6 Reasons I Love September as a French Teacher

With la rentrée right around the corner (or already past for some of you), it's time to think about those all important first weeks of school.  I think teachers are somewhat divided on how they feel about September.  I've heard some teachers say that they like it, but I've also heard many say they enjoy it more once they are in the swing of things.  I happen to love September, so in this post I'm going to share 10 reasons why.

1.  Refreshed and recharged!
With two months out of the classroom and focusing on other endeavors, I come back in September ready to go.  No matter how much we love teaching, it's hard to deny that we definitely have the most energy in September as opposed to May or June.

2. Starting their journey
Being a teacher of first year French students, September is a time when I get to watch them embark on their journey to language acquisition.  I love the activities we do to get acquainted with the language, the culture, its importance in the world, and what it means to be a language student.  It's an exciting time, and I can see the enthusiasm in the students' faces.  Read more about my rentrée activities here and here.

3. New year, new rules
September is a great time to tweak rules and policies.  If you have a policy from previous years that you're ready to throw out or change, it's a great feeling when September rolls around!

4.  September behavior
I don't have a lot of behavior issues in my classes, but even still, we all know that students are on their very best behavior on the first day of school.  Overall, I'd say the behavior is best for the first week or two before some students may start to try to challenge the teacher to see how strict he or she is.  What's not to like about September behavior?

5.  The Walk Through
Every year my school has a walk through for students to come to school and find their classes the week before school starts.  I absolutely love this event, as I get a chance to interact with students one on one before the first day of class.  It helps them out on the first day because they've met some of their teachers already, and it helps me out because I recognize some of their faces.  It's also an opportunity to meet parents, many of whom accompany their children to the walk through.

6.  Open House
I love open house.  It's a golden opportunity to connect with parents.  A lot of students are a little overwhelmed the first couple weeks of school with all the French spoken, but they quickly adjust.  At open house, I explain why we speak so much French and offer some information as to what French will look like for them this year and beyond.  They get to see their child's first project, a mind map presentation of himself, hung on the wall.  I have a sign up sheet for parents who would like to volunteer in the classroom for cultural (i.e. food) experiences.  A lot of the positive relationships I've had with parents stemmed from meeting them at open house.

Why do you love September?

#Authres August: My Recent Finds

Since the #Authres August initiative was shared by Sara-Elizabeth of Musicuentos, tons of language teacher bloggers have been sharing their resources.  As my addition, here are a few authentic resources I've found recently:

Infographic - 25 chiffres sur Rio de Janeiro et les JO 2016
Infographic - Les français et la pause déjeuner
Infographic - Les Français et les animaux domestiques (via Recipe4Rigor)

Infographic - Les Français et les animaux domestiques (via Recipe4Rigor)

Food & Meal-Taking
Infographic - Les français et la pause déjeuner

Document - Guide des familles - rentrée 2016/2017 - Collège La Salle - Saint Laurent (pp. 3-5 have lots of schedules and dates)
Website - Bien préparer la rentrée 2016 - Official site of French government with information about all school levels (useful for all sorts of topics)

Family /Animals / Description

Monsieur Sacha Playlist on Disney Channel FR:


10 Trucs À Faire Quand On S'ennuie (via Madame's Musings)

For more #authres, read my other posts on the topic.

What's in a Name? The Role of Names in French Class

Language teachers are divided about whether or not it is appropriate to assign students target language names.  On the pro side, some teachers feel that it helps teach pronunciation and give students an identity in the target language.  On the con side, others feel that it's not authentic, since students won't actually be addressed by a different name when they go to a target language country.  While I think both sides have valid arguments, I'm personally on the pro side.  In this post I'll share a little bit about the role names play in my classroom.

The Purpose of a Target Language Name
Assigning target language names is a long standing tradition in American foreign language classrooms, especially in the lower levels.  Since I teach 7th grade first-year students, many of them come into my classroom expecting to adopt a French name, and are very excited to do so.  The process of choosing a name and an identity for French class gives them ownership and motivates them for the year ahead.  Anything that motivates students is a winner in my book!  Many former language students fondly remember the name they went by in class.  I know I remember adopting the name "Simone" in French class, since "Samantha" doesn't have a French equivalent, and my mother says she went by "Chérie."  In Spanish class, I chose the name "Paloma," because I liked the way it sounded.  In any case, picking a target language name seems to create positive memories for students, and having positive memories about French class is what makes students want to continue their studies!

Preparing Names
Every year I've been teaching, I always create a list of names for students before the first day of school.  With anywhere from 135-175 students, this is not a quick task, but the linguist in me really enjoys doing it.  I get to know students' names, and it gets me excited for the year ahead.  For each name, I provide a French equivalent or closest match.  If it's a less common name, I consult Wikipedia or a French baby names site to find the match.  Again, I'm a bit of a perfectionist in this regard, and really try to find an equivalent if there is one or the closest match if I can't.

