Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cooking Day

Last year I started a tradition I fear I may never be able to break.  My French 1s were about to be in a unit about food and my 2s in a unit about cooking.  These units would both end right around spring break as well.  To keep them motivated to keep going, I decided to schedule a big cooking day when the units were done.  I e-mailed the family and consumer science teachers to see if we could use the kitchens and then e-mailed the principal at each school asking for permission and also asking what would be the best way to get funding for the groceries.  Both actually very generously offered to give us funding from the budget.  I decided to have my classes from each respective school cook together (I teach a level 1 and a split level 2/3 at each school) because I would be taking them out of two other hours of the day.  Plus I knew I was crazy enough to do it once at each school.  Twice at each school would probably be a suicide mission. 

Despite how stressful I knew it would be, how fun would it be for these kids to be able to cook French dishes and sample them too?  To make the groups, I surveyed them about their cooking abilities.  I had them fill out a little slip of how good of a cook they are (if they are experienced, if they would be able to help others, if they don't do well at all) as well as if they have any food allergies that would keep them from preparing or eating a specific dish.

Being the first year, last year I went quite over budget and ended up footing about $70 worth of the bill (whoops!).  Lesson learned for this year, though, and I managed to stay just under the budget line.  Last year our menu had dishes only from France.  One dish I will never do again is French onion soup.  I did not think of the fact that the students would have to chop so many onions.  Even kids not cutting the onions were crying!

This year I mixed it up.  We did dishes from France as well as other Francophone countries.  We tried Yassa Poulet (from Senegal) and Poutine (from Canada) along with some other yummy French dishes (Boeuf Bourguignon, Tartiflette, Mousse au Chocolat, Eclairs, and Crepes).  I also get a few fresh baked baguettes and some cheese.  I got blue cheese and brie last year and this year, but my students haven't been very daring to try it.  I'm thinking I'll save the money and forgo it next year.  Or see if I can find some even smaller blocks.

It's always a very stressful day.  I swear I hear "Madame!" more on my cooking day than all the other days of the year combined.  A lot of the recipes require some "tweaking".  This year I tried to write all of the tweaks on them (for example... the fries for the Poutine were just going to be baked, not fried) but sometimes tweaks have to happen in the moment (we only had 20 minutes to simmer the Boeuf Bourguignon instead of the hour and fifteen it asked for.. but because everything was cooked and the simmering was only for flavor, we could cut that time).  But it still went well and it all was delicious.  I'm hoping this is a tradition we can continue!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Zut Alors Review Game

I came up with a really fun game that the kids absolutely love.

The game is called Zut Alors.  I bought two big black foam boards.  On each board I folded 26 4x6 note cards in half and taped them on by the sides with the open side up.  One board I labeled to be questions (and each note card labeled with a letter of the alphabet).  The other board is points (note cards are numbers).  I then cut 13 white note cards in half.  On the bottom half of one side of them, I wrote a point value.  The points could be +10, +20, +50, +100, Take 10, and Give 10.  A few cards also say either Zut! or Zut Alors!  If a team gets a Zut card, all of their points go into the "Zut-Pot" (basically a box I write on the board).  If they get a Zut Alors, they get all of the points that are in the Zut-Pot.  I then mixed them up and put one in each numbered spot. 

Then, I cut 13 more in half and wrote questions on them.  These were then placed in each of the lettered spots. 

Then we play!

The rules are as follows:

1. Split the class into teams.  Ideally teams should be no larger than 4 or 5.  I've played it with each student being their own team (when I have smaller classes).  I try not to have more than six teams, otherwise it takes forever.

2. Each team needs to be given a whiteboard, a marker, and an eraser.

3. Each team takes turns choosing a question.  I take the 1/2 of a note card out and project it on the screen for all to see.  Each team must answer the question on their boards, not just the team whose turn it is.  After 30-60 seconds, I have them hold up the boards.  If the team whose turn it is gets it right, they can pick a card from the points side.  If they get it wrong, each team that got it right gets 10 points and I also put 10 points into the Zut-Pot.

The nice thing about this game is once you make it, all you have to do is replace the question cards to fit your unit.  It's also really fun because it's not 100% about skill, there's also some luck to it.  I've had teams of students who aren't as strong still win.  It definitely mixes up the class.  Plus it's exciting, especially at the end, when you're waiting on that last draw to determine the outcome.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tapping into Student Interest

I love making activities that really hit home with the kids.  It is so important to use what your students are interested in so that you can capture their attention.  What is more fun: reading a text about something completely foreign to you that has grammar concepts you are studying OR reading a text that you have likely read before, from a book series that you love, that has been translated into French?  Almost anyone would choose the second option.

