Have you heard of Wordle? It's a great tool that's been around for a few years now that allows users to create word clouds from websites or blocks of text, with more frequent words appearing larger. There have been numerous blog entries since Wordle's creation showing all the ways it can be useful in the classroom, but today I found a use for it I had not thought of or heard of before. I wanted to write a welcome blog post to my students on my classroom blog, since I gave some of them the link to it at our school's walk-through earlier this week. When searching the internet for a suitable picture to use in the post, I decided to make a Wordle. At first I was going to use the text from my blog for the content, but some of the words that I used frequently were random and didn't really give quite the right flavor for what the class will be about. I decided to just type in words manually, typing them two or three times if I wanted them to appear larger. I ended up with something that I think gives a little flavor of the class. The words I used were French-speaking cities, regions, and countries, frequently used words, foods we eat, and activities we do.
When I introduce the blog to all my students next week, I will ask them to identify words they already know. Since many of them are either cognates or expressions posted on one of my bulletin boards with pictures, this shouldn't be too hard a task.
The French Corner has been on Facebook for quite a few years now, but I must admit I have only recently tapped into the potential of using Facebook as a tool for gathering and sharing resources. Although I and other bloggers do post content to multiple social networks, Facebook is a great place to share everything - blog posts, thoughts and ideas, links, photos, resources, etc. So, in case you haven't started following this blog on Facebook, here is a list of reasons why you should (in no particular order):
1. Get updates on blog posts without ever having to check your RSS reader or your email
2. Discover useful French resources for students and speakers of all levels, including you!
3. See who the French Corner "likes," and find even more pages to follow that offer great resources.
4. Share your own resources by posting onto the page!
5. Discover the lighter side of French - humor, drawings, and photos from France and other Francophone countries.
Posted by Samantha Decker on Tuesday, August 27, 2013
It's pretty incredible what kinds of tools are available to consumers today to create professional-looking media. Case in point, Sparkol VideoScribe and PowToon, two similar products that allow users to create informational videos with text and images that look like they are being handwritten or hand drawn (a trend that is becoming very popular in advertising and PSAs). PowToon I had heard about when it came out, but I never got around to trying it. VideoScribe was introduced to me by Spanish teacher Dr. Carmen Campos (see her wonderful Pinterest boards) at the NYSAFLT Summer Institute earlier this month. Seeing her examples of how she used both VideoScribe and PowToon got my gears rolling and inspired me to finally try it for myself.
PowToon's user interface
Both of these tools were a lot easier to use than I thought they would be. After playing around for a few minutes with the settings, I started to get the hang of it. Being an avid Photoshop user, which has a similar type of UI to these programs, may have made it a little easier, but I do think these programs were designed to be as user-friendly as possible.
Pros and Cons of Each Program
I liked both programs but based on my limited experience with them, I have to give PowToon the edge. Both have a lot in common, in that they have a premium version with better features, allow you to show hands writing text or drawing pictures, give you a selection of background music to choose from, and allow you to upload or record your own voiceover. PowToon, however, has some extra advantages, in that the free version is always free (whereas VideoScribe has a free trial and then you have to pay), it's web-based (VideoScribe must be downloaded), the upgrade is cheaper for teachers, there seem to be more effects to choose from, and the overall video seemed to look more polished. I really couldn't think of an advantage VideoScribe has over PowToon, although I liked it fine.
Video I made using PowToon (incorporated into the video I showed in my last post):
Posted by Samantha Decker on Saturday, August 24, 2013
Last week, I blogged about some of the back-to-school decor in my classroom. One thing I intentionally left out is the bulletin board up above. It's pretty simple, but I think it's effective. Each year I hang up posters for popular movies in French. At least two of them are from that year and the others are from recent years. Students when they see this board are able to make a connection to their personal lives. I know the argument could be made that these movies aren't "authentic" and that I should be putting up actual francophone movies, but I do feel these movies are authentic. These movies are released in francophone countries with these titles and francophone teens enjoy them. Not only that, but so do many of my students, so they're drawn in.
