4 Things I'm Excited to Try Out This Year

Normally I blog about things I've already done, but in this post I'm going to share a few things I'm excited to try this year.  I'll let the folks who've already tried them do the explaining.

Goosechase:  This is a scavenger hunt app I first read about on El Mundo de Birch.  I think it sounds like a great review activity.

Emojis:  I love this post about ways to use emojis from Musings from the Island.  I can't wait to try out some of her ideas!

Triventy:  This is a collaborative quiz app I first read about on Maris Hawkins blog.  I love having students take charge of the learning so this seems like a great tool.

Google Scoot:  My colleague Susan Frost first directed me to this activity on Erin-tegration.  I love an excuse for students to get out of their seats, so this activity seems like a great blend of technology and kinetic learning.

What are you excited about trying out this year?

PBL with ABCs

Back in February, I had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop on Project-Based Learning given by the Buck Institute for Education.  Throughout the course of the three days, each participant planned, got feedback on, and revised a PBL project for their classroom.  I chose to expand on a project I already did because either I'm lazy or I actually liked the project and wanted to make it better instead of just starting from scratch.  Last year, my students made ABC books in groups of three.  They chose a verb for each letter and used some of the letters in a sentence.  While I liked the finished product, I felt that a lot of class time was spent creating illustrations for the book, and it was hard for students to accomplish all my directives in the given time frame (I ended up having to loosen the requirements).

At the workshop, we all described our projects on a huge piece of paper and everyone went around and offered feedback on sticky notes.  The notes started with "I like..." or "I wonder..."  Unfortunately, I only saved the "I Wonder..." notes, thinking those were more valuable.  Some of the suggestions people made:

-I wonder, could the books be shared with students in France?
-I wonder if having students do less (maybe 2 letters) would lead to a better product?
-I wonder if you could have students share these with elementary students?
-I wonder if a local bookstore could partner up for an evening of ABCs?

At some point during the feedback process, it was suggested to me that perhaps each class could do a book, instead of doing many books in groups (see above), and that is what we did.  So here is how the project played out:

I started by reading them all this wonderful ABC book, La vie de chaton, which is written in very simple French.  There is a verb for every letter of the alphabet.  It also tells the story of a cat family.  I did remove a couple of letters due to feeling the content might have been too "giggle-inducing" for American seventh graders.

PBL is all about driving questions and making students think critically.  After reading the book, I asked the students what made the book so good, and if they were to make a similar book, what qualities would they include.  Some of the things they said:

-A story line that's not too complex - implied
-Easy to understand
-Basic terms
-Good illustration that helps you understand words
-Entertaining - fun and exciting
-Appealing to kids
-Attention grabbing title

I told them they had to combine these qualities with my "must haves" (which started out more robust, but was eventually pared down to the following):

-A title page in French
-A verb for every letter of the alphabet (except W, X, and Y)
-A sentence for every verb
-A variety of pronouns used (not just “je” each time!)
-Illustrations for each, clearly depicting the meaning of both the pronoun and the verb

Together each class came up with a theme, characters and a basic storyline.  Then they broke out into groups and each took two letters to write and illustrate.  Our instructional technologist, who was at the PBL training as well, was in the classroom while the students were creating with technology.

I chose PowerPoint as the tool, since our district uses Microsoft Office 365, so the collaboration between students was supposed to be very easy.  The idea was that students would all have access to their class' PowerPoint, and groups would add their slides.  Unfortunately, due to a number of problems on Microsoft's end, we had to retool the mechanics of the project.  First, we switched from iPads to laptops for ease of use.  Secondly, students each created a PowerPoint file with their slides and shared them with me and the instructional technologist to be digitally compiled at the end.

Another important component of PBL is feedback and revision.  After groups finished their slides, they went to another group's laptop and left "I like"/"I wonder" comments similar to the ones we left for each other at the PBL workshop.

Fun fact:  The time stamps are definitely not accurate.  We do not have school at 5:00 in the morning!

After they were completely done writing their sentences, they made their illustrations either by hand, in Microsoft Paint, or on the iPad (which they then had to email to themselves to import to their PowerPoint).

After I compiled the ABC books, we went through them as a class and everyone had a chance to check the spelling and grammar for accuracy.  Then I published them to the blog.

A couple weeks later, students read their own ABC books as well as the other classes'.  They then left feedback for the other classes on their book.  Here are the books, as well as some of the feedback left on them:

"All the pictures fit well together with the theme."  "The sentences were really unique and well thought out."

