Monday, December 9, 2013

Saint Nicolas est Venu!

One of my favorite things to do with the kids is Saint Nicholas.

Every year, the kids listen to the story of Saint Nicholas (I tell it to them in English, as there is a lot of vocabulary they wouldn't understand...I also take the photos and put them on a PowerPoint without the words.  I crop out the knife in the photo with the butcher to tone down the violence).  After listening to the story, we discuss it and make some comparisons to Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus.  It's amazing how students finally make that connection.

Once we are done discussing, the students get to choose a shoe (I just google the word "shoe" and print off a few colorable ones), color it, cut it out, and tape it to the wall.  Then, if they are good little boys and girls, Saint Nicholas comes the night of the 5th of December and tapes a candy cane to their shoe.  He did not disappoint this year!

It definitely makes for some good decorations.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Conversations: Online Oral Assessment Tool

Every unit/chapter, I give my students an oral assessment.  I do it in a way that puts them on the spot but is super easy if they know the vocabulary/content from that chapter.

The one hard part, however, is finding the time to do these assessments.  My largest class is 31 students.  By the time I take them out of class to get the assessment done, I've wasted two days.  Not only that, but I have to find something to occupy the rest of the students for two days in order to do it.  It also takes me out of the classroom so they do not have me as a resource at that time.

Last year, a colleague of mine mentioned a program called Conversations.  This program was created by the University of Michigan and is completely free to use.  I didn't do anything with it last year.  I just never found the time.

However, at conferences last month, I started playing around with it between sessions.  Holy cow was I amazed.

With this program, I can record myself asking questions in the target language.  Then, when I am done setting it up, I can use a code to embed it into a blog post (I just put it into a blog post on my teacher website).  When the students go to that blog post, the program pops up.  All they have to do is type their name and it takes them to the questions.  They click a button and voila!  A video of me pops up, asking them the first question.  When the question is over, it automatically starts recording their response.  When they are done responding, they click "stop recording" and it takes them to the next question.  Once they respond to the last question, a green check-mark pops up and they can submit it.

To view all of them, you can go back to the conversations website and there is a column with all of the kids' names.  You can view JUST the responses or you can view them as you asking the question and then them responding.  I just make a list of my questions so I can read along as they respond (saves A LOT of time).

I implemented this for the last round of oral evals and I was shocked at how smoothly it went.  I checked out 5 laptops from the library and set them up with headphones out in the hallway.  The students took turns going out and doing the evaluation during the test.

They really liked it, too, because they didn't have a person sitting right in front of them.  The only disadvantage is you cannot repeat or reword a question for a student who didn't understand.  I always ask the question twice in my questions.  If they still don't get it, I tell them to come in and get me so I can reword the question.

You don't even have to do this as a testing tool.  You could even assign it for homework some evening or as something in class.  It is a wonderful time-saving tool.  I plan to use it again.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fresh Prince Irregular Verbs

Whenever I teach the subjunctive formation, I first teach the students the regular formation, then when they have mastered that, I teach them the 20 verbs that form irregularly in the subjunctive.  They sort into three categories: boot (two) stem, irregular stem and just plain irregular.

To have them help remember which verb goes where, one of their assignments this unit is to come up with a mnemonic device to remember.  An anagram, puzzle, song, anything.

I must share this gem that I just received from a student:

The Verbs of Bel-Air
In the west of France
Born and raised
Listing two-stems is how I spent most of my days.
Venir, payer, mourir and voir,
Appeler, jeter, prendre and boire.
Then a couple of verbs who were screaming them
Started using irregular stems
Faire, pouvoir, savoir, vouloir and aller
And then I decided to go to Bel-Air

I rolled up to the house about 7 or 8
And I yelled to the weird verbs,
"Yo etre and avoir!"
Looked at aie and sois since I was finally there
And then I listed the verbs that lived in Bel-Air

My students are so creative :)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Keeping an Organized Gradebook

Imagine this: Every time you assign homework, EVERY student hands it in on time.  There are no absent students and no late/missing work.

What a dream, right?

Unfortunately we do not live in that world.  Because of this, gradebooks can get realllllly messy.  Thanks to absences, late work, missing work, etc, it is often hard to figure out what has been entered, and what hasn't.  It's also difficult to figure out why a students' grade may have been lower or is still a zero.

