Wednesday, November 18, 2015

All about QR Codes

This  is a post I have been meaning to write for months, but of course time continues to escape me.  Many of you may have heard of QR codes.  For those who haven't, this is a QR code:
A QR code is like a bar code, but even fancier.  They can be scanned in any direction to give you the information within them.  They can be read using smartphone apps.  My preferred QR reader is i-nigma. It has a mobile app that I have right on my phone.

This blog post will first tackle the purpose and usage of QR codes, not only in life in general, but specifically in the classroom.  Then, I will explain how to make QR codes and put them into your own activity.

How can I use QR codes?

You may recognize QR codes from advertisements and posters all over.  Depending on how the QR code is created, it can send you to a website, show you a video, give you contact information, send you to social media or even give you the option to purchase an item when scanned.  What one can do with QR codes is practically limitless.

I love using QR codes in my classroom.  Not only does it integrate technology, but it gets the students moving around and being able to apply their knowledge in a different way.  Below is a list of different QR activities I have made (along with my shameless plug to them my TPT store if you wish to purchase them).

1. Clothing QR Activity- The students got a sheet (in color) of 20 different people in different outfits.  Each QR code around the room, when scanned, showed them the text describing what one person on the sheet was wearing.  They had to match that code to the correct person on the sheet.

2. Interrogative QR Activity- In scanning each code, the students saw a simple sentence in French like "Pierre eats a pizza at the restaurant".  Their job was to come up with as many questions as possible about that sentence like "who eats a pizza" or "where does Pierre eat" as well as answer them.

3. Phone Number QR Activity- This was a two part activity.  The students had to first scan a set of codes that took them to a Youtube link of me speaking different phone numbers to them.  They had to write the phone number down on their sheet.  Then, around the room, were pictures of different cities and the QR code attached was a phone number that would match what they had on their sheets already.  Not only did it incorporate number practice, but they got to see what phone numbers from around the world looked like.

4. Telling Time QR Activity- For this activity, when the code was scanned, they were taken to a picture of a clock. They had to write down in digits as well as words what time the clock showed.

5. Object Pronoun QR Activity- When students scanned the QR codes, they were given a full sentence in French.  On their sheet, they were given empty sentences with only object pronouns included.  They had to figure out which sentence went in which spot as well as form it correctly.

As you can see, the classroom usage of QR codes is endless.  I generally allow students to bring in smartphones to do this activity, but we are also fortunate enough to have a set of iPads to check out from the library.

How do I make my own QR code activity?

The first thing you need to do is decide how you want the activity laid out.  What will the students have on their sheet?  What do you want the codes to actually do?  How will the codes be incorporated to what is on their sheet?

I generally start by making my worksheet and going from there.

The next step is generating the QR codes.  There are two different ways to do this.  If you plan on only having a link or text in your QR code, this handy template is a GODSEND.  You can literally type in all of your stuff and it generates the code for you.  Then, highlight only the columns that have the letters and that have the code in them and do "print selection".  I make it portrait style and I don't include the headers.  You get a few codes per page and all you have to do is cut them out.
*Note: If you want to use this for any projects, I HIGHLY recommend making a copy of mine to have in your own google drive.  Then make a copy of that each time you make a new project so that your base always stays blank.

If you are wanting something a little more in depth, works really well.  On the left hand side, you indicate what you want the code to do.  Then you type your text.  On the right, a code will be shown.  Download the code and print it.  This method is a little more time consuming, but it also gives you more options.

Have fun!

So go off, and have fun with this.  Students love QR code activities because it's different from the normal, plain worksheet.  It's engaging and is a great way to review things being studied in ANY subject.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tapette Vocabulary Game

So I will start with the disclaimer that I cannot take credit for this game.  A colleague introduced it to me, but it's so awesome, I have to share.  If you've ever played flyswatter game with your kids, it's actually quite similar.

To prepare, you take the current vocabulary you are working on and make a sheet with photos and English words if you need them.  This is my sheet for the clothing unit:  (Feel free to copy it and use it yourself!)

In class, you have the kids find a partner (groups of three work too, but I've found that partners work best) and give one sheet to each group.  Take your own copy of the sheet and project it on the board.  Then call out a vocabulary word (in the target language of course).  The students must touch the item with their finger faster than their partner.  Whoever gets it first gets to put their mark on it (usually have them choose Xs and Os).  If neither got it, just scribble it out.  Once you've called a certain item, you cross it off on your sheet too.

I played this with my French 2s yesterday and they were SO into it.  They were having a blast!  What's awesome about this is you can use it to practice just about any kind of vocabulary.  It's also something you can keep reusing if you have a random 5 or 10 minutes to kill at the end of a random class.  Another fun spin is to have students take turns doing the calling of vocabulary as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

This shouldn't be my first reaction

Imagine this, if you will.

