The Year in Review: My 2017 Highlights

As the year comes to an end, I'd like to share a few highlights from 2017.  Although I don't have a long list of new activities that I tried this year, I did have some great experiences that impacted my teaching (and students' learning).

Kahoot! Jumble

Early on in the year, I tried out Kahoot's new Jumble feature and blogged about it.  Jumble is perfect for activities where you need to put things in order.  Click here to read more about how I used Jumble.

PBL with ABCs

In March I attended I Project Based Learning workshop put on by the Buck Institute for Education.  I took an ABC book project that I had done in previous years and applied what I learned at the workshop to make a whole new project.  I then carried out the project, with the help of our instructional technologist.  Click here to read about the project and see the finished products!

NYSMSA Conference

In October, the New York State Middle School Association conference came to my school.  I was on the conference committee so I got to help with the planning of the conference.  My colleague Robin Murray and I also presented on Meaningful World Language Cultural Activities.  The conference was a great opportunity to meet other middle-level educators and share ideas.  Click here to read more about the presentation.

Guest Speakers

I had two guest speakers come talk to my students this year.  The first, in June, was Gilles, a student from Côte d'Ivoire, who shared about life in his country and what it was like coming to the United States.  The second guest speaker, in November, was Chloé, a student from France who has spent a lot of time in the United States.  She answered students' questions about her experiences studying abroad and what life is like in France.  Guest speakers are a wonderful opportunity to give students a fresh perspective.  Both of these guest speakers were coordinated through parents of students.  Ask students and their parents if they know someone who would be a good guest speaker!

Clark Art Institute

In December, my colleague Robin and I took a group of students to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, to view an exhibit on Impressionists and their drawings and prints.  This was my first time visiting the Clark in quite some time.  If you're a French teacher and live in the area, you should definitely consider taking your students here.  It's also a great form of professional development, because I learned some new things while I was on the tour!

Wishing you all the best in your teaching, your studies, or your pursuit of French in 2018!

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Meaningful World Language Cultural Activities

Today my colleague Robin Murray are giving a presentation at the New York State Middle School Association (NYSMSA) Conference called "Meaningful World Language Cultural Activities."  I have written this post as a supplement to the presentation, with further information on some of the activities described in the presentation, but you may still find it useful even if you didn't attend the conference.

Crêpe Event

The crêpe event is a tradition in my classroom.  We tie it in with Chandeleur, and students learn about the traditions tied to Chandeleur before they have a  crêpe.  Students order their crêpes in French (from fellow students playing the role of serveur), and after eating, try flipping a crêpe in a frying pan for good luck, a Chandeleur tradition.  I have invited local restaurateurs in to make the crêpes, and I have also used pre-made crêpes from Crepini.  Parent volunteers play a huge role in helping everything run smoothly.  Click here to read more about this activity!

Pen Pal Project

My students write letters to pen pals at a school in France.  Before they write, we look around at their town on Google Street View to see what it looks like.  Letters are written in both French and English and students are encouraged to include photos of their town and their interests.  Some students even send small gifts.  Click here to read more about this activity!

Making an Authentic Dish to Donate

One year our French Club made a Moroccan couscous salad to donate to the local soup kitchen.  Click here to read more about this and other French Club activities!

Making Mardi Gras Meaningful

There are a number of activities I do to introduce Mardi Gras and Carnaval to my students.  We learn about the timeline from la Fête des Rois to Mardi Gras, learn a song by a francophone band, look at pictures of Mardi Gras and Carnaval all over the world, eat authentic food from New Orleans and the Caribbean, and decorate masks.  Click here to read more about these activities!

Nous sommes Paris

Following the Paris attacks of November 2015, my colleague and I had our students create messages of hope for the people of Paris and France.  We then sent the messages to our pen pals in France via a video.  Click here to read more about this activity.

Google Maps as Photo Prompts

I make custom Google Maps using photos taken in the francophone world to make speaking prompts that also reinforce geography.  Click here to learn more about this activity and view sample maps!

Virtual Trip to Paris

A virtual trip to Paris using French websites is a great way to get students using their language in an authentic way.  This virtual trip reinforces time, day, and date.  Click here to read more about this activity!

