Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Passe Compose vs Imparfait: Write it Out!

Most language teachers will agree that teaching the preterite vs imperfect is not a fun task.  In English, it's something we do naturally, but in another language, it's a whole other story.

I've always given them a list of common "trigger words" to watch out for in regards of passe compose vs imparfait, but that generally is more useful only in fill in the blank activities.

I tried something super simple today but super effective.  As a warmup, I projected a random photo I found on Google on the board.  In this photo is an older couple eating breakfast, and the clock is even behind them.  I informed the class we would be writing a story, but every story needs its background.  We quickly review that the background/setting of a story is the imparfait, so I instruct them to come up with a few settings of what they see in the photo as the background of the story.  They did this individually.  After a few minutes, we came together and started the story.  I even let them pick a name for the couple.

Once we established the setting, I let them pick groups of two or three.  I showed them the end photo of the story and told them their task was to continue the story to wind up at that end.  I reminded them that they needed to have the metaphorical "bomb" go off (the interrupting action as they know it... more to come on that later) and switch to passe compose.

Each group presented their story, and they were all very different!  It was fun to see what they came up with.  It was also great practice for them as their presentational assessment which would be to write a short story using their vocabulary as well as their knowledge of imparfait and passe compose.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Speed Friending for Interpersonal Practice

Good morning friends!  Hard to believe another school year is upon us.  I'm really looking forward to this year as it is the first year that our full, new curriculum will be implemented.  I'm hoping with that will come a ton of more good ideas that I can flood this blog with.

One of the major shifts I have made is in my assessment practices.  I really started getting into it around the semester switch last year and I found it to be very effective. Rather than the usual pen and paper exam with a random oral exam thrown in, each unit has three major summative assessments: presentational, interpretive, and interpersonal.  I talk a bit about those in THIS blog post.

Getting students to talk to one another is difficult, as they tend to gravitate towards the same friends each time.  It occurred to me to try something different so that they can "interview" a lot of people in one chunk of time.  I decided to set it up like speed-dating (but of course in junior high we call it speed-friending).  For a class of 24 students, I set up 12 desks in a circle facing the outside, and then another 12 desks facing each desk from the inside circle.  I then told them to sit in any random desk.

Once students are in their seats, I set a timer on the board for two minutes.  They are required to speak French the whole time.  Then, after two minutes I have them rotate.  I've varied how they rotate.  Sometimes it's just one space, sometimes I roll a die to determine how many spaces.

This activity helps prepare them well for the interpersonal exam by helping them to be comfortable not only just speaking, but speaking with whoever they happen to be paired up with.

I've even taken it a step further sometimes (for example during the free time unit) and had them take notes on each person they interview.  Then they are required to write about who they want to be friends with and why.

photo from

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Question Ball

I noticed as I clicked "new post" that this is my 100th post!  It's so awesome to see what this blog has not only done for me but for my readers as well.  It always makes me happy to see people posting in other places about using these resources/ideas and how they worked for them.

This is an idea I cannot take credit for, it's actually something my student teacher did.  Nonetheless, I just had to share.

I've definitely been pushing more for interpersonal proficiency in my room (something I really lacked in past years), so we have the students speaking quite often.  To mix it up a bit, my student teacher found a cheap $1 ball and wrote a bunch of relevant questions on it for our unit.

In the activity, the ball was thrown to a student.  Wherever their right thumb landed was the question they had to read out loud and respond to (en francais bien sur).  They really enjoyed it and it was fun with how random it was.

One way to even mix this up is to start by asking a student a question and THEN throwing it to them.  They must respond to the question first and then ask the question by their thumb to the next student and throw the ball.

Either way, it gets them speaking but is low pressure as it's just a simple question.  See the photo below for a photo of the ball.  Please excuse my chipping manicure ;)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Curriculum Writing: What's Important?

The World Language department in the district where I teach has been going through the curriculum process the past two years.  I can't even explain what a huge difference this process has made on not only what I teach, but how I teach and how I assess it.

If you have ever written curriculum before, you know what a daunting task it is.  How do you choose what to teach? How do you properly assess it?  How do you still make it fun and enjoyable for your students?  How do you make it meaningful?

1. Start at the end
We were fortunate enough to have two retired language teachers who now do curriculum coaching to come and give us a workshop and then come help us get started.  They asked us a question right at the beginning of day one that was super helpful:

This question really helped guide our process.  It really encouraged an end to start approach.  It's much easier to figure out how to get to the destination when you know what the destination is.