You are sitting in your office during prep time, eating a quick snack and checking e-mails.  Suddenly, out of the silence, you hear screams.  Terrified screams.

Your heart leaps into your throat.  In this day and age with all of the school shootings, you imagine the worse.  Someone has a gun in your building.

You freeze.  You don't know where the screams are coming from.  Do you barricade yourself in your office?  Do you try and make a quick getaway down the stairs that are across the hall?  Has the unthinkable actually happened to your school?  You wait for the unmistakable pop of gunshot.

Then you hear laughter.  You calm down and realize that there is no threat and everything is safe. 

This scenario happened to me today.  My office is on the second floor of our three story building, directly across from the stairwell.  Upon further investigation of this scenario I discovered that the students in the computer lab on the third floor directly above you are playing pranks on one another on the computers with scary Halloween stuff.  All is fine.

All I could do is shake my head.  Why is it that my first reaction upon hearing terrified screams is that there is someone with a gun in our building?  It shouldn't be my first reaction but in this day and age, it is.  As of four days ago, there have been 52 school shootings this year in this country.  52.  That's roughly 1 1/2 shootings per week on average.

When is something going to be done about this?

Before I delve any further, let me say that I am a proud supporter of the 2nd amendment.  I believe in the right to bear arms if you are a law abiding citizen.  My family hunts and we fully have every intent of purchasing a handgun to eventually have for protection.  All firearms in my house are locked away and the key's location will be known only to my husband and myself.

What I don't understand, though is why nothing is being done about this.  So many politicians are raging against our current system yet few have done anything.

What I also don't understand is why it has to be so black and white.  Many who support the second amendment feel that any restrictions take away their rights, therefore there shouldn't be any regulations.  Many who don't support it feel that all guns should be banned.  Neither is the answer.

As with anything nowadays, there needs to be middle ground.  Guns do serve a purpose when used properly.  Protection and for hunting are the major ones.  However, we are required to have licenses and registration for cars, why are people so afraid of that for guns? I agree that guns are not the problem.  People are the problem.  But because people are the problem, we need to be open to regulations of the requirements of gun ownership.

I'm not going to dive anymore into the political side of this problem because honestly it shouldn't be political.  Students (and teachers) should feel safe in the environment they spend the most time in other than home.

In reading this scenario, did your mind go to the same place mine did?  I had a few colleagues who heard the screams that had the same reaction. 

That is so messed up.  Think about it.  School shootings have become such a norm that hearing screams sends your mind there first.  School shootings should not be a norm.  They should be a rarity, even non-existent.

Something is wrong.  Something needs to be done.  We can't keep sticking our heads in the sand and wishing it goes away.  Imagine your school or your child's school is next.  Would you still hold the same beliefs?

I don't want to be scared anymore.

School shootings since 2013.  From

Friday, October 9, 2015

Cut us some slack, alright?

I'm getting to the age where many of my friends and old classmates have school-aged children.  One thing that always grinds my gears is when parents vent about their child's teacher on social media.  One because it's a very public call-out (even if names aren't given.. enough people know who you are talking about) and two because parents generally don't "get" it.

I had a colleague last year who dealt with this.  The student in question was a student who was caught cheating on their test.  Not only that, but the parents refused to acknowledge it despite the student admitting it.  The student was failing because they did not understand the material and was spending zero time studying at home.  Yet somehow, because "this student is an A/B student", the parents felt it was the teacher's fault for not teaching the student properly.  Said parents decided to blast this teacher all over facebook (of course leaving out the teacher's side of the story) and many parents got upset at this teacher.

A friend of mine on facebook was similarly (and vaguely) saying horrible things about her daughter's teacher last year.  Based on what she was saying and based on what I knew about teaching, there was easily a misunderstanding going on there.  When I asked her if she had talked to the teacher to clarify she said she hadn't because she was too mad.  I sent her a private message urging her to talk to the teacher before saying things all over the internet.  Sure enough, there had been a misunderstanding.

I got an e-mail from a parent last week whose daughter (we will call her A) came home crying because of my class.  She was upset because she thought I didn't want to help her figure out what her missing assignments were and that she would be stuck with them as zeroes in the grade book.  On the surface, it had appeared that I brushed her off.  But the story went much deeper.

As a traveling teacher, I arrive at my second school right before noon.  Just enough time to take 20 minutes to eat my lunch and take a quick mental break.  The bell for my next class rings at 12:23.  That day I had a fun activity planned that required me to do some setup in the room.  However, right as I was heating up my lunch, a student came to get some help on her lunch time.  So not only did I barely get to eat my lunch during my lunch time, I also didn't get a chance to set up for that class.  Once the bell rang for passing time, I quick went to my room and was scurrying around trying to set up.  As I'm setting up, A came up to me and said, "I have a few missing assignments and I don't know what they are."  I told her that I needed to set up and that wasn't the best time to be asking me.