"It was well constructed." "The plot was interesting!"

"It had a great storyline and it was very easy to follow."
"They used their French very well and they didn't just use simple sentences."

"I like how it actually took place in an area we know." "The French language was used well."

"The verbs were really good choices." "It kept us on our toes."

What I Liked About This Project
-Most students got really into it and took ownership of the story
-It was not an overwhelming amount of language for them to produce, but the finished product is still impressive
-Students seemed to enjoy the fact that it was a project for the whole class
-One student said it was his favorite thing we did all year!

How I Want to Expand This Project
-The "broader audience" piece is another major component of PBL, which contributes to the authenticity of the task.  I had intended for students to share these projects with younger students in the building, but due to extenuating circumstances, there was no time.  I plan to explore this idea again next year.  On the bright side, I did publish the projects to both my classroom blog and here, so there is the potential for an audience outside the classroom.
-Before we started experiencing the technical difficulties with Microsoft that greatly slowed down the digital collaboration piece, I had wanted students to break out into committees to take care of illustrations, voiceover, and companion worksheets.  If I can find a program that more efficiently facilitates digital collaboration, I think those extra components would make the project even more worthwhile.

Your Thoughts
Now it's your turn for "I like"/"I wonder"!  What did you like about this project and what do you wonder about that could be improved or expanded upon?

New YouTube Sensation: Google Translate Sings!

A colleague recently introduced me to a YouTube channel, called Google Translate Sings, run by Malinda Kathleen Reese.  Reese runs English language songs through various languages in Google Translate and then back into English again and then sings the results.  You can compare the original lyrics and the new lyrics on the screen as she sings.  While these videos don't have a huge educational value, it's worth a few minutes at the end of class to show one of these if you have the time.  I think they do a very humorous job of illustrating the limitations of this tool our students tend to rely a little too much on!  I told my students after we watched some of the videos to remember that every time they use Google Translate, this is how ridiculous they could sound!  Here are a few of my favorites:

Monsieur Sacha: Fun French Listening

I'd like to share with you a playlist from Disney Channel France's YouTube channel.  It's about a giraffe called Monsieur Sacha, and it's got a little something for everyone.  These short to medium length videos are great for listening activities.  "Une journée avec Monsieur Sacha" is great for reinforcing time and daily activities, "Monsieur Sacha est à nouveau papa" and "Tel père, tel fils" are great for reinforcing family and adjectives," and the longer videos are suitable for upper level students.

I'll confess I've only used one of the videos in my classroom so far ("Une journée avec Monsieur Sacha").  Here are some questions I asked students at the end:

À quelle heure est ....
1. Le petit-déjeuner ?
2. La balade ?
3. Le déjeuner (le buffet) ?

4. À quatorze heures, M. Sacha... (A, B, C)
5. À dix-neuf heures, M. Sacha... (A, B, C)

My questions here are really more about memorizing what they saw in the video than having to produce the vocabulary, but I liked having them listen to the vocabulary in an authentic context.

What might you do with these videos?

Three Fun Writing Activities

I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who has found that many students dislike writing. In this post, I will share three fun activities I use across multiple contexts to add some spice to writing practice.

Who Wrote It
Give students a sentence starter relating to their own interests or plans, such as "Ce week-end, je veux..." or "Cet été, je vais...," or simply "Je suis..."  Instruct students to write something that their classmates will associate with them.  Then gather all the responses and read them to the class (obviously you should make them aware that you are going to read them aloud before they write them), having students guess who wrote it.  I usually start by announcing "C'est une fille" or "C'est un garçon" to help them narrow it down.  The students absolutely love this activity!

Socrative Sentences
Using the "Quick Question" feature on the Socrative app, I give students a prompt.  They must write a unique and interesting sentence with the prompt.  They can ask me or a neighbor for help before they submit it.  I then go through and remove responses that contain lots of errors, don't follow directions, are duplicates of previous responses, or have English in them (I warn them ahead of time not to take it personally, and the names are hidden).  The students vote on their favorite of the remaining sentences.

Give students three photo prompts (one for the subject, one for the verb, and one extra for the rest of the sentence - or one for like or dislike, one for the verb, and one for the condition), and see how long a sentence they can write.

Les Parties du Corps

Parts of the body can be a difficult topic to make contextual.  With the right activities, though, it can be a lot of fun to teach and learn.  These are some of the activities I use year after year.