Google Maps Scavenger Hunt

I love having students use Google Maps to go inside French restaurants and read menus.  I designed a scavenger hunt using the easiest to read menus I could find.  Click here to read more about this activity!

More activities

To find even more cultural activities for the world language classroom, explore my "authentic resources" label.

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Les couleurs

I like to embed colors into everyday instruction, but I also take a couple of days to work explicitly with them.  Here are some of my favorite activities.

Touchez un objet
Students have a lot of fun with this simple activity.  I announce to the class to touch an object in the classroom of a particular color.  This is great to do when you have a few minutes left over at the end of class.

Aujourd'hui le tableau est...
In the beginning of the year, I announce every day to the students what color the background of my SMART Board is.  Over time, I make them tell me what color it is each day.

Colorful Creations
I first blogged about this in one of my Beg Borrow or Steal posts.  Liz's Lessons has a great Pinterest Board featuring student work.  On it, she shared a drawing that a student made by writing the words of the colors they were using repeatedly.  I have my students complete this activity in groups, but you could also make this a homework assignment.

Color and Shape Bingo
Here's an activity I first blogged about in my post about French Club students becoming the teachers at an elementary schools. One of the activities the French Club students did was color and shape bingo.  In addition to a bingo board and chips, each student got a sheet with all the shapes, all the colors, and examples of colored shapes.  Most of the shapes are cognates, so the focus is put especially on the colors.

De quelle couleur est...
One easy way to review colors is to have students describe the colors of various cartoon characters.  I especially like to use the Muppets, since they are so colorful.

Les monstres coloriés
I first blogged about this in a post about incorporating Parts of the Body. This is an activity that I tried once and never repeated because it proved too difficult for the level of students I teach.  I think this would be a great activity for an intermediate class.  Have students draw a monster in various colors, then write a sentence describing the color of each body part.  It reinforces "est," "sont," and adjective/noun agreement.

What are some of your favorite activities to reinforce colors?

Designing the Perfect Planbook

My first couple of years teaching, I just used a generic planbook.  I became frustrated with the lack of space and lack of personalization, so I designed my own in Photoshop.  I use a view binder to hold everything, which is so much better than a traditional planbook because it has pockets inside for holding extra papers.

The first thing I always do every year is design a cover.  I always use a photo I've taken in a francophone country, and I add my name in a cool font.  I then print this out and stick it in the front of the view binder.  You don't need Photoshop skills to make a good cover.  Just find a photo from your travels or another image and print it out.  There are a number of really great mobile apps (I love Typic) that allow you to add fun fonts and graphics.  You're going to be looking at this binder a lot though, so I think making the cover look nice is important.

 I keep a big pad of paper in the pocket in the back.  This comes in handing when I'm assigning groups for projects or taking notes at a meeting.

While I used Photoshop to create the pages, you could easily create something similar in Word with some text boxes and lines.  If you like what I've done here, you can click on it to view it larger and print it out to use yourself!

 For those of you who don't speak French, the first line is for the day and date.  Underneath is a box for objectives, then the agenda.  On the right, a place to put the homework and check off the standards.  I have New York State standards and common core state standards.  Depending on where you live, you may use different standards.  The standards have been abbreviated for space reasons.  At the bottom is where I write notes, such as "great lesson" or "activity was too hard."

The perfect plan book is the one that suits your own needs.  Have you made your own plan book yet?  Are you planning to make one?

4 Things I'm Excited to Try Out This Year

Normally I blog about things I've already done, but in this post I'm going to share a few things I'm excited to try this year.  I'll let the folks who've already tried them do the explaining.

Goosechase:  This is a scavenger hunt app I first read about on El Mundo de Birch.  I think it sounds like a great review activity.

Emojis:  I love this post about ways to use emojis from Musings from the Island.  I can't wait to try out some of her ideas!

Triventy:  This is a collaborative quiz app I first read about on Maris Hawkins blog.  I love having students take charge of the learning so this seems like a great tool.

Google Scoot:  My colleague Susan Frost first directed me to this activity on Erin-tegration.  I love an excuse for students to get out of their seats, so this activity seems like a great blend of technology and kinetic learning.

What are you excited about trying out this year?