The problem with this scenario was A didn't know that I had just spend the last 20 minutes trying to eat lunch and tutor a student at the same time.  She didn't know that I had to get stuff set up before the bell rang so I really couldn't help her with her assignment before then.  So she could only assume the worst.  As did her parents.  And this all wouldn't have happened if I hadn't given up my lunch break to help another student.

Thankfully I explained a little further what had happened and everything is fine.  If that parent had just assumed I was brushing her daughter off instead of clarifying with me, this poor student would still be sitting in my class thinking I had no desire to help her.

In this day and age of professional development requirements, technology requirements, extra duties, and more... not to mention personal lives like spouses, children, parents and hobbies.. the life of a teacher is hectic.  It's chaotic.  It's disorganized and messy. 

We are getting to the point where teachers are put on a pedestal.  The expectations are skyrocketing.  We must handle ourselves a certain way at all times because of the position we hold.  Teachers are expected to be teachers and ONLY teachers.  And when you're being a good teacher to someone else's kid, then you're not being a good enough teacher to another's.  We must be perfect all the time.  We must be willing to give up our free time to help students with little thanks to show for it.  If a teacher isn't a great teacher, we must publicly flog them.  Forget giving them the benefit of the doubt.  The general public obviously knows more about what a teacher needs to do than a teacher does (insert sarcastic face here).

That teacher who didn't reply to your e-mail by the end of the day? She was assessing all of her students one at a time and then had a doctor's appointment immediately after school.  That teacher who didn't put your missing assignment in the gradebook within a few days?  He has a stack of missing work to grade that is one inch thick because so many students turn their work in late.  That teacher who took a week and a half to grade your test and give it back to you?  She had a sick child at home and had to spend her spare time making sub plans to make up for the three days she'd spend at home taking care of him.

To any other perspective, the aforementioned situations would warrant major annoyance from any parent or student.  But to the teacher's perspective, he/she is giving it her all and then some just to get through the week.

So cut us some slack.  We're people too.  And when in doubt, talk it out.  Privately.  I can almost guarantee you there's more to a situation than you think.

photo from

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Living Vocabulary

Ah vocabulary.  One of the most tedious things in the foreign language classroom.  At the end of the day it is pure memorization.  The hard part is making the memorization easier on the kids.

An awesome way to reinforce vocabulary, I have found, is what I like to call "living vocabulary".  Living can go in more than one direction depending on how you look at it.  As a verb, it can be that students are living their vocabulary. As an adjective, the living describes the vocabulary: it's alive.

Living vocabulary is applying vocabulary to real life in some way.  Rather than seeing photos or doing flashcards, students match the vocabulary to the actual thing.

For example, my French 1s are currently learning about classroom vocabulary.  One day they walked in the room and there were letters everywhere attached to different items.  They spent the hour walking around the room and identifying each object.

Another example would be with my French 2s.  They are working on body parts and daily routine.  They are given different labels that talk about body parts (les oreilles, le ventre, la jambe, etc) and had to attach it correctly to their partner.

Doing a unit on housing? Make them label different rooms and items in their house with post-its (or something that will stick) and keep them labeled for a week. Food unit?  Find some plastic food and keep it on hand.  Make them pick a piece out of the box and tell you what it is.

By associating vocabulary to it's actual item, vocabulary comes alive for students and they are able to better retain it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Random Props Skit Activity

Well hey there strangers.

I must apologize for my lack of posts lately.  Navigating this whole mom-to-two-kids-full-time-teacher-while-keeping-my-household-running thing has proven harder than I anticipated!

While reviewing some key concepts at the beginning of the year with my 2s and 3s, I really wanted a casual way for them to still be creative and practice writing/speaking.  The TV show Whose Line is it Anyway has a part called "props" that kind of inspired me.

I gave each group five "props" (more like pieces of paper with the item printed on it) and told them to write and act out a skit within the parameters that included and/or referenced each prop.  For example, my 3s had to use the passe compose.  Each skit was only a minute or two long but it was funny to see what different stories they could come up with using the same sets of props.

Next time I want to have a bag/box of random props and make them stick their hand in to randomly choose.  That way it's not a paper prop either, but the actual item.

This activity can be formed to just about any unit!  All you have to do is give them the minimum requirements based on whatever you are studying.  Subjunctive?  Have them include the subjunctive.  School unit?  Have them write the story based in a classroom.  The possibilities are endless, even with the same props!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Dos and Don'ts of the First Days of School

Funny story about this post.  I've been slowly working on it for a few days because I have a 2 year old and a newborn at home, so I haven't had a chance to just sit down and write for long enough to finish this.  Apparently Blogger wasn't fond of that, so when I went to publish it (after I finally finished), it reverted to an old version, which has been sitting on the internet for a week now.  THIS is now my correct draft.

. . . .

Well it's about that time again!  Time to exchange beach towels for backpacks. It's what the French call "la rentree".  Back to school!