I decided to bridge some methods taught to me by my cooperating teacher while student teaching as well as some of my own methods to come up with a paper gradebook system.  Because, let's face it.  Technology sucks.  Sometimes stuff gets lost, so it's imperative to keep a paper backup.

Whenever I collect something (be it as something handed in or something for completion credit) I immediately put the assignment across the top of the gradebook, regardless of if I have graded it yet or not.  This guarantees that assignments are entered in order and nothing is skipped.  It also reminds me (especially on completion credit days) to write in their grades ASAP.  Once everything is graded/checked, any blank boxes will receive either a tiny "L" in the corner, or a tiny "A".  The "L" is if the student was in class, therefore the assignment is late.  The "A" is for a student who was absent when it was assigned OR collected, so they should not lose credit yet.  The boxes with the "L" or the "A" stay blank until I either receive the missing work OR enter it into the online gradebook. 

Once I enter it into the online gradebook, any blank boxes then receive a circle.  I do this so I know that IF the circle eventually receives a number, it needs to be entered into the online gradebook on its own, as the rest of the assignment has already been entered.  I also highlight the name of the assignment in the paper gradebook so I know it has been entered into the online gradebook.

Once a student hands in a missing assignment that has been circled in the paper gradebook, I write the grade in the circle.  Once I enter that grade into the online gradebook, I will then highlight the circled box.

Using these methods insures that nothing is missed being entered into the online gradebook and it also lets me reference why an assignment is missing and/or why the grade is lower.

You can see an example below of many of the different steps represented.

So in short:
Circled=needs to be entered

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Teaching Object Pronouns

Let's face it... object pronouns are a pain in the butt to  learn.  Direct/indirect/location/person/ get the drift.

I have found, however, that by using a cross, it is easy to teach the students all of them on one piece of paper.

The pronouns are in four different categories:
1) Direct Objects
2) Indirect Objects (preposition + person)
3) Preposition + non person or location
4) Quantity or De

So I lay it out on the board as such:

Each section gets a number (which is easy to reference later when asking students "okay, which section of the cross are we in?") as well as the pronouns themselves, when to use them, and a few examples.  When I teach object pronouns, I like to take it step by step. First, I ask what can we take out of the sentence.  Then I ask what section of the cross we are going to.  Then, when applicable, I ask which pronoun we are using.  Then I ask where it is placed.

The nice thing with the cross also applies to pronoun order.  When there are multiple pronouns used, the order goes as such:
1) duplicates
2) section 1
3) section 2
4) section 3
5) section 4

I've noticed this works very well, as it is extremely visual for the kids.  You can just see them referencing it in their heads whenever we are working with this topic. 

Looking for a bunch of my Object Pronoun Activities?  Check out THIS BUNDLE.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Maternity Leave Musings

Not sure if I have any regular readers (or if I did, do I still now after my extended posting absence).  To those of you who are still here, bravo!  To those of you that got bored waiting to hear from me, my apologies for not posting in a looong time.

On August 13th, I gave birth to the most beautiful, wonderful, sweet baby boy a mother could ask for.  He is my first child, so I've embraced my new role as "mother".

Before he blessed my life, my two major roles were "teacher" and "wife".  It's always crazy that it seems there aren't enough hours in the day to be a rockstar at everything you do.  But now I will have to add "mother" to my list of roles.

I go back to school a week from today (November 4th).  I have known since January I'd be off this long, but it's hard to believe it's almost here now.  I did teach summer school until July 4th, but I haven't been in my classroom to teach my regular students in FIVE months.  This blows me away.  Since I started teaching, I've never gone this long without being in front of a class of students.  I've been in mommy-mode for what feels like ages now, so how do I know I can get back into teaching mode?

A part of me is so scared.  Will I be able to balance my life roles together?  To be a good teacher while being a good wife and a good mother?  To be a good mother while being a good teacher and a good wife?  To be a good catch my drift.

I am excited, though, too.  I'm excited to see my old students.  Excited to meet my French 1s.  The French numbers grew a little from last year so I am hoping they grow a little more this year.  I am currently a .8 (which is probably a blessing for my first year as a mom) but if I get enough 1s and 2s to continue on to 2s and 3s next year at one of my schools, my 2/3 class can turn into two classes and hop me up to a 1.0, which I would love.  I want nothing more than to grow this program back up to what it used to be.

