5 Easy Ways to Use Playing Cards in the Foreign Language Classroom



Many teachers employ manipulatives in their lesson to make the learning more hands-on.  Playing cards  are a great way to spice up your lesson, and require no prep (other than purchasing them).  Here are 5 easy ways to use them in your foreign language lesson:

1.  Use them to group students - either by number, color, or symbol, depending on how many groups you need.

2.  Have students play Go Fish.

3.  Have students in small groups draw a card, and the other students try to guess what number is on it.  The student with the card can indicate if they need to go higher or lower (for practicing numbers up to 10).

4.  Have students in small groups draw two cards, and the other students try to guess the sum of the two numbers (for practicing numbers up to 20) or the product (for numbers up to 100).

5.  Play talking cards.  I used the idea from El mundo de Birch, and made my own in French.


Have you ever used playing cards in your lessons?  If so, how?

30 Reasons to Learn French



Poster by one of my former students

All language teachers find themselves advocating for the study of languages, and specifically for their own language.  Here are some of the reasons to learn French that I share with students, parents, and anyone else willing to listen!  Some of these reasons are academic, some are personal, some are professional, many are specific to French, and a few of them are more general and apply to language learning in general.  Happy advocating!

Reasons to learn any language:
1.  Each year, an estimated 200,000 Americans lose out on jobs because they don't speak another language (Source).  Learning French will bolster your résumé and give you skills that you just may find yourself using at work.
2.  Learning a language is thought to slow the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia (Source).  French will keep your brain sharper for longer!
3.  Learning a language increases gray matter in your brain (Source).  In other words, learning French will just plain make you smarter!
4.  Studies show that students who learn another language do better on standardized tests (Source).  French will improve your grades!
5.  People who speak more than one language statistically earn more money that those who do not (Source).  French will make you more money!

Reasons to learn French specifically:
6.  French is considered the second most influential language in the world after English. (Source)
7. French may be the most spoken language in the world by 2050. (Source)
8. French is spoken on every continent (except Antarctica).
9. French is spoken in over 40 countries.
10. French is an official language in over 30 countries and territories.
11. Many international companies, such as Dannon, Lacoste, Nestlé, and, L'Oréal, are headquartered in a francophone country.
12.  With over 40 francophone countries in the world, chances are you live near one!
13.  With over 300 million speakers in the world, you open yourself up to countless potential personal and professional relationships by understanding their language or having this language in common with someone.
14.  French is an official language of a number of international organizations including the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations, and the Red Cross.
15.  Do you enjoy comic books?  In French-speaking countries, comic books are a beloved part of the culture.  Astérix and Tintin are two very famous comic book stars whose tales were originally written in French.
16.  After English, French is the most popular second language. (Source)
17.  Interested in fashion?  Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Christian Louboutin are just a few of the French designers that dominate the fashion industry.  With headquarters in Paris, and with Paris being one of the world's fashion hubs, chances are your work will take you there.
18.  Millions (maybe even billions) of English words come from French.  That's…a lot!… of words that you will have little to no trouble understanding right off the bat!
19.  Pursuing a career in science?  France, Canada and Switzerland (all francophone countries) all rank among the top ten countries with greatest scientific impact (Source).
20.  French is a romance language, meaning it is derived from Latin.  Once you learn French, you'll have a much easier time learning other romance languages, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.
21.  Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  By learning French, you'll be able to experience Paris to the fullest extent.
22.  Hollywood may reign supreme over the film industry today, but the French more or less invented it.  The Lumière brothers are credited as the first to make moving pictures.  The French film industry claims a number of acclaimed cinéastes, many of them pioneers of their trade.  The list includes Auguste and Louis Lumière themselves, Georges Méliès, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Luc Besson, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  Learn French and understand their films and thousands of others in a way that subtitles alone can't convey (yes, some of them made silent films, but through studying their culture you will gain an enhanced understanding of those films as well).
23.  Croissants, baguettes, macarons, crêpes - all food association with the culture of this beautiful language.  And since culture and language go hand in hand, chances are you'll encounter these foods as you learn the language.
24.  Have francophone heritage?  Learn the language of your ancestors!
25.  Everything just sounds more beautiful in French!

