that want to assign the video to students and use a quiz or play FluentKey live with the video. This could be played in-class or via video conference (link to directions is included in teacher notes).   I’ve also included a YouTube link. Depending on the proficiency level of the students, I might play the video once, narrating and questioning to increase comprehension. This could be done in class or via videoconferencing.  For other students, I would just assign the FluentKey video as an independent activity or assessment. 

Remplissez ce schéma: I’ve included a story map graphic organizer for students to fill out about the video.  I’ve included a link to a version of the map that can be completed online in the teacher resources at the end of the document. 

Remplissez le résumé avec la forme correcte du verbe:  I created a one-page summary of the video and left blanks for the students to fill in the correct form (imparfait, passe compose or plus-que-parfait [1] ).  I included a key in the teacher resources. This activity could be completed on paper or put in a Google Doc for submitting online. Teachers could also quickly make a multiple choice version as an assessment or way of providing immediate feedback using an appropriate program/LMS.

Mots Croisés à deux: My students loved these partner crosswords! In the teacher notes you’ll find an A puzzle (with the vertical answers filled in) and a B puzzle with the horizontal answers filled in.  There are no clues included, as the students use circumlocution to help their partner fill in their missing words. This activity serves as a fun review of the story, as the words in the puzzle are related to key events from the video. In the teacher notes I included an editable version of the puzzle that teachers could send out so that students could complete this activity via Google Meets or Zoom, recording and submitting if possible. Otherwise, the puzzle could be printed for in class use. I’ve also included a rubric for assessing the students if this is possible in your situation.

Citations à discuter: In this section you’ll find a list of quotes from the video as well as a list of discussion questions.  I’ve found that this type of activity is an engaging way to review the video.  If I were spending a few days on the episode, I might have the students discuss 6-7 questions a day. These discussions could take place face to face, via videoconference or in writing using a discussion board.

Comparaison Culturelle: I’ve created a graphic organizer which the students will complete to compare their lives to Lou’s.  I’ve included an editable version in the teacher’s notes for online submission.

Lecture: Students will complete this simple graphic organizer to demonstrate comprehension of an article about journal writing. (Link and rubric included in teacher materials.)

Jeux de Rôles: I’ve included 3 different role plays based on the video. In my classroom, I would usually have the students practice each role play at least twice (changing roles) and often changing partners.  I would then call up an unannounced pair and randomly assign a role play for assessment purposes.  This ensured a more spontaneous conversation. In a virtual environment, I would have students practice via break out room or have them call each other on the phone. Then I would assign them a 3-minute Zoom conference for the assessment, if that were possible in my particular situation.    In the teacher notes I also included a series of phone messages that could be used as speaking assessments if necessary.  While these would not be interpersonal tasks, they would allow you to at least have a speaking prompt to assess. They could even be submitted via Flipgrid and classmates could respond as the character who listened to the message.

Journal Intime: You’ll find 3 different prompts based on the video.  I generally allowed students to pick the one that most interested them. Having 3 prompts allows the teacher options if they find a student needs to redo the activity for any reason. (I’ve included wording in my rubrics to clarify why students might need to redo an assessment.)

Bonus Activity: This activity, found in the teacher notes, includes the time stamp and a description of a scene from the video so that a teacher could take screenshots from important scenes for discussion activities. I’ve included discussion questions if you choose to include this activity. A teacher could also use the screenshots and questions to assess a student individually, asking follow up questions and personalized questions to create a more developed conversation.  Lastly, students could also respond orally or in writing via an LMS for an online environment. 

Whew! Congratulations for making it to the end!  Here’s a link to the document:

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback and answer any questions you have about this mini-unit.

I’ve completed similar mini-units for Episodes 2 and 3 and listed them on Teachers Pay Teachers for those teachers that may not have time to create their own:

If I find that these resources are useful, I will continue to create and post additional episodes. 

Image Credit:

As many of you know, one of my post-retirement gigs is creating content for  For those of you that are not familiar with FluentKey, it is a tool that allows language teachers to upload videos and create quizzes with a variety of question types.  In addition, FluentKey also includes hundreds of Featured videos that have a transcript and computer-graded quiz questions. (The transcripts and quiz questions are where I come in.) A basic subscription to FluentKey is free and there is also a Pro subscription that includes additional features.

If you’re interested in learning more about FluentKey here’s a link to the FAQs and another link to a blog post explaining some differences between FluentKey and Edpuzzle. 

I really enjoy my work at FluentKey and find it has been a great way to keep my language skills fresh since I am no longer in the classroom.  A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that it might be helpful if I created a document which lists some possible thematic units for each level and links to existing FluentKey videos for each of these topics.  The current document includes possible themes for Levels 1-3 but I’ll be adding Level 4 and 5 in the next couple of weeks. As this link shows, the document includes an Essential Question for each unit, along with one or more Can-Do statements and some relevant vocabulary topics and contexts.  

If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know!