It's important for students to understand that not all names will have a French equivalent.  If their name does, I put a "=" between their name and the French name.  If I had to give the closest match, the student will see a "≈" between their name and the French name.  I separate girls' and boys' names to make it easier for students to find their name.  The beginning of a girls' names list might looks something like this:

Alexandra = Alexandrine
Amanda = Amandine
Amber ≈ Amélie
Anna = Anne
Catherine = Catherine
Caroline = Caroline
Carly ≈ Caroline

At the end of the two lists, I also add a few other popular names for boys and girls that hadn't already made it onto the list, especially hyphenated names like Jean-Baptiste or Marie-Claire.

Introducing Oneself

I don't have students pick names on the first day of school.  There's too much else to take care of during the first week, plus, I need to learn their given names before I can start to learn their French names!  On the first day of school, students learn how to introduce themselves.  They get a piece of yardstick and make a name tag with their given name.  They keep these out on their desks until I have learned their names.

Pronunciation & Choosing a Name
One of the things I like about choosing a French name is that it introduces students to French phonetics and spelling conventions.  After giving this pronunciation lesson, I give students the list of names and let them practice pronouncing them with a partner.  If they need help, they raise their hand and I assist them.  While each student is given a French name that matches their given name, they can choose whatever name they like.  Since most students choose the name I picked for them, it's not that hard to learn them all.  For the students that choose a different name, many of them take great pride in getting to choose their name.  Once the students have picked a name, they write "Je m'appelle" and their new name on the back of the name tag that they made on the first day of school.

Getting to Know You
To help students learn each others' French names, an activity I do after teaching "Il s'appelle" and "Elle s'appelle" is to have students get in groups and try to memorize each others' names.  One student says "Je m'appelle [name]."  The next student says "Je m'appelle [name], Il/Elle s'appelle [name of the person next to them]," and so on.  If they finish quickly, they can repeat the activity, but this time each person adds a funny gesture after their name to spice things up.

Writing Names
When students write their name on their papers, I teach them to write it the French way, LASTNAME Firstname.  It's a way to incorporate culture into our routines.  I first mentioned this idea in this prior post.

Tips for Starting a French Club

For the past four years, I have been the advisor to our school's French Club.  Before starting the club, I met with veteran French teacher Susan Frost of Lake George, NY, to get some ideas.  This post is comprised of both my own ideas and those of Susan's that I've had success using.

Before getting into some of the things I've done with the club, I want to outline some of the decisions that need to be made before you can start a club:

The Focus of the Club - This may seem fairly obvious, but the focus of a French Club can take many forms.  Will this be an immersion club where only French is spoken?  Will the goal be to learn more French or will it be focused more on culture?  Will you have many different activities or just one or two ongoing activities?  I made the decision to focus primarily on culture and secondarily on language, since I find this to be a nice supplement to what we do in class.  By not insisting on French being spoken all the time, students with little to no background in French can still come and enjoy our activities.

Who Can Join the Club - My building has students in grades 6-8, but only students in grades 7 & 8 take a language.  I made the decision to allow all students, regardless of grade or enrollment status in French, to attend French Club.  My rationale for this is that one need not be enrolled in French to learn about it and to broaden one's horizons.  Even students studying Spanish sometimes attend meetings, because they are interested in what we are learning about.  This does mean, though, that some students will attend the club for 3 years, so I make an effort not to do exactly the same activities every year (although anything involving food is a slam dunk and students are happy to repeat it).

How Often The Club Will Meet - Many after school clubs meet once a week, but after meeting with Susan and talking to other French Club advisors, I realized that once a month is a more appropriate frequency for a club of this nature.  Each month, there is a different focus, and students are informed ahead of time of what the meeting will be about so that they can decide if they want to come or not.  If we are doing an extended project, then we will meet more frequently to work on that as needed (see below for what some of those projects are).

How You Will Inform Students About Meetings  - I try to meet the same week of each month, but with field trips, long weekends, and vacations, that doesn't always happen.  Both I and the other French teacher inform our students ahead of time of each meeting, but since the club is open to all students, I also have an announcement made the day before and the day of on the morning announcements.  I also post about it on Edmodo.  One way or another, you'll want to make sure your students are well aware of any meetings to they don't miss out if they want to attend!

Projects & Activities

The first meeting -  I like to use the first meeting to introduce students to the club.  Although 6th graders are invited to attend along with the older students, a majority of the members begin attending in 7th grade as French students.  I tell them what we've done in years past, and then ask students to provide ideas for the coming year.  Some of our greatest projects were ideas from students.  I invite students to bring French/francophone food to the meeting that's easy to share, since refreshments always draw a larger crowd.  Above are mini croque-monsieurs that a student brought in to share.  They are divided into traditional and vegetarian, and they're even gluten free!  Students always come up with the neatest things.  I never would have thought of this!  If there's any time left at the end of the meeting, I have a little Kahoot game that we play with trivia about the French-speaking world (questions cover topics such as which countries and organizations use French or which teachers' last names are French).