Since I teach first year students, at the beginning of the school year, I show a video explaining why French is important. Here are the main components of the video:
-Scenes of France
-Where French is spoken
-People sharing why they learned French
-Clips from francophone music videos and TV shows
-Clips of celebrities (that my students would know) speaking French
-Clips of movies (that my students would know) in French - this ties into the bulletin board
-Clips from our high school's French Night (a musical lip sync extravaganza), so students can see what they can do with the language down the road
Due to the ever-changing nature of what celebrities and movies are popular, I update this video nearly every year. This year I really gave it a makeover, and made a PowToon for the part about where French is spoken, putting in personal bits about our own school and classroom to make it more relevant. I also put some of my photographs of France in the beginning (if you'd like to see more of my work, visit my Flickr Photostream). I will address PowToon, as well as a similar tool called Sparkol Videoscribe, in a future post).
Here is the video, all ready to go for 2013:
After the video, we have a class discussion about what they understood, what they saw, and what they learned. Their homework is to discuss these points with their parents, and leave an optional comment on the blog. They can watch the video at home as well.
You will note the use of copyrighted material in this video. Fair Use allows for the use of small portions of copyrighted work for educational purposes with credit given to the creator.
Posted by Samantha Decker on Wednesday, August 21, 2013
In this post, I will share some links and resources with you for the back to school year. Many of these resources were inspired by The Creative Language Class, an incredible blog full of ideas. In the second post in this series, I will discuss some of the methods I use to help students see why learning French is so useful and invite you to share your own.
1. Bulletin Boards - I am very fortunate to have my own classroom with plenty of room for bulletin boards and I like to update them frequently throughout the year, with either content relating to what we're studying, or student work. Here are some of my boards:
The ever-popular useful expressions board. This is on display for the first few weeks, then it comes down and new content goes up. The "Puis-je aller aux toilettes" stays up all year.
This is what the metro bulletin board gets replaced with during National French Week. Students decorate a mini poster with reasons why they are taking French.
Last year, the Creative Language Class had a contest for the best bulletin boards, and I was the runner up! If you visit the page, you can see some of my bulletin boards for the rest of the year as well there.
2. First Day of School Prezi - Inspired by this wonderful post at (once again) The Creative Language Class, I created a Prezi (a PowerPoint alternative) to use on the first day. All of it is conducted in French except for the part about "La classe de français," where I give a brief overview of the class in English. I made the videos with the Sock Puppets app to model how to take attendance and how to introduce themselves to each other. The section on me shows a picture of me as a 7th grader at the school I now teach at. I like to show students I got the same start as them! After I take attendance and talk a little about me and the class, I have them make name tags and introduce themselves in French.
3. Classroom Decor - Here are some other odds and ends I have added to my room over the years.
La bibliothèque ! A Spanish teacher in my department inspired this. I allow students to peruse these books if they arrive to class or finish a task early. Most of them are above their reading level in French, but there are lots of cognates and pictures so they can still pick up some vocabulary.
4. Other Resources - Here are some other resources I have come across for the first days of school.
- Musicuentos has a plethora of great ideas.
- Creative Language Class has some wonderful syllabus submissions. I have redesigned mine after seeing these!
- La Clase de Señora Dentlinger has a great idea for using Boggle for early finishers. I'm planning to use it this year.
- FLExporations shares two adorable videos you can use in your class.
Posted by Samantha Decker on Saturday, August 17, 2013
Richard, a friend from last year's SI, me, and Sarah, a new friend
What better way to spend 4 days in August than at a conference meeting new people, catching up with familiar faces, and gathering scores of new resources to use in your classroom? Last year I was fortunate enough to receive the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers (NYSAFLT) Summer Institute Scholarship, and so I attended the Summer Institute in Oneonta, NY, for the first time. I loved it so much I decided to return again this year.
SI is so different from other conferences I have attended. It's sometimes referred to as "Summer Camp for LOTE Teachers," and the name fits. At most conferences, there are so many attendees, it's easy to get lost in the mix. What's nice about SI is that there is a better opportunity to build relationships with other attendees, because you see them so much throughout the week. It's also very hands-on. Not only do you walk away with 30 PD hours (and 30 hours worth of ideas and resources), but even at meals there are rich discussions going on at every table. Maybe we should get credit for those too? ;) I love the immersion reception on the last night. It was a great time to speak French with fellow colleagues and also keep up with my Spanish, which I don't have as many opportunities to speak.
Having the conference at the beginning of August helps set the tone for getting ready for the year ahead. It's time to refresh my lessons from last year, prepare materials for September, and start thinking about what else is left to do.
