Guest Post: We'll Always Have Paris

In this guest post, Sybil Sage shares how she brought a taste of Paris into her New York home, and discovered an art form in the process.

It isn't Hermès scarves or miniature Eiffel Towers that call out, "Take me home" when we're wandering around Paris. That's too bad as they're easier to schlep back to New York than the Quimper pottery, Provencal tablecloths, café signs, escargot plates, ceramic Calvados set and other vintage brocante I've squeezed into a suitcase, forced to leave behind jackets and sneakers to make room for my purchases. Bringing back memories of Paris and giving our Greenwich Village apartment the ambiance of a French bistro involves sacrifices.

My husband (Martin in New York, Mar-taan in Paris) and I have adorned our walls with posters -- advertising Ricard, Pastis as well as products I've never heard of -- and stocked up on Sancerre, Lillet and cornichons. In Rome, we're fine to do as the Romans do, but in New York, we do what the French do, starting meals with an apéritif and serving salad after the main course, often accompanied by a cheese tray and baguette.

"Do you wish we lived in Paris?" Martin has asked me. My attempts to learn the language have made that impossible. The way I function in France could be called assisted living. I'm able to shop and order in a restaurant, but for everything else, I depend on Martin, who can direct a taxi driver to a particular street, knows how many meters make up a yard and is able to negotiate with a plumber. Even before I ask, "Où sont les toilettes?" with a distinct New York accent, I have never been mistaken as French. I'm comfortable visiting Paris, but living there would be impossible.

My efforts to emulate the French lifestyle could be seen as an affectation except that my personal style - or lack thereof -- puts me above suspicion. I do not have the joie de vivre or attitude of a French woman. In fact, I do something with a scarf that inspires doormen to point me to the building's service entrance. My fixation with France may account for my fascination with doing pique assiette, the French style of mosaic. It relies on breaking plates (the name supposedly translates to something like "stolen from the plate"). After seeing a picture of a chest of drawers totally covered in blue and white plate shards that was unaffordable, I took a class and learned how to use a nipper without cutting myself.

That started my covering everything that couldn't run from me with pique assiette, often breaking plates
with French writing and images to adorn vases, picture frames, planters, boxes, even our fireplace. For someone nostalgic about the tip trays presented at bistros back when francs were the currency, I broke one and made it the centerpiece of a vase. Perhaps concerned that my passion was bordering on obsessive, a friend said, "Why don't you turn this into a business and sell the beautiful things you make?" I hired a designer to create a website,, a name I can remember. A French cousin felt I should have a Facebook page and suggested I post it on compatible pages. I tirelessly put pictures on wedding-related pages of vases I'd designed that include photos of newlyweds and picture frames that would be a special way of displaying a wedding or baby photo, noting that these are ideal gifts for a wedding, new baby or any occasion.

I was surprised to get the equivalent of a Facebook speeding ticket, telling me I'd exceeded their limit, followed by an angry rebuke from someone who accused me of spamming. I apologized and explained that a relative had urged me to do this. "Whoever said that was wrong," was the response. I wrote back to say my French isn't good and maybe I'd misunderstood, which led to the person mellowing, our becoming Facebook friends and his passing along my page to others. I'm not sure that "offend, apologize and befriend," is a viable business plan so I'm now being respecting boundaries, inviting others to visit my site (

Pique assiette mosaic is a second career for Sybil Sage after a successful run as a comedy writer (for TV and magazines), marriage and mothering. You can visit her site and see more of her work at

Summer Reading for French Teachers and Francophiles

Now that summer's in full swing, it's time to sit back and relax with a nice book!  In this post, I'll share with you some of my favorite books that are relevant to French teachers.  Whether you're looking for ways to improve your teaching this year, looking for a good read at the beach, or just want to get lost in the beautiful imagery of Paris, it's all here.  Prefer to read on your iPad or Kindle?  Most of these books have a Kindle edition as well!