Impressionist Art Project - On two separate occasions, the French Club teamed up with the Art Club to recreate an Impressionist painting.  One year we did Seurat's Eiffel Tower, and another year we did Van Gogh's Starry Night.  Students recreated a portion of the painting on a small square, and the squares were then put together to make a mural.  A project like this takes a few meetings to accomplish, but the nature of it is such that students can attend any or all of those meetings in order to collaborate on the project.  I admit, I was mostly here for "moral support" and bus pass writing during these meetings, as I'm not much of a painter.  The two art teachers I worked with were the genius behind the project!

To learn more about how I incorporate Impressionism into my classroom, click here.

Cards for hospital patients - Thanks to Susan for this wonderful idea.  Every year I have a meeting where students write cards for patients in the Montreal Children's Hospital.  They are not personalized towards anyone in particular, but they all contain various well wishes in French.

Fundraiser - A few years ago we did a fundraiser to benefit the children of Haiti.  Students sat outside the cafeteria during lunch periods collecting donations.  Anyone who donated got a sticker.  They also asked friends and family at home to contribute.  In the end, we donated the funds to the UNICEF Haiti Fund.

Mini bûches de Noël - Another great idea from Susan Frost.  Although it would be great to make a seasonal dish such as a bûche de Noël, the time available after school is too limited to take on a project like that.  Enter the mini bûche de Noël!  It may not be as authentic, but it introduces students to the dish nonetheless.  First, we look at photos of bûches de Noël, since they can look so different.  Then, we watch a video showing one being rolled.  Finally, students make their own mini bûches de Noël using Swiss rolls, frosting, a fork to make the bark texture, and little holly decorations.  In class, students can bring in real bûches de Noël, along with other dishes, the day before December break.

Donate a dish - One year a student suggested we make a francophone dish and donate it to the local soup kitchen. We made a Moroccan couscous salad.  Local grocery stores donated some of the ingredients.

Valentine's Day Hearts - This idea was adapted from a post I saw on the wonderful French Teachers in the US Facebook group.  The other French teacher and I pre-cut hearts for students to write friendly messages on in French (Joyeuse St-Valentin, Tu es magnifique/fantastique, etc.) during French Club.  They then hung them on the lockers around the school.  An announcement was made for students to see a French student to find out what the message meant (which was the wonderful idea of the poster on Facebook).  One caveat for this is that it is incredibly time consuming if you have a large school.  My school has around 1600 students, and this task ending up taking quite a bit longer than expected.  Luckily between the French teacher and I and a number of French Club students who were willing to put in some extra time to get them all up before Valentine's Day, we accomplished the task.

Cheese tasting - The tried-and-true cheese tasting event is always a winner, and we repeat it every year.  I give students a list of French cheeses that are easy to find, and students can sign up to bring some in.  Before we eat the cheese, we watch a quick introductory video.

Collaborate Across Schools - This past year, middle school French Club students had an opportunity to Participate in World Cultural Night at the high school.  At this event, high school students studying language at the upper levels present something cultural - be it food, a game, a performance, etc.  The public is invited to attend.  The French Club students split into two groups and presented on cheese (something they learned about at one of our meetings as well as in class), and French film titles.  The cheese group gave out the survey above for visitors to take home to remember which cheeses they liked.  The French film group made a Kahoot game based on the films on the poster below (the flaps lift up to reveal the title in French).  As visitors pass by, they can play the game (2-4 people at a time).  The winner got a cream puff.  This was a great way for these students to get to participate in a high school environment and see what awaits them down the road.  It's always great to collaborate across levels!

Elementary Teachers - For the past two years, French Club students have gone into elementary classrooms to teach mini lessons to the students.  French Club students who participated in the project came in after school on a number of different occasions to prepare lessons and create visuals and examples. Students practiced the lessons on each other, and we discussed some scaffolding and classroom management techniques. For the first two lessons, my colleague and I developed the agenda, but for the third and final lesson, the students gave their input.  The project has been one of the most rewarding I have ever done with students.  You can read about it in detail in this post.

Sidewalk chalk - For National French Week this past year, students in French club drew flags of French speaking countries with sidewalk chalk on the front entryway to the school. I got the idea from a teacher at a NYSAFLT Conference who said she took her elementary students outside with sidewalk chalk. Well, middle schoolers like sidewalk chalk too!  You can read more about my National French Week activities in this post.

I hope you find these ideas helpful if you're planning to start up a French Club this year. What are some of your favorite French Club activities?

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