Qu'est-ce que la Toussaint ?

The lesson I normally give for Halloween isn't fully compatible with our school's current hybrid model of teaching, and I am at a different spot in my curriculum than I normally am right now.  Combine that with a bunch of really neat Halloween/Toussaint/Jour des Défunts videos I found on YouTube this summer, and I realized I needed to craft a new lesson.  After ten years of teaching 40-minute classes, this year we have 60 minute classes.  That means that after I accomplish my initial objectives of teaching students about the holidays in the French-speaking world, there is time to just have some Halloween-themed fun.  I am posting this lesson. before I actually teach it in case it gives anyone any ideas they may want to use with their students this year.  So, without further ado, here is an overview of what I will be teaching students in the days right before Halloween:

-First, via Nearpod, students will match up French Halloween vocabulary with images using the matching pairs feature.  Most of the words are cognates, such as "un monstre." or words we learned, such as "un chat noir."  I used to use this as an opportunity to review masculine and feminine noun markers, but we have not tackled that yet this year so that will not be the focus.

-Next, we will watch portions of all the videos in the playlist below.  For the Martinique video, students will be instructed to turn on auto-translated English subtitles so they can follow along (by the way, for email subscribers, you need to visit the post on my website to see the videos):

-Via Nearpod's Time to Climb game (which I will be talking about in a future post), students will answer a series of comprehension questions about the videos...in English.  I know the use of English here may be a bit controversial, but sometimes, often with cultural lessons, I feel that students would be missing out on a lot of valuable knowledge if there wasn't any opportunity to discuss the material in English.

-We will sing the song below, but I will have students look at this version with subtitles in English.  It's not culturally relevant, but it's a great way to reinforce the pronunciation of "C'est."

-If time allows, we will also watch this video, which is fun since most of the students have seen the movie:

-For the rest of class we will switch gears (using Halloween imagery) and do a bit of review using a shared PowerPoint, where students can drag and drop text boxes to form sentences on their assigned slide.  They will see a prompt, such as a ghost asking a happy witch "Comment vas-tu ?" and they have to compose the appropriate response.  I talked about shared PowerPoints in this post, but I'll be talking about this particular activity in a subsequent post.

If you'd like more detailed information about the contents of this lesson, feel free to contact me using this form.

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Harness the Power of Collaborative Slides!

Here's a video I made explaining how I've been using PowerPoint this year to encourage collaboration and interaction among students.  By the way, I had some technical difficulties, so it got a little cut off at the end!

Here are some of their "C'est moi" slides hung outside my classroom:

By the way, click here to view some of my students' "C'est moi" slides over on my class blog.

How would you use shared PowerPoints?

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Getting to Know Each Other...Virtually

It's being said a lot, but this school year is certainly one like no other previously.  Our school is following a hybrid model, so four days a week, I have students in the room and on Zoom, and Wednesday is a virtual day.  The first week of school, however, was entirely virtual.  Most students come to school two days a week (during one of which I see them), but some students are entirely virtual.  With that, I have had to come up with some new, mostly virtual, ways for students to get to know each other, which incorporate both the students in the room with me and those at home.  Here are some of the methods I have used so far:

Zoom Polls

During the first week of school, Zoom polls helped me get a pulse on how everyone was feeling about the new school year.  It's great to have a little tool like this built within Zoom.  Here are some results:

Tu préfères

During the first week of school, I wanted to create an activity that would help students get to know each other, but also provide them with some comprehensible input.  I created a "Which do you prefer" activity, made up of cognates and words that can be easily illustrated with a photo.  I put all the text and images to one side, then saved each slide and used them as Zoom backgrounds (an alternative to sharing your screen which allows you to appear larger on the screen).  View the presentation below:

Open Floor

The first two days of class I actually met with all my students at once on a giant Zoom call.  During this time, I really just wanted them to get to know me and feel more comfortable with French class.  That's why I really just let them have the floor and say or ask anything they want, even if it wasn't related to class.  I made a Zoom background for the occasion:

Informal Comments

On Canvas, I have been allowing students to leave informal (and sometimes a little off topic) comments on announcements I make, or make similar comments in the Zoom chat.  Sometimes students ask each other how their day is going or how they are liking French class, and they respond with comments such as "Très bien !"  I appreciate that they are trying to use their French and I figure it replaces a lot of those informal conversations they would be having in person that build rapport and community, now that they are at home most of the time during class.  If it's slightly off task, I often let it go, and then rein it in only if it starts to get in the way of the lesson.  It's true, I told my students to keep chat to "academic only," but what can I say, I'm a softy!