These last five come from Twitter users.  I sent out a Tweet asking for more reasons to add to this list, and here are some responses:

26.  From @ChrisKyriacou31:  Learning French gives access to another culture, thereby enriching one's life.
27.  From @LauraErinParker:  Communication with others - I love being able to talk to people in their language. It also makes me more comfortable traveling.
28.  From @RogerOkeeffe:  To live longer, [according] to research quoted by EU Lingua prog.
29.  From @datzespanol2:  [I] work with immigrants and want to go back to Africa.
30.  From @mmecushmore:  I wanted to live abroad.  And I did!

The Value of Low-Tech in a High-Tech World

In my last post, I extolled the virtues of technology (specifically the Internet) with respect to the role it has played in languages education.  In this post I will take a different approach, and explore the value of low-tech in a high-tech world.

I am a huge proponent of using technology to enhance instruction (or as a means for professional development and networking), but I also recognize that sometimes a good old "low-tech" approach can be more appropriate for a particular task.  Using technology simply for the sake of using it is possibly just as bad as not using it all.  Here are some reasons lo-tech might sometimes be the better choice for your activity or project:

Sometimes a lo-tech approach is more practical.
Using technology can sometimes require additional equipment that costs too much money, take too much additional time, or require additional resources or permissions that are difficult to obtain.  After weighing the costs and the benefits, sometimes the lo-tech approach may just be the more practical option.  I once did a project where students made a short dialog and narrated it in French using PowerPoint, but it took so much class time for students to get the formatting right that it wasn't worth repeating.  That said, I'm still looking for other hi-tech options that are more efficient yet still equally cost-efficient and safe (don't require sign-up, etc.) and plan to revisit the idea in the future.



Sometimes a lo-tech approach is more tangible.
While technology allows students access to an infinite number of tools and authentic resources, sometimes a photo or a video of something or someone just doesn't have the same impact as seeing it in person.  Why Skype with a guest speaker if he or she is able to come into your classroom?  Why have digital pen pals if you want your students to hold an authentic hand-written letter from France?  (Read about my pen pal project).  Additionally, having students create lo-tech work allows you to display it in your classroom.  I love displaying work all around the classroom, so I can't imagine how bare my walls would look if I didn't have students create anything tangible!

Sometimes a lo-tech approach is safer.
Certainly allowing students to use the internet comes with certain inherent risks, even with careful planning and monitoring.  In some cases, however, the risks are greater than others.  If you work with students under the age of 13 (as I do), keep in mind that they will not in many cases be able to sign up for certain services online.  Additionally, sometimes the project you want to do requires an extensive amount teacher moderation in order to be safe.  Sometimes a lo-tech alternative is the best alternative in situations like this.

A lo-tech approach is a good back-up.
It's not a bad idea to have a lo-tech back up to your hi-tech project.  We all know technology tends to fail us at the most inconvenient times.  As teachers, we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

Hybrid projects allow you to combine the benefits of high-tech and lo-tech.
Although I can't claim I've done any myself yet, I've enjoyed learning about these new hybrid projects that combine the traditional with the digital, usually using QR codes.  Colleen Lee-Hayes and Nicole Naditz are just two language teachers who have used QR codes to add a technological component to a lo-tech project.

Technology is a Tool

The graphic above by Bill Ferriter (click it to visit his Flickr page) has made its way around the Twitterverse and blogosphere, and with good reason.  I think it really sums up how teachers should approach technology - as just one tool to accomplish a task tied to your objectives.  It can be tempting to want to try out every new program and app, but before doing that, it's a good idea to consider where the technology as it's used in your task falls on the SAMR model.  The SAMR model, explained below by Jonathan Brubaker, complete with a coffee analogy, helps teachers determine how useful a certain technology is in conjunction with a certain task.  Just because your technology falls in the "substitution" category, though, doesn't mean it's not worth using.  When large funds, extra class time, extensive parent permissions, and other concerns are at stake, though, you might find the lo-tech approach to be a better alternative at the substitution and augmentation stages.