This year will be my fifth year of teaching.  It's so hard to believe I'm at this point of my career that I can start considering myself at least a slightly seasoned educator.  As the years progress, I've learned quickly things to do and things not to do in order to start the year off as smoothly as possible.

1. DON'T  go over your rules, syllabus or classroom expectations on the first day of school.  Chances are your students are getting the same speech over and over again on the first day from other teachers and I guarantee you will blend in with everyone else.  Wait until at least day two, if not day three to do these things.

2. DON'T write your names into your grade book until the class change window closes.  I learned this the hard way my first year of teaching.  French 2 and 3 generally don't change simply because they already know they want the class.  But French 1 usually has at least 2-3 students add and 2-3 students drop.  For someone like me who likes a nice and neat grade book, all the crossing off and then students in the wrong order makes me CRAZY.

3. DON'T make a seating chart until at least 4-5 days into the school year.  Part of the reasoning is because of reasons given in #2 above: students come and go a lot as schedules fluctuate.  Another reason is because it is good training for you as the teacher in learning their names.  If you don't have a seating chart to rely on, you really learn their names more quickly!

4. DON'T spend more than one day getting your classroom ready.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE decorating my room and making it awesome.  However, there is no need to spend 20 hours decorating, making bulletin boards, etc.  Keep it simple to start.  You are better off devoting that time to making activities/lessons and preparing for the upcoming weeks.  You will thank yourself later.  I always plan and prep the entire first week before school even starts.

1. DO make a positive impression.  No, I'm not talking about being nice (which... yes... you should still do).  I'm talking about sticking out in a good way.  One thing I like to do with any class of students who have never had me before is let them interview me.  Their first homework assignment on the first night is to write down three questions of something they want to know about me.  Easy five points and easy way to start with an A.  Then I let them interview me.  Rather than just question/answer, I have them use whiteboards to guess my answer to each question.  The person who gets the most guesses right gets a prize.  The kids love it.

2. DO have them use French (or your target language) on the first day of school, even if it's simple "Hello, my name is ______.  What is your name?"

3. DO let them each choose a French name.  I'm always surprised when I get a transfer student from another school who didn't have a French name.  Students LOVE choosing their own names to fit their personalities.  It also gives them a quick first taste into French culture.  I always use it to draw similarities between English and French names, like Peter = Pierre for example.

4. DO devote at least 30-40 minutes to letting the students acclimate themselves to your room on the first day or two.  This can be done via a scavenger hunt, fill in map, or clues.  I always like to ask random questions that can be answered by exploring the room.  For example: What page of the dictionary can you find out how to say "house" in French? This has them locating dictionaries and getting practice in using one.  Another example question may ask what the three folders are labeled on the table.

5. DO create a list of classroom expectations together before giving out your syllabus or going over your expectations.  I have always found that students are more receptive to the rules and being productive when they help come up with the rules.  Every year I like to have students brainstorm things that a good teacher will do and things a good student will do.  Then we compile a list together.  I take each class's list and compile it into one large list that is displayed all year.  Then, when a student is misbehaving, I can ask them, "based on our list, are you being a good student right now?"  By also making teacher expectations (and displaying them by student expectations), they see that I am also serious about being a good teacher and will strive to uphold those traits.

Have any other helpful tips?  Feel free to share below!  I wish you all a great start to a successful school year!

photo from

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Subjunctive/Indicative Sentence Puzzles

I am currently wrapping up the subjunctive unit with my French 3s, which resolves with being able to know when to use subjunctive vs indicative and how to form said sentences.  About half of my kids get it but the other half still don't understand one part or another.  Some will use the subjunctive even in the trigger phrases (je sois content que tu fasses les devoirs) or don't even get that they have to conjugate those trigger phrases (nous adorer que tu fasses les devoirs).  Others still don't know when to use subjunctive or indicative after the "que" despite having some very clear note sheets on which phrases are subjunctive triggers and which are indicative.

I decided to do an activity with the entire class this morning that really seemed to help it click for the students who were still on the fence.  What I did was I typed up 15 different trigger phrases and 15 different sentence endings.  I cut up the slips and put them in two separate envelopes.  I then wrote SUBJUNCTIVE on one side of the board and INDICATIVE on the other and split it with a line.  Each student picked a slip from each envelope and had to put the sentence together.  Depending on the two subjects or the specific trigger phrase, they had to figure out if it was a subjunctive or indicative sentence and form it accordingly.  Then, once they were done, they wrote their sentence on the board in the correct category.  Once everyone wrote their sentence, we went over them as a class and corrected any errors together.  We were only able to do a couple rounds (it took my 12 person class about 7-8 minutes per round) but it was great to be able to put this stuff together for them.

This was a really fun activity, especially because the possible combinations could potentially be really silly.  The kids really enjoyed it and it definitely helped those who were struggling.