If you are a member of NYSAFLT (or live in New York and are thinking of becoming one), I can't recommend this conference enough. If you have an opportunity to attend a similar type of conference where you live, I'm sure you'll find it rewarding as well.
An overview of the workshops:
Marie Campanaro presented on Differentiation in the LOTE Classroom. She walked us through how to plan a lesson so it meets the needs of all the learners in the classroom and shared best practices on how to give students choice in assignments. It served as a good reminder that we have to remember that our class is not one person with a so-called "average" ability, learning style and needs, but rather 20-some individuals that each have varying abilities, learning styles, and needs.
Laurie Clarcq presented a two-part workshop on literacy in the LOTE classroom, with a focus on Embedded Reading, a strategy she developed to help her students become better readers. Embedded reading is a form of scaffolding a difficult text to make it seem simpler to students. The teacher takes a text, and creates a simpler version, a more complex version, and a final version, each with the text before it embedded in it. Instead of digesting the whole text at once, students get the simplest part first, which they can use to help them understand the more complex ones. I'm really excited to try it out this year with my students. Visit Laurie's site, EmbeddedReading.com, for more information.
Carmen Campos presented on web 2.0 tools. I am already so excited to use many of the tools she introduced, such as Rhino Spike, a site where you can have a native speaker record a passage for you, Sparkol, a site where you can make cool videos that look professional, and Blubbr, where you can make a quiz game out of a YouTube video. Carmen also has a fantastic Pinterest you should go and follow right now!
Valérie Greer and Wendy Mercado presented on group and partner games and activities in the LOTE classroom. They had some pretty neat ideas for reviewing both grammar and vocabulary, and we even got to play them in groups. I was having a blast, so I know my students will too when I use these this year. Visit their WikiSpace to see some of their resources.
Mary Holmes presented on Comprehensible Input. I have seen Mary present before, and she never fails to engage. She used Chinese in her lesson to put us in the same position our students (since most of us didn't speak Chinese). I was amazed at how many Chinese words I had acquired by the end of her presentation.
Joshua Cabral presented on interpersonal communication. Not only was Joshua a dynamic presenter, but he did a great job of showing us how we can make partner and group activities more spontaneous and less memorized. He has a fantastic blog you can visit with many resources!
Beth Slocum presented on poetry. She encouraged us to move beyond our comfort zone and explore this genre that many teachers avoid. We explored poems in several languages and partook in activities that we could use in our own classroom to engage students in poetry.
Toni Johnson presented on creativity. She shared current research on creativity, encouraged us to think outside the box, and showed us ways we can allow our students to be creative in the classroom. She showed some impressive videos produced by her upper level students, one of a students playing every character in an episode of Astérix, and another of partakers in the French Revolution being interviewed by journalists.
Christy Frembes Boise presented on kinesthetic oral activities. During much of the presentation participants were able to get out of their seats, have fun, laugh, all while never breaking out of the target language. Many of the activities were based on theatrical techniques used by actors.
Lisa Dunn presented on how she uses iPads in the classroom. Even though I don't have iPads in my classroom, I thought about how I could adapt some of the activities she presented to be low-tech. I loved her idea of making a listening activity by using a colleague's voice and YouTube ring and answering machine beep sound effects to make it sound like a real answering machine message!
Finally, Nancy Ketz presented on aligning LOTE to the Common Core. This is now the third time I've seen Nancy present, and I learn something new each time. She gives participants lots of concrete examples of how to use authentic media to satisfy common core standards across reading, writing, listening, and speaking, all while embedding culture into the lesson.
Whew! By the end of the week I was pretty tired out (in a good way of course), and once I came home I began filing away my newly acquired ideas and resources into Evernote folders so I won't forget them.
I should also mention that Candace Black, the chair of the conference, did an excellent job of putting workshops together that ran so seamlessly in their ideas.
Me with Spanish teachers Diana and Karen
Me with Spanish teachers Wendy (to my left) and Sharon (in front of me) and French teacher Valérie. Valérie and Wendy presented on partner and group games and activities.
