Beyond the Classroom - Keeping Students Engaged at Home

As much as coming to class and participating every day is vital to progress in language acquisition, so is supplementing daily lessons with at-home review.  As language teachers, we spend a great deal of time encouraging our students to use the language outside of class, including sharing the many ways in which one can do that.  Here are some of the tools and ideas I have used to encourage at-home French use.


I know many language teachers have sung the praises of DuoLingo.  When students finish a task on the iPads early in my class, I often allow them to go on DuoLingo.  By using it in class, students are more likely to use it at home.  At the beginning of the year, I allow them to sign up for an account in class.  DuoLingo is a great supplement for the curriculum.

Languages Online

Languages Online is a series of games and worksheets created by the government of the Australian province of Victoria.  If I have a few minutes at the end of class, I sometimes pull up one the games and have a students play.  Then I post it on Edmodo for students to play at home.


I am quite fond of TinyTap.  Not only do I use it in class, but I post the activities on Edmodo for students to play at home.  I also linked to many TinyTap games for students to play for their long-term assignment (see below).


Quizlet remains one of my favorite vocabulary studying tools.  What makes it so indispensable is the fact that the words are pronounced for students while they study.  While the voice is a bit robotic, it's pretty accurate and you can't beat the fact that it's all automated.  Some of my students make Quizlet sets on their own to study from, I also post my sets on Edmodo for students to access.  Playing scatter (above) is great for the last few minutes of class or if a student finishes a task early.  I like students to see or play the game in class, which increases the likelihood that they will play it at home.

Any time I show a YouTube video in class, I share it on Edmodo and on my blog.  If students want to watch it again, I remind them that they can watch it at home, and many students often report that they share the videos with siblings and parents.

I just started using Edmodo this year after our school stopped using our previous LMS.  I really like it as a great way to communicate with students.  I post homework on the blog as well as resources.  I also award badges for various achievements, such as the ones below:

Besides the badges above, I also award badges for good behavior and other non-French related achievements.  Students who earn 5 badges get a homework pass.  Many of the badges above are for the use of French outside of class.  Unfortunately, many students forget that these opportunities are available to them, as they are mentioned once at the beginning of the year, and although I do mention them from time to time, they are not a daily part of our class routine.  I intend to do more with the badges next year, as I think they are a nice alternative to extra credit.  I will be making some cooler prizes (perhaps some of the privileges other teachers have suggested on their blogs) and probably lowering the number of badges needed to get them (5 badges can be difficult to earn).

Personalized Learning Goal

Shortly before April break, I thought it might be a good idea to give students some sort of independent assignment to encourage the use of French outside of class.  This was a one-time assignment, but the idea was that hopefully some students would develop study habits from this and continue these activities of their own volition.  I gave students a list of possible assignments, most of which just required a parent signature.  Students had a lot of fun with this.  Among other things, I had students report back that they watched their favorite movie in French, spoke French on vacation with a friend, talk to Siri in French, and talk to a French-speaking relative in French.

One of the resources I created for this assignment was a list of games students could play.  Some of them we had already played in class, but I also included many new ones, some with new vocabulary for students to acquire.  The games came from TinyTap, Languages Online, EdPuzzle, and Kahoot.  I reminded students that with the proper equipment (a computer or laptop and one device for each player), they can play Kahoot at home.

While I am constantly working on new ways to encourage the use of French at home, I think the advent of all these new tools and games in the last few years has really helped. What are some of the ways you approach this challenge?

P.S.:  Many of the tools I have written about in this post I have also covered in more detail in the iPad Diaries.  Head over there and take a look!

You may also want to read my post on keeping a blog.

Quel personnage de Disney es-tu ? A Reading, Writing, Speaking Activity

This activity is based on Amy Lenord's Superhero Talk Read Talk Write Lesson.  I took elements of her lesson and adapted them to suit a 7th grade French class.  When I taught this lesson, students were working with adjectives and using the verb "to be" in context.  While the goal with Amy's lesson was to have students work with an authentic text, I chose to create the text for my lesson.

I liked the idea of having students take a personality type quiz, since this piques their interest, so they will be more compelled to read the text carefully.  I decided to go with Disney characters since I felt I could flesh out their difference better in the quizzes I was making.  I made a quiz for male characters and one for female characters.  Students could take whichever one they wanted or even both, but this way students could be matched up with a same-gender character if they wanted to be.  You can try them out yourself below (the first one is for boys, the second one for girls):

After students took the quiz, I had them decide if they felt they like the character to whom they had been assigned or would prefer to identify with a different character.  In Amy's lesson, she had students discuss with a partner if they agreed or disagreed with the results, but this proved a bit too challenging for my students.  I had them look at the below list of adjectives.  They had to circle 5 adjectives that described them, then x out 5 adjectives that really didn't describe them.  Then, they put a star next to 5 adjectives that described their character (the one they were assigned or a different one), and an x next to 5 adjectives that really didn't describe their character.  These adjectives might be some of the same ones they chose for themselves, but some may be different.