PBL with ABCs

Back in February, I had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop on Project-Based Learning given by the Buck Institute for Education.  Throughout the course of the three days, each participant planned, got feedback on, and revised a PBL project for their classroom.  I chose to expand on a project I already did because either I'm lazy or I actually liked the project and wanted to make it better instead of just starting from scratch.  Last year, my students made ABC books in groups of three.  They chose a verb for each letter and used some of the letters in a sentence.  While I liked the finished product, I felt that a lot of class time was spent creating illustrations for the book, and it was hard for students to accomplish all my directives in the given time frame (I ended up having to loosen the requirements).

At the workshop, we all described our projects on a huge piece of paper and everyone went around and offered feedback on sticky notes.  The notes started with "I like..." or "I wonder..."  Unfortunately, I only saved the "I Wonder..." notes, thinking those were more valuable.  Some of the suggestions people made:

-I wonder, could the books be shared with students in France?
-I wonder if having students do less (maybe 2 letters) would lead to a better product?
-I wonder if you could have students share these with elementary students?
-I wonder if a local bookstore could partner up for an evening of ABCs?

At some point during the feedback process, it was suggested to me that perhaps each class could do a book, instead of doing many books in groups (see above), and that is what we did.  So here is how the project played out:

I started by reading them all this wonderful ABC book, La vie de chaton, which is written in very simple French.  There is a verb for every letter of the alphabet.  It also tells the story of a cat family.  I did remove a couple of letters due to feeling the content might have been too "giggle-inducing" for American seventh graders.

PBL is all about driving questions and making students think critically.  After reading the book, I asked the students what made the book so good, and if they were to make a similar book, what qualities would they include.  Some of the things they said:

-A story line that's not too complex - implied
-Easy to understand
-Basic terms
-Good illustration that helps you understand words
-Entertaining - fun and exciting
-Appealing to kids
-Attention grabbing title

I told them they had to combine these qualities with my "must haves" (which started out more robust, but was eventually pared down to the following):

-A title page in French
-A verb for every letter of the alphabet (except W, X, and Y)
-A sentence for every verb
-A variety of pronouns used (not just “je” each time!)
-Illustrations for each, clearly depicting the meaning of both the pronoun and the verb

Together each class came up with a theme, characters and a basic storyline.  Then they broke out into groups and each took two letters to write and illustrate.  Our instructional technologist, who was at the PBL training as well, was in the classroom while the students were creating with technology.

I chose PowerPoint as the tool, since our district uses Microsoft Office 365, so the collaboration between students was supposed to be very easy.  The idea was that students would all have access to their class' PowerPoint, and groups would add their slides.  Unfortunately, due to a number of problems on Microsoft's end, we had to retool the mechanics of the project.  First, we switched from iPads to laptops for ease of use.  Secondly, students each created a PowerPoint file with their slides and shared them with me and the instructional technologist to be digitally compiled at the end.

Another important component of PBL is feedback and revision.  After groups finished their slides, they went to another group's laptop and left "I like"/"I wonder" comments similar to the ones we left for each other at the PBL workshop.

Fun fact:  The time stamps are definitely not accurate.  We do not have school at 5:00 in the morning!

After they were completely done writing their sentences, they made their illustrations either by hand, in Microsoft Paint, or on the iPad (which they then had to email to themselves to import to their PowerPoint).

After I compiled the ABC books, we went through them as a class and everyone had a chance to check the spelling and grammar for accuracy.  Then I published them to the blog.

A couple weeks later, students read their own ABC books as well as the other classes'.  They then left feedback for the other classes on their book.  Here are the books, as well as some of the feedback left on them:

"All the pictures fit well together with the theme."  "The sentences were really unique and well thought out."

"It was well constructed." "The plot was interesting!"

"It had a great storyline and it was very easy to follow."
"They used their French very well and they didn't just use simple sentences."

"I like how it actually took place in an area we know." "The French language was used well."

"The verbs were really good choices." "It kept us on our toes."

What I Liked About This Project
-Most students got really into it and took ownership of the story
-It was not an overwhelming amount of language for them to produce, but the finished product is still impressive
-Students seemed to enjoy the fact that it was a project for the whole class
-One student said it was his favorite thing we did all year!