Virtual Ball Toss

My awesome colleague Sarah first turned me on to this idea.  I have this goofy looking squishy ball that I love to toss around the room to elicit participation.  It's so weird looking and feeling that the hands instantly go up as soon as I pull it out because they all want to touch it.  Well, obviously that's out the window for the foreseeable future.  What I'm using in the meantime is a virtual, imaginary ball.  During the first week of school, I had each student toss a virtual ball to another student, greeting one another with "Bonjour."  It helped them learn each other's names, as well as an important word we use a lot in class!

Breakout Rooms

I've tested the waters with breakout rooms in Zoom.  So far, I've used them twice.  Once, during the first week of school, when we were all virtual, I sent students into breakout rooms to introduce themselves in French.  Yes, I know they probably spent some of the time just chatting, but with students not even being in the classroom at the same time as some of their classmates, I felt it was ok to give them a little bit of downtime to build some rapports.  In our school we use a teaming model, as is common with most middle schools, but students are mixed with students off-team in special area classes, so they generally don't know everyone when they come to class for the first time.  Another time, while students were brainstorming norms (which I will blog about separately), I paired them up with students in their opposite cohort (to the extent possible), meaning that students in the room were paired up with students who were at home.


Students completed a survey on Microsoft Teams, which included questions about their personal interests, learning preferences, and motivation for learning French.  When I read the surveys, I call up their school photo to try to match up a name to a face.  I then wrote an email to each student after I read their survey commenting on what they had written and letting them know I was looking forward to working with them this year.

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Why Learn French? My Students Weigh In

Every year at the beginning of the year I show my students a video that I made to get them excited about learning French.  Every 2-3 years, I update it to keep the contents relevant.  The most recent version I've made was in 2019, so this is the one the students saw this year:

After viewing the video this year, we had a discussion in class and then on Canvas about why it is important to learn French, and where it is spoken.  This year I took some of their quotes and made them into graphics on Canva to share with the class, their parents, and school community members.  Here's what they had to say:

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Introducing Myself to My Students...Virtually

As the start of this school year got closer and closer a few weeks ago, I kept trying to think of ways I could make the start of the year special for students and get them excited for class, in light of all the changes that are being made to their educational experience.  Then I saw this amazing post from Annabelle Allen (aka la Maestra Loca) and it got my creative wheels turning.  In the post, she shared a video she made to introduce herself to her students using virtual backgrounds in Zoom and Snap Camera filters.  So off I went to make my own (and figure out how the heck Snap Camera works...you might have to downgrade your Zoom for it to work!).  The goal was for curious students to be able to watch it before the start of the school year or at the very beginning.  Here is the video:

I also did a live version of the lesson, using the same virtual backgrounds.  Absent students were able to just watch the video if they hadn't yet.  During the live version (during the first week of school, which was all virtual for 7th graders), students offered to translate each statement about me, and put things in the chat about things we had in common, sharing that they too played an instrument or rode horses (some of them even ride at the same barn as me and were able to tell by the name of the horse I was riding!).  It was a great, informal way for everyone to connect and get to know each other and me.  I didn't expect so much engagement in the live version!  While sharing too much about yourself to your students can be a boundary issue, over the years I've found that sharing information about myself that is not overly personal really helps me connect with my students.  It also humanizes the teacher and shows he or she is just a regular human being too.  My students like finding out that I attended the same school they did and some of their teachers were my teachers!

