Developing Students' Presentational Skills and Digital Citizenship in a Culminating Project

Image by Sasa 383000 via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of each school year, I always do a culminating project that focuses on French-speaking countries or people.  Each year, I've done a different project, but this year I did one that I think I'll be repeating.

The objective of the project is for students to describe some facts about a francophone country while demonstrating their presentational skills and digital citizenship.  This was met by students working in groups to create a short (approximately 30 seconds to a minute) video commercial advertising a francophone country or territory.  Although students took the time to learn about their country through provided resources (in English), this is not a research project.  I see it as an introduction to various francophone countries, as I take as many opportunities as possible during the year to show students how varied the francophone world and its people are.

After a colleague in my department told me about a project he did working with the school media specialist in our school's TV studio, I decided to try the same.  Jamie, our school media specialist, was very excited about the project and worked with the students and I to make the videos.  Once the project was completed, the best commercials (as chosen by me) were posted on the class blog, and the 8th grade French students selected a winner to receive a special prize.

Before working in the TV studio, students watched advertisements for several francophone countries (see below):

After watching the videos and showing them an example of what I was looking for, I put students in groups of 4 or 5 and each group picked a country to advertise.  Ideally, this project could be done in groups of 2 or 3, but due to availability time constraints in the TV studio and adjoining computer lab, I needed to make the groups a little bit larger.  The upshot of this is that students can take on a role in the group that they feel most comfortable in.  Two students actually appear in the commercial, one student does an off-camera voice, and the remaining student or students are technicians who help with advancing the background photos and the cue cards.  All students are involved in the writing of the commercial.  Some students love to be on camera, while others absolutely hate it.  I see no reason to force students to appear in front a camera as long as they are contributing to the group in other ways.

The first two days that students were in groups, they determined who would take on the different roles, learned about their country through provided books from the school library and online printouts, and then wrote a script.  With an upper level class, the content of the commercial could be largely left up to the students, but with my first-year learners, I felt it necessary to provide guidance in the form of an outline of what to say and some key vocabulary expressions.

It is here that I will point out that my first couple years of teaching, I was so focused on incorporating certain grammatical aspects or vocabulary items into the project that it was not as authentic as it could have been.  In more recent years, I have favored an approach that focuses on making the task more authentic and letting the vocabulary and grammar flow out of it naturally (keeping it level-appropriate).

Here is the handout I gave to students showing the outline and the key vocabulary (only vocabulary they haven't already learned is provided) along with the rubric (click them to view them full size):

After reflecting a little bit on the rubric, I will add a category for digital citizenship next year, where students earn or lose points based on if their sources are cited correctly.

After learning about their country and creating a script, students had one day to use laptops in their group to select background music, create cue cards (students were expected to memorize the script as best they could, but the cue cards were nice to have as a backup), and choose background photos to be projected behind them via the green screen.  One day was extremely tight, but luckily the groups that didn't finish had time to work on it the following day while some groups were recording their commercials.  Students found background music on Soundzabound, which our school district subscribes to.  If you don't have access to Sounzabound, there are plenty of sites to find Creative Commons music that is free and legal for students to use.  A few examples are BeatPick (not all music is free, but you can filter your search), CC Mixter, and Jamendo (again, not all music is free here).  While one student was doing that, another one was typing up the script as cue cards on a PowerPoint, and another couple students were finding photos.

The photos were an important part of this project.  For one thing, while looking through photos of their country, students are learning more about the culture and people of that country.  Secondly, the photos help make each project unique and original.  Most importantly, however, in finding a crediting the photos, students are learning about copyright laws.  Before setting students loose to pick out photos, I explained briefly that most images you find on the internet are copyrighted and cannot legally be used in presentations.  I explained that some photographers apply a Creative Commons license to their photos, allowing them to be used under certain conditions.  I had the students find the photos on Wikimedia Commons.  Students had to verify that each image either had a Creative Commons license or was in the public domain (information that is provided with each image), as well as cite the author on a credits slide.  While this is a concept that is taught and reinforced in computer literacy classes, I felt it was worthwhile to reinforce it in this project as well, since the opportunity presented itself.  Unfortunately, intellectual property law is something that even many adults don't understand (or choose to ignore).  As a photographer, this is a topic that is especially important to me.

Once all the preparation was done, students got the chance (most for the first time) to see how the school's TV studio works.  While groups were in the studio recording (supervised and directed by Jamie, the school media specialist), the rest of the students were in the adjoining computer lab either preparing, or if they were done, working on other assignments I had for them.  When students were done, they could either electronically submit a tip for success for next year's students, work on an upcoming assignment, or complete an extra credit assignment electronically in which they answer questions about the country they worked on for the project.