Books for Any Language Teacher

Foreign Language Teacher's Guide to Active Learning  by Deb Blaz - Although some parts of this book are a bit dated, it's still an invaluable resource for language teachers.  I read this book twice before I started teaching (once as required reading for my methods class and then once again the following year).  Even if you've been teaching awhile, you're bound to pick up a few (or more) ideas you can use in your classroom.

Activities, Games, and Assessment Strategies for the Foreign Language Classroom by Amy Buttner - If you're looking for ways to spice up your lessons and make learning more fun for the students, this is a great read.  The best part about this book is that most activities are presented with a number of variations, so you can adapt them to best suit your classroom.

Books for Any Teacher

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong - Many of you have probably already read this, but it's worth another look.  This is another book that I read twice before I started teaching.  Wong and Wong remind us of the most important parts of teaching.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn R. Jackson - The title of this book is very misleading.  Once you read the book you will understand it, but it's not what you think!  This book really helped me change the way I thought about many aspects of teaching. I especially like how Dr. Jackson discourages readers from trying to revamp all their teaching practices overnight, and instead offers suggestions on how to improve practices over time in order to avoid being overwhelmed.

Books for Any Francophile

All the Presidents' Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir by Roland Mesnier - Dr. Mesnier was the White House pastry chef during five presidencies.  What makes this charming memoir appealing to francophiles is that not only is Mesnier French, but he begins his story by sharing his youth in France.  If you love France and you love French food, it will be hard not to like this book.  I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mesnier at a book signing in Washington DC, and back in 2009, Dr. Mesnier was kind enough to give me an interview on this blog.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway - A must-read for anyone who loves Paris.  It's a classic, and it will make you want to get in a time machine and see Paris as it was when Hemingway lived there.

Dessine-moi un parisien by Olivier Magny - This book is available in English too, but you wouldn't dare!  This rather humorous take on the many interests of Parisians will help you retain your fluency in French as well as your sense of humor.  CAUTION:  This book does contain some adult language.  I do not recommend it for younger students.

Les Aventures de Tintin / Tintin et l'Ile Noire by Hergé - Why not make your way through a Tintin book?  You don't have to be a child to enjoy a band dessinée, especially not if it's in French!

The Champs-Elysées by Jean-Paul Caracalla - This coffee table book will take you down one of the most famous Avenues in the world.  Accompanied by text which reveals the rich history of the Avenue, photos from past and present depict the many people and events the Champs-Élysées have seen.

Quiet Corners of Paris by Jean-Christophe Napias - I love visiting the well-known landmarks of Paris, but sometimes it's fun to explore the lesser know areas.  This book will show you a bevy of parks and courtyards where you can escape city life for a bit.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter - Travel essays are a dime a dozen these days, but Baxter manages to make his unique by complementing present-day narrative with historical context.  Walk the same streets that the great writers of the early 20th century walked and let Baxter be your tour guide.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe - This is a heavier read, but it's a great way to familiarize yourself with the lives and work of the impressionists.  I introduce my first year students to several impressionist artists and their styles.  This book made me more knowledgeable on the subject.

Paris by Assouline - This 976 page pictorial volume will visually transport you to la Ville Lumière.  While not all the photos are top notch, you'll still enjoy perusing the pages, intertwined with famous quotes about the city.

On My List

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink - Colleen over at Language Sensei has recommended this as a great resource for teachers on how to instill the value of languages in our students.

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess - Lots of language teachers have been singing this book's praises!

Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France by Vivian Swift - I admit it; the artwork pulled me in!  This book's on my radar!

What's on YOUR summer reading list?

End of the Year Activities for the French Classroom

Whew!  Please forgive me for not having posted to the blog in awhile.  As many of you know, the end of the school year can be quite hectic.  Even though the school year is already over or nearly over for most of you, I still wanted to share some of my favorite end of the year activities.  If you see one that you like and don't have a chance to implement it this year, keep it in mind for next year!