In a subsequent post I'll be sharing more about the ways my students have introduced themselves to me and to each other so far this year.

How have you been introducing yourself to your students this year?

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Zoom Expectations for Synchronous Learning (Updated 9/16/20!)

Well, it's day three of Zooming with my students, and I'm starting to get in the swing of things.  In my district, we are doing a phased in hybrid model, so eventually I will be seeing most of my students in person one day a week each, but my 7th graders are online for this first week.  Thursday and Friday we held brief meet and greets with all our students, so today was the first full-length lesson I had with a couple of my classes.  I created these Zoom expectations, which I shared with them today.  They also contain essential vocabulary needed to communicate using Zoom.  I, like most teachers, am asking my students to use the chat for academic purposes only and not to unmute themselves unless asked to participate or they need to tell me something urgent, such as that I'm muted.  I have the ability to mute all students and disable the chat, but since I want students to be able to tell me if there's a tech issue or perhaps pipe in with a question, and there are academic uses for the chat, my plan is not to disable those functions unless necessary within a particular class.  So far, there haven't been any major issues keeping them enabled.  Feel free to copy or adapt these expectations for your own classroom.  My goal with these norms was to focus on Zoom specifically, and remind them that all other school rules of course still apply (being respectful, etc.).

Update 9/16/20:  After another day of Zooming, I realized there were definitely a few expectations I missed, so I have added those to the document.

Click here to access the Zoom expectations.  What are your videoconferencing expectations if you're doing that this year?

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My Covid-Conscious Classroom

This coming week I will begin a school year...wait for it, wait for it...like no other I have ever taught in!  This year I will be teaching using a hybrid model, so I will have some students in class and others at home streaming in using Zoom and/or completing asynchronous work.  A lot of things have to change this year from the pre-covid world in order to keep the learning environment safe, but one thing that's not changing is that I still love my job and I absolutely cannot wait to meet my students and help them navigate these coming challenges.  Oh yeah, and help them discover the language and cultures of the French speaking world!  In a forthcoming post, I will share some of the ideas for hybrid learning that I picked up over the summer, but in this post I am sharing what my school and classroom look like this year.

Here's a great example of a community coming together:  the New York Racing Association, which owns our famous local race track (which is closed to fans this summer) loaned picnic tables to our school to use for socially distanced outdoor lunches (weather permitting, of course).  They are currently occupying what is normally a parking lot.

Normally, on the bulletin board outside my classroom, I try to convey through images the prevalence of French in the world and point out where it is spoken.  This year, however, I felt that the message I really wanted to send first and foremost to my students was that we're all in this together and that all are welcome.  I purchased the print rights to that image on Etsy and I made my own text in Photoshop.  I plan to actually talk about why I chose "Stronger Together" as the translation when it literally means "All Together."  The reason is that "Stronger Together" is the slogan that is often used in English for that phrase.  I will use this as an opportunity to point out that not everything can be translated word for word.

Inside my classroom, I removed the homework station, where students grabbed papers they missed, since papers will be minimal this year and must be distributed with gloves on, and replaced it with a graphic I made with helpful reminders to stay safe.  I also plan to go over the vocabulary with students since these words will be needed often.  The image of the coronavirus was designed by Manuela Molina and is part of a story published by La Mutualité Française Occitanie and is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.  The images of the children were designed by Sandrine Lhomme and Thomas Tessier for Il était une histoire (I did add masks to the children in Photoshop, as these illustrations were created before mask guidance was put out).  They are believed in good faith to be permissible under France copyright law as pedagogical exceptions.

One thing that's not changing is my bulletin board of movies in French.

My useful expressions board is another mainstay.

A big difference this year is that there are only 15 desks and they are all 6 feet apart.  The library of books that usually sits by my window is no more...for now at least.  One thing's for sure, I'm glad we have lots of technology tools to get us through this pandemic, or things would be a lot more challenging.

To my readers, what is school looking like for you this year?  Are you in person, online, or hybrid?  What are some things you had to change?

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