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.

The Year in Review: My Favorite Lessons, Apps, & Activities in 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, I'd like to share some of my favorite lessons and activities that I tried for the first time this year, just as I did in this post last year.   As always, some of these activities are my own ideas, but many of them are adapted from other teachers' ideas.

1.  Using the clocks app to practice time - Stephanie Bass of Bonne idée! shared the wonderful idea to use the native clock app on the iPad to reinforce time (click here to read her presentation on using smart phones and iPads in the FSL classroom). I took this idea and had my students complete a Socrative quiz about time in different francophone cities.   Click here to read more about it.

2.  Quizizz - I haven't blogged yet about Quizizz, but I've been using it a lot this year.  It's multiple choice quiz style game that's a fun alternative to Kahoot.  The big difference is that it is student-paced instead of teacher paced.  My favorite thing about it is that you can choose whether or not you want the quiz to be timed.  I usually don't make it timed, which encourages kids to take their time and not rush.  Because it is student-paced, you can actually assign it for homework and/or allow students to play it outside of class unlike Kahoot.

3.  Quizlet Live - I recently blogged about Quizlet Live.  It's yet another game, but students get incredibly into it.  In my post, I share some of the things I really love about it that differentiate it from other games.

4.  Independent Homework - I started giving independent "choice" homework last year after reading language teachers' accounts of giving real world style homework in class (Musicuentos and Creative Language Class have great examples).  Last year, I only did it once, but this year, I have been working it in more and more.  Whenever there is a break coming up or a long period without any homework to be assigned, I have students choose an independent assignment off my list.  Click here to read more about independent homework (aka Personalized Learning Goal) and other ways I try to keep students engaged at home.

5.  Quel personnage de Disney es-tu ? -  After reading about Amy Lenord's Superhero Talk Read Talk Write Lesson, I decided to make one of my own and tailor it to my own students' level.  The results were great!  Click here to read about my version, "Quel personnage de Disney es-tu ?"

6.  Speed Friending   - Some people call this speed dating. I call it speed friending since it's really just about finding friends. After seeing a lot of teachers use this activity, I adapted it for my classroom.  Click here to read about it and other "in context" activities for reinforcing verbs.

7.  Humans of Paris  - This year I used the Humans of Paris Facebook page to prompt speaking among students. It turned out to be a really interesting lesson. Click here to read more about it.

8.  Adobe Voice Weather Forecast - This year, I had students complete a weather forecast using the iPads. With a partner, they opened up the Chaîne Météo app and entered in the name of a francophone city provided by me. They then took a screenshot of the forecast for the week and prepared a script of the weather report. Then they opened up Adobe Voice (one of my favorite apps) and imported the screenshot. They then took turns announcing the weather for the week in French and saved the result as a video.  Click here to read more about this activity and others for practicing weather.

What were your favorite new activities that you tried this year?

Taking Street View to the Next Level

The advent of Google Street View has allowed language teachers to bring culture closer to students than ever before.  Even more recently, though, businesses and institutions have slowly been allowing Google Street View access inside their locations, further bringing the idea of a virtual field trip to life.

What kinds of places can you go inside?  The majority of them are restaurants, stores, and museums, but occasionally you can find a hotel, airport, mall or even a hospital that has inside street view access.

Finding these places is the tricky part.  Google has a list by country of some of the major attractions that offer this, but this doesn't account for all the small businesses (stores, restaurants, hotels).  To find those, you have to hunt a little.  First, pick a big city in a target language-speaking country (availability will be great there).  Then drag your little street view guy into the map.  You'll see all the street view streets light up in blue (see above).  But you'll also see blue dots and orange dots.  The blue dots indicate user-made photo spheres.  These can be handy in spots that don't have indoor street view access.  The orange spots indicate spaces you can go inside and walk around in.  Place your street view guy over one and check it out!

When I did my Google Maps scavenger hunt this year, I had students go inside some of the restaurants, such as this café in Montmartre.  To read more about this activity, click here.

Above, a store in Belgium you can walk around inside.

If you want to find a museum or cultural landmark to explore inside, check Google Arts & Culture's list.  Above, you can walk around the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.  To learn more about how I use this feature in class, click here.

Have you used the "Go Inside" feature in your class?  What did you do with it?

iPad Diaries Volume 15: Quizlet Live on Shared Devices

This is the 15th post in a series on using iPads in the language classroom.  Click here to view an index of previous posts.  In this post, I will talk about ways to use Quizlet live with shared devices (big surprise, considering that was the title).