Click on the above graphic to visit Jonathan's blog and read his thoughts on the SAMR model.


As teachers, we must think critically about how we are using technology in the classroom.  Our objectives for students are always the end goal and the starting point for planning an activity.  Once we determine those and consider the SAMR model, we are better equipped to harness technology in order to use it to its fullest potential and use it wisely.

5 Ways the Internet Has Transformed Language Education



Language education has greatly benefited from the advent of new web-based or web-connected technology in the past 10-15 years.  When I first started learning French, I had access to the Internet at school and at home, but many of the programs and websites I use today did not yet exist.  When I first started teaching four years ago, I already had the benefit of having access to a lot of the technology that I use today, and each year new programs and apps are developed.  Not only do many of these programs make language learning more hands-on and exciting, but they also enhance the learning in some way.

Technology is a somewhat controversial topic in the field of education.  There are those who believe that any project can be made better with the use of technology, those that feel technology is a hindrance and takes too much time to learn and use, and there are others who feel that technology is an incredible tool when it suits the task at hand and contributes to the fulfillment of a teacher's objectives.  I fall into that last category, as do many other teachers I interact with either in person or online.  In today's post, I'll explore five ways I feel the internet has transformed language education.  In the comments, I encourage you to share your own.

1.  Allowing Students to Practice Language in Non-Threatening Environments
Some students find the thought of speaking or writing a foreign language terrifying, especially in the beginning stages.  Programs like Audacity and apps like Sock Puppets allow students to present spoken work in the foreign language while changing their voice, which lessens the anxiety associated with speaking.  While the use of Sock Puppets and Audacity does not require an internet connection, it must be downloaded from the internet and internet is required for publishing the results.  Apps like DuoLingo and sites like Quizlet and Quia allow students to practice language with instant, anonymous feedback, and a format that is fun to use.  More and more of my students are reporting that they are practicing French outside of class with these fun tools.

2.  Bringing Realia From Around the World to Teachers' Fingertips
It's not that realia was unavailable to teachers before, it's just that now, so much more is available, and can be accessed almost instantly.  A student asks what a macaron looks like, a quick Google images search brings up hundreds of examples.  I need pictures of French speaking locales around the world, I can search Flickr for Creative Commons images I can use without infringing on copyright.  Every day, an almost uncountable number of videos are uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo, and DailyMotion, creating a world of authentic videos for classroom use at no charge.  Although there are innumerable resources floating around just waiting to be used, it can sometimes be an overwhelming task finding the right tool at the right level.  If you're looking for some ideas on where to find authentic resources, check out my blog post on it.

3.  Facilitating Global Communication
Apps like Skype have made teleconferencing with someone across the world infinitely easier.  Skype has been a boon not just to language teachers but to teachers of all content areas at just about all grade levels.  Skype is not the only tool that facilitates global communication, though.  Through ePals, I was able to connect with an English teacher in France, with whom I'm about to start a third year in our pen pal exchange.  I've seen great posts showing how students and teachers have taken to Twitter to communicate with target-language speakers (here and here).  The internet has not only facilitated global communication, it has introduced new ways altogether in which we can communicate.

4.  Giving Students a Broader Audience for Their Work
Students take more pride in their work and put more effort into it when they know other people will see it.  Now, instead of just posting their work on the walls of my classroom, I publish it to my classroom blog as well, where it is seen by parents and visitors from all over the world.

5.  Facilitating Communication Among Language Teachers Worldwide
Through other teachers' blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, I am almost inundated on a daily basis by new ideas and resources to use in my classroom.  This may very well be the most valuable way that the internet has transformed language education, in my experience.  Every day is like a free conference!