Since I started in this district, the curriculum for French was just lists.  By the end of a certain unit, students knew topic A, topic B, topic C and topic D.  Nothing about putting them together, nothing about how they would be assessed.  Being a new teacher, I just followed it.  Unfortunately, it made it easy for me to fall into a slump of teaching vocabulary lists, conjugations, and culture...all separate from the other.  All of my assessments were on paper.  Going back to the original question... what do I want my students to take away from my class?  Certainly not writing out conjugations and giving me English to French definitions.

In this process, we were introduced to the concept of thematic units.  Rather than teaching them a list of topics, we would wrap said topics into a thematic unit where it could all be used together.   When creating a unit, it's important to ask, "What should my students be able to do at the end of this unit?"  From there, that should guide not only what you should teach (or review!) but also what you should assess.  A prime example of change of pace in my teaching is with the partitive.  In the old curriculum, I taught the partitive with the food unit and it was an entire section on the test so we spent literally hours upon hours practicing.  But when I made the food unit, "students will be able to correctly use the partitive" really didn't pop up on my list of students being able to do something.  There were other more important things for students to be able to do.  Yes, the partitive is introduced.  But it's not my primary focus. Going back to the main question: What do I want my students to get out of my class? When I think about that, I don't certainly think about something as measly as the partitive in the grand scheme of Frenchness.

3. Create AUTHENTIC assessments
Like I mentioned above, when I first started teaching, I found myself teaching to the lists.  Because of this, I was assessing based on the lists too.  I had exams where there was literally a vocab section, a verb section, and a grammar concept section.  There was nothing bringing them together.  There's nothing wrong with "teaching to the test" per-se, but when you have the wrong kind of test, then you're going to teach the wrong things.  In that method, I realized how rarely my students were actually listening and speaking in my class.  It was mostly reading and writing.  The writing wasn't even very good because they weren't pulling the concepts together because I taught them all separately in their own "bubble".  I was also assessing things that really didn't matter.  

Once again it goes back to the main question: What do I want my students to get out of this class?  What should my students be able to do at the end of this unit specifically?  In asking myself that, it was simple.  I wanted my students to leave my class able to function in a French speaking city on the level of language and culture.  If I were to plop a group of my students in Paris, they should be able to "function".  That's the ideal assessment.  Could they function?  Each unit should bring them closer and closer to that goal.

In a Francophone country, will they hear simple language that the textbook made?  No.  Will they read things geared towards a French 1 or 2 learning level?  Likely not.  So why would I create assessments like that?

When I took my methods course in college, I learned all about Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs). Because of  everything I was learning, I didn't really take much out of it.  It just seemed like another thing.  But over the years, and especially as I was working on this new curriculum, I realized how amazing they truly are.

For those who don't know what an IPA is, it's a group of assessments with three modes. 
            -The first is presentational where the student will "present" their knowledge either via writing and/or speaking.  I always do this assessment first with the ability to use notes and other things.  As it can be prepared ahead of time, it's definitely the easiest. 
            -The second mode is interpretive where students have to "interpret" something they read and/or see/hear.  Generally for this assessment I find an authentic video (or as close to authentic as I can find) and/or article about the topic they are studying, sometimes taking it even a little further.  I write up questions in English to assess what they got out of it.  I know assessing in English seems counterproductive, but in doing so, you are truly assessing what they get out of the video/article.  If they get a question wrong that was French, you sometimes have no way to know if it was the video/article that they didn't understand or just the question they didn't understand. 
             -The final mode is interpersonal.  This is the most difficult assessment so I save this one for the end of the unit.  Students are given a topic that they will be discussing with a partner or group and they must ask questions, discuss, etc for a certain length of time.  Depending on the unit, the topic will be different or require different things.

I started using IPAs this year as a form of assessment and as such, have started "teaching to the test".  Because IPAs are about as authentic as it gets, in teaching to said assessments, my students are improving in ways I didn't even imagine possible.  They are speaking with confidence, reading articles way above their reading level while picking out the pieces they understand, and I'm also using more French in the classroom in the process.  I could not say more about how much I like them.  If you're curious to check one out, click here for the IPAs I made for a unit on future career aspirations (free).  I also have plenty of other IPAs in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store if you'd like to check them out.  With every IPA purchase, I also include the link to my google drive of that unit so you can have access to all of my resources.