Have you ever read the Harry Potter series?  Have you ever read it in another language?  The interesting thing about Harry Potter in other languages is that some of the names change.  For example, in French, Snape is Rogue.  Hogwarts is Poudlard.  Muggles are Moldus.  Because a vast majority of students have already read the HP series, you can activate prior knowledge in figuring out some of the weird words by investigating their context.

For example:  I found a snippet from the third Harry Potter book of when the students are first introduced to Boggarts (shape-shifters that turn into whatever you are scared of).  This scene has a lot of futur simple in it, so I was able to have the students do an activity with it.  The activity I made came in three parts: identifying futur simple, identifying unknown words, and answering comprehension questions.  In the activity, I never told them who Professor Rogue was.  But, because they knew the scene they were reading, they were able to infer who he was.

The kids just ate it up!  They loved to be reading about something they A) already know and B) love to read.  I found that because they loved it so much, they got a lot more out of it.  They were able to complete the assignment with flying colors.  I can only imagine how glazed over their faces would get had I written some random paragraph about a boy and his dog.  But, because I used something they can relate to, they were able to get so much more out of it.

CLICK HERE for a printout of the activity, including the snippet from the book.

Photo from

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Attitude is Everything

Ahh mid-March.  A week or two before spring break.  It is so close, yet so far away.

The kids are squirrely.  My patience level is a negative 10.  Every year around this time I always question why I'm a teacher.  But I always come back from the fog, remembering why I love what I do.

Regardless of how tough of a time you might be having, there are two things to ALWAYS remember.

1. Students will remember how you treated them before they remember what you taught them.
Think back to teachers you had in middle school or high school.  Think of one you particularly liked.  Now think about everything you remember about him or her.  Chances are, a majority of your memories are linked to the teacher's attitude and demeanor, not the topics you learned in that class.

This is something we all must keep in mind.  At this time of year, it is so easy to snap at students.  Just the other day, a student who habitually just sits in my class, once again did not start on the warm-up I put on the board.  My immediate reaction was to scold him.  Looking back, I felt terrible for it.  There's nothing wrong with redirecting troubled students, but it's all in HOW you do it.  Do you respect your students (even if they don't deserve it)?  Do you treat them with compassion?

I have a student who, right when I came back from maternity leave, was really falling behind.  He was rarely handing in work and his test grades were D's at best.  Day after day he wouldn't turn in his work.  Day after day, I'd internally roll my eyes, all while sternly asking him, "where is your homework this time?"  A few weeks into it all, at the end of a day he was absent, all teachers got an e-mail from his mom.  "He was just diagnosed with depression.  Last night, he told a friend he was going to kill himself."  My heart just sank.  There I was, shedding every ounce of my frustration on him, hoping he'd finally turn it around, and he was just battling to make it through each day.  (I must report that he is doing MUCH better after getting some help) 

Moral of the story?  Students may frustrate the crap out of you.  But you never know what their life is like outside of your classroom.  So treat each student how you would like to be treated.  Be patient.  Be compassionate.  Be kind.

2. Tomorrow is a new day.
Have you ever taught a lesson that just sucked?  Of course you have.  We all have.  Especially now, when there are only a few months to go, it's so easy to give up.  It's so easy to not take that extra mile because you don't have much time to go anyway.

No matter how bad something goes today, you can ALWAYS start fresh tomorrow.  Continuing down the road of suckiness after a few bad lessons is like quitting your diet because you skipped a workout or had a piece of cake.  Everyone has their setbacks.  But it's no reason to not give it 110% every day.  Don't wait for the opportunity to start fresh to come to you. Make it happen. 

If your kids just are not getting something you've been working on for weeks, take a break from it.  Take a day off and do a fun cultural activity.  Then come back to the topic refreshed.  Try a new approach.  You can't use the same notes/methodology/examples and expect the same results.  But start fresh.  Act as if your students are learning it for the first time again.  But don't use any approaches you have used before.  Simply start over.

As we get through "Farch" (February-March) just remember, June WILL come.  Our students WILL learn.  Things WILL improve.  Attitude is everything.  Chin-up and just remember why we do what we do.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Using Google (and Technology in General) to your Advantage

I once got into a conversation with a veteran teacher.  She had been teaching since the 70s and would soon be retiring.  She was musing at how "easy" we have it as teachers now because of technology.  Grades that are automatically calculated, programs designed for us to use so we don't have to make them, smart boards, you name it.  Of course she wasn't taking into account the constant standards we have to live up to and prove about ourselves now, but we won't go there ;)  She asked why we, as new teachers, felt the need to use this technology... that a good teacher doesn't need to use technology to be a good teacher.