In what ways has the internet transformed language education in your experience?  And perhaps more importantly, in what ways do you think the internet will continue to transform it in the next decade?  Please share your ideas in the comments!

Back to School!



Back to school in my part of the world is right after Labor Day (Sept. 1). I'm looking forward to meeting a new group of students and sharing with them the language and culture of the francophone world. Since I wrote two posts about back to school last year, and I don't really have much to add, I will just share a couple of new things with you and direct you to my older posts for some back to school ideas.

Pictured above is my new display for the bulletin board outside my door.  I've gathered photos from various French speaking regions and connected them from the map so students can see how varied the francophone world looks.  At bottom left is the obligatory shot of OUR classroom!  The three photos on the left are my own, and the rest are from Creative Commons on Flickr.  If you click the image, you will be able to see it full size and read the credits, or click the links below:

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France by Samantha Decker
Château Frontenac in Québec City, Canada by Samantha Decker
Pier in Martinique by Jp Evain
Camel in Morocco by Chris Zielecki
Chameleon in Madagascar by Mika Adrianoelison
Reflected Sunset Tahiti by Jon Rawlinson
Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium by Vase Petrovski
Skier in Valais, Switzerland by Sami Uskela
Soccer Stadium in Nantes, France by Manuel

While I was at school today, I made a little stop motion video showing my classroom being set up:



If you're looking for more ideas, here are the two posts I wrote last year:
La rentrée : Première Partie
La rentrée : 2è Partie - Pourquoi le français ?

UPDATE 8/27 - I added a little Bienvenue banner outside my door, and I thought I would share that:



Bonne rentrée !

Bringing French Cuisine to Life with Local Restaurant Owners






Since I've started teaching, I've had the owners of a local crêperie called Ravenous into my classroom every year to serve crêpes to my students, who order them in French.  I always loved their restaurant before I started teaching, and I thought it would be a great way to engage students in learning about this popular French treat, which many of them had never tried. This past year, the restaurant changed owners, but the new owners were eager to continue the tradition.



Students formerly had a choice of three sweet crêpe toppings (Nutella, lemon curd, or jam), which they could decide on the day of the event. This year, we added two savory crêpe options as well (Ratatouille and Bretagne), so due to the variety of types of crêpes being offered, students were required to make their selections ahead of time. The day before the event, we review key vocabulary terms (Vous désirez, qu'est-ce que tu veux, je voudrais, s'il vous plaît, et pour vous, j'ai faim, voilà). On the day of the event, the room is set up like a restaurant, with desks in groups of 3 or 4 and a tablecloth and a number set on top. After learning a little about the history of crêpes and how they're made, I select one student at each table to be the serveur/serveuse, and they come and get a pre-made sheet with the name of each crêpe on it and a spot for tally marks as well as a spot to put the table numbers. Entirely in French, students take the orders of their classmates (and themselves) and bring the slips, with a tally for each type of crêpe) up to the front. Then the owners prepare the crêpes and a parent volunteer and I bring them to their tables.


The nature of this process is such that some students will inevitably be done eating before others even start, but I don't really see this as an issue. I tell students beforehand that this will happen, and to keep in mind that, as we have learned, meal-taking is a very social event in the French culture. Although it may seem odd to them to keep sitting and chatting after they have finished eating, it wouldn't be odd at all in France.  To encourage the use of French at their tables, I have a translated copy of the Ravenous menu in French with clip art illustrating what many of the words mean.  Students can work together to try to figure out what's in the various crêpes or say which ones they would like to try. For students who have already visited the restaurant, they enjoy learning how to say the name of their favorite creêpe in French.  When the class is almost over, I ask the students to give their feedback (always positive) and share what kind of crêpes they'd like to see invented (ice cream, pizza, and bacon are usually mentioned in every class).

