Beg, Borrow, and Steal: 7 Great Ideas from Other Blogs

At a conference last year, one of the presenters said that the best teachers are the ones who take ideas from other teachers and adapt them when needed.  Why reinvent the wheel?  In my class, some of the best activities I do come from other teachers, be in my colleagues at school, teachers I meet at conferences, or in the case of this post, blogs.  While I plan to do another post in the future on ideas from other teachers I know personally, today I am sharing with you seven great ideas I use in my classroom that came from other blogs.  Some of the ideas didn't change very much from the blog to my classrooms, and others I adapted to better suit my students.

Write, Draw Pass (from Martina Bex)
If you're looking for a fun activity with almost no prep work that gets students to practice their grammar while having fun, look no further!  Martina Bex blogged about this classic activity where students write a sentence, on a piece of paper, pass it to the person next to them who draws it, then folds the first sentence down and passes it to the next person, who writes a sentence based on the picture, and so on.  It helps a lot to give example sentences.  Martina even has a template you can download!  Here are some of my students' results:

Le verbe être sur internet (adapted from Cécile Lainé)
Cécile had the simple yet brilliant idea of showing students realia containing forms of the verb "être" in context to help students understand how the verb works.  This can easily be applied to any verb.  She had her students visit a Pinterest board that she made to look at the different forms.  Using her idea, I made my own worksheet with realia I found on the internet.  You will notice that I had students translate the sentences.  Ordinarily, I shy away from translation activities, but given how abstract this verb is, I found it to be helpful here.

La mini-bande dessinée (adapted from Señorita Barragán)
Crystal blogged about having students practice accepting and turning down invitations by having them create a comic strip using the characters from Adventure Time.  This seemed like a great way to practice this vocabulary, so I had my students do the same thing in French, only I allowed them to use any character.  I've done this for two years now, and I am always so impressed with the results.  Here are some highlights:

Carte heuristique:  C'est moi (adapted from Territoires des Langues)
I blogged about this back in September.  Marion Charreau's fantastic blog full of gorgeous mind maps and great ideas for using them in your lessons had a post on presenting oneself with a mind map.  I liked the idea but I adapted it to suit my first-year students.  What I ended up with was what you see below.

Vocab. Word Order Match Up (from World Language Classroom Resources)
Joshua posted a great activity that takes a little prep time before, but you have it to reuse in years to come once you make it.  You make up a class set of strips, each containing several images that represent vocabulary words on them.  Every strip should have a duplicate.  Then, students go around the room, speaking French only (saying in order what the images are), until they find the person with the same strip as them.

Frankenstein Body Parts (from the Creative Language Class)
This assignment adds a fun twist to the classic "draw a picture of a person and label it," by using body parts from various people.  When I give this assignment to students I allow them to choose whether they want to draw the person, use a photo, or make a Frankenstein person.  Here are some of the creative results:

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Evolution (from Chris Fuller via Amanda Salt)
This is a fun way to spice up conversations in the classroom.  Students exchange a piece of information, then play rock, paper scissors.  The twist is, that the students start as eggs, then when they win they become chicks, then birds, then elephants, then super heroes.  Eggs can only interact with eggs, chicks with chicks, and so on.  The first person to evolve to the super hero level wins a prize.  The students love this activity!

What's an activity you've tried that you got from another blog?

Let's Roll the Dice!


Here's a fun and simple activity to review ER verb conjugations (or any verb conjugations for that matter) without having to use English.  I adapted this from various games I have seen my colleagues and others doing in their classrooms. Before I describe this activity, I want to point out that this is to me a scaffolding activity. I would consider my teaching approach to be communication-based, but sometimes non-communicative activities like this are important to build a foundation to communicate from.  I did this activity a couple days after students learned about the different verb forms (a future post will highlight story I used to introduce them this year).

Put students in small groups (this is important when the material is still new).  Have each group make a grid of A-F across and 1-6 up and down (see below).  Give each group a number dice and a letter dice. On the board at the front of the room, have a picture to represent 6 different pronouns for each letter A-F (for example, a picture of a person pointing to himself to represent "je" next to the letter A, a picture of Uncle Sam to represent "tu" next to the letter B, and so on).  Then, have a picture to represent 6 different verbs next to each number.  In groups, students roll the dice and write on a white board the verb form that corresponds to the two pictures.  Then, they call either me or one of the volunteer checkers circulating the room (who have answer keys) to verify that it's correct.  The checker can only say "Oui" or "Non."  If it's incorrect, though, they can keep trying.  If it's correct, they put an X or a 1 on the spot on the grid.  Ideally, the students won't need to speak any English during this activity.  They can say what ending is needed in French.

At the end of the activity, the group with the highest number of Xs earns a prize.  You can also have students compete against each other in the group (initialing instead of X-ing in the grid), but I like to have the students work together.

