Vintage Footage of Francophone Countries from the Travel Film Archive

The Travel Film Archive has an impressive YouTube channel chock full of videos taken all over the world from the early 1900s through the 1960s.  There are a great deal of videos from francophone countries, especially France.  Unfortunately, most of them are silent, but some of them contain narration which appears on the screen (as was the style during the silent film era).  I am already imagining the possibilities for using this in the classroom, but I also think the content here is worth a look for our own personal knowledge and understanding of the cultural history of the people who speak the language we teach.  Below are a few of the many videos about francophone countries:

For more, visit the Travel Film Archive's YouTube channel.

Keeping the 5 Cs Alive with a Pen Pal Project

Last year I decided it was time to start a pen pal project with a francophone class.  I had wanted to do one for awhile but I always thought the process would be overwhelming and wasn't sure where to start.   I finally decided to use ePals, which is a site for teachers and schools to team up on all kinds of projects, including the basic pen pal exchange.  I got in touch with a 6th grade English teacher (I teach 7th grade so it was a good match) in a school outside of Paris, and before I knew it, the project was underway!

Preparing for the Project

Even though we got things rolling before the school year started, it took a considerable amount of time to plan the project.  Because I had about three times as many students as the teacher in France, he teamed up with two other English teachers in his school so we had enough pen pals for everyone.  Before beginning the project I got approval from an administrator in my building, sent home a letter to parents informing them about the project and allowing them to give permission for the students to include personal photos in their letters, and matched up my students with the ones in France.

We decided to do "old fashioned" snail mail instead of using a web-based program.  Not only did this make the process easier (I would have had to get another permission from students to use the program, and for students who didn't have computers, it would be harder for them to complete their final copy of the letter outside of class), the students got to see authentic French handwriting (more on that later).  The only downside was the cost of mailing the letters each time (we had two exchanges), but I think it was worth it.

Before we began exchanging letters, each school prepared a PowerPoint with pictures of the school and descriptions in the native language.  The students loved seeing the school where their pen pals went.  We also looked at it on Google Maps and took a walk around the city they live in.

The Project in Action

For each exchange, we came up with an outline for what the French students would say and what the American students would say back.  In each letter, students wrote one paragraph in the target language and one in the native language.  This way, they had an opportunity to practice both reading and writing in each exchange.

When the letters came each time, the students were thrilled.  I gave them time to share their letters with classmates, ask questions about what words meant, and make observations or comments.  One thing that frustrated the students a little was trying to decipher the French handwriting, which was not sloppy, but just very different from the handwriting they are used to seeing.  I actually saw this as a great cultural opportunity.  After all, if they ever end up traveling to or living in France one day, they will most likely end up reading French handwriting at some point.

Writing the responses was a full-class activity.  I gave students an outline of what to write in each language with examples.  Students could write more if they wanted to in the French section.   I wanted students to finish a draft of the letter in class.  This way, students were allowed to help each other (while I circulated as well) and then peer-review when finished.  They had several days to "jazz up" a final copy to be sent to their pen pal.

The Project in Context

I tried to think of ways to incorporate the pen pal project into other lessons.  One way I was successful in doing this was by creating a lesson based on authentic documents I found online that originated in the city our pen pals lived in.  I found about 15 documents (photos, headlines, captioned photos, ads), and had students in groups list what activities they could do in that city (and cite what document they found that from).  The activities also just happened to be vocabulary we were studying.  When students were done with that task, they made a list of things they would like to do if they lived there and things they would not like to do, and we also briefly discussed cultural similarities and differences we could gather from the documents.  I think using authentic documents from the city of their pen pals added to the relevance of the lesson and made it more interesting.  This lesson was based on part of a Common Core-focused mini unit I created with two partners during a workshop at  NYSAFLT's Summer Institute led by former NYSAFLT president Nancy Ketz.