After looking over the adjectives, students started on the venn diagram below, comparing and contrasting themselves with their character.  They could use they adjectives they circled, but they could also add additional ones.

Students finished the venn diagram for homework and read the results to each other the next day, as their partners tried guess which character they had chosen.

While I really went in my own direction with this lesson, the inspiration comes from Amy's creative idea.  How might you further adapt this idea to suit your own classroom?

Pronouns, Part II - Verbs in Context

I previously blogged about introducing students to pronouns out of context.  In this post, I will share some ways I target specific pronouns in a more contextual setting, while also reinforcing ER verb forms.  Each of these activities targets several, but not all, subject pronouns.  In real communication, all the pronouns are not used together in the same situation.  Splitting them up across activities also helps students focus more on the pronouns you're working on.

Talking Questions (Je/Tu/Nous/Vous)
I often give my students an envelope of questions to ask each other in groups.  At this stage, it's hard to sustain a conversation without some support, so the questions help them along.  Sometimes I'll give them a question where they have to fill in the ending (such as "Do you watch _____") to make it more personal.  I like to use this as an opportunity to reinforce the difference between tu and vous.  Students have to think about how to answer a question about just themselves or about them and their family or them and their friends.  I give students a reference sheet to help them with this.

Speed Friending (Je/Tu/Nous/Vous)
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 (Meghan Chance most recently) use this activity, I adapted it for my classroom.  I wanted students to practice conversation skills, but also work on using negatives.  Before partaking in the activity, students fill in the top half of the sheet with information about themselves.  They then copy the affirmative side into the questions at the bottom.  Then, they interview 3-4 classmates (I announce when it's time to switch, and half the students move systematically to a new spot).  If they answer affirmatively to a question, they put a check mark.  If they answer negatively, they put an X.  At the end of the activity, the classmate who has the most check marks is the student's ideal friend.

Ask Anything (Tu/Vous)
Using the quick question feature on Socrative, I have students write questions for various people (me, the principal, a student, a question directed towards a student and his or her friends and family to elicit a plural "vous").  For the question for the principal, the students vote (using the included feature on Socrative) on the best question to ask him, and I send the top vote-getting questions in each class to him to answer (in English, which I then translate back into French).  Sometimes students get off task and write silly answers when using this app, so they have to enter their names first to be held accountable.

Caption Homework (Je/Nous/Il/Elle/Ils/Elles)
For homework, students have to find a photo (a personal photo, one from the magazine or the internet, or they can draw something) and write a caption about what is going on in the photo.  If they are in the photo, they use "Je," if they and another person are in the photo they use "nous," and if they are not in the photo, they use the appropriate third person pronoun.  It helps them think about which pronoun they need in a particular situation.  I make a bulletin board of their creations.

Photo Memorization Activity (Il/Elle/Ils/Elles)
This is an activity that I adapted from Maris Hawkins.  She shows a series of photos on the board, then takes them away and students write what they remember.  I chose characters doing various things that my students know how to describe in French.  They had to write a sentence about what each character was doing (some of the characters were in pairs so that all of the 3rd person pronouns were covered).

Write, Draw Pass (Il/Elle/Ils/Elles)
I blogged about this idea from Martina Bex a couple of years ago. 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 is an example:

Picture Captions (Il/Elle/Ils/Elles)
I previously blogged about this activity as well.  You can read the post for more details, but essentially, students imagine a sentence in French, draw a picture of it on the iPad, and then post it to a virtual notice board (last year I used Lino, this year I used Padlet).  Then someone else comes along and writes a caption for it.  Now, in order for this to work, you need to allow the students to edit each others' posts, which unfortunately can lead to students writing off-topic captions.  Alternatively, you could have the students sign up for accounts and login so they are held accountable.  I think this activity could just as easily be done with whiteboards though - once students are done drawing the picture, they move to a different desk and caption someone else's.  This is how I plan to do it next year.  Sometimes technology improves a task, but sometimes it also adds new challenges.