This is a pretty simple activity, but the students really enjoy doing it!

Have you ever done an activity like this?  How was yours different?

20 Favorite Photos I've Taken in France

Some of you may know that my other passion besides teaching and French is photography.  I have a photography blog where I share many of my photos.  I like to share other culturally relevant materials on this blog besides just lesson ideas, so in this post, I will share with you 20 of my favorite photos that I've taken in France.

Nourrir les petits oiseaux - 2006
Feed the Birds
I took this on a disposable camera since I had dropped (twice) and broken the camera I brought with me.  Even though this photo isn't of the highest quality, it has always been one of my favorites.  It's just so quintessentially Parisian!

Place de la Concorde - 2012
Place de la Concorde
I took this through a bus window, but sometimes you get lucky.  I like this shot of Place de la Concorde better than any shots I took when I was standing still.

La Tour Eiffel depuis l'Arc de Triomphe - 2009
Paris' Shining Beacon
The view from the Arc de Triomphe at night is probably the best in all of Paris.  This photo is on display in my classroom.

La Tour Eiffel depuis un bateau mouche - 2012
Paris la nuit
Before the boat took off for our nighttime tour of Paris, I propped my camera on my little Gorillapod and got this long exposure.

Vue de Paris depuis le Musée d'Orsay - 2012
Inside the Musée d'Orsay
I am not a huge fan of black and white photography, but I decided it worked for this photo.  One of my favorite things about this photo is how you can just make out Sacré-Cœur in the distance.

Opéra Garnier - 2012
L'Opéra Garnier
This is one of the only good photos I have of the Opéra.

Place du Tertre, Montmartre - 2012
Montmartre au Crépuscule
This is the perfect time of night to take a photo, and I had everything going in my favor.  It was raining, so the ground was wet, allowing the colors from the buildings to reflect, and the slow shutter speed was just fast enough to be hand-holdable, but allowed for the people in the photo to be blurred.

La Tour Eiffel encadrée de feuillage - 2009
The Eiffel Tower Framed by Foliage
Sitting on a park bench I looked up and saw this composition.

La Galerie des Glaces - 2012
La Galerie des Glaces
Getting a shot of the architecture in Versailles that even begins to do it justice, requires, in my opinion, a wide angle lens.  When I finally had the opportunity to photograph the Hall of Mirrors with a wide angle lens, I was very excited.

Le Château de Versailles - 2012
The Ornate Walls & Ceilings of Versailles
This is another shot of the Palace of Versailles that I really like.  With a wide angle lens, I was able to capture both the ceiling and the walls.

Les petites rue de Paris - 2012
Les petites rues de Paris
This isn't the type of photography I usually do, but in any case, this is my most popular photo of France on Flickr.

Cabaret de la Bohème, Montmartre - 2012
Cabaret de la Bohème
I'm quite fond of the colors in this one, as well as the man with the umbrella that you only notice if you look closely.

Café, Quartier Latin - 2006

I don't even remember taking this, but looking back, I like it.

Château de Chambord - 2004
This is my favorite château in France, although I've only been once. I applied a vintage effect on this photo, something I don't do very often anymore.

Chez Monet - 2012
Chez Monet
Visiting Monet's home and gardens in Giverny is like stepping into one of his paintings.

Le vitrail de Chartres - 2012
Le vitrail de Chartres
When I opened this up in Photoshop, I noticed what appears to be a man on the left side about halfway down.  I never noticed this when I was taking the photo.

Le jardin de Monet - 2012 Overcast Day at Claude Monet's Garden
Although it was an overcast day when I took this photo, the diffused light on the flowers actually made for more pleasing photos.

Fort National, St-Malo - 2004
The Castle of Saint-Malo, France
I would love to go back to St-Malo.  I love all the photos I took there.

L'architecture de St-Malo - 2004

There is nothing more European to me than these buildings.

La Laiterie et La Tour Malbrough, Versailles - 2009
La Laiterie et la Tour Malbrough à Versailles (2)
This has always been one of my favorite spots in Versailles to photograph.

Which one of these photos is your favorite?

Headlines Can Be Authentic Resources, Too!

As we all know, finding authentic resources that are level-appropriate for novices can be very difficult.  Back in January, I came upon two articles in French newspapers online that I thought would be great to  use in class.  This article from Futura-Sciences is about the polar vortex causing extreme cold temperatures in the northeast United States this past January, something my students could certainly relate to, having had to suffer through those low temperatures!  This article, from Ouest France, is about how, at the same time, parts of France were having record high temperatures for winter.