I was really impressed with the students' work.  I thought the commercials flowed nicely and the pronunciation was good, especially considering that some of the cities and towns in these countries were difficult for English speakers to pronounce.

Ultimately, of the finalists in the video above that I posted to the class blog, the first one for French Polynesia won.  What set them apart was the leis they brought in to wear, their movement, and the fact that they were able to speak so well while doing the movement!

After we all watched the videos in class, I solicited ideas from the students as to how the project could be improved next year.  They had some terrific ideas:

  • Make a longer commercial (They want MORE work?  Cool!)
  • Have one person do the voiceover from off-camera and have the students on camera acting out the actions and pointing
  • Include a fun fact
  • Have cooler effects and transitions
  • Cut before showing the credits
  • Show a short video at the beginning
  • Have an introductory slide with the slogan on it
  • Allow more time to prepare with laptops
  • Require costumes and props
  • Give students more countries to choose from
  • Allow student to use clip art
What I gathered from the students' suggestions was that they really enjoyed the project, and in fact they would have liked more time to work on it to make it even longer and more thorough.  I can't complain there!

While we used the equipment available to us in our school's TV studio, this project is easily adaptable to whatever type of technology you have handy - Apple's photo booth is a great substitute for a green screen, and I'm sure there are plenty of iPad apps that would lend themselves to this type of project.  You could even just have your students stand in front of the SMART Board or projector.

Tying into the Standards
Not only did this project allow students to meet my objectives, but it also aligned nicely with several Common Core State Standards and ACTFL standards, as outlined below.

Common Core Standards:

  • SL1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively
  • SL5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations
  • W8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism

ACTFL Standards:
  • Connections: Reinforce Other Disciplines (Standard 3.1): Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of content across disciplines.
  • Presentational Communication (Standard 1.3): Present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.

All in all, I think this project was a success.  Having the students use the TV studio and conscientiously obtain and credit images for the presentation added value beyond just the language and culture.  I look forward to doing it again.  Have you done a similar project or do you plan to do this in your class this year?  I'd love to hear how you might have changed it (I won't be hurt!).  Whether it's from students or other teachers, the more suggestions I get, the better the project will be in the future!

Hollywood à Paris: My 10 Favorite American Movies Set in the City of Lights

Earlier this month I shared Summer Reading for French Teachers. Well, the summer's not over yet, and now I'd like to share with you some of my favorite Hollywood movies set in Paris.  Why American movies and not French ones?  Well for one, so many other blogs share information on the latest French movies that I feel I could hardly contribute anything further, and for another, I consider myself somewhat of an aficionado on old Hollywood films from the 1940s-1960s, many of which I feature on this list.  Some of these films merely have Paris as a backdrop, while others feature it almost as a leading character.  Hundreds of movies have been set in Paris, but these happen to be my 10 favorites.

Funny Face (1957) - Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, and Kay Thompson star in this light-hearted romance about a bookstore clerk turned model who falls for a fashion photographer.  There's music, costumes, dancing, and of course Paris!  What's not to love?

The Aristocats (1970) - Although not considered one of Disney's classics in the way that Snow White or Pinocchio are, this movie deserves a fair chance.  The story about a romance between an elite upper crust feline and an alley cat is adorable in and of itself, and the music and artwork just adds to its charm.  Maurice Chevalier singing the title song adds some authenticity to this Paris-set flick.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) - This is another Disney movie that doesn't get as much attention as some of the others. While this movie never claims to be a faithful interpretation of Hugo's novel, Disney artists go to great lengths to research the architecture and clothing of the time. You'll enjoy watching this tale unfold as you take in the Disney artists' rendering of Paris during the 15th century.

Forget Paris (1995) - Despite it being named in the title, the city doesn't play a huge role in this romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal and Debra Winger about the ups and downs of marriage, but it's still nice to have it make an appearance, n'est-ce pas?

French Kiss (1995) - While a number of scenes in this movie starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline take place in la ville lumière, the viewer also gets to travel with the characters to the south of France as well, all the while the locations playing a key part in the story. I first saw this movie (dubbed in French) in French class, and it has since become one of my favorite movies.

Gigi (1958) - While the plot of this movie is often described as "Eliza Doolittle in Paris," what really makes this Best Picture Academy Award winning film stand out is its visual and musical appeal. The colors, the costumes, and songs are a real treat for the eyes and ears. Some of the film was actually shot on location in Paris, which was a fairly new practice at the time, but one we almost expect today if a movie is to take place in a well-known locale. French actors Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, and Maurice Chevalier star in this masterpiece.

