Headlines Can Be Authentic Resources, Too!

As we all know, finding authentic resources that are level-appropriate for novices can be very difficult.  Back in January, I came upon two articles in French newspapers online that I thought would be great to  use in class.  This article from Futura-Sciences is about the polar vortex causing extreme cold temperatures in the northeast United States this past January, something my students could certainly relate to, having had to suffer through those low temperatures!  This article, from Ouest France, is about how, at the same time, parts of France were having record high temperatures for winter.

These two articles were great because in class, we were learning about weather.  Since they are on a similar topic, I could have students compare and contrast these articles, tying in nicely to Common Core.  Their content of the articles, however, was too difficult for my first-year students.  Then I realized that the headlines and first paragraph, which summarize the story, might be all I need to use!  Maybe it's obvious, but I hadn't really thought of it before.  Reading headlines (and summary paragraphs - the paragraph with the larger text that precedes most articles) seems like a great way to expose novice students to authentic news stories that would otherwise be too difficult to read.  Obviously we don't want to rely solely on this method, but it's another tool to add to the mix.

Before showing the articles, I introduced some of the vocabulary they would need.  Then we read the headlines and the summary paragraphs together.  Afterwards, I asked students to turn to their neighbor and summarize what they had just learned.  Then I asked a couple of yes-or-no basic comprehension questions to the students (Il y a record pour une température minimale en hiver en France ou aux États-Unis ?).

While I probably won't share these same two articles again next year with my students since they will be a little out of date, I'm going to keep looking for headlines for students to compare and contrast.  An improvement for next time might be to have the students read the headlines and summary paragraphs without me first (keeping it more student-centered and having them do more of the work on their own), then read it with them to reinforce pronunciation before moving onto the comparing and contrasting.

I took some of my ideas for using these articles from Martina Bex's wonderful blog post about using authentic resources with novice students.

Pronunciation Practice When the Teacher's Absent

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself home sick for three days in a row (I don't think I've ever been out that long...I hate to miss school!).  Desperate for the students to get pronunciation practice with their vocabulary, and without a French-speaking sub available, I was in a bit of a rut.  The only piece of technology that the sub would be authorized to use would be a CD player.  I didn't have a CD available with the vocabulary on it, so I decided to make one.  My voice was in no shape to record the words, so I enlisted the help of Quizlet, Soundflower, and Audacity.

Audacity is a tool that allows you to record and manage audio.  In conjunction with Soundflower, a tool that helps you manage your audio input and output, you can stream and record audio playing on your Mac.  This site gives you step by step instructions on how to set it up.  If you use a Windows machine, I imagine there are similar set ups to stream through Audacity.

Quizlet, if you haven't heard, is a site that lets you make and review virtual flashcards.  My absolute favorite part of Quizlet is that you can hear the vocabulary words pronounced, even in French!  The voice that pronounces them is a little robotic, but it's still probably the quickest and easiest way to hear how a word is pronounced in French.  I made a set of all the weather terms I wanted my students to practice.  Then I streamed the audio of the pronunciation of each term and made an MP3 of it.  This was for a listen and repeat exercise.

For the next track on the CD, I kept the audio track of the terms, and added a techno music track (to add a track, go to File-->Import-->Audio and select the track on your computer).  To find techno music you can legally add to your file, check out CCMixter.  I then left instructions for students to walk in place, listening to the words then repeating them and doing established gestures for each term (for example, for "il fait froid," students pretend to be shivering).  Since we had done this before with me leading the class, they knew what to do.  Students were selected to stand at the front and lead the class.  This is an activity that I previously blogged about last fall.

Overall, students said they enjoyed the activity.  It's definitely a little silly (which can be a good thing), so it works best in a class of students with lower affective filters who aren't afraid to get into it.

Do you have a go-to activity you leave with a non-French-speaking sub?  Leave a comment!