How I Want to Expand This Project
-The "broader audience" piece is another major component of PBL, which contributes to the authenticity of the task.  I had intended for students to share these projects with younger students in the building, but due to extenuating circumstances, there was no time.  I plan to explore this idea again next year.  On the bright side, I did publish the projects to both my classroom blog and here, so there is the potential for an audience outside the classroom.
-Before we started experiencing the technical difficulties with Microsoft that greatly slowed down the digital collaboration piece, I had wanted students to break out into committees to take care of illustrations, voiceover, and companion worksheets.  If I can find a program that more efficiently facilitates digital collaboration, I think those extra components would make the project even more worthwhile.

Your Thoughts
Now it's your turn for "I like"/"I wonder"!  What did you like about this project and what do you wonder about that could be improved or expanded upon?

New YouTube Sensation: Google Translate Sings!

A colleague recently introduced me to a YouTube channel, called Google Translate Sings, run by Malinda Kathleen Reese.  Reese runs English language songs through various languages in Google Translate and then back into English again and then sings the results.  You can compare the original lyrics and the new lyrics on the screen as she sings.  While these videos don't have a huge educational value, it's worth a few minutes at the end of class to show one of these if you have the time.  I think they do a very humorous job of illustrating the limitations of this tool our students tend to rely a little too much on!  I told my students after we watched some of the videos to remember that every time they use Google Translate, this is how ridiculous they could sound!  Here are a few of my favorites:

Monsieur Sacha: Fun French Listening

I'd like to share with you a playlist from Disney Channel France's YouTube channel.  It's about a giraffe called Monsieur Sacha, and it's got a little something for everyone.  These short to medium length videos are great for listening activities.  "Une journée avec Monsieur Sacha" is great for reinforcing time and daily activities, "Monsieur Sacha est à nouveau papa" and "Tel père, tel fils" are great for reinforcing family and adjectives," and the longer videos are suitable for upper level students.

I'll confess I've only used one of the videos in my classroom so far ("Une journée avec Monsieur Sacha").  Here are some questions I asked students at the end:

À quelle heure est ....
1. Le petit-déjeuner ?
2. La balade ?
3. Le déjeuner (le buffet) ?

4. À quatorze heures, M. Sacha... (A, B, C)
5. À dix-neuf heures, M. Sacha... (A, B, C)

My questions here are really more about memorizing what they saw in the video than having to produce the vocabulary, but I liked having them listen to the vocabulary in an authentic context.

What might you do with these videos?

Three Fun Writing Activities

I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who has found that many students dislike writing. In this post, I will share three fun activities I use across multiple contexts to add some spice to writing practice.

Who Wrote It
Give students a sentence starter relating to their own interests or plans, such as "Ce week-end, je veux..." or "Cet été, je vais...," or simply "Je suis..."  Instruct students to write something that their classmates will associate with them.  Then gather all the responses and read them to the class (obviously you should make them aware that you are going to read them aloud before they write them), having students guess who wrote it.  I usually start by announcing "C'est une fille" or "C'est un garçon" to help them narrow it down.  The students absolutely love this activity!

Socrative Sentences
Using the "Quick Question" feature on the Socrative app, I give students a prompt.  They must write a unique and interesting sentence with the prompt.  They can ask me or a neighbor for help before they submit it.  I then go through and remove responses that contain lots of errors, don't follow directions, are duplicates of previous responses, or have English in them (I warn them ahead of time not to take it personally, and the names are hidden).  The students vote on their favorite of the remaining sentences.

Give students three photo prompts (one for the subject, one for the verb, and one extra for the rest of the sentence - or one for like or dislike, one for the verb, and one for the condition), and see how long a sentence they can write.

Les Parties du Corps

Parts of the body can be a difficult topic to make contextual.  With the right activities, though, it can be a lot of fun to teach and learn.  These are some of the activities I use year after year.

Although many of the body parts mentioned are bird-specific (les ailes, le bec, les pattes), I still like to teach this song because of its cultural significance.  I show the video below, which is a little goofy, and thus perfect for middle school.