Write Diamond Poems
Diamond poems are very simple symmetric poems about a person or thing.  On the first line is just the name of the subject of the poem.  On the second line are two adjectives describing it, followed by three verbs on the third line, two more adjectives on the fourth line, and a synonym for the subject on the last line.  I have my students write these to a teacher with the French on one side and the English on the other.  It's a great way to teach masculine and feminine with adjectives too!

Have a Pique-Nique
When the weather gets nice, students are always begging to have class outside.  Before taking them out (usually the day before), I teach them about pétanque, which is a French variant on bocce ball.  Most students are familiar with the concept, but very few are aware of how much of a staple it is of French culture.  I also teach them a vocabulary game called Volez l'objet in which 8-10 items are spread out, and two teams of five students each are lined up next to the items.  The teacher yells out a number (which is assigned to one person on each team) and an item (both in French bien sûr !), and the student that grabs it first gets a point for their team.  Some classes really enjoy this game, while others do not.  Most students really enjoy the pétanque, though.  I also encourage students to bring in items such as pre-sliced baguette and Nutella, Orangina, cream puffs, meringues, and croissants to enjoy while we're outside.  One year, a local bakery even donated baguettes for the students.

Write a Poem About Your Students
I had a professor in grad school who wrote a poem with a line about each student in the class.  It was really fantastic, but over 130 students (and French that needs to be kept comprehensible), that's not really an option for me.  Instead, I wrote a poem with generic phrases about what we did during the year, and then I named off each of their French names in rhyme.  Because French is so easy to rhyme, it's really quite easy to do.  For example, one couplet might be:  En septembre vous parlez juste un petit peu/Mais en juin vous parlez beaucoup, en groupes de trois ou de deux!  An example of a couplet using students' French names:  Guillaume et Zoé, Béatrice, Émilie/Élisabeth et Bernard, Catherine et Henri.  Once you get going, it's a lot of fun!  It's a nice way to say good-bye to the students that's a little more unique than just the standard "thanks for a great year" speech.

Invite Guest Speakers
The end of the year is the perfect time to have guest speakers.  This year I had the owners of a local crêperie come in and serve crêpes to my students (an annual event that normally happens in December, which I'll outline in more detail in a future post).  In the past I've had a man from Sénégal come and talk to my students (and we had a Senegalese cooking contest), and another year, a woman who spent two years in Burkina Faso with the Peace Corps.  The day after she came in, students made their own African pagnes, strips of cloth with vibrant patterns that could be worn as wristbands or hair ties.

Showcase the Year in Style with Animoto
Slide shows have been around longer than the Internet, but you'll be hard pressed to find a program that makes them more beautifully and more easily than Animoto.  All year long, I take photos and short videos of my students working on classroom activities.  Then, at the end of the year, I upload them all to Animoto and set them to French music.  For privacy reasons, I can't share the slideshows I've made here on the blog, but Animoto's website has lots of fantastic examples.

Give Out Awards
Our department has an awards ceremony in June where each teacher honors two students.  In addition to that, I am distributing certificates to students who participated in the National French Contest this year, and to a few students in each class who really went above in beyond all year long in their effort and attitude.

Create a Video for Next Year's Students
For the past two years, I have had my students create a video to ease incoming students' tensions about learning a new language.  First, I break up the class into groups and have them prepare a couple sentences or a short dialogue to act out on a given topic.  I have five classes, and there are 5-6 groups in each class, and each group gets a different topic (there are a couple I use twice).  The students record the sentences and I subtitle them and put music in the background.  Not all students have to appear in the video, but all must participate in creating the script.  Students the following September are amazed to see what they will be learning in the course of a year!  At the end of the video, I have students share their thoughts about learning a language, and what made the process easier for them.  It's much more credible coming from their peers than from me!  Again, due to privacy issues, I can't share the videos my students have made here, but I'm sure if you use your imagination you can envision something just as good!