Taking Photos in Your Classroom

Most teachers take photos in their classroom at some point.  As photography is a major hobby of mine (I also blog about it), I tend to find myself photographing in my classroom quite often.  It's a seemingly simple enough idea, but there's actually a lot of things to consider if you want to do it well.  Here is a guide I made up of things to keep in mind when taking photographs in your classroom.  This is somewhat of a followup post to my post about blogging in the classroom, where I touched upon some of these topics.

Choosing the Right Camera
In reality, any camera will do for classroom photography, but being a photographer, I like to use a camera that produces high quality images.  At school, I currently use a Samsung NX100 (without the kit lens) with 30mm lens.  This is a camera I carry around with me when I don't want to lug around my professional gear, so I didn't buy it especially to use at school, but it comes in very handy.  The camera's an older (and thus cheaper) model, and I got a good deal for the two on eBay.  This combo allows me to isolate subjects from their background with a pleasing background blur (also known as bokeh) but the downside is, it's a fixed focal length lens, so it doesn't zoom in or out, and the camera doesn't have a flash.  I haven't found either of those things to be much of a problem. There's no need to carry a bulky digital SLR around. These days, there are plenty of smaller cameras that produce high quality images.

Getting Permissions from Parents
If you're planning to photograph students and then publish or share those photos, you really need to get permission from parents.  In this day and age, most parents are fine with having their child's photo posted on the blog, but there are some who are not, and they have the right to decline permission.  Some students are also camera shy.  If they don't want their photo on the blog, they don't have to get the permission slip signed.  I send home a slip at the beginning of the year which explains to blog to the parents.  This gets the parents informed about the blog, so they can go check it out.  The permission slip also states that the child can be photographed by any local media that come into the classroom.  That way, if your local newspaper or even TV station comes to cover an event in your class, you're all set.

Photographing the Students There are a few ways you can make your photos of students better:
  • When photographing various activities, it's nice to get a variety of whole-class and single-student shots.  Sometimes we get so caught up in taking pictures of small groups of students, we forget to get the whole class in motion.
  • Don't forget to get some shots where students' faces are obscured (perhaps with heads down working).  This may sound odd, but you can post these on the blog if you don't have enough photos of students with permissions.
  • Get a shot of the entire class at some point.  Although you may not be able to post it on the blog, it makes a great memento and it's great to show to just the students at the end of the year.
  • Don't forget videos too!  This is something I forget a lot myself.  Almost all digital cameras today are able to record video, and video can capture activities in a way photos can't.

Photographing the Classroom - While I don't post these pictures on the blog, they are great mementos.  I also use them when I'm planning to "redecorate" the classroom.  I take an image into Photoshop and sketch where things will go.

Quick & Easy Touch Ups
When I'm taking photos in the classroom, I'm usually not editing them afterwards, but sometimes I have to.  Most photo editing programs (even Microsoft Paint) will allow you to crop your photo (for instance, if you need to crop out a student without a permission slip).  Anything beyond that, you'll need something a little more advanced.  Photoshop.com is a free, web-based version (albeit just the basics) of Adobe Photoshop.  If a photo comes out too dark or too bright, you can fix that here.

Sharing Photos:

Put Them on Your Blog - This is a pretty obvious place to share photos.  Blogging platforms like Blogger make it easy for you to upload photos to your blog, even if you're not HTML savvy.

Put Them in a Portfolio - Photos are a great piece of evidence to show to an administrator or supervisor before an observation.  Since he or she can't possibly see everything that's going on in your classroom, photos help fill in the blanks.  If you have a teaching portfolio, photos make a great addition.

Share Them with Students - At the end of the school year I make a slideshow using Animoto with photos and video clips of my students from the year to show them how far they've come.  The program costs a little extra to make a clip longer than 30 seconds, and even more to get an HD version, but I find it well worth the money.  Even for someone like me, who is proficient in iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, it is just so easy to use and professional looking.  The money you spend on it is well worth the time you'll save making it yourself, and it will undoubtedly look better here.  You do give up a certain amount of creative control, but I haven't found that to be a problem with what I use it for.

Local Media - Don't forget to promote your program!  Send your photos of interesting events in your classroom to your district public relations person or to local newspapers, so people can see why learning a foreign language is important.

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