Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Circuit Review

Thanksgiving fell at a really weird time this year.  Normally it means it's almost December, but this year we had a full week of November left after Thanksgiving.

Based on the foreign language curriculum, I do a chapter per month with each level.  It times out really nicely and it gives the kids an idea of when there tests end up being.  This chapter test will be on Friday, so it's time to review, review, review!

I like to mix up review activities.  Yeah, Jeopardy is fun, but you can only play it so much.  Another teacher told me about this circuit activity that is great review for the kids and usually takes up an entire class period.

The first thing you do is figure out how many kids are in that class.  Then you take that many note cards, fold them in half, and put a "problem" on the outside each note card that can be solved in 30 seconds or less.  For example, my French 3s are learning about cooking, so one card might say il/ajouter.  Based on the "cp" in a circle I will put at the bottom, they will know they have to conjugate that verb in the present tense.  Then, on the inside is the answer so they can get immediate feedback and know if it's something they need to work on.  Each "round" lasts a total of 50 seconds.  The first 30 seconds students are solving the problem.  The last 20 seconds, they are checking their answer.  Then you have them each pass their card to the next person.  Eventually each person will have had each card once.

In order to hold accountability, I require them to fill out a worksheet.  I put three columns on it: card number, my answer, check answer.  I require them to write down the "check answer" even if their answer was correct.  I am thinking of adding another column saying "Didn't get it" so they can check it off and can go back to it or just know they need to study it.

One thing to keep in mind is you need to create a "circuit".  Basically there needs to be an imaginary line from the first person to the last person so that the passing can continue.  Here is an example of my circuit seating chart:

You can see that it's literally never ending so that there isn't a point where the cards stop.

The only annoying thing about this activity is you have to constantly watch the clock.   It gets repetitive saying "pass" and "check" every 20-30 seconds.  I'm hoping to find some sort of automatic online timer that would work.

In order to cut down on "instructions", I made a few categories (as discussed with the "CP" at the bottom).  I just write the category on the card and then I write all the categories on the board if they don't remember what they have to do with the card. 

I did this with my French 1s last month and they loved it.  It really gave them a feel for what they needed to review/study.  They really appreciated having immediate answers as well because they could instill the right answer in the moment.

You can also make a game out of it, seeing who has the most right answers.  The beauty of this activity is you can literally use it with any topic or subject.  Math, history, science, you name it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ER Verbs

I figured since my French 1 students had such a hard time learning être, learning regular ER verbs was going to be a very difficult task.  I braced myself for confusion with them.

Much to my surprise, it went amazingly.  I introduced it last Thursday, and they already seem to have a great grasp of it.  Before I taught them how to conjugate it, I gave them definitions and examples of subjects, verbs, conjugations and infinitives.  I then explained to them how to conjugate regular ER verbs in French.  

Any homework I give immediately following the introduction of a topic is just given completion credit.  Either you did it or you didn’t.  If I do completion credit, I walk around and stamp their paper (so if I make an error in the gradebook, they can show me the stamp and prove me wrong).  On those days, we still correct the homework together so they can check their work and maybe clear up any lingering confusion.  To get a feel for how they did, I just ask them “how’d you do?” and they all respond with a thumbs up, a thumbs sideways or a thumbs down.  It’s a super easy way to get immediate feedback on how well they are grasping what we are learning and if we can move on or not.

Anyway…the day after I taught them ER verb conjugation, we went over a practice worksheet that had been assigned for homework, and at least 70% of them gave me a thumbs up.  That is HUGE.  I was very pumped that they grasped it SO quickly, especially since être was such a struggle.

Today, to reinforce a bit more, we played avalanche in class.  They just rocked it!  They rarely made any mistakes.  I did end up teaching them a song to reinforce those endings (which can be found HERE), which I think helped a lot too.

To any readers, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I, for one, am looking forward to our break with immense impatience.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blah Days

Oh the "blah" day.  As teachers, we all have them.  You're exhausted.  You can't focus.  Class starts in twenty minutes and you still don't know what you're doing with the kids.  The reasons one might have for this "blah" day are infinite.  Today, mine has to do with hunting.  Because of hunting, I didn't get home until 8:30 last night.  And by the time my deer was in the garage and we were unpacked and showered, I was so exhausted it was bedtime.

I came into school early today, but despite my 9 hours of sleep last night, I was still exhausted.  I remembered that I had planned on lesson planning last night to get ready for today, so I was in a bind.  My husband's "easy fix" suggestion was "have them watch a movie".  No dear, I can't just pop in any old movie.  When I DO use movies, I use them to supplement what we're learning and I create worksheets or activities for it.

I needed something that had them practicing what they were learning, but something that I could plan in under twenty minutes.  It also had to be pretty hands off for me because I was desperately behind in grading and I had told the kids that their grades would be updated at 8:00 last night (note to self, don't ever make promises that need to be accomplished between hunting and school the next day).  It then hit me to have THEM create a crossword puzzle for another classmate to complete.  Not only are they practicing their own chosen vocabulary, then they have to be "quizzed" by another classmate on it as well.  Between having them make those and going over the homework that was assigned Friday, it took up the whole hour.  I just had to print off a prompt and some empty grids and they were able to get to work.

This is something that is so simple and can work in any subject.  Whenever you are having a "blah" day and feel extremely stuck, have the kids create a puzzle of some kind for them to exchange.  It gives them the opportunity to be creative as well as practice their vocabulary.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Know

In French, there are two different ways to say "I know": je connais or je sais.  The verbs are connaître and savoir.  The one you use depends on what you "know".  Connaître is more of a knowing/being acquainted with people/ideas/places whereas savoir is for facts and abilities. 