4. Be Flexible 
It's great to put a lot of time and effort into curriculum and unit plans.  But just know that nothing will be "set" until you teach it.  You may go through things and realize it's not the best way to go about it.  You may stumble across an even better idea or resource for something and tweak it as such.  You'll always be improving on things, so be open to that.

If you've read any of my previous posts, you know I am extremely organized (I have to be or I'd lose everything).  It's so easy to forget to do something or forget you have something.  I highly recommend making a digital filing system that is easy to follow.  I even have my "home" folder connected to Google Drive so it automatically backs up and I can access it from any computer at any time.

The photo below shows my folder structure.  The "home" folder opens to the one on the left.  The folder called "French" holds all of my resources.  Inside that folder is the middle-left photo.  In there I have all three levels of French that I teach.  If I click on the French 1 folder (middle-right), I then see all of the units.  In opening a specific unit (far right), I can see all of the resources I have that go along with that unit and also the IPA folder.  I also have a specific document called "useful links and resources" where I save any links I stumble across and want to remember later.  Pinterest also works well for that


Curriculum writing can be a daunting task.  But a good curriculum and corresponding assessments can really make the difference in a successful program and an unsuccessful one.  Just know that Rome wasn't built in a day.  Your curriculum takes time to mature and grow.  I started this process last year and don't anticipate being completely "set" with it until I go through it in its entirety next year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Telephone Pictionary

So first of all, I'm embarrassed to say it's almost THREE months since I've posted.  I greatly apologize for this.  Things have been rather crazy lately including taking on a student teacher (he's awesome) and implementing new curriculum practices (including IPAs...but more on that later).

I came up with a super fun game today with my French 3s that they loved called Telephone Pictionary.  They are currently studying parts of the house along with chores.  It also included a review of location prepositions (next to, under, near, etc).  To practice a bit with the vocabulary, we played this game.

To start, I put the kids into rows of 4 (but any even number would work).  The first person in the row faced the front and the rest had to face the back so they couldn't see the board.  What I did was project a simple picture on the board (examples below) and the first person had to write a few sentences to describe it.  They then passed their sentences to the next person who had to draw what was written.  That person had to pass their drawing to the next person who had to write (and so on and so on).  The line should end at someone who is drawing.  I gave them about 2-3 minutes per round and the team who had their last drawing closest to my original drawing would get the point.  For some of them that are more complicated I gave maybe two or three points even.

The kids really enjoyed this game and got very competitive with it.  It helped them with sentence formation and putting lots of vocabulary in context.  It could definitely work with multiple types of vocabulary!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sentence Builders

I've recently started an activity with some of my classes that involves sentence building.  I make a set of words (articles, nouns, verbs, verb endings, etc) that have all the pieces necessary to make sentences.  I give each group a set and have them spread the words out.  Next, I show them a sentence (in English) on the board that they must make in French using the pieces I gave them.  After a few minutes, I will show them the answer.  If they got it right, they get a point.  Most points at the end will win.

I really like this activity, especially with verb conjugation, because it forces them to see the structure of the sentences and specifically the conjugations. It's a bit of work to start, but once you make a set, you can keep re-using them with that unit in future years.  I also have my first group cut out each set to save myself some time.

The kids also enjoy it because it's very kinesthetic and helps them to process sentence structure.  And of course, a little competition never hurts either.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Virtual Dice Activity

A teacher shared this at a conference I went to, so I knew I definitely had to pass along this gem to the rest of you.  Just a warning, this activity only works if you have a smart board.

This virtual dice activity is awesome.  You can set one or both dice to randomly choose something (maybe a subject pronoun on one and a tense on the other?) and then the random word chooser to choose a word (verbs work great here).  This is an awesome activity to use with white boards in class.  The kids also LOVE taking turns activating the dice and word chooser.

This one that I made (<--CLICK) was for practice with adjectives, possessive adjectives and family members.  The first dice said who was the owner (my, your, his/her, etc).  The second said what family member they owned.  Finally the random word chooser had adjectives that described people.  Some were adjectives that needed to go before the noun, all needed agreement.  It was a great way for students to practice all of them.

Feel free to use the one I linked.  It is easily editable to whatever you'd like to use.  Just be aware that the random word generator chooses the same order of boxes every time, so if you will be using it more than once with the same class, save your progress and pick up where you left off.