Often, members of the school and local media, as well as administrators at both the building and district level, come in to interact with the students and enjoy a crêpe right alongside them. The students get a kick out of having their principal or superintendent sit right down next to them for a meal!  The parents who come in love the opportunity to see their child's classroom, especially since the opportunities for parent to come in become less and less after elementary school.  Their presence also allows me more freedom to interact with the students a few at a time and take lots of photos (which are incorporated into my end of the year slideshow).



It doesn't surprise me at all that this event is one of the highlights of students' year in my class.  They look forward to it with such enthusiasm ("When are we eating the crêpes??"), and their faces light up when they walk in the room on the day of, when they see and smell the ingredients.  Most people, especially kids, love food, and this was a lesson that revolved all around it! The great news for language teachers is that food is so intertwined with a country's culture, that we can easily weave it into our lessons. While the vocabulary used in this lesson is pretty basic, it gives students the confidence that they can use their language for an authentic task, and because they associate it with such a positive event, they remember it much better.  It's also just a great community builder!

Now that you've seen what I do, I'm curious to hear how you use food to bring culture to life and engage students!  How would you modify what I've done to suit your own classroom?

Developing Students' Presentational Skills and Digital Citizenship in a Culminating Project


Image by Sasa 383000 via Wikimedia Commons


At the end of each school year, I always do a culminating project that focuses on French-speaking countries or people.  Each year, I've done a different project, but this year I did one that I think I'll be repeating.

The objective of the project is for students to describe some facts about a francophone country while demonstrating their presentational skills and digital citizenship.  This was met by students working in groups to create a short (approximately 30 seconds to a minute) video commercial advertising a francophone country or territory.  Although students took the time to learn about their country through provided resources (in English), this is not a research project.  I see it as an introduction to various francophone countries, as I take as many opportunities as possible during the year to show students how varied the francophone world and its people are.

After a colleague in my department told me about a project he did working with the school media specialist in our school's TV studio, I decided to try the same.  Jamie, our school media specialist, was very excited about the project and worked with the students and I to make the videos.  Once the project was completed, the best commercials (as chosen by me) were posted on the class blog, and the 8th grade French students selected a winner to receive a special prize.

Before working in the TV studio, students watched advertisements for several francophone countries (see below):



After watching the videos and showing them an example of what I was looking for, I put students in groups of 4 or 5 and each group picked a country to advertise.  Ideally, this project could be done in groups of 2 or 3, but due to availability time constraints in the TV studio and adjoining computer lab, I needed to make the groups a little bit larger.  The upshot of this is that students can take on a role in the group that they feel most comfortable in.  Two students actually appear in the commercial, one student does an off-camera voice, and the remaining student or students are technicians who help with advancing the background photos and the cue cards.  All students are involved in the writing of the commercial.  Some students love to be on camera, while others absolutely hate it.  I see no reason to force students to appear in front a camera as long as they are contributing to the group in other ways.

The first two days that students were in groups, they determined who would take on the different roles, learned about their country through provided books from the school library and online printouts, and then wrote a script.  With an upper level class, the content of the commercial could be largely left up to the students, but with my first-year learners, I felt it necessary to provide guidance in the form of an outline of what to say and some key vocabulary expressions.

It is here that I will point out that my first couple years of teaching, I was so focused on incorporating certain grammatical aspects or vocabulary items into the project that it was not as authentic as it could have been.  In more recent years, I have favored an approach that focuses on making the task more authentic and letting the vocabulary and grammar flow out of it naturally (keeping it level-appropriate).

Here is the handout I gave to students showing the outline and the key vocabulary (only vocabulary they haven't already learned is provided) along with the rubric (click them to view them full size):


After reflecting a little bit on the rubric, I will add a category for digital citizenship next year, where students earn or lose points based on if their sources are cited correctly.