Le voyage de Bob L'éponge: A Short Story to Teach ER Verbs

Last summer, I wrote a story about SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick taking a trip as a way to introduce ER verbs to my students.  I'm not a trained TPRS teacher, but I do like the idea of using a story to teach or reinforce grammar and vocabulary, and after attending some fantastic TPRS workshops over the years, I decided to dip my toes in the TPRS pool.  I read this story with my students over two days (they knew what most of the words meant, they just didn't know the rules yet for conjugating verbs), having them copy down in a chart next to each pronoun every verb they saw that went with that pronoun.  Each day, after reading the story, I had the students discuss what all the forms had in common for each pronoun.  The first half of the story deals with je, tu, il (with one nous form as a preview), and the second half of the story deals with nous, vous, and ils.  The students were able to see the patterns and determine the rules without me having to be a "sage on the stage."  That being said, no matter how it's introduced, students still need lots of practice before they internalize it.

After reading the story and determining the rules, I asked students to look at pictures depicting the story and write a sentence (using their new rules) about what is happening, or fill in a sentence I started.  There is certainly no end to activities you can use to exploit a short story, and I only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Feel free to use this story to introduce or reinforce ER verbs to your students.  I had originally used the name of the city where I teach as the destination, but changed it to New York City for the blog.  Consider changing the destination to your school's town to add a slight personal touch.  You might even change the characters if there are some that your students find more appealing.

Première Partie

Bob est une éponge.  Il habite à Bikini Bottom. Il aime voyager. Un jour, il voyage à New York avec son ami Patrick. Il travaille au Krusty Krab de 10h00 à 15h00, et il arrive à l’aéroport à 16h00. Mais où est Patrick ? Le vol est à 17h00 ! Il regarde son mobile. Il y a un message de Patrick !

-Bjr Bob, j'arrive dans 15 minutes. J'ai faim et je mange un Krabby Patty! MDR!

Bob est furieux ! Il compose une réponse…

-Tu manges un Krabby Patty maintenant ? C'est ridicule !

À 16h45, Bob est impatient.  Il écoute une annonce : Vol 626 pour New York, l’embarquement commence dans 5 minutes ! Où est Patrick ? Il compose un autre message…

-Patrick, est-ce que tu manges encore ? Je voyage à New York dans 5 minutes !

Soudain, voilà Patrick !  Il arrive !

-Désolé, Bob, j’aime manger les Krabby Patties !

-Ça va, répond Bob.  Nous visitons New York ! Youpi !

À bord de l’avion, Bo est content.  Il écoute son iPod.

Patrick demande, Est-ce que tu écoutes “Jellyfish Jam” ?

Bob répond, Non, j’écoute “Electric Zoo”

L’avion atterrit à New York à 20h00. Bob est très content !  Il parle avec un monsieur à l’aéroport.

-Un taxi à New York ? Ça coûte 40$.

-Ah non ! J’ai juste 39$ avec moi !

Seconde Partie

Soudain, voilà Sandy !  Elle arrive ! Quelle coïncidence !

-Bob ! Patrick ! Vous visitez Long Island ?

-Non, nous visitons New York, répondent-ils.

-Quelle coïncidence ! Moi aussi ! Voyagez avec moi, j’ai une bicyclette pour trois personnes !

Ils arrivent à Manhattan et dînent à un restaurant.  Le serveur est fantastique.  Il arrive et demande« Vous désirez» Ils mangent trois crêpes ! Le serveur arrive avec la facture.

-Vous visitez New York ?, demande-t-il.

-Oui, nous arrivons aujourd’hui. Nous habitons à Bikini Bottom.

-Est-ce que vous écoutez la musique des Bikini Bottomites ?, demande-t-il.

-Mais bien sûr nous écoutons les Bikini Bottomites !

Après une semaine, ils voyagent à l’aéroport à bicyclette.

-Nous dînons bien à New York, dit Bob.

