La famille - Activities & Assessments Roundup



In November I teach my students about family.  We learn the names of the members of the family, reinforce "le" and "la," and introduce "mon," "ma," "ton," and "ta."  We also learn how to ask for family member's names and ages, and how to use possession with "de."  Today I'll share with you some of my favorite activities to use all this vocabulary and grammar in context.

1.  Voici ma famille project
I still do an "old-fashioned" family tree project.  It seems old-fashioned to me because I remember making one in 7th grade, but old-fashioned isn't always a bad thing.  I give the students a lot of options when making their tree so it suits their interests as much as possible.  They can do the standard poster or book (see above), they can do a video (I've gotten some really creative ones), a PowToon, a Prezi, a PowerPoint, or just about any other medium they want.  The poster doesn't have to be huge, either.  Students decide to make either their own family or an imaginary one.  A lot of kids choose the imaginary one because it gets their creative juices flowing.  Other students enjoy the opportunity to find old photos of family members and are proud to show them off to the class.  For each person on their tree, they must state the relationship of that family member to them, their age (unless it's a real person who's uncomfortable having their age published), and their nationality.  Then they must state their own name, age, and nationality.  I think it's a good way to reinforce "il A 12 ans" versus "il EST américain," which confuses students to no end.  Students do a rough draft on paper and peer review before making the final project.  On the day it is due, they present them in small groups.  I've refined this project quite a bit over the years, and at this point I still feel it is a worthwhile way to reinforce and assess these common structures.  That said, I'm always open to what other ideas might be out there.

2.  Quelle famille
This is a really fun activity I made up where students get to wear stickers on their foreheads.  First, as a class (all in French of course), we make up 3 families and draw the family trees on a sheet of paper. Each family has a brother, sister, mom, dad, and aunt or uncle.  Each family has the same set of names, but where the names go varies ever so slightly from family to family.  Then, students have a small sticker placed on their forehead with the number 1, 2, or 3 on it, and they go around asking each other "Comment s'appelle ma mère ?" etc. until they have figured out which family they are in.

3.  Imaginary Family Whiteboard Practice
This is pretty simple.  I have the students draw a family diagram (I have one on the SMART Board for them to copy), then I read off family members for them to draw.  I usually state who I am (not necessarily me, but who the central figure is) and then say things like "Ma soeur s'appelle..."  To make it harder, you could state what the family members' relationships are to each other as opposed to just the central figure.  Sometimes instead of names, I just say ages.

4.  Article: Famille : Qui vit avec qui ? from Géo Ado
The past couple years I have had students look at this article and find information about French families in it.  They learn what percentage of French kids live in blended families, who most often the single parent, and other statistics.  Then we compare those statistics to what the common situations are in their home country.

5.  Create a Family with Questions
I have the students create a family diagram on a white board in groups, then write 4 questions about the members, such as "Qui est Charles," or "Comment s'appelle le frère de Lisette," or "Quel âge a la fille."  Then, the students pair up with another group and ask each other the questions.

6.  Riddles
The classic brain-teasers.  "Qui est le frère de ta mère ?" "Qui est la soeur de ton oncle ?"  Sometimes these questions have more than one answer.  The kids really have to think hard about these, because they are just getting used to the idea of possession with "de," which throws them off.

7.  AudioLingua
AudioLingua is a fantastic resource for listening activities.  I find myself using this most when teaching family because they've got some great clips.  I have the students listen a few times then ask them some questions.  Here are some good novice level clips:
-Henri parle de sa famille
-Sylvain:  Nous sommes une grande famille
-Guy présente sa famille
-Camille:  Ma famille

8.  Ask the Teacher
I have the students write down a "personal" question for me - using our family vocabulary.  They might ask me what my mother's name is or how old my cat is, or, instead of asking a personal question, they might ask me a "trivia" question about their own family.  If I had their older sibling, they might ask me what their name is or how old they are now.  Of course, I always get this question:



But that's okay!  They can ask whatever they want, but I don't always answer all of them.

What are your favorite activities for a family unit?

My 10 Favorite Quick Videos to Start or End Class With

We all have those classes that finish a little bit earlier than we expected.  Along with ball tosses, turn and talks, and quick games, one of the things I do sometimes is just let my students sit back for a couple of minutes and enjoy a fun YouTube video in French.  Sometimes these are videos I've previously done a lesson on, and some are just for fun (but I ask them to point out vocabulary they heard).  It depends on what part of the year we're at which ones I'll show based on the complexity of the French.  Some of these videos make great class starters too.  It's nice to show a quick video to bring their minds into French mode for the period.

It looks like YouTube's embed playlist feature is a little buggy right now, so if you're only seeing the first video below, click here to view the rest of the playlist.



In addition to these, occasionally I'll show a video from one of these two lists I compiled previously:  17 Videos That Showcase Beauty of Paris and 10 Time Lapse Videos That Showcase the Beauty of the Francophone WorldI ask the students to name off the landmarks they see.

What are your favorite short videos to show in class?

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 !

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