Jacques a dit
There isn't a topic better suited to the French version of Simon Says than body parts.  When the terms are still new, I act them out as I say them, so the game doesn't rely as much on knowing the vocabulary.  Later on, I mix things up by touching the wrong body part (e.g. I say "Touchez la bouche" but I touch my foot) to test them.

Frankenstein Body Parts
I was first introduced to this idea by The Creative Language Class.  It's basically a fun twist on the traditional label-the-body-parts assignment.  Instead of taking a picture and labeling it, you make a creature from multiple sources.  The results can be fun and a little bit scary!

Igor le Gorille
This fun video reinforces some parts of the body vocabulary while introducing some new terms like "Peux-tu," "comme," and "bouge."

Before watching the video, I throw this Wordle up on the board to  go over the vocabulary.

Abstract Art
A colleague of mine gave me the idea for this hilarious activity.  A student comes up to the board, puts one hand over his eyes, and proceeds to draw various body parts that the class calls out in French, one by one.  The result is this extremely abstract version of a person that's sure to elicit a few laughs, especially from the person who drew it.

Dessinez un monstre
Another drawing activity, this time the teacher announces body parts for students to draw.  Since it's a monster, you can say things like "dessinez trois têtes" or "dessinez une bouche sur le cou" to make it more interesting.  Although everyone is following the same directions, the monsters all come out unique.  By the way, the two examples below are from two separate activities, hence the many differences.

Avec les ____, je peux...
Shortly after teaching parts of the body, I introduce likes and dislikes with various activities (ER verbs).  To reinforce both old and new vocabulary, I have students brainstorm what activities they can do with each of the body parts they have learned how to say in French.  Example:  Avec les yeux, je peux regarder la télé, étudier, jouer aux jeux vidéo, etc.

Logique ou pas logique ?

Building on the previous activity, I have two Smart Board spinners that have activities and parts of the body on them, respectively.  I spin each of them (or a student does), and we decide if the activity/body part combo is logical or illogical (e.g.:  chanter avec la bouche = logique, danser avec les oreilles = pas logique).

When I introduce vocabulary for making and responding to invitations, I spend a lot of time on excuses (i.e. "Je ne peux pas," "Je dois...," etc.).  This provides a great opportunity to revisit parts of the body by providing "J'ai mal à..." as a potential excuse.

Les monstres coloriés
This is an activity that I tried once and never repeated because it proved too difficult for the level of students I teach.  I think this would be a great activity for an intermediate class.  Have students draw a monster in various colors, then write a sentence describing the color of each body part.  It reinforces "est," "sont," and adjective/noun agreement.

Those are my favorite activities for teaching parts of the body.  What are yours?

Playing Kahoot! Jumble

If you've been playing Kahoot in your classroom, you may have heard of Kahoot Jumble.  Jumble is a take on Kahoot that is based on putting four terms in correct order.  Whether it's dates, times, digits, events, even words in a sentence, if you can think of four terms that your students would need to put in order, you can make a Jumble game.  I recently made my first one and played it with my students.  Since we were learning about time, day, and date, it was easy to come up with questions.  You can see a few below:

Click here to play the game.

When the question pops up, the four terms are displayed (out of order) on the board, as above.  On their devices, students have blocks of the four colors, and they drag and drop them into the order they feel is correct, then lock in their answer.  They must get them all right to get any points.  Just like in the classic version of Kahoot, the quicker the student answers, the more points they get (proved the answer is correct).  I urge students to take their time, though, and set the timer on most questions to 60 seconds to encourage more thoughtful responses.

After the answers have been locked in, the correct order is shown on the board, along with the percentage of students who got it right.

The general feedback from students is that they liked the game.  One fair word of caution, though:  the game is still quite buggy.  Classic Kahoot can be buggy at times, but Jumble is even more so.  Throughout the course of a game, it's not uncommon for 5 or 6 students to have their screen freeze up.  When this happens, they have to exit and reenter the game, forfeiting any previously earned points.  Understandably, this frustrates students, but giving them a heads up before the game starts helps to mitigate the frustration.  I tell the students that there is a certain element of luck in the game, as far as whether or not you'll freeze up.  In the meantime, hopefully the folks at Kahoot are working on the bugs, because Jumble is a very useful tool for the classroom.

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