I first heard about Quizlet Live earlier this year when it started popping up in blog posts.  In particular, Kristy Placido's Establishing meaning with Quizlet Live gave me a lot of helpful information.  The game is kind of hard to explain.  Basically, it takes any Quizlet vocab list and turns it into a game.  Students break into teams (assigned at random) and they see a vocab word on their screen and several possible definitions.  The thing is, every team member has different answers to choose from, but they all have the right answer.  Through working together and process of elimination, someone in the group has to choose an answer in order to move on.  If they get it right, the group advances.  If they get it wrong, they reset at zero.  The first group to get them all right consecutively wins.

Each team gets an animal name.  I really like how the game makes students restart when they get a question wrong.  Not because I'm mean, but because it doesn't allow a team to win until they have truly learned all the words, and it keeps the stakes high throughout the whole game.

We are not a 1:1 classroom.  We currently have 20 iPads in our department, and classes have about 26-30 students, so some students share.  The first time I played Quizlet live was with a small class of 20 last year.  Everyone got their own iPad, so it was easy to test.  I actually did it on a whim because this particular class often accomplished tasks early and we had some leftover time.  The great thing about Quizlet Live is that there is no prep required, other than making the list.  You can take an existing list you have or make up a new one.  The game went over really well.  I then tried it again with a small group of students in the Summer Skills class I teach.  Once again, the students really enjoyed it.

When fall rolled around, I knew I wanted to play the game again but struggled with how it would work with a large class.  The game does not allow the teacher to dictate how many teams there will be, or how many students are on a team, which would really help.  You are sort of at the mercy of the game.  What I did was have 20 students sign in and join the game while the remaining students stood by.  Once the teams were assigned, I had the students with iPads break into teams.  I then, one by one, assigned the remaining students to teams myself.  I then informed the students that the iPads they had in their group were to be shared and didn't belong to any one person.  There were usually one to two more people than there were iPads.  Within the groups, students can even huddle around iPads in twos, checking with each other as needed.  This set up is not ideal, but ultimately it works.

I'm not a big fan of translating, but I have softened a bit on it in the last few years.  Especially for terms that are too abstract to be illustrated visually, translation helps solidify meaning for students.  Kristy's post (cited above) gave me the idea to use the game to introduce new vocabulary.  I made up a list of some previously used terms and a few new ones, and I told the students to guess if they didn't know.  They would know the terms by the end of the game because it makes them start over until they get them all right.

So far I have only played Quizlet Live once this year (due to the awkward nature of the teaming, it takes a little longer to play than other games), but I was pleased with the results and plan to play it again to introduce vocabulary.

6 Reasons I Love September as a French Teacher

With la rentrée right around the corner (or already past for some of you), it's time to think about those all important first weeks of school.  I think teachers are somewhat divided on how they feel about September.  I've heard some teachers say that they like it, but I've also heard many say they enjoy it more once they are in the swing of things.  I happen to love September, so in this post I'm going to share 10 reasons why.

1.  Refreshed and recharged!
With two months out of the classroom and focusing on other endeavors, I come back in September ready to go.  No matter how much we love teaching, it's hard to deny that we definitely have the most energy in September as opposed to May or June.

2. Starting their journey
Being a teacher of first year French students, September is a time when I get to watch them embark on their journey to language acquisition.  I love the activities we do to get acquainted with the language, the culture, its importance in the world, and what it means to be a language student.  It's an exciting time, and I can see the enthusiasm in the students' faces.  Read more about my rentrée activities here and here.

3. New year, new rules
September is a great time to tweak rules and policies.  If you have a policy from previous years that you're ready to throw out or change, it's a great feeling when September rolls around!

4.  September behavior
I don't have a lot of behavior issues in my classes, but even still, we all know that students are on their very best behavior on the first day of school.  Overall, I'd say the behavior is best for the first week or two before some students may start to try to challenge the teacher to see how strict he or she is.  What's not to like about September behavior?

5.  The Walk Through
Every year my school has a walk through for students to come to school and find their classes the week before school starts.  I absolutely love this event, as I get a chance to interact with students one on one before the first day of class.  It helps them out on the first day because they've met some of their teachers already, and it helps me out because I recognize some of their faces.  It's also an opportunity to meet parents, many of whom accompany their children to the walk through.

6.  Open House
I love open house.  It's a golden opportunity to connect with parents.  A lot of students are a little overwhelmed the first couple weeks of school with all the French spoken, but they quickly adjust.  At open house, I explain why we speak so much French and offer some information as to what French will look like for them this year and beyond.  They get to see their child's first project, a mind map presentation of himself, hung on the wall.  I have a sign up sheet for parents who would like to volunteer in the classroom for cultural (i.e. food) experiences.  A lot of the positive relationships I've had with parents stemmed from meeting them at open house.

Why do you love September?

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