Drrrrrrrrrrr Hein ? Bob est à la maison, dans son lit.  Il regarde son horloge. Il est 6h00 du matin !

-C’est juste un rêve ? C’est dans mon imagination ? Ah zut !

9 Activities for Alternate Schedule Days

I'm sure you've experienced alternate schedules, where you see some students for longer than others.  These could be caused by delays due the weather, state testing, assemblies, drills, or unplanned circumstances.  Because lunch periods cannot be shortened, I have two classes (which occur during lunch periods) which I always see for a full 40 minutes when other classes are shortened.  On days like these, I like to do enrichment activities or fun review activities.  These are activities that are conducted in French that you just may not have time for in your other classes, or that you've done before but are worth repeating.  These activities also happen to be great for the day before a break or on a field trip day when many students are absent.

Read a French Story

Most students love the idea of gathering around on the floor and listening to the teacher tell a story.  It gives them nostalgia for their elementary days.  Sometimes I read a Storybird or other digital story, such as Le temps quail fait, Ma famille, or Les couleurs.  MFL Storybirds has a nice compilation of Storybirds to look at.  Another option is to read a hard copy book.  I have a collection of books in my classroom that students can look at before class starts or if they finish a task early.  Two favorites from this collection that I have read to students are Bonsoir Lune / Goodnight Moon (French Edition) and Mon Livre Animé Paris (a really neat pop up book), both of which I bought in Paris.

Écrivez, Dessinez, Passez
In my last post, I described this fantastic activity which I learned about through Martina Bex, which is sort of like telephone with words and pictures.  Read up on how to play on my blog post or hers.

Read an Authentic Article
I'm certainly not suggesting that you save reading any authentic articles for alternate schedule days, but why not include one here as well?  I wrote a post last year about how to find authentic resources online, and Martina Bex (once again!) has wonderful materials on her website about how to use authentic resources with students.

Watch a Fun (and Educational) YouTube Video
This is especially great for state testing days (as long as you make sure you're not disturbing classrooms with students utilizing extended time!), because it gives the students a bit of a brain break.  Here are some of the videos I have shown my students during alternate schedule days (most of them require some front-loading of vocabulary):

Show videos of Francophone countries
Why not just let your students sit back and enjoy the beauty of the francophone world?  To make the experience more interactive, students can call out dominant colors they see, or landmarks (if it's a place with which they are familiar).  Last year I wrote posts showcasing 17 Videos That Showcase the Beauty of Paris and 10 Time Lapse Videos That Showcase the Beauty of the Francophone World.  If you prefer older footage, I also wrote a post on Vintage Footage of the Francophone World.

Abstract Art
My colleague Adam, who teaches Spanish, introduced me to this one.  It's pretty simple but it requires students to know the parts of the body vocabulary.  The teacher chooses a volunteer, who covers his or her eyes, and the teacher points to various parts of the body, which the students shout out and the volunteer attempts to draw on the board with eyes closed.  When the drawing is finished everyone gets a laugh seeing the result, which is certainly very abstract.  Even if your students already know their parts of the body, they could always use review!  This could also be played in groups with mini whiteboards.  Here is an example:

Boggle is popular game to play in elementary school classrooms.  I believe I first discovered it on this blog.  The teacher creates grids, each square containing a letter.  Students work in groups to see how many words they can come up with using only the letters in the grid.  To make it a bit more challenging, I make the students use the word in a sentence (and then underline the word they formed from the grid).  Words must be at least 3 letters.

Picture-Based Story
Students' creativity can really come alive with just a little prompt.  Show three photos or drawings on the board and challenge the students to come up with a short story or a really long sentence incorporating each image.

Disney Sing-Along Songs
I have some old VHS tapes of Disney Sing-Along songs.  Rather than have students just sit and watch, I turn it into a competition.  I have students in groups write down any words they recognize and what them mean.  The group with the most words wins a prize.

What activities do you like to do on alternate schedule days?

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?