After learning about their country and creating a script, students had one day to use laptops in their group to select background music, create cue cards (students were expected to memorize the script as best they could, but the cue cards were nice to have as a backup), and choose background photos to be projected behind them via the green screen.  One day was extremely tight, but luckily the groups that didn't finish had time to work on it the following day while some groups were recording their commercials.  Students found background music on Soundzabound, which our school district subscribes to.  If you don't have access to Sounzabound, there are plenty of sites to find Creative Commons music that is free and legal for students to use.  A few examples are BeatPick (not all music is free, but you can filter your search), CC Mixter, and Jamendo (again, not all music is free here).  While one student was doing that, another one was typing up the script as cue cards on a PowerPoint, and another couple students were finding photos.

The photos were an important part of this project.  For one thing, while looking through photos of their country, students are learning more about the culture and people of that country.  Secondly, the photos help make each project unique and original.  Most importantly, however, in finding a crediting the photos, students are learning about copyright laws.  Before setting students loose to pick out photos, I explained briefly that most images you find on the internet are copyrighted and cannot legally be used in presentations.  I explained that some photographers apply a Creative Commons license to their photos, allowing them to be used under certain conditions.  I had the students find the photos on Wikimedia Commons.  Students had to verify that each image either had a Creative Commons license or was in the public domain (information that is provided with each image), as well as cite the author on a credits slide.  While this is a concept that is taught and reinforced in computer literacy classes, I felt it was worthwhile to reinforce it in this project as well, since the opportunity presented itself.  Unfortunately, intellectual property law is something that even many adults don't understand (or choose to ignore).  As a photographer, this is a topic that is especially important to me.

Once all the preparation was done, students got the chance (most for the first time) to see how the school's TV studio works.  While groups were in the studio recording (supervised and directed by Jamie, the school media specialist), the rest of the students were in the adjoining computer lab either preparing, or if they were done, working on other assignments I had for them.  When students were done, they could either electronically submit a tip for success for next year's students, work on an upcoming assignment, or complete an extra credit assignment electronically in which they answer questions about the country they worked on for the project.

I was really impressed with the students' work.  I thought the commercials flowed nicely and the pronunciation was good, especially considering that some of the cities and towns in these countries were difficult for English speakers to pronounce.

video

Ultimately, of the finalists in the video above that I posted to the class blog, the first one for French Polynesia won.  What set them apart was the leis they brought in to wear, their movement, and the fact that they were able to speak so well while doing the movement!

After we all watched the videos in class, I solicited ideas from the students as to how the project could be improved next year.  They had some terrific ideas:

  • Make a longer commercial (They want MORE work?  Cool!)
  • Have one person do the voiceover from off-camera and have the students on camera acting out the actions and pointing
  • Include a fun fact
  • Have cooler effects and transitions
  • Cut before showing the credits
  • Show a short video at the beginning
  • Have an introductory slide with the slogan on it
  • Allow more time to prepare with laptops
  • Require costumes and props
  • Give students more countries to choose from
  • Allow student to use clip art
What I gathered from the students' suggestions was that they really enjoyed the project, and in fact they would have liked more time to work on it to make it even longer and more thorough.  I can't complain there!

While we used the equipment available to us in our school's TV studio, this project is easily adaptable to whatever type of technology you have handy - Apple's photo booth is a great substitute for a green screen, and I'm sure there are plenty of iPad apps that would lend themselves to this type of project.  You could even just have your students stand in front of the SMART Board or projector.

Tying into the Standards
Not only did this project allow students to meet my objectives, but it also aligned nicely with several Common Core State Standards and ACTFL standards, as outlined below.

Common Core Standards:

  • SL1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively
  • SL5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations
  • W8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism

ACTFL Standards:
  • Connections: Reinforce Other Disciplines (Standard 3.1): Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of content across disciplines.
  • Presentational Communication (Standard 1.3): Present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.

All in all, I think this project was a success.  Having the students use the TV studio and conscientiously obtain and credit images for the presentation added value beyond just the language and culture.  I look forward to doing it again.  Have you done a similar project or do you plan to do this in your class this year?  I'd love to hear how you might have changed it (I won't be hurt!).  Whether it's from students or other teachers, the more suggestions I get, the better the project will be in the future!