Hugo (2012) - Martin Scorsese's adaptation of the children's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret about a boy who lives in a train station is surprisingly quite enjoyable for adults as well. What I liked best about the story was the incorporation of real-life early French film pioneer Georges Méliès, who is credited with developing a number of special effects still used in films today. While Méliès' role in Hugo is purely fictional, it is based on real circumstances in his life and adds more historical context to the story. The visual effects are also quite impressive.

Midnight in Paris (2011) - The concept of this movie sounds almost ridiculous - a man (Owen Wilson) on vacation with his wife (Rachel McAdams) in Paris is transported back to the 1920s every night and has the opportunity to chat with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dalií, Picasso, and others. Once you get to know Wilson's character, though, you'll enjoy watching him as he lives out this fantasy, and you'll be anxious to see how it ends.

Charade (1963) - Often called "The best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made," this suspenseful mystery starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time wondering who is indeed the bad guy. Oh yeah, and almost all of the action unfolds in…where else?

An American in Paris (1951) - This movie shares a lot of the same talent with Gigi - both are MGM musicals set in Paris and produced by Arthur Freed, directed by Vincente Minnelli, and starring Leslie Caron as the female lead. Their similarities, however, end there. Legendary dancer Gene Kelly plays the likable Jerry Mulligan opposite Caron's Lise Bouvier in this upbeat display of song, dance, and romance. I'm partial to the many Gershwin standards used in this film - "S'Wonderful," "I've Got Rhythm," and "Our Love is Here to Stay" are just a few. If you'd like to hear Gene Kelly attempt (and yes, I mean attempt) to sing "I've Got Rhythm" in French to a group of school children, then look no further. What many would say is the crowning jewel, the American in Paris Ballet, comes at the end of the picture when Gene Kelly channels the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec and other French artists in this magnificent production of music, dancing, scenery, and costumes.

Did you favorite movie make the list?  What's one you would have included that's not on here?

Guest Post: We'll Always Have Paris

In this guest post, Sybil Sage shares how she brought a taste of Paris into her New York home, and discovered an art form in the process.

It isn't Hermès scarves or miniature Eiffel Towers that call out, "Take me home" when we're wandering around Paris. That's too bad as they're easier to schlep back to New York than the Quimper pottery, Provencal tablecloths, café signs, escargot plates, ceramic Calvados set and other vintage brocante I've squeezed into a suitcase, forced to leave behind jackets and sneakers to make room for my purchases. Bringing back memories of Paris and giving our Greenwich Village apartment the ambiance of a French bistro involves sacrifices.

My husband (Martin in New York, Mar-taan in Paris) and I have adorned our walls with posters -- advertising Ricard, Pastis as well as products I've never heard of -- and stocked up on Sancerre, Lillet and cornichons. In Rome, we're fine to do as the Romans do, but in New York, we do what the French do, starting meals with an apéritif and serving salad after the main course, often accompanied by a cheese tray and baguette.

"Do you wish we lived in Paris?" Martin has asked me. My attempts to learn the language have made that impossible. The way I function in France could be called assisted living. I'm able to shop and order in a restaurant, but for everything else, I depend on Martin, who can direct a taxi driver to a particular street, knows how many meters make up a yard and is able to negotiate with a plumber. Even before I ask, "Où sont les toilettes?" with a distinct New York accent, I have never been mistaken as French. I'm comfortable visiting Paris, but living there would be impossible.

My efforts to emulate the French lifestyle could be seen as an affectation except that my personal style - or lack thereof -- puts me above suspicion. I do not have the joie de vivre or attitude of a French woman. In fact, I do something with a scarf that inspires doormen to point me to the building's service entrance. My fixation with France may account for my fascination with doing pique assiette, the French style of mosaic. It relies on breaking plates (the name supposedly translates to something like "stolen from the plate"). After seeing a picture of a chest of drawers totally covered in blue and white plate shards that was unaffordable, I took a class and learned how to use a nipper without cutting myself.

That started my covering everything that couldn't run from me with pique assiette, often breaking plates
with French writing and images to adorn vases, picture frames, planters, boxes, even our fireplace. For someone nostalgic about the tip trays presented at bistros back when francs were the currency, I broke one and made it the centerpiece of a vase. Perhaps concerned that my passion was bordering on obsessive, a friend said, "Why don't you turn this into a business and sell the beautiful things you make?" I hired a designer to create a website,, a name I can remember. A French cousin felt I should have a Facebook page and suggested I post it on compatible pages. I tirelessly put pictures on wedding-related pages of vases I'd designed that include photos of newlyweds and picture frames that would be a special way of displaying a wedding or baby photo, noting that these are ideal gifts for a wedding, new baby or any occasion.