Guess Which Picture (Il/Elle/Ils/Elles)
For this simple review activity, I give pairs of students a sheet with a number of different images of people doing various things on it.  The students take turns describing an image (e.g. "La filles chante" or "Les garçons jouent aux jeux-vidéo") and having their partner point to the one they are describing. I usually do this as a station on a review day.

Picture Description Relay (Il/Elle/Ils/Elles)
Similar to the previous activity, I have students do this activity in groups of three.  Each group gets a page with 6 photos, lettered A-D.  All over the classroom, crumpled up, are each of the images, with a number on them.  Each group member takes a turn finding a ball of paper, opening it up, memorizing it, and then providing the number and a description of what's happening in the photo to the group.  The group then determines which image that is on the sheet, and writes the appropriate letter next to the number that the first group member provided.  It's extremely fast-paced, and a fun way to promote speech.

Why I Love Charades

Charades is an age-old game that is fun for practicing vocabulary.  I have been using it since my student teaching days and don't see myself stopping anytime soon.  Here are seven reasons why I love charades and several ways I've adapted the game for various topics.

Reasons I love charades

  1. It's an extension of what we do every day!  Keeping in the target language 90% of the time, we language teachers are accustomed to using lots of gestures, and our students are accustomed to seeing them.
  2. It keeps students in the target language.
  3. It can be made into a fast-paced, energetic competition.
  4. Students are familiar with it, thus it's easy to explain in the target language!  In a 90%+ TL world, that's a huge plus.
  5. It applies to many topics.
  6. It is low or no-prep, and can be pulled out at the end of class when you wrap up early.
  7. When done with vocabulary words written on paper, it hits on both reading and speaking.

How I play charades
  1. I always start by showing students how I like to act out the terms.  This makes the charades process much easier.
  2. Sometimes I throw on some dance music and just have students repeat after me the terms and the actions.  There's usually a lot of giggling and laughing during this activity, but they don't forget it!
  3. Jacques a dit/Simon says is a great alternative to traditional charades.
  4. I often turn it into a competition.  I give students in groups each an envelope filled with the terms written on strips of paper.  Students take turns looking at the terms and acting them out.  The first group to empty the envelope wins.

Topics that lend themselves to charades
  1. Parts of the body
  2. Useful classroom expressions (such as "Levez-vous," "Parlez," "Ecrivez," etc.)
  3. Weather and seasons - I have students announce to their classmates whether they have a season or a weather term before acting it out
  4. ER Verbs - You can use just the infinitives, use a subject and a verb, incorporate negatives, or just use them with J'aime/Je n'aime pas.
  5. Irregular verbs - Take a verb like "faire" for example, and use it with expressions that use "faire".
  6. Months - I usually act out an event associated with that month (see below).
  7. Adjectives - I haven't done this yet, but I am planning to this year.  Obviously, some adjectives lend themselves to charades more than others.  You could combine this with "être."  For instance, a person pointing to him or herself and then laughing would represent "Je suis comique."

Difficult charades:
  • L'hiver/Winter:  I pretend to ski because it doesn't apply to any particular weather term
  • Le printemps/Spring:  I pretend to smell a flower.
  • L'été/Summer:  I pretend to be sunning.
  • L'automne/Fall:  I pretend to rake leaves.
  • Il neige/It's snowing:  I pretend to catch snowflakes on my tongue.
  • Il y a des nuages/It's cloudy:  I frown and point upwards.
  • Janvier/January:  I pretend to be cold.
  • Février/February:  I make a heart shape with my hands.
  • Mars:  I pretend to be cold and then hot, signaling the changing weather of March.
  • Avril:  I pretend it's raining with my fingers (April showers).
  • Mai:  I pretend to smell a flower (as in, April showers bring May flowers).
  • Juin:  I walk away from the class waving, as if to say good-bye.
  • Juillet/July:  I pretend to wave a flag, in honor of both the French and American national holidays.
  • Août:  I pretend to be sunning, since August is a typical vacation month in France.
  • Septembre:  I step forward and wave to the class, mimicking the first day of school.
  • Octobre:  I make a scary face.
  • Novembre:  I pretend to eat for Thanksgiving.  Outside of the US, a different charade will need to be used.  I hate to use something that doesn't exist in the French speaking world for a charade, but students are aware of this.
  • Décembre:  I pretend to offer a gift.
  • Je ne comprends pas/I don't understand:  I pretend to tear my hair out.
  • Travaillez avec un partenaire:  I point to a person and then to myself, as if to invite someone to work with me.
  • Travailler/To work:  I pretend to mop or wash a desk OR I pretend to type.
  • Regarder la télé/To watch TV:  I gaze off into the distance and pretend to change the channel.