The 5 Cs

For those of you who do not teach in the U.S., ACTFL's Standards for Language Learning are based on 5 Cs:  Communities, Communication, Cultures, Comparisons, and Connections.  It's important for language teachers to address all five of these standards, however, some are easier to address than others.   Communication is often cited as the easiest of the bunch, since by teaching students language, we are addressing it.  I felt like this pen pal project did a nice job of addressing quite a few of these standards.

Under Communication, Standard 1.1 states, "Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions."  Not only did students engage in these types of conversations, they did so with native speakers!

Under Culture, Standard 2.1 states, "Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied."  I don't think the students showed this so much in their letters as through our informal class discussions (which often stemmed from content in the letters).

Connections was the one "C" I don't think this project really hit upon.  It's likely that there were students who, through this project, reached Standard 3.2, "Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures," but I can't cite any specific examples.

Under Comparisons, Standard 4.2 states, "Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own."  This, again, was achieved through informal discussions.

Under Communities, Standard 5.1 states, "Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting."  I had a number of students submit their email address to me (with parent permission of course!) to be given to their pen pal to extend the communication beyond the classroom


I'm very happy I finally tried the pen pal project and I am excited to work with the same school next year.  This project promoted reading and writing skills, peer review, and cultural understanding in a way that was really authentic and relevant to the students.  Even in the 21st century, a somewhat timeless idea of a pen pal project, written with pencil on paper, still has a place in the classroom.

If you've considered doing a pen pal project with your students but haven't yet, I highly recommend it!  If you've done a pen pal project of your own, how was yours different?

Designing a French Eatery: A Fun Assignment That Reinforces Culture!

One of the things I like to hone in on when I'm teaching meal-taking is how different eating establishments such as a boulangerie, café, glacier, etc., work in France and other francophone countries.  I like to even show students how different McDonald's looks in France than in the US!

One assignment I have students do after they have seen lots of examples of different eating establishments is to design their own on a template I created.  They have to name the establishment (this is where I teach them "Chez," although they are not required to use it in the name), list some items and prices on the outside menu (I don't even make them use articles because it's more authentic that way, but some choose to), and draw or print out some pictures of what it might look like inside.  For example, a boulangerie would have different types of bread in the back.

This is by no means meant to be a huge project, just an assignment that motivates them to compare and contrast eateries in France with those in their home country (in our case, the US).  Quite a few students take it upon themselves to look up more specific vocabulary than what we have learned in class (for example ice cream flavors).  Even more do research on their own to see more examples of French eateries to model their own after.  What seems at first glance as just another coloring assignment at worst reinforces the vocabulary and the culture and at best compels students to conduct a little independent research to put out the best possible product.  I end up decorating the front of my classroom with some of the more creative ones.

The template:

Using iFaketext in French Class

I think I first learned about iFaketext on Pinterest.  iFaketext is a web-based application that allows users to create a fake text message exchange on an iPhone (side note - they also have a Siri simulator, which I haven't tried but definitely has language class potential as well).  I first started using this to create reading exercises for assessments (and still do), but last year I created a task where students created their own conversation.

As you can see from the examples, students had just moved past learning greetings and were learning to ask questions about nationalities and who they know.  Since we were using a texting platform, I used this as an opportunity to teach some texting lingo.  This came right on the heels of learning about formal and informal language with the greetings, so we added a few terms to the informal language students had already learned.  I thought this made the task a little more "authentic."  I gave them terms such as biz (short for bisous, which they had just learned), @+ (for à plus), bjr, mdr (a very popular one that stuck for the rest of the year - any time something funny happened in class, usually someone would say "MDR").  Another little culture bit is that you can choose what carrier is displayed at the top, so I asked students to pick either the French one (Orange) or the Canadian one (Rogers), as these were the two francophone options.