Me with conference chair Candace Black
Me with Spanish teacher Marie, who presented on Differentiated Instruction
Posted by Samantha Decker on Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If you're not using Pinterest already, I highly recommend it. It's a great way to curate, organize, and share content. Teachers have been sharing their ideas on Pinterest for well over a year now, and I've gotten a number of great lesson plan ideas through using it. This is not meant to be a definitive list of all the French teachers on Pinterest or even all the French teachers worth following. The 15 pinners featured below (in no particular order) have a number of pinboards on various topics related to teaching French, from classroom decor ideas to videos and photos to lesson plans. Happy pinning!
Me! (oops, that makes 16!) - Well, tacky as it may be, I might as well include myself on this list since I myself am an active pinner!
Posted by Samantha Decker on Sunday, August 04, 2013
Teaching first year students, I feel it's my job to make sure students leave my class with an understanding of where French is spoken. Naturally, this is one of the first things we discuss in my class, but if it's not reinforced, students often forget. While I love to talk about France and share my experiences there, it's important that my students understand that not all French speakers live in France. We are doing our students a strong disservice if we neglect to introduce them to the varied cultures of other francophone countries as well.
Last year I started using Google Maps and Flickr to embed culture and geography into some of my vocabulary-based lessons. For my first map, I searched Flickr for Creative Commons-licensed photos (photos that can be used on other sites without copyright infringement) of people in various francophone countries. I looked for specific information about what city the photo was taken in. I then placed the photos on the map where they were taken. When we viewed the map in class, students could see how spread out the pins were. We zoomed in on various pins and discussed the content of the photo in French (using expressions such as "C'est un garçon, il a cinq ans, il est de Dakar, il est sénégalais"). When we were learning about family members, I made another map with francophone families. I also made a map of impressionist artwork created in the francophone world and various climates and types of weather in the francophone world.
This is a type of activity I like to do for about 6-7 minutes and then revisit the next day. Spending too long on this activity can be somewhat repetitive, but doing a little each day is a nice way to review vocabulary while also reinforcing geography and showing authentic images. Sometimes I have the students discuss the photos in groups instead of as a class to change things up.
Below are the maps I have made so far. Feel free to use them in your classroom or copy them and adapt them to your use. They're really much easier to navigate if you click the link to open them in a new window. When you click on a placemark, a photo comes up. Some areas have lots of placemarks near each other, and you'll need to really zoom in to see them all.
Qui est qui de la francophonie - People all over the francophone world
View Qui-est-qui de la Francophonie in a larger map
Qui est-ce ? (C'est une fille, une dame, etc.) Il/elle a quel âge ? (approximativement) Quelle est sa nationalité ? Il/elle est de quelle ville ?
Familles francophones - Families in the francophone world
View Familles Francophones in a larger map
Qui est dans l'image ? (une mère, un père, etc.) Quel âge a le/la...(approximativement) ?
Quel temps fait-il ? - Weather and climate in the francophone world
View Quel temps fait-il ? in a larger map
Quelle est la date ? C'est quelle saison ? Quel temps fait-il ?
L'impressionnisme - Impressionist paintings created in the francophone world
View L'impressionnisme in a larger map
Quelles sont les couleurs ? Qui est l'artiste ? Qui est dans l'image ?
Making Your Own Maps
If you like my idea but want to create your own maps, it's fairly simple, but a little time consuming (the payoff is you can reuse these maps in future years). I recommend using images that have a Creative Commons license. This way you're not stealing the images; the photographer has put a license on them allowing you to use them if you give him/her credit. If you go to the Flickr Advanced Search, you can scroll all the way to the bottom and select "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content." Then go to the top and type in your search. If I'm looking for a person in Sénégal, I might try the following searches: dame senegal, femme senegal, monsieur senegal, homme senegal, garçon senegal, boy senegal, fille senegal, girl senegal. Look in the description or the map info on the side to see if it says where it was taken so you can place it more accurately on the map (I tend to be a stickler for trying to make things precise!) When you've found an image you want, click the share icon (see the photo above to see what it looks like), and click "Grab the html/BBCode" and copy the code.
Next you have to make the map itself! First, you'll need a Google account. Once you've signed up, go to the Google Maps page, and click "My Places" and "Create Map." Click the place mark icon to put a place mark on the map where you want it. You'll need to click "Edit HTML" to place the photo in before saving the place mark.
So there you have it! How do you reinforce geography in your French (or any language) class?
Map of the francophone world I designed for my classroom...it even has our classroom on it (see NY)
Posted by Samantha Decker on Friday, August 02, 2013