Anyway.  My apologies for my extended absence.  I promise to post more regularly again :)

This Friday I will be headed to WAFLT.  I'm very excited.  If you're anywhere near Wisconsin, I highly recommend checking it out.  It's like Christmas but for language teachers.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Classroom Scavenger Hunt

I'm not sure about you, but where I teach, I am expected to take all of the posters off the wall for the summer and get as much cleared out as I can so that the custodians can clean.  Because of this, things can sometimes get moved around.  Not to mention, every year with the French 1s, I have a class of new students who have no idea where anything is in my classroom.

One thing I love to do at the beginning of the year is a classroom scavenger hunt.  It gives the students the time to explore and find out where their available resources are.

The hunt questions don't just say "what color is X poster".  It's things like "what page of the dictionary is the word 'aller' on" (which makes them go find the dictionaries) or "how many kilometers separate Lille and Paris" (which makes them go find the map on the wall).  I've also asked really silly questions like "what different colors to the scissors come in" or "what animal forgot his homework" (I have a poster that says, in French, "Oh no! I forgot my homework!")

I let them work with a partner but they MUST stick together.  I don't want them separating because they might each miss out on finding where things are in the classroom.  I will also put a post-it with an X on any cabinet or drawer where they won't find any answers (generally stuff that I wouldn't want them rifling around in during the school year anyway).  The team who gets the most right wins a prize.

This activity works really well because students then know where things are and don't have to ask where certain objects are.  Eventually when we go through it, I also verbally ask the students to tell me where they found the answer to the question.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tout le monde qui...

I love activities that get the kids moving around and active.  Students easily get bored if they are constantly in their seats only taking notes or doing worksheets.

One activity I love to do is called "tout le monde qui..."

You need to put chairs or desks in a circle so that it is completely enclosed.  There should be one less desk than people.  One person stands in the middle and depending on the theme of your game, they will say "tout le monde qui ______________".  Anyone who fits into this category (including the person in the middle) must get up and find a new desk.  They must choose a desk that is not their own, nor a neighboring desk.  There will always be one person who is seat-less, so that remaining person is the person in the middle.

Some themes I have done are colors (tout le monde qui porte _____), clothing (tout le monde qui porte _____ ), family (tout le monde qui a _______), and food (tout le monde qui aime _______).

This game is a great way for the kids to practice vocab.  At the beginning of a unit, I allow them to use their vocab sheets, but by the end, they are not allowed to.

Monday, June 3, 2013


If I could pick one area of weakness with my kids, I would definitely say verbs.  There's only so many conjugating worksheets you can do, but games with verbs are hard to come by.

Then it hit me.  Spoons.

It is played like the game spoons. Here are the rules if you are unfamiliar with it.  However, using the printer in the office, I created my own decks of cards.  Each card has a verb on it...either the infinitive or a conjugation (je, tu, il/elle, nous, vous, ils/elles) but WITHOUT the subject.

I came up with two different ways kids could make a set of four.  They could get four different versions of the same verb (for example: portons, porte, porter, portes) OR get four different verbs in the same conjugation (for example: suis, ai, vais, fais [the first person singular of four different verbs]).  I found that both worked GREAT and they had so much fun with it.  It happened to be nice outside so we took the game outside.  If you don't have spoons, any objects will do.  I used markers and it worked just fine.

To help them get MORE practice, if they are "out", I require them to still play.  They just cannot grab a spoon.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I Spy

I am currently in a clothing unit for the French 1s.  One warmup the kids have really started to enjoy is I-Spy.  I give the kids a few minutes to study their vocab, and I write out four to five outfits of what people are wearing in the room.  I describe the people one at a time and the students need to guess who I am talking about.

This activity is great because the kids come to school in different outfits every day.  Sometimes I need to be specific because they will be wearing similar things.  Other times I can get away with "il porte un tshirt a manches longues" (he's wearing a long sleeved t-shirt) because only one student has this.

Both of my classes ask to play it almost daily.  I have seen a great improvement of their vocabulary because of it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What am I?

I'm really in this mode lately trying to encourage vocabulary retention.  My 1s are currently learning about "faire les courses" or food shopping, so I did an activity that not only enhances their vocabulary, it also has them using the target language.  It's an activity called "qui suis-je?".

I made cards for each food vocabulary word and tied string to it.  Each student gets a food item behind them (like a backwards necklace) and they have to ask yes or no questions to their classmates to figure out what they are.  Because they are French 1, we wrote a list of questions we could ask on the board in order to keep them in the target language.  Questions like, "can you buy me at a boulangerie?", "am I red?", "am I a vegetable?", "do I say moo?"...things like that.  They have to go around the room asking their classmates yes/no questions trying to narrow down which food they are.  Once they figured out what they were, they turned the card to their front side.