If you would like a free copy of the sentence pieces, CLICK HERE.  It is also part of a bigger subjunctive unit bundle I have on TPT... CLICK HERE to access it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why my Grades are Weighted 80:20... and Why Yours Should Be Too!

I remember the first time I heard about 80:20 grading.  It was my second year of teaching (first year in my current district) at an institute day.  The presenter we had to go to during a session talked about the benefits of 80:20 grading.  I was baffled at the concept.  Tests/projects worth 80 percent of a student's grade?!  Kids will fail miserably! Kids who used to get A's will now get C's!  What about kids who do poorly on tests but know the material?!  The list of arguments went on.

It wasn't until last year that I realized how much more accurate this grading system could be in assessing a student's grade.  In my old system, as long as you did your homework on time and did ok on tests, you literally could not fail my class.  This made it difficult for me to make recommendations that students repeat a level of French.  "Well if Suzie is getting a C, then obviously she deserves to move on!"

For anyone reading who is still confused as to what 80:20 is, allow me to explain.  Your students' grades have only two categories: summative assessment and formative  assessment.  Anything that fits into the summative assessment category (tests, big quizzes, end of unit projects, etc) are worth 80% of their grade.  The other 20% is formative assessment (day to day work like homework, mid-unit projects, small quizzes, classwork, etc). 

I decided to do a test run of 80:20 during fourth quarter last year and it worked REALLY well.  I also implemented a new test retake policy that really complemented the 80:20 policy well.  Yes students should be learning the material when its taught to them and be prepared for any test.  But, like mentioned above, students can have off days, they may not have gotten the material 100%, the format may have been confusing to them, etc.  I changed my policy to allow retakes, however students needed to prove to me they were truly learning the material.  After all, the whole purpose of 80:20 is to accurately portray what the student knows how to do, right?

My new policy was simple.  They had until the end of the quarter to retake any tests from that quarter, and they had to fill out an intensive retake form (CLICK HERE to check it out and feel free to use it for yourself).  Part of the retake form is doing extra work to practice what they had a hard time with.  I will not allow them to even schedule the retake until this whole form is completed.  With this policy, students really only were able to retake if they could prove to me they learned the material a little bit better.  They often love to kill two birds with one stone and meet with me to go over and correct their errors. 

Once I implemented this system, I've noticed how accurate grades are to what students are able to do.  Students who really didn't get it were getting Ds and Fs. Students who got it were getting As and Bs.  Their grade was a reflection of their knowledge, not of their ability to turn in work on time.  That's what summative assessment does: it measures your knowledge of the topic.  By making a grade worth that much, it truly reflects their knowledge.  The retake option is nice for two reasons.  Firstly, it encourages them to actually take the time to get help or try again if they didn't get it.  Secondly, it keeps parents from freaking out at me that their child is doing poorly in class.  If their grade is in the dumps, I always tell parents that their student has the option to retake tests and improve their grade.  Once again, the ball is in the student's court (which is how I like it).

photo from

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Consequences of Rewards for "Good Behavior" in the Classroom

Every teacher has had this student... likely more than once.  The student who, for whatever reason, cannot follow directions, cannot stop being disruptive, cannot do their homework, and/or cannot meet the expectations of the classroom.  I have one of those right now and I will admit my patience level regarding him is pretty much maxed out.  I approached some colleagues for some suggestions in how to handle him, because in the 7 quarters I have had him as a student, nothing has worked.. and I've tried just about everything.  One of the responses I got was to reward him for a day or multiple days of cutting out his negative behaviors.  While I totally see how this can appeal to many teachers, I absolutely refuse to employ tactics like this.

It may sound harsh, but hear me out.

Every year, students get more and more lazy.  More and more entitled.  More and more disruptive.  As teachers, we are faced with the brunt of it and see the repercussions of it in our classrooms which makes for a very difficult learning environment.  It's easy to see the appeal of rewarding students for staying on task, doing their homework, and generally making our lives a little more peaceful.

But why should we reward expected behavior?  When we give them rewards for doing these things, one of two things are happening.  Either we have lowered our expectations so much that we no longer expect students to be respectful and hard working or we are training students (especially the irresponsible ones) to expect a gold star at the end of every day that they meet expectations.  Possibly it's a combination of both at this point.  Can you imagine a student going into the work force after graduation and expecting praise every time they show up to work on time and complete their job tasks?  Just because a student has bad behavior doesn't mean we should reward them on days that they do what is expected of every other student around them.  We are creating a generation of students who expect praise for every little thing and it is going to come back and bite us some day.  It really lowers the bar of excellence and makes someone unwilling to do what is expected of them if they aren't going to be rewarded for it.

Some may argue that just functioning for class is above and beyond expected behavior for some students.  Maybe that is true.  But when we reward specific/troubled students for behavior we expect out of any other students, we start going down a slippery slope and setting a bad example.  It shows students that if they are normally difficult to handle, then they can get rewards every so often for just cooperating.  I've noticed in our current system, the students with habitual negative behaviors get rewarded more often than students who aren't any trouble.  How twisted is that?  It's a classic case of squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? 