These two articles were great because in class, we were learning about weather.  Since they are on a similar topic, I could have students compare and contrast these articles, tying in nicely to Common Core.  Their content of the articles, however, was too difficult for my first-year students.  Then I realized that the headlines and first paragraph, which summarize the story, might be all I need to use!  Maybe it's obvious, but I hadn't really thought of it before.  Reading headlines (and summary paragraphs - the paragraph with the larger text that precedes most articles) seems like a great way to expose novice students to authentic news stories that would otherwise be too difficult to read.  Obviously we don't want to rely solely on this method, but it's another tool to add to the mix.

Before showing the articles, I introduced some of the vocabulary they would need.  Then we read the headlines and the summary paragraphs together.  Afterwards, I asked students to turn to their neighbor and summarize what they had just learned.  Then I asked a couple of yes-or-no basic comprehension questions to the students (Il y a record pour une température minimale en hiver en France ou aux États-Unis ?).

While I probably won't share these same two articles again next year with my students since they will be a little out of date, I'm going to keep looking for headlines for students to compare and contrast.  An improvement for next time might be to have the students read the headlines and summary paragraphs without me first (keeping it more student-centered and having them do more of the work on their own), then read it with them to reinforce pronunciation before moving onto the comparing and contrasting.

I took some of my ideas for using these articles from Martina Bex's wonderful blog post about using authentic resources with novice students.

Pronunciation Practice When the Teacher's Absent

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself home sick for three days in a row (I don't think I've ever been out that long...I hate to miss school!).  Desperate for the students to get pronunciation practice with their vocabulary, and without a French-speaking sub available, I was in a bit of a rut.  The only piece of technology that the sub would be authorized to use would be a CD player.  I didn't have a CD available with the vocabulary on it, so I decided to make one.  My voice was in no shape to record the words, so I enlisted the help of Quizlet, Soundflower, and Audacity.

Audacity is a tool that allows you to record and manage audio.  In conjunction with Soundflower, a tool that helps you manage your audio input and output, you can stream and record audio playing on your Mac.  This site gives you step by step instructions on how to set it up.  If you use a Windows machine, I imagine there are similar set ups to stream through Audacity.

Quizlet, if you haven't heard, is a site that lets you make and review virtual flashcards.  My absolute favorite part of Quizlet is that you can hear the vocabulary words pronounced, even in French!  The voice that pronounces them is a little robotic, but it's still probably the quickest and easiest way to hear how a word is pronounced in French.  I made a set of all the weather terms I wanted my students to practice.  Then I streamed the audio of the pronunciation of each term and made an MP3 of it.  This was for a listen and repeat exercise.

For the next track on the CD, I kept the audio track of the terms, and added a techno music track (to add a track, go to File-->Import-->Audio and select the track on your computer).  To find techno music you can legally add to your file, check out CCMixter.  I then left instructions for students to walk in place, listening to the words then repeating them and doing established gestures for each term (for example, for "il fait froid," students pretend to be shivering).  Since we had done this before with me leading the class, they knew what to do.  Students were selected to stand at the front and lead the class.  This is an activity that I previously blogged about last fall.

Overall, students said they enjoyed the activity.  It's definitely a little silly (which can be a good thing), so it works best in a class of students with lower affective filters who aren't afraid to get into it.

Do you have a go-to activity you leave with a non-French-speaking sub?  Leave a comment!

Taking Photos in Your Classroom

Most teachers take photos in their classroom at some point.  As photography is a major hobby of mine (I also blog about it), I tend to find myself photographing in my classroom quite often.  It's a seemingly simple enough idea, but there's actually a lot of things to consider if you want to do it well.  Here is a guide I made up of things to keep in mind when taking photographs in your classroom.  This is somewhat of a followup post to my post about blogging in the classroom, where I touched upon some of these topics.

Choosing the Right Camera
In reality, any camera will do for classroom photography, but being a photographer, I like to use a camera that produces high quality images.  At school, I currently use a Samsung NX100 (without the kit lens) with 30mm lens.  This is a camera I carry around with me when I don't want to lug around my professional gear, so I didn't buy it especially to use at school, but it comes in very handy.  The camera's an older (and thus cheaper) model, and I got a good deal for the two on eBay.  This combo allows me to isolate subjects from their background with a pleasing background blur (also known as bokeh) but the downside is, it's a fixed focal length lens, so it doesn't zoom in or out, and the camera doesn't have a flash.  I haven't found either of those things to be much of a problem. There's no need to carry a bulky digital SLR around. These days, there are plenty of smaller cameras that produce high quality images.

Getting Permissions from Parents
If you're planning to photograph students and then publish or share those photos, you really need to get permission from parents.  In this day and age, most parents are fine with having their child's photo posted on the blog, but there are some who are not, and they have the right to decline permission.  Some students are also camera shy.  If they don't want their photo on the blog, they don't have to get the permission slip signed.  I send home a slip at the beginning of the year which explains to blog to the parents.  This gets the parents informed about the blog, so they can go check it out.  The permission slip also states that the child can be photographed by any local media that come into the classroom.  That way, if your local newspaper or even TV station comes to cover an event in your class, you're all set.