I found that it worked really well.  They had to rack their brain for the possible vocab words they could be in order to narrow down their questions and then guess that they are.  One class did it perfectly without English, the other got into English a bit.  I tried to do it that if they heard someone speak English, they could take that person's card.  However, I didn't like that.  They ended up fighting and also it then made that English speaker even LESS likely to use French later.  I'm still trying to figure out a fix for that.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Stamp

I realized that I never did my last post in my string of organizational posts, or ways to make your life easier and your students' excuses go out the window.

Often, to save myself the headache of grading 50 worksheets in one night, I will just give my students completion credit, especially at the beginning of a chapter.  At the beginning of the hour, I go through the class and just check that everyone did it, then we would go through it.  However, I found it very hard to keep track of who did the assignment and who didn't.  Often, I'd have kids coming up to me and saying "but I had it done that day!" which was difficult because, unless I specifically remember seeing an empty page, I'd have to take their word for it.

So, I decided to get a little stamp.  When I check for completion credit, if they finished the assignment, they get a little smiley stamp on their paper.  That way if I do make an error, they can prove me wrong.  No stamp means the student never showed it to me completed.  I have yet to have any student try to tell me they handed something in when they didn't.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Do you have what I have?

I saw a post on another teacher blog about a game called "do you have what I have?" to help practice vocabulary.
Basically, you put all the kids in a circle and give them a whiteboard.  Each round, the students pick a random vocabulary word and write it on the board.  After everyone's done writing, they reveal what they had.  You get a point for every match you have.
I played it this way in my first French 1 class today and the kids loved it. But I noticed they were always choosing the easy ones like "une orange" or "une tomate" (the cognates).  Because of this, I decided to mix it up for the second French 1 class.  Instead of getting a point for a match, you get a point if NOBODY matches you.  It encouraged them to dig a little deeper into their vocabulary memory and use some of the oddball ones.
I liked it much better this second way and found that they got much more out of the activity.  They all seemed to love it! They asked if we could do it again sometime.
There are many different variations you can do depending on where they are in the chapter.  In the beginning, maybe they can be allowed to have their vocab sheets with them.  Next step would be no sheets, but maybe some pictures on the board and not so picky about spelling.  Next step would be no pictures, but also not so picky about spelling.  Last step (for the end of the chapter) would be no prompts of any kind and spelling needs to count.
I will definitely be playing this again!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mmmm Pizza

So I have a policy in my classes that if the entire class gets a 90% or above on a test or a quiz, I buy them pizza.  It may seem like a daring proposition to make, but I have to say, in my entire time teaching, I haven't had this happen yet.  I've been close several times, but never had it happen.
Until last week.  I gave a verb quiz on the chapter verbs and my French 3s all got above a 90%.  It was a hard quiz too because there were a ton of irregular verbs (they're working on the chore unit right now).  So I am getting them pizza today.  Being the end of the month, it's the chapter test, so I'm going to let them munch on pizza while they take the test.  Hopefully that is motivation for them in the future (and for other classes) to do well.
I must say, though, thank God for Little Caesars.  I don't have to break the bank to get them all a slice of pizza :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pronunciation: The key between blood and boobs

So today in class, my students asked how to say "blood" in French.  I wrote "le sang" on the board, and before I could pronounce it, someone pronounced it as it sounds in English.  Literally "le" and "sang" (like sang a song).  The correct pronunciation is more like "sahn" but a nasally n sound.

I made that same mistake back in my day when I lived in France.  I was trying to say there was blood somewhere, but little did I know, with my American pronunciation of the word, I was actually saying there were boobs somewhere.  In French, breasts are "les seins" which is pronounced like you would say "sang" in English.

So I started giggling when this student blurted out what they THOUGHT was the pronunciation.  Of course, they were intrigued why I was giggling, so I wrote "les seins" on the board.  I pronounced both for them, without giving them meanings.  I then wrote the English translation next to each word and re-pronounced each one.  It didn't take them long to realize they were saying breasts instead of blood.  The reaction was quite hilarious.

And now they're going to go home and tell their parents they learned the difference between blood and boobs today.  I'm such a great teacher.....

Friday, January 18, 2013

End of the Semester

So I'm feeling a little discouraged today.