I mean...there is a truth to that.  But does it mean I am a bad teacher if I choose to use it?  The best doctor in the world isn't going to turn down cutting edge technology that can take his error rate from 1% down to .1% is he?  It doesn't make him a bad doctor.  The same goes for teaching.  Just because I choose to use these resources at my fingertips does not mean I NEED them to teach.  They simply are there to enhance my teaching.

If your district hasn't adapted into using Google as a platform, I highly recommend it.  It's amazing to be able to use the online documents, to create chat rooms with my students, to share documents with them, for them to be able to collaborate with each other even when they are home for the day.  It's incredible.  It even takes away the "OH CRAP!" moment when the group member with all of the materials for the project is sick that day.

Today in my French 2/3 class, I realized I was stuck because I had my 2s taking a quiz at the same time I needed to discuss last night's homework with the 3s so they could move on to today's work.  Crap.  What is a teacher to do in this situation?  I can't just talk over the 2s taking a quiz...that can ruin their concentration.  But you bet your butt I won't leave my 2s alone in the room to take said quiz while talking to my 3s in the hall.  And the days of having an aide were over before I ever even considered teaching as a profession.

Then it hit me.  Create a Google Hangout.  If you have never used Google, a hangout is basically like an instant messaging chat.  However, the beauty of it is that you can add multiple people to the hangout.  We were able to chat and discuss last night's homework without talking (all 9th graders in our district have laptops, so this was something I could decide at last minute without reserving computers).  The only sound was the click click of our keyboards.  This also opened the door to students being able to instant message me their homework questions and me being able to respond immediately...all without giving them my personal (home) account information.

I know I've talked about Conjuguemos before.  It is an amazing online study tool for kids.

Quizlet is great as well, as you can have the kids make their own flashcards.  The flashcards will even speak the word to them (in the target language!) to help them with pronunciation.

I do agree with the teacher's sentiment.  A good teacher doesn't need to use technology to be good.  But I have to say, it takes a great teacher to effectively use the blessings of technology to truly further the knowledge of his/her students rather than using it as a crutch.

(Photo from

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


A colleague showed me something very similar to this activity, but of course, like most things, I decided to tweak it to better suit my needs.

This activity is called a foldable.  It is perfect for vocabulary practice, verb practice, or just about anything else.  If your students are anything like mine, they have no clue how to study, so something like this is a great way to get them started.

You start with a grid that has 26 rows and 5 columns.  Across the top row you name each column: First try, Second try, Vocabulary, Fourth try, Third try.  Depending on where we are in the chapter, I might fill in the vocab for them, or I might make them fill it in themselves with words/concepts they are struggling with.  The one shown, I decided to do verb conjuguations to help them with their verb quiz tomorrow.

This activity goes in rounds.  Round one, have the student fill in their answers in the column that says "first try".  This must be done without their notes.  Then, they need to go check their answers using their notes.  Any of them that they got right need to be crossed off in the vocabulary column.  Normally you would have them fill in all of the 25, but for illustrative purposes, I just did a few below.

Next is round two.  They start by folding back the "first try" column so that they can no longer see it.  Then they must answer any of the questions that they have left showing in the vocabulary column without using their notes.  Similar to the previous round, once they are finished, they use their notes to check their answers and cross off any from the vocabulary column that they have gotten right.

Next is round three.  You will notice it is on the far right of the paper instead of next in line.  This is done so that it can be folded eventually.  You repeat the process again: no notes, write in your answers that are left, check your answers, cross out what's right.

Students may have to even go to a fourth try.  My rule is, with the conjugations, if they still don't get it right on the fourth try, they must write the correct conjugation five times on the back of the sheet to practice.  The idea of this activity is: if you know it, you don't have to keep writing it over and over.  If you don't know it, then you are getting some much needed practice.  Another great thing about this activity is, once students know how to do it, you never have to explain it again.  These are great to have on hand for that last minute sub plan or if you happen to finish a lesson earlier than expected.

CLICK HERE for a free copy of this from my Teachers Pay Teachers store

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fortune Cookie

So I must apologize for my extended absence.  I know it's been a few weeks since I posted.  Considering most of you are teachers, I'm guessing you completely understand what February entails, thus why I haven't posted recently.

Anywho, I figured I'd end my hiatus with another easy activity/idea.

My French 1s are currently learning the futur proche (near future/I am going to _____) and my French 2s are currently learning the futur simple (simple futur/I will _____).

To mix it up and to encourage them to write their own original sentences, I had each group make fortune cookies.  It was a simple outline I found online.  I blew it up to the size of the paper and asked the kids to write a message in the future tense.

I collected them and proof-read them before handing them back. But once it was done, I handed one to each student who handed one in, so they got a random fortune.