If we don't want any more "squeaky wheels", we need to stop rewarding them every time they metaphorically put a little oil on and don't make noise for a few hours.  We are doing students with behavioral issues a MAJOR disservice when we continue to reward them for something they should be doing to begin with.  If a student repeatedly falls short of your expectations, then raise your expectations.  Maybe then they will raise up to a level that is acceptable.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Putting the Break Back in Spring Break

It's the Friday before Spring Break.  The anticipation of 2:55 is practically making you drool.  You imagine all of the things you will be doing next week, including a mini vacation to somewhere warm and relaxing with a drink in your hand.

Then it hits you. The e-mail from your principal:

"The School Board has implemented a new policy that all teachers must spend at least three hours over their break doing prep work.  It will be built into your contract time."

We'd be livid right?  Hell would be raised, the protests would be heard everywhere.

So why do we do this to our students?

Many of us don't.  But I was utterly shocked hearing from students the amount of homework they were assigned on Friday (the day before break) that would be due the day they came back from school.  One talked about a project that would easily take her a few hours.  Another talked about book work and worksheets.  I'm not talking a normal night's worth of homework.. I'm talking a solid 4-5 hours minimum of work they'd have to do homework over break.

Spring Break is a very important week for schools.  It gives students and staff time to recharge and be ready to tackle the last 10 ish weeks of school left.  So instead of looking at it as a "more time for kids to do homework" week, look at it as "time to get well rested mentally and physically to get back to work when they come back" week.

Don't assign homework over break.  Put the break back in Spring Break.  We'd be mad if we were expected to work over break (many of us do anyway to catch up)...why would we expect them to?

Photo from

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Binder

I was reminded early this morning that I have another organizational tool that I have not shared with you all.  It goes perfectly in my space with the class folders and clipboards.  This is my extra copies binder.  It sounds so trivial, but once again, this is another tool that has saved me so much time and headache.

Every time I run copies of anything homework or notes related, I make extra copies and put it in the binder.  I've found that take 8-10% of your class (maybe more if it's notes over a longer unit) is the perfect amount.  My class of 31 gets 3 extra copies in their space. 

This is great because if a student needs a copy of notes or lost their copy of homework, they can go over to the binder and get it without having to ask me.  I don't have a printer in my room so it saves me from having to quick run down to the printer or writing myself a note to remember to make X copy for so-and-so.

I have the binder divided by level.  I also have a few extra sections of stuff: empty foldables, retake forms, etc.  Every quarter I remove any white papers (all of my notes are colored, so I like to keep those in there) to clean it out. 

This works really well! The only time kids have to ask me for something is if all of the copies are gone out of the binder. With it being only a binder too, it doesn't take up a lot of space.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Passe Compose Lego Activity

The passe compose is always one of the trickiest things to teach (and learn!) in French.  I always take it VERY slowly, one chunk at a time until we get through it all.  We started in October and are just now wrapping up all three together.

My students did fairly well one chunk at a time, but once it came down to not only remembering which category you were in (avoir, VANDERTRAMPP or reflexive) but what pieces you need for each category, things started getting messy.  They were adding reflexive pronouns to VANDERTRAMPPs, agreement to avoir, it was just a huge mess.

To help them work through this, I decided to take them back to the building blocks of each type, quite literally.  Courtesy of my son, each group was given big plastic legos.  I labeled the legos in advance and each group received: subject, avoir/etre, reflexive pronoun, past participle and agreement.  I used tape on each one so I could write those categories in permanent marker on the legos without ruining them.  Then, around the room, I put cards with a subject and a verb.  Their task was twofold.  First, they had to figure out which category of verb it was in the passe compose.  Then, they had to get the right lego pieces and write the corresponding word on the lego piece with dry erase marker (this works awesome..wipes right off).   Once they did this, then they could write out their full answer on the sheet by putting the pieces together.  They could check their answer by lifting the card.  The answer revealed was the "pieces" they would have done as well as the full written out answer.

It seemed silly to me, but they really enjoyed it.  It got them thinking about the different parts of forming the past tense depending on category and it helped them to visualize how it all goes together.

In hindsight, I wish I had done it as we learned each type as well, not just when putting all three together.  Definitely something to do next year!

Friday, February 13, 2015

9 Websites that do the Work for You

Every time I come across a useful tool for making my job easier, I bookmark it.  As teachers, we rarely have time to eat lunch, let alone make complicated puzzles and other things.  To make life even easier for everyone else, I have decided to compile a list of said links.  Most are applicable to any content area, but a few are language specific.  What do they all have in common? They do most of the work for you while still letting you personalize the content.