Although I liked using the texting lingo, I didn't want the whole task to be about texting vocabulary.  I gave students a list of words they could use (some may say this stifles creativity but in my experience working with novice students, I think it helped them focus better on the task and not get carried away with trying to say things beyond their capabilities).  I left "ça va" and "très bien" off the list to avoid that taking up half the space on the assignment.  Students had one class period (about 35 minutes after instructions from the previous day were recapped) to work on this task with a partner and submit it to me.  Although at this point in the year the students' vocabulary was fairly limited, the students seemed to enjoy the task and liked the idea of using real French "slang."

The one thing that is troublesome about iFaketext is that the students experienced some formatting difficulties with them on the school computers.  Sometimes the accents would show up funny for them, but when I went back and looked at it on my computer (still at school), I could see the accents just fine. Students have different internet permissions than teachers in our school, so it's possible that that could have affected it, but I don't know how.  Also, when the students went to preview their message and realized they needed to correct an error, they had to start all over again when they went back, as the site hadn't saved their information.  In hindsight, this could have been solved by having the students draft their work in a word processing software, but at the time I thought there was also an issue with the accents, so I made a Microsoft Word template for some of the classes (see an example below).  There are pluses and minuses to each method, but I think I'll try the website again next year.

Obviously this task could be modified to suit just about any language or level.  Although it's not truly authentic like texting with students in a francophone country would be, I think something as simple as changing the interface helps to make the idea of communication more exciting to students, and giving them real texting vocabulary encourages them to try texting each other in French...outside of class of course.  I have had a number of students report that they often do this.

Have any of you used iFakeText?

15 Uses for Mini Whiteboards

..or mini chalkboards or even a whiteboard ipad app!  I love using mini whiteboards in my classroom because I see my students automatically become more invested in an activity when they have the opportunity to write on a whiteboard.  It's also a great way to formatively assess students all at once.  That said, a little goes a long way and sometimes students can get bored if you don't change up what you're doing every time you bring out the whiteboards.

Any of these activities in my list below could be done as a whole-class activity, with the teacher or a student volunteer doing the speaking, or a pair or small group activity, with students taking turns being the teacher (in some cases you may need to make up envelopes with cards to read).  These activities are best for practicing listening or writing skills, but a lot of them could be done as oral exercises as well by eliminating the white boards.

  • Say a French phone number, time, or date, and students write it down.
  • Read a French word letter by letter and students write it down.
  • Play pictionary - one person draws a picture to represent a subject pronoun (I coach them on how to draw these first), and one to represent a verb, and the students write what the sentence is (this can be done orally as well).  You can also use hearts or hearts with Xes on them to represent likes and dislikes.
  • Charades is often done orally, but if you want to practice writing skills, have the students write their answer on their whiteboards.  One person (teacher or student) can act out a pronoun and a verb or a like or dislike and a verb or you could make it more complicated.
  • Draw a weather scene or show a picture of a weather scene and students write three statements about the weather/season.
  • Write three statements about the weather/season, and students draw a picture of it (30 second drawing limit!)
  • Describe a monster by naming off the body parts one by one and having students draw them (they can be funny too like "dessinez une oreille sur le bras!") - I'm pretty sure a colleague tipped me off to that one.
  • One of my favorites:  Draw a basic family tree on the board with a mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather, aunt or uncle, and two kids.  Leave blanks for all of their names.  Write the name on the board of the main person (one of the kids) and have the students copy the tree.  Then name off the other members based on their relationship to the main person and have the students fill in the tree.  To make it more challenging, name their relationships to each other for some of them.  This was an adaptation from a colleague's idea as well.
  • Write an answer to a question on the board and have the students write down what they think the question was (sometimes there is more than one possibility).
  • Here is one for reviewing the verb "être," that could easily be done on a piece of paper, but since students would just be recycling it right after, the whiteboard saves the paper.  Have students make a chart with a list of 5 teacher-provided cities and room to write students' initials.  Each student chooses an city to imagine they are traveling to.  Students move about the room asking each other if they are in a particular city until they guess it right (e.g. "Tu es à Paris ?" "Non, je ne suis pas à Paris." "Tu es à Dakar ?" "Oui, je suis à Dakar!"), and write the student's initials in the correct column when they guess.  Then, when they get back to their seats, have a class discussion having students look at their whiteboards and make observations about who is in what city (e.g. "Marie et moi, nous sommes à Paris" or "Paul et Jean sont à Dakar").  This takes a good amount of class time to explain in French because it is somewhat complicated, but I have found it to be worth it.