My students have always had such a hard time knowing the difference between the two...heck even I have a hard time distinguishing between the two sometimes.

So I made an activity.  It was quite simple actually.  Almost too simple.  We made two columns.  One said "je sais" at the top and the other said "je connais".  I then made a word bank of different things one would know, and their task was to put them in the appropriate column.  We then discussed it so that they could check their answers.  Then we just looked at them.  Earlier in the unit, the kids looked at me funny when I said it's just something you eventually "get".  But in looking at the columns, I believe they finally "got" it.  There's just a feel for when you use savoir and when you use connaître.  And based on the work they have done since, I can tell they really get it now.

Who'da thunk that it would be something as simple as COLUMNS?

Mind blown.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Part of my huge struggle with my 2/3 split classes is finding enough time for each side.  Both sides have expressed frustration that they feel I neglect them and spend too much time with the other side.  It's obviously a losing battle.

A colleague of mine suggested that, instead of running back and forth between each level during the hour, I take one day per week and dedicate it to each level.  For example, the day I focus ALL of my attention on the 2s, I give the 3s an activity/assignment to do that requires minimal to no teacher intervention.  Then on the days I work with the 3s, the 2s have an activity.

I implemented it this week, starting with giving the 2s my attention today.  But 3:00 rolled around yesterday and I STILL couldn't think of something to do with the 3s that wasn't just a boring old worksheet.  They are all 9th graders, so they also have laptops because of our 1:1 laptop initiative.  I really wanted to do an activity online where they could use the tools at their disposal.  Then it hit me.  Ratatouille.

It's a Disney movie everyone loves.  It is a dish that goes way back into French history.  AND it fits in with our food unit.  Win/win/win.

So, I made the activity into three parts.  Part 1 had them looking up (on a link I gave them) the recipe for ratatouille.  It used a TON of the vocabulary they are just learning, so they were able to easily pick apart the recipe.  Part 2 had them watching a clip from the movie Ratatouille.  They had to watch it a few times.  One or two times should be dedicated to just picking out vocabulary words they see in the clip (both verbs and nouns).  The last time (maybe two times) have them putting events in order.  I made 5 statements that directly use the vocabulary they are learning, and they had to number them in the order they did them.  Part 3 had them researching the history of the dish and why it is significant to French culture.

The activity went REALLY well.  The kids were excited to use their laptops and to be able to watch youtube clips and explore on the internet.  They have already expressed interest in cooking ratatouille together, so I'm hoping I can figure out a way for them to cook.  It might need to be before or after school, but that is fine by me!  The French 2s will be in this chapter in the spring, so maybe I'll just have everyone cook at once.

CLICK HERE for the download of this activity.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Much to my frustration, I had to have all of those tests graded by the time I left school on Thursday.  I didn't end up leaving until 5:30.

However, when I left, I was a VERY happy camper.  Of the 97 tests I graded, 48 of them were A's.  That's almost HALF!  The students did such a good job, and I could tell they were really proud of themselves.

Some teachers give retake test or redos.  I am not one of those teachers.  I don't like students going into a test thinking "oh, I can take this again, so I won't worry about it this time."  I'd rather them study hard and learn the stuff the first time around.  However, I also don't like students being left out to dry if they do badly on a test or just weren't prepared.  So, instead of redos, I let students correct their tests/quizzes.  I do have very strict requirements, though.

1.  The corrections must be on a separate sheet of paper.
2.  The new answer must be right (obviously).
3.  They must EXPLAIN why the new answer is right or what they did wrong the first time around.  For example, there was a part on the French 1 test that was filling in the blanks with "un" or "une" (both mean a/an, but "un" is for masculine nouns, "une" is for feminine).  If a student put "un" before "fille" (girl), but the correct answer was "une", he/she would have to explain that "fille" is feminine, therefore "une" should be used.  I never accept answers like "I forgot" or "I just didn't know".  That doesn't show me that they know it now either.  I've noticed a lot that making them explain forces them to really research their answers and prevents them from just copying from a friend who got that question right.

If they meet those three expectations, they can get half credit back.  The reason I don't do whole credit is because they could all just bomb it and then take it with their notes later.  The half credit makes it worthwhile for them to fix their answers, but also doesn't just hand them an A either.

I've been doing this since I started student teaching, and it's worked very well.  I've never had any complaints or troubles with it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Quarter End

Well tomorrow is the last day of quarter one, but I will be at a teaching conference, so today is pretty much my last day of the quarter.  Because it is also the end of a month (well yesterday was, but I figured today would be better) they are having their Chapter tests today.  Each class. 105 tests to grade today before I go home.  Agh.

It's always so frustrating (and it happens every time) to have kids come to me a day or two before a test and say, "Madame! I don't get ANYTHING you're saying."  I get that things can be confusing, but I'm not a mind reader.  I always try so hard to leave time for questions/clarifications.  I've also really tried to make myself as approachable as possible so that when someone is confused, they feel comfortable asking me for help.  But even this week I had a parent email me that their child was in tears and confused and wanted help.

I saw that a large chunk of students studied on Conjuguemos last night.  Conjuguemos is this AWESOME foreign language program online where you can create activities, quizzes and homework for your students so that they practice.  It's perfect for verb conjugation and vocabulary.  You can often find activities already created by other users in your language that you can use.  Anyway, because of all the practice they did, I am hopeful that they all do well today.  We'll see!