As a teacher, I have expectations of myself that are pretty high, especially for a second year teacher.  I truly want ALL of my students to succeed, so any time they don't, I feel like I failed them in some way.

As grades start to come out, there are always those who didn't get the grades I know they are capable of.  I have one student in French 1 who literally refuses to turn in homework.  She has an F.  Every time I have tried talking to her, she has no explanation and won't really answer my questions.  I've tried talking to her guidance counselor and contacting home, but I'm always met with a dead end and she never turns anything in.  Even though she's like this with every other class (we can see grades online), I still feel like there should have been something more I could do.

In my other French 1 class, I have two boys who are both really good friends of one another.  Both of them are very smart.  But they also both get really distracted and are disorganized.  Early on, I made it my goal for them to do well in my class.  I put them both in prime seating to pay attention, I offer them help often, I remind them of missing work.  I just found out that they are dropping my class at semester because their grades aren't good.

It's really silly for me to have this Utopic idea of what my classroom to be.  I teach 12-15 year old kids.  There's no way I will ever engage them all and there's no way they will all love my class and all get A's. 

I want to be a good teacher.  I want the kids to learn and I want them to love the language.  I just wish I didn't take it so personally when they don't.

Friday, January 11, 2013


This is post two in my series of organization tips to make your life easier and make your students' excuses go out the window.

Flu season is upon us.  I don't know about everyone else, but keeping track of who was absent when and for how many days gets to be a huuuge headache.  The hard part of all of that is trying to remember which assignments and classwork they missed and relaying that to them easily.  Yeah, you can probably verbally tell them.  But what 14 year old is going to remember what you say to them ten minutes later?  I also cannot stand being crowded around at the beginning of an hour with students asking what they missed.  It wastes my time and their fellow classmates' time.

Instead, I decided to start a clipboard system.  Each level has a clipboard in the room.  Each clipboard has a sheet of paper on it with three columns: date, classwork and homework.  This allows students to see exactly what we did (INCLUDING: what was handed in...I can't tell you how many students do their homework but don't hand it in because they were absent the day it was due), what notes they need to get from a classmate, and what homework they have.  Any handouts are in the absent folder (see THIS post to know what I'm talking about with that). 

I only started this a few weeks ago, but it's making a big difference.  It's especially effective in conveying if there is something out of the book or a non-worksheet assignment that is due.  My students used to just go to the absent folder, but I obviously can't put their textbook in there to tell them they have #4 on page 38 due.  My goal is by the end of February to never hear the words "Madame, what did I miss?" ever again.  Of course I'm happy to clear up any questions, but 90% of their original questions can be answered by checking the absent folder and the clipboards.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Class Folders

I've noticed over the years that students will give just about any excuse to get what they want. Most of the time the excuse is geared towards making their life easier all while getting the best grade possible.

My next few posts are going to be geared towards showing ways to eliminate those excuses (mostly through classroom organization).  Hopefully they can kill two birds with one stone: firstly keeping you (the teacher) organized and secondly, DRASTICALLY cutting down on excuses and increasing student self-responsibility.

In my room, each hour has a box (I use a magazine holder box).  In each box are three folders: IN, OUT and ABSENT.

Rather than have students pass forward their work and then I put it in some sort of grading pile, I have them turn it into the in-folder.  This majorly cuts down on "Madame I gave that to you!" or "Madame, I put it on your desk!"  If it's not in the in-folder, it's not in.  The out-folder is where I put finished/graded items for students.  They are always welcome to dig through there to see if they have anything to take.  Whenever there is a work time and the out-folder is getting particularly full, I'll pass it out as well.  The absent folder is where I put any worksheets students missed while absent.  I put their name on it and they go to the folder to get any handouts they missed.  It saves my sanity from having to keep track of extra copies for students who are gone.

I also have my OWN set of folders in my school bag to keep organized.  I have a "to correct/grade", a "to hand back/to", and a "my papers".  I ALWAYS take anything from the in-folder of a class to put it immediately into the "to correct/grade".  Once it's graded, it's put into the "to hand back/to" folder, which then goes to the out-folder.  By using a folder system, I have found that losing student work is minimal to non-existent, which not only cuts down on their excuses, but mine as well.  Whenever a student comes up to me and tells me they handed something in (even if I'm showing it's not), I can say with SO much more confidence, "Sorry Pierre, I don't have it here.  Maybe check your folder?"