1. Crossword Puzzle Maker

2. Random Number Generator

3. Stopwatch- the bonus to this one is it can automatically repeat and make sounds.. great for stations

4. Family Tree Maker- great for laying out a family tree when teaching that vocabulary

5. Word Cloud Maker

6. Word Search Maker

7. Clock Face Generator

8. Word Scramble Generator

9. QR Code Generator Template- this is one of my FAVORITES

photo from:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


One of the hardest things about teaching the past tense is helping the kids to remember which verbs are the VANDERTRAMPP verbs that use etre to form the past tense instead of avoir.  This method was taught to me in high school (so I cannot take credit for it), but it works so well that I feel the need to pass it on to the rest of my readers!

There is a story about Barbie and Ken that uses each of the 17 VANDERTRAMPP verbs.  It escalates quickly and is slightly morbid (which.. you need mourir in there right?) but it always seems to work for the kids.

When I was in high school, we were required to memorize the story.  That method worked well, but who has the time to tell themselves the story as they are trying to remember whether to use etre or avoir to form the past tense of a verb?  I've done a few different methods with the story.  My favorite is having pairs of students illustrate the story.  This helps them to visualize each verb as it "happened" and then they tell the story to the class like a storybook.  We also just say the story together every so often to solidify it into their heads.  I've also done activities where I remove the verbs (after they know it) and the first person to get them all in correctly wins.

Feel free to use it for your class!

Un jour, Barbie est née.  Elle est venue au monde avec un BANG.  Elle est devenue belle femme et Ken est tombé amoureux d’elle.  Un jour, il est revenu la voir et ils sont restés ensemble.  Ce soir-là, ils sont allés chez elle.  Ils sont descendus à la cave, mais il est tombé.  Alors, Barbie est sortie chercher de l’aide.  Elle est revenue avec une ambulance.  Ils sont arrivés à huit heures chez elle, mais ils sont entrés assez tard parce que l’ambulance est passée par (INSERT CITY HERE) en venant de (INSERT CITY HERE).  Ils sont partis rapidement de la maison, mais Ken était dans une condition critique.  Alors, ils sont rentrés trop vite et ils sont montés dans un arbre.  Et c’est comme ça qu’ils sont morts.  Quel dommage.

Photo from:

Friday, January 23, 2015

An Open Letter to my State's Governor

I found something out today that I cannot get out of my head.  I found out that you will be proposing another track of teacher licensing.  In your proposal a person with "real-life experience" (no clue what you mean by that) can take an exam, pass it and *POOF* have their teaching license.

Let me set the record straight that I have voted for you every single time you have come up on the ballot.  I know that I am in a VERY small percentage of teachers who have done so.  I know many in our state criticize you for what you've done to education.  I will say that I don't think it's your strong suit, but there are other things that I greatly agree with you on, so I've supported you.  I even supported you when you required teachers to chip in a bit for benefits.  How you went about it wasn't the best, but considering our benefits are amazing compared to the private sector, I was okay with chipping in a bit for said benefits. 

But this is a new low.  This is offensive to me.  This is a slap in the face.  Your proposal proves to me that you have ZERO idea what it takes to be a good educator.  Of course subject matter knowledge is important as a teacher.  But guess what.  Of the ten teaching standards of our state, only ONE addresses subject matter knowledge.  The other nine are learned through a combination of teacher education training and teaching experience.  There are a couple of those nine that can also be partly learned in life, but I can tell you not everyone possesses those skills.

Your proposal belittles my education and my experience.  When I went to college to be a French teacher, I not only had to major in French, but I had to go through the education classes as well.  I took classes that taught me how to meet the other nine teaching standards.  One specific class was so crucial to my education that it was specifically geared toward aspiring foreign language teachers.  It also makes no mention of student teaching.  That semester taught me more than the other 3 1/2 years of college.  I know I speak for every teacher when I say I was nowhere near ready to teach on my own the first day of student teaching.  Student teaching is a crucial part of the teacher education process.

Teaching ability is a gift.  I will not pretend that everyone who goes through the education program will be an awesome teacher and I will not pretend that nobody can be a good teacher without going through the education program.  Some just have it and some just don't.  But I am not comfortable with the future of our state or even our nation to be put into the hands of someone who cannot tell me what an IEP is and why it's so important.  I am not comfortable with someone teaching our youth who has zero grasp of the different socioeconomic and behavioral factors that can make or break a student's ability or desire to learn.  I know many people who could even be considered experts in their field that would drown in today's classrooms.

Please do not move forward with your proposal.  I implore you.  Education is the most important tool we can give students and you are cheating them by letting anyone just pass a simple content test in order to teach.  There is already so little respect toward teachers as it is.  Please don't add more disrespect by making it even easier to get a teaching license.  We should be investing in finding the very best teachers, not handing out a license to just anyone.  Teaching IS and should be considered an elite, distinguished and respected profession.