I was surprised to get the equivalent of a Facebook speeding ticket, telling me I'd exceeded their limit, followed by an angry rebuke from someone who accused me of spamming. I apologized and explained that a relative had urged me to do this. "Whoever said that was wrong," was the response. I wrote back to say my French isn't good and maybe I'd misunderstood, which led to the person mellowing, our becoming Facebook friends and his passing along my page to others. I'm not sure that "offend, apologize and befriend," is a viable business plan so I'm now being respecting boundaries, inviting others to visit my site (

Pique assiette mosaic is a second career for Sybil Sage after a successful run as a comedy writer (for TV and magazines), marriage and mothering. You can visit her site and see more of her work at

Summer Reading for French Teachers and Francophiles

Now that summer's in full swing, it's time to sit back and relax with a nice book!  In this post, I'll share with you some of my favorite books that are relevant to French teachers.  Whether you're looking for ways to improve your teaching this year, looking for a good read at the beach, or just want to get lost in the beautiful imagery of Paris, it's all here.  Prefer to read on your iPad or Kindle?  Most of these books have a Kindle edition as well!

Books for Any Language Teacher

Foreign Language Teacher's Guide to Active Learning  by Deb Blaz - Although some parts of this book are a bit dated, it's still an invaluable resource for language teachers.  I read this book twice before I started teaching (once as required reading for my methods class and then once again the following year).  Even if you've been teaching awhile, you're bound to pick up a few (or more) ideas you can use in your classroom.

Activities, Games, and Assessment Strategies for the Foreign Language Classroom by Amy Buttner - If you're looking for ways to spice up your lessons and make learning more fun for the students, this is a great read.  The best part about this book is that most activities are presented with a number of variations, so you can adapt them to best suit your classroom.

Books for Any Teacher

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong - Many of you have probably already read this, but it's worth another look.  This is another book that I read twice before I started teaching.  Wong and Wong remind us of the most important parts of teaching.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn R. Jackson - The title of this book is very misleading.  Once you read the book you will understand it, but it's not what you think!  This book really helped me change the way I thought about many aspects of teaching. I especially like how Dr. Jackson discourages readers from trying to revamp all their teaching practices overnight, and instead offers suggestions on how to improve practices over time in order to avoid being overwhelmed.

Books for Any Francophile

All the Presidents' Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir by Roland Mesnier - Dr. Mesnier was the White House pastry chef during five presidencies.  What makes this charming memoir appealing to francophiles is that not only is Mesnier French, but he begins his story by sharing his youth in France.  If you love France and you love French food, it will be hard not to like this book.  I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mesnier at a book signing in Washington DC, and back in 2009, Dr. Mesnier was kind enough to give me an interview on this blog.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway - A must-read for anyone who loves Paris.  It's a classic, and it will make you want to get in a time machine and see Paris as it was when Hemingway lived there.

Dessine-moi un parisien by Olivier Magny - This book is available in English too, but you wouldn't dare!  This rather humorous take on the many interests of Parisians will help you retain your fluency in French as well as your sense of humor.  CAUTION:  This book does contain some adult language.  I do not recommend it for younger students.

Les Aventures de Tintin / Tintin et l'Ile Noire by Hergé - Why not make your way through a Tintin book?  You don't have to be a child to enjoy a band dessinée, especially not if it's in French!

The Champs-Elysées by Jean-Paul Caracalla - This coffee table book will take you down one of the most famous Avenues in the world.  Accompanied by text which reveals the rich history of the Avenue, photos from past and present depict the many people and events the Champs-Élysées have seen.

Quiet Corners of Paris by Jean-Christophe Napias - I love visiting the well-known landmarks of Paris, but sometimes it's fun to explore the lesser know areas.  This book will show you a bevy of parks and courtyards where you can escape city life for a bit.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter - Travel essays are a dime a dozen these days, but Baxter manages to make his unique by complementing present-day narrative with historical context.  Walk the same streets that the great writers of the early 20th century walked and let Baxter be your tour guide.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe - This is a heavier read, but it's a great way to familiarize yourself with the lives and work of the impressionists.  I introduce my first year students to several impressionist artists and their styles.  This book made me more knowledgeable on the subject.

Paris by Assouline - This 976 page pictorial volume will visually transport you to la Ville Lumière.  While not all the photos are top notch, you'll still enjoy perusing the pages, intertwined with famous quotes about the city.

On My List

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink - Colleen over at Language Sensei has recommended this as a great resource for teachers on how to instill the value of languages in our students.

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess - Lots of language teachers have been singing this book's praises!

Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France by Vivian Swift - I admit it; the artwork pulled me in!  This book's on my radar!

What's on YOUR summer reading list?

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