While I often employ the above activities for basic recall, I also like activities like the ones below that allow students to get a little creative, which offers potential for differentiated instruction, having students make the task as challenging as they want it to be.
  • Show a picture or a group of pictures (e.g., a sun, an ice cream cone, and a girl) and see who can come up with the longest story or description including all the elements of the picture(s) in 1 minute (only has to fill up the whiteboard, so it doesn't need to be long).  Students can do this in groups, passing the whiteboard every few words.
  • Show a picture on the board and have students write one thing the person or people in the picture are doing and one thing they are not doing (encourage them to make up details to be creative, e.g. "Elle mange une soupe à l'oignon").  They can also share this with a neighbor.  This could also be easily done just orally, but it's a good way to practice written conjugation forms without just resorting to sentences with subject and verb.
  • Give the students a subject and an infinitive and have them write a sentence that has more to it than just the subject and the verb (e.g.   il+parler could be "Il parle avec un ami en classe").  Challenge students to create a long sentence.
  • Give the students a start to a sentence and have them finish it (e.g. "Quand il pleut, je..."  or "Mes amis et moi, nous ne...") - Another one that could be done orally depending on what your focus is.
  • Write an open-ended question on the board and have students write an answer and share it with a partner or a small group (encourage students to write as much as they can).  This is good for the day of or after you have introduced a topic before students are ready to speak spontaneously about it.  Writing in on the whiteboard gives them a buffer to organize their thoughts.

Using Evernote to Keep Track of Activities and Resources

I know many of you use Evernote for various purposes, but since there are so many ways to use it, I thought I'd share what I do with it. For anyone who's not familiar, Evernote is a free app (web-based, desktop, ios, android) that allows users to organize content into notebooks (similar to Pinterest pinboards or even folders on a computer) and share it if they choose. For me, it's like a digital scrapbook of ideas waiting to be used.

I started using Evernote about a year ago after reading so many wonderful things about it from teachers in the blogosphere. I would often find myself wondering what to do with all the wonderful ideas I came across from blogs, twitter, conferences, and colleagues that I wanted to use in the future, but didn't need right away.  Using Evernote, I created two notebooks for each chapter (Leçon) in the textbook we use.  One notebook for each Leçon is called "Activités," which is where I post lesson plan, project, and activity ideas that I find on the internet (as applicable to each Leçon).  Evernote's bookmarklet makes it very easy to share content from the web.  I also write myself notes about other ideas I want to try or how I want to design an assessment.

The other notebook that I created for each Leçon is called "Culture."  This is where I post authentic photos, tweets, advertisements, and articles in French that would be appropriate to integrate into that Leçon.  I also have notebooks for activities and resources that could be used in any Leçon.  Each week when I do my lesson planning, I open up Evernote and look through the notebooks for each Leçon to see if there is anything I want to use in the week I am planning.  When I come home from a conference, I go through my notes and handouts and transfer all the ideas I want to use into notebooks, making it all much easier to keep track of.  While I don't share my notebooks, most of the content I save to my notebooks from the internet I also pin publicly on Pinterest.

So that's how I use Evernote.  But since there are so many other ways to use Evernote (including having students use them), here are some other great articles by teachers using it:

Using a Blog to Connect with Students and Families

Back in March, I gave a presentation at the Capital Organization of Language Teachers (COLT) Annual Conference in Schenectady, NY, about blogging to connect with students and families.  I thought I might share it here so that people could add to it.