So, if you haven't played charades in awhile or if you haven't played them at all, give them a try?  What are some ways you adapt and extend charades?

Beg, Borrow, and Steal Part II: 7 More Great Ideas from Other Teachers

Back in 2014, I wrote a post called "Beg Borrow, and Steal:  7 Great Ideas from Other Blogs."  Since then, I've gathered quite a few more great ideas from other teachers, so I thought I'd create a sequel post.  Here are seven more ideas from other teachers that I have used in my classroom.

The Price is Right
I previously blogged about this activity in my list of favorite new activities I tried in 2014 and my Food & Meal Taking Activities Round-Up. This is an idea from Steve Smith of He proposed having a game show à la The Price is Right, having students guess the price of various items. My students absolutely love this activity. They work in groups to guess the price of various items I have on the SMART Board, but they have to negotiate entirely in French. They also have to write their answer in a complete sentence, reinforcing the difference between il coûte, elle coûte, and ça fait. I have had several students say to me at the end "J'aime l'activité !"

Find the Cognates
The Creative Language Class had a wonderful post on cognate practice, in which the author, Megan Smith, describes an activity for the first week of school in which each student gets a target language piece of literature.  They then write all the words they recognize (cognates) on post it notes and make a word wall.  For the past couple years, I have shown my students this infographic and had students hunt for cognates.  Between the numbers, visuals, and cognates, students actually understand more of this than they don't.  It's a great way to build confidence in those all-important first few days.

Sidewalk Chalk
A teacher at the NYSAFLT Conference I attended in the fall suggested using sidewalk chalk as a fun way to practice language and get kids outside.  In November, I had my French Club students draw flags from francophone countries on the pavement outside the entrance of the school to promote National French Week.  The students enjoyed it so much, I'm thinking this might become an annual tradition!

Using Standard iPad Apps to Reinforce 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.  Read my blog post on Practicing Time, Day, and Date to learn more about this activity and others.


At a NYSAFLT Conference a few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop by Long Island teachers Valerie Greer and Wendy Mercado (check out their website).  They had a lot of great ideas for hands on activities to use with middle school students.  One such activity was Vitesse, or Speed.  Students work in pairs.  You give the pairs a series of photos or vocabulary words written on cards.  The teacher calls out a word and the first student to tap the corresponding card gets to keep it.  At the end, the student with the most cards of the two wins.  I have done this with numbers (I call out a number in French, and the students tap the correct numeral) and food and drink.  For the food and drink, I show a series of food and beverages on the SMART Board in various colors with price tags attached.  I then announce things in French such as "I am thirsty and I would like something purple" (there is only one purple beverage, and the student would have to tap the correct word in French), or "I am hungry and I would like something that costs 2,50 Euros" (there is only one food item that costs 2,50 Euros, and again, the students have to tap the right word in French).  This way, I am reviewing vocabulary, prices and even colors.

Translated Film Titles
Dom's MFL Page had a great post on using translated film titles as a lesson.  It's a great way to show students that everything does not translate literally.  Students must use their background knowledge in French and what they know about the movies to determine which film title goes with which film.  I pre-selected about 10 movies, listed the French movie titles and showed the movie posters with the names blocked out, and let students work in groups to find  Dom also suggests visiting the movie's WikiPedia page and changing the language to French to see what the translated title is.  This is a great idea to show students how to find out what their favorite movies and TV shows are called in French.  Here are the movies I used when I did this activity (I tried to use movies that had some sort of clue in them):

-La reine des neiges (Frozen)
-Les reliques de la mort (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
-L’empire contre-attaque (The Empire Strikes Back)
-La nuit au musée : Le secret des pharaons (Night at the Museum:  Secret of the Pharaohs)
-La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast)
-Le seigneur des anneaux : Les deux tours (Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers)
-1001 pattes (A Bug's Life)
-L’étrange Noël de Monsieur Jack (Nightmare Before Christmas)
-Moi, moche et méchant (Despicable Me)
-Super Noël (The Santa Clause)

Colorful Creations
Liz's Lessons has a great Pinterest Board featuring student work.  On it, she shared a drawing that a student made by writing the words of the colors they were using repeatedly.  I have my students complete this activity in groups, but you could also make this a homework assignment.