Photographing the Students There are a few ways you can make your photos of students better:
  • When photographing various activities, it's nice to get a variety of whole-class and single-student shots.  Sometimes we get so caught up in taking pictures of small groups of students, we forget to get the whole class in motion.
  • Don't forget to get some shots where students' faces are obscured (perhaps with heads down working).  This may sound odd, but you can post these on the blog if you don't have enough photos of students with permissions.
  • Get a shot of the entire class at some point.  Although you may not be able to post it on the blog, it makes a great memento and it's great to show to just the students at the end of the year.
  • Don't forget videos too!  This is something I forget a lot myself.  Almost all digital cameras today are able to record video, and video can capture activities in a way photos can't.

Photographing the Classroom - While I don't post these pictures on the blog, they are great mementos.  I also use them when I'm planning to "redecorate" the classroom.  I take an image into Photoshop and sketch where things will go.

Quick & Easy Touch Ups
When I'm taking photos in the classroom, I'm usually not editing them afterwards, but sometimes I have to.  Most photo editing programs (even Microsoft Paint) will allow you to crop your photo (for instance, if you need to crop out a student without a permission slip).  Anything beyond that, you'll need something a little more advanced. is a free, web-based version (albeit just the basics) of Adobe Photoshop.  If a photo comes out too dark or too bright, you can fix that here.

Sharing Photos:

Put Them on Your Blog - This is a pretty obvious place to share photos.  Blogging platforms like Blogger make it easy for you to upload photos to your blog, even if you're not HTML savvy.

Put Them in a Portfolio - Photos are a great piece of evidence to show to an administrator or supervisor before an observation.  Since he or she can't possibly see everything that's going on in your classroom, photos help fill in the blanks.  If you have a teaching portfolio, photos make a great addition.

Share Them with Students - At the end of the school year I make a slideshow using Animoto with photos and video clips of my students from the year to show them how far they've come.  The program costs a little extra to make a clip longer than 30 seconds, and even more to get an HD version, but I find it well worth the money.  Even for someone like me, who is proficient in iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, it is just so easy to use and professional looking.  The money you spend on it is well worth the time you'll save making it yourself, and it will undoubtedly look better here.  You do give up a certain amount of creative control, but I haven't found that to be a problem with what I use it for.

Local Media - Don't forget to promote your program!  Send your photos of interesting events in your classroom to your district public relations person or to local newspapers, so people can see why learning a foreign language is important.

Un voyage virtuel à Paris: An Authentic Task With Authentic Resources

I had been planning this post for awhile, but now seemed as good a time as any to write it, given the current hot topic of authentic resources on foreign languages teach blogs and Twitter (some blogs that have weighed in with some thoughtful posts:  Language Sensei, Sra. Spanglish, and Martina Bex, among others).

I just finished an activity with my students that I call "Un voyage virtuel à Paris."  This is the third year I have done activity.  I used to do it over the course of two days, but I decided that condensing it into one day would be more practical.  The purpose of the activity is to have students practice telling time, the days of the week, and dates, while navigating authentic websites with both familiar and unfamiliar vocabulary.  To accomplish this, students must imagine they are planning an imaginary trip to Paris for a week.  They must find flights, a hotel, and sites to see.  When they find this information, they record it on their itinerary, using both numbers and and then spelling out the numbers as words (this to reinforce the numbers in French).  I provide detailed instructions to help them navigate the sites, and students are allowed to work together and ask me for help as well if they get stuck.
It's important to make sure students understand before embarking on this "voyage" that these are real sites and that they are not to enter any personal information on them.

Here are some of the sites they visited:

Air France- Students picked a time to travel and made note of when their flights were.  Some students were able to figure out that "Première" meant first class, and went ahead and flew in high style. - Students chose a hotel in Paris to stay in and recorded the price.

La Tour Eiffel- This is one of several tourist sites students could visit. They had to pick a time to visit when it was open and determine the price.

Other sites students could visit:

One year, I also had the students plan a trip by train to Versailles on SNCF, but, as this step proved rather frustrating and time consuming for the students, I have since eliminated it.

The day following the activity, I had students discuss what they learned (in English...a rarity!).  It was nice to hear the students comment that they felt better about larger numbers, days of the week, and dates.  They also mentioned that it helped them feel more confident that they can navigate these websites even without understanding every word on them. Every year, I make some changes to the activity.  For next year I thought it might be a good idea to give the students an imaginary budget, to make it more authentic.  This activity can be as simple or as complex as you have time for.  If you wanted to extend it further, you might consider having students plan meals at restaurants.  See my posts here and here about restaurant menus.

There are so many ways you can take this activity, and I'd like to hear what you would do with it!  How might you change or improve this activity before taking it to your own classroom?