Some of the topics that I've explored here will get their own posts in the future.  One of the topics I did not explore in this presentation is having students do the blogging, which someone in my audience had brought up.  I haven't tried that yet (but I think it's a great idea and I would like to in the future), although I know there are a number of teachers who already do a great job of having students blog.  One teacher that comes to mind is Silvia Tolisano at Langwitches Blog.

You will notice that there is a topic called "APPR Align."  Teachers in New York will recognize APPR as the Annual Professional Performance Review, a new teacher evaluation system implemented beginning in fall 2012.  Even if you don't teach in New York, I think you'll find that section useful in how to present your blog with the proper rationale in either a portfolio or a performance review.

After reading the presentation, make a comment below.  What other activities or ideas do you have in mind to improve the blogging experience?  What have you already written or read about the topic that French Corner readers might like to know about?

Where to Find Authentic Resources for French Students of All Levels

I've read lots of blog posts on where to find authentic resources, but I thought I might add my own to the mix. Perhaps you'll find something on here you hadn't seen before. I've tried to sort these out by level (Novice-Intermediate, and Intermediate-Advanced). Authentic resources can be most difficult to find for novice learners, as the content is often too advanced for their level. As a middle school teacher, these are the resources I am most on the lookout for, therefore I do have some of those to share with you as well. If you'd like to add to the list, please post in the comments, and I will update the list. I will continue to update this post in the future as I find more authentic resources.

I have written posts in the past about resources for French learners (although not necessarily authentic resources), so you may want to also read Soyez motivés, a post I wrote during my undergraduate studies which points you to a number of other posts I wrote about resources for French students, as well as Resources for Young French Learners Part I and Part II.

I should point out that probably none of these authentic resources would be appropriate for novice or intermediate  learners to read or listen to independently, but in with guidance and pre- and post- reading/listening activities, they can often be adapted to suit their level.  Also, most of the novice and intermediate resources could be modified to suit advanced learners as well.

Resources for Novice & Intermediate Learners
Blogs, Newspapers, and Online Magazines:

  • La Griffe de l'info - An online newspaper for kids.  Unfortunately they don't seem to have an RSS feed.
  • 1jour1actu - A great online newspaper for kids with articles written at varying reading levels.
  • Le Journal des Enfants - Another great online newspaper for kids
  • Audio Lingua - While not exactly a blog, it does have an RSS feed.  This is a great site with audio clips of native speakers talking about their lives.  They are even organized by level.
  • Géo Ado - Another great magazine for kids that publishes online as well.
  • Wapiti - A magazine for kids about nature
  • Le Blog de Julie - A magazine for girls 9-13, but much of the content is appropriate for either gender.
  • Mon petit hebdo - An online newspaper featuring short articles written by kids.! Topics If you aren't familiar,! is a site that allows users to curate their own content from multiple sources. 
Pinterest Boards
YouTube Channels

Resources for Intermediate & Advanced Learners 

Blogs, Newspapers, and Online Magazines:
  • Le Huffington Post Québec - The Québec edition of this popular online newspaper.
  • Le Huffington Post France - The France edition of this popular online newspaper.
  • TV5MONDE - Informations - Another great source of news.
  • France-Amérique - Online edition of a magazine which provides stories of interest to French people living in the U.S.
  • Le Monde - Online edition of the French newspaper.
  • Le Figaro - Another French newspaper, but with a more conservative stance - could be used to compare and contrast articles with Le Monde.
  • Les petits citoyens - An online magazine geared towards kids -- probably not appropriate for the high school crowd but would be good if you have younger students at the intermediate or advanced level.
  • Audio Lingua - See description above
  • France Bienvenue - Videos of native French speakers with transcripts
  • Radio France Internationale - Not exactly a blog, but a French news radio with listening exercises
  • L'internaute - Popular online news magazine! Topics
Pinterest Boards
YouTube Channels

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