Pronouns, Part I

An important part of communicating in any language is being able to specify who is doing an action. In many romance languages, subject pronouns are optional and verb endings indicate the subject.  In French, however, subject pronouns are required.  Since they are so important, I devote a few days of instruction just to pronouns.  Students have exposure to the pronouns earlier in the year (especially the singular ones), but many students still struggle with them, so before they even work with the various verb forms, I do a little decontextualized review.  I know that many teachers are divided on whether this type of material should be taught in context or out of context, but I find that doing both yields good results.  While this post will outline ways I practice pronouns in a mostly decontextualized way, in my next post, I will share some ways I focus on particular pronouns in context (once students have had experience producing conjugated verb forms on their own).

First, I like to sing a song.  We all know that songs help us remember material better.  In this song, hand gestures are important.  In the below Etienne video, Les pronoms, students must copy the gestures while singing along to the song.  It's a little corny, but the melody really sticks, and some of the kids really get into it.

I also train my students in how to draw the pronouns, so they we can study using as little English as possible.  I tell them that if they can't draw a hand, just use arrows to indicate the pronoun (for third person, I don't use arrows).  Below is my "beautiful" example of how to draw each pronoun:

A warm up activity I have students do is to give each student a visual depicting a pronoun (like the ones above) or a pronoun written as a word.  Students have to find the corresponding word or image.  Since there are many students in the class, there are 30 total cards, and several potential matches for each person.

After they learn to draw the pronouns, I have students draw sentences that incorporate the pronouns with verbs.  They do not know the verb endings yet when doing these, but they do know what the verbs mean.  I call their attention to the different spelling changes, but at this stage it is just input and I am not asking them to produce these sentences.

One way I have them do this is with Nearpod, an app that I have previously written about here.  On Nearpod, you can assign students to draw something, and collect all their drawings on the board.  You could even save the drawings for later.  First, they look at a few example slides to see what I am looking for, then they try a few of their own.  All the while, I am circulating around the room reminding students to incorporate both the pronoun AND the verb (because once there's a verb, students tend to focus on that more and are more likely to ignore the pronoun).

To change things up, I also have them practice this on mini whiteboards.  For this exercise, I have the students copy the sentences off the board first to reinforce the spelling (again, they do not know how to conjugate verbs at this point).

Below is an example of a homework in the same vein that I give students.

Finally, I also do a little review with one of my favorite games, Kahoot.  I incorporate a variety of multiple choice questions:  students see a visual and select which pronoun it represents, students read a sentence and choose the pronoun that would fit in the blank, students see a name or several names and select TU or VOUS, or students see a name or several names and select either IL/ELLE/ILS/ELLES.

This wraps up how I introduce and review pronouns BEFORE students have experience conjugating verbs.  In a follow-up post, I will outline ways I target specific verb forms in various activities that are more contextualized that just reviewing them all at once.

How do you teach and reinforce pronouns?

iPad Diaries Volume 14: Weather Writing and Speaking Activities

This is the 14th post in a series on using iPads in the language classroom.  Click here to view an index of previous posts.  Note that only part of this post is about iPads.  In this post, I will talk about both high-tech and low-tech ways to practice weather and seasons.

One of the things I like to do after vocabulary is introduced is use Google Maps to look at weather and seasons around the French-speaking world.  Here is the map I use:

I have students come up and click on a pin.  A photo pops up, and the students shout out vocabulary words or expressions relating to what weather or season it is.  You can read more about how I use Google Maps in the classroom in this post.  After this activity, I put several photos (not necessarily from the map) on the board, and the students prepare a description of one photo in groups.  Each group comes up and describes the weather in the photo to the class, and they guess which photo it is.

Another fun way to review vocabulary is to draw a scene on the board and have the students write a description with as many terms they can think of to describe it.  I have students do this on mini whiteboards.  After they've done a few of these, I flip flop the roles.  I write a description on the board, and the students draw the scene, incorporating everything I've written.  Click here for a post I wrote about other ways to use mini whiteboards.

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.  I graded based on pronunciation, word order, and content.

I  think this assessment is better than a traditional presentation, because some of the more reserved students are able to speak without having to stand in front of the class.  I have found that having them record their voice on the iPad results in a better product from the students.  They also have the chance to re-record if they were unhappy with their result the first time through.Note:  I am very careful about ensuring that my students do not infringe on others' copyrights when creating digital content.  I allowed them to use the screenshots from Chaîne Météo under Fair Use, in which a screenshot of a webpage used for non-commercial educational purposes would typically be considered acceptable.Here are a couple of examples of the forecasts:

Finally, as a homework assignment, I have students pick a francophone city to write a weeklong report about (this is actually done before the iPad activity).  The following day in class, students read their reports to one another, and their partners try to guess which city (of the six they had to choose from) they are reporting on.

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