Although many of the body parts mentioned are bird-specific (les ailes, le bec, les pattes), I still like to teach this song because of its cultural significance.  I show the video below, which is a little goofy, and thus perfect for middle school.

Jacques a dit
There isn't a topic better suited to the French version of Simon Says than body parts.  When the terms are still new, I act them out as I say them, so the game doesn't rely as much on knowing the vocabulary.  Later on, I mix things up by touching the wrong body part (e.g. I say "Touchez la bouche" but I touch my foot) to test them.

Frankenstein Body Parts
I was first introduced to this idea by The Creative Language Class.  It's basically a fun twist on the traditional label-the-body-parts assignment.  Instead of taking a picture and labeling it, you make a creature from multiple sources.  The results can be fun and a little bit scary!

Igor le Gorille
This fun video reinforces some parts of the body vocabulary while introducing some new terms like "Peux-tu," "comme," and "bouge."

Before watching the video, I throw this Wordle up on the board to  go over the vocabulary.

Abstract Art
A colleague of mine gave me the idea for this hilarious activity.  A student comes up to the board, puts one hand over his eyes, and proceeds to draw various body parts that the class calls out in French, one by one.  The result is this extremely abstract version of a person that's sure to elicit a few laughs, especially from the person who drew it.

Dessinez un monstre
Another drawing activity, this time the teacher announces body parts for students to draw.  Since it's a monster, you can say things like "dessinez trois têtes" or "dessinez une bouche sur le cou" to make it more interesting.  Although everyone is following the same directions, the monsters all come out unique.  By the way, the two examples below are from two separate activities, hence the many differences.

Avec les ____, je peux...
Shortly after teaching parts of the body, I introduce likes and dislikes with various activities (ER verbs).  To reinforce both old and new vocabulary, I have students brainstorm what activities they can do with each of the body parts they have learned how to say in French.  Example:  Avec les yeux, je peux regarder la télé, étudier, jouer aux jeux vidéo, etc.

Logique ou pas logique ?

Building on the previous activity, I have two Smart Board spinners that have activities and parts of the body on them, respectively.  I spin each of them (or a student does), and we decide if the activity/body part combo is logical or illogical (e.g.:  chanter avec la bouche = logique, danser avec les oreilles = pas logique).

When I introduce vocabulary for making and responding to invitations, I spend a lot of time on excuses (i.e. "Je ne peux pas," "Je dois...," etc.).  This provides a great opportunity to revisit parts of the body by providing "J'ai mal à..." as a potential excuse.

Les monstres coloriés
This is an activity that I tried once and never repeated because it proved too difficult for the level of students I teach.  I think this would be a great activity for an intermediate class.  Have students draw a monster in various colors, then write a sentence describing the color of each body part.  It reinforces "est," "sont," and adjective/noun agreement.

Those are my favorite activities for teaching parts of the body.  What are yours?

Playing Kahoot! Jumble

If you've been playing Kahoot in your classroom, you may have heard of Kahoot Jumble.  Jumble is a take on Kahoot that is based on putting four terms in correct order.  Whether it's dates, times, digits, events, even words in a sentence, if you can think of four terms that your students would need to put in order, you can make a Jumble game.  I recently made my first one and played it with my students.  Since we were learning about time, day, and date, it was easy to come up with questions.  You can see a few below:

Click here to play the game.

When the question pops up, the four terms are displayed (out of order) on the board, as above.  On their devices, students have blocks of the four colors, and they drag and drop them into the order they feel is correct, then lock in their answer.  They must get them all right to get any points.  Just like in the classic version of Kahoot, the quicker the student answers, the more points they get (proved the answer is correct).  I urge students to take their time, though, and set the timer on most questions to 60 seconds to encourage more thoughtful responses.

After the answers have been locked in, the correct order is shown on the board, along with the percentage of students who got it right.

The general feedback from students is that they liked the game.  One fair word of caution, though:  the game is still quite buggy.  Classic Kahoot can be buggy at times, but Jumble is even more so.  Throughout the course of a game, it's not uncommon for 5 or 6 students to have their screen freeze up.  When this happens, they have to exit and reenter the game, forfeiting any previously earned points.  Understandably, this frustrates students, but giving them a heads up before the game starts helps to mitigate the frustration.  I tell the students that there is a certain element of luck in the game, as far as whether or not you'll freeze up.  In the meantime, hopefully the folks at Kahoot are working on the bugs, because Jumble is a very useful tool for the classroom.

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