A teacher who easily has another 35 years before retirement, therefore another 35 years to make one heck of a difference in this world.

image from

Monday, January 19, 2015


It is hard to believe it's been almost two weeks since three Muslim gunmen opened fire on a Paris magazine office killing a dozen people and wounding many more.  This is one of those few events in life where I will always know what I was doing when I found out about it.  I was home because school had been cancelled due to extreme cold and a friend texted me asking if I had heard about Paris.  From there I watched it all unfold.

Within hours, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with #JeSuisCharlie, a sign of support for the magazine that was targeted, especially those who were dead or injured.  As time went on, #JeSuisCharlie became a symbol for much more: solidarity, rights, freedom of speech, the list goes on.

Let's look at what "Je suis Charlie" really means.  In French, it literally means "I am Charlie".  Charlie stands for the name of the magazine, Charlie Hebdo. So, anyone using that hashtag in a literal sense is literally calling themselves the magazine.  However, after the attacks, the magazine began to represent much more, especially freedom of speech, so using the phrase was a way to stand by them.

Going back a few more steps, let's see what Charlie really is.  Charlie Hebdo is a weekly satirical magazine.  The purpose of satire is to mock and criticize, and Charlie definitely lives up to that description.  Their pages are often filled with cartoons mocking religions, races, politicians, genders, you name it.  The cartoons that prompted the attacks from these gunmen were ones that exposed Muhammed, who is the prophet of Islam.  Nevermind the fact that many branches of Islam specifically prohibit any drawing or reproduction of the likeness of Muhammed (they consider it to be a sacrilege)...many of these cartoons have been directly inflammatory of Muhammed, and by association, Muslims themselves. And Islam is not the only religion to be openly and offensively mocked in these magazines... Charlie Hebdo has made it clear that just about nothing is off limits.

I do not condone the actions of these murderers. But I have to say that I cannot, in good conscience, say that I am Charlie or that I support their actions either.  It is not because I have no French pride.  It is not because I don't support the French.  On the contrary.  I love France and consider it my home away from home.  Despite the fact that I find these attacks appalling, I cannot stand behind a magazine that makes its living by targeting and mocking specific groups of people.

Our world is in a precarious situation.  Hate is abound.  Muslims are hated because they are supposedly terrorists.  Christians are hated because they are supposedly homophobic women-oppressors.  Blacks are hated because they are supposedly thugs.  Those receiving state aid are hated because they are all lazy and supposedly milking the system.  I could keep going, but I think you get the picture.  Pretty much every group is hated for some reason or another.

I had a discussion about this situation with a French friend of mine last week and she said I was taking Charlie Hebdo's cartoons too seriously.  "Oh, it's only meant to be funny," she said.  But, mind you, she isn't a part of any group that is regularly mocked by Charlie.  Look at the list I made in the previous paragraph.  Much of that hatred stems from one thing: stereotypes.  And what does satire do?  Use humor to exaggerate stereotypes and mock certain groups.  There is nothing funny about mocking people for things that are a pillar of their lives.

See where I'm going with this?  They are adding to the division and hate in this world.  In Charlie Hebdo's situation, not only do they add to the division, but they openly mock and purposefully offend people.  PEOPLE.  How are we supposed to teach our children to respect all people regardless of religion, race,  nationality, etc when we are applauding a magazine who uses their constitutional rights to do just the opposite?  If we are ever going to make the world a better place, we need to continue to teach our children that even if we disagree with someone in any way, they are still a PERSON and ALL PEOPLE deserve respect.

Despite disagreeing with what they have to say, I still support Charlie's (and everyone else's) right to say what is on their mind.  The law is very black and white for a reason.  If we start adding gray area and say, "well.. you can say what you want as long as it doesn't mock or offend..." then we start getting into that slippery slope.  Cue a bunch of frivolous lawsuits, right?

So here is MY proposition.  Let Charlie Hebdo publish what they want.  Stand beside them and give them support because they are PEOPLE going through a horrific situation.  But let's get our voices heard too.  Promote the respect of differences.  Promote the "other side" of any story, rather than just the side that promotes hype and stereotypes.  Shut down hate.  Shut down stereotypes.  The world is only what we make it.  As teachers we have the tools to change the world for the better.  So why don't we give it a shot?  Love is stronger than hate after all.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Buche de Noel

Yeah I've been super lazy about posting lately (apologies).  But I just had to share the overflow of the amazing Buches de Noel that my kids made!  We have a holiday party every year before Christmas break and I decided to mix it up from the normal crepes.  I told the kids that if they made a Buche de Noel (they could work in groups in the class) and brought it in, they could get extra credit.  Well a lot of kids in one class (the photo is the cakes from a 30 student class) decided to take me up on my offer and made a TON of them!  They were so creative though.. the one in the bottom right of the photo even has acorns made of hershey kisses and nutter butters!

I hope everyone had a restful Christmas break.  Bring it on 2015!