Monday, 8 December 2014

The Angry Family videos

I know that I already did a post about my YouTube channel, but I wanted to talk about one channel that I subscribe to:  The Angry Family!

The Angry Family are a series of FSL videos that follow a group of bizarre characters as they learn to speak French.  There are a lot of the videos available on their YouTube channel, or on the website of the creators.

These videos were created by the Newcastle University in England, as part of the Linguacast project that provide multimedia resources for MFL programs.  The Angry Family is also available in Spanish and German, Japanese and Chinese.   The videos are designed for British schools, however, they are great for teachers who use the CEFR to guide their teaching practice.

Each of the videos covers a topic in FSL study, in an amusing way.  The videos also show the situations in which one would use the language.   The videos are categorized by grammar rules, vocabulary or phrases.  I like the phrases videos as a warm up question for my class.  We watch and then add the new question to our conversation time.  

The Angry Family (French) YouTube Channel

The first video is in English to introduce the students to the premise of the series.  The introductions of each of the characters is in French with each main character having their own video.  The vocabulary is simple, and the dialogue is slow enough for beginners to understand.

A couple of critique I have of the videos are the subtitles at the bottom in English and the English character's names.  I want my students to use their strategies instead of look at the translation.  I'm working on a quick way to cover the subtitles.  As for the character's names, we usually discuss what the character's names would be in French, which is sometimes really funny.  So its not a huge problem for me.  Other than those two things, I love these vids. 

You can get these video by adding their playlists to your own playlists on YouTube, or getting to them from the University site here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

My very useful YouTube channel

One thing that I use in my class (a lot) are videos.  I find its a good way of starting my class; it gets my students listening and thinking in French, and its fun.  I have been collecting the videos I show on my YouTube channel.  If you don't have a YouTube channel, I would strongly encourage you to start one!  They are great!  Any video that you find, and want to use later, you can save it and organize your collection of videos into playlists.  There is no limit to the number of playlists or videos you have on your channel, so just add them on.

To get a YouTube channel, all you need is a Google login.  If you have a Gmail account, you already have what you need to sign up.  Another plus is that any other channels that you subscribe to are in the side bar of your page.

For my video collection my vids are organized by subject or theme for FSL class. Every time I find a new video while I'm surfing online, or a colleague sends me a link to a great video, I throw it into my playlist (depending what its about.)

I also share my YouTube channel with my students.  Listening to French videos is great practice.  Some of the videos I show are really funny, so the students like to watch them again, or share them with their family.  I have a link to my YouTube channel on my class blog.

I love the ability to pull up a video to highlight a point, or introduce a new concept.  One of my student's commented that I seemed "to have a video for everything.  It's pretty cool." That endorsement works for me.

If you want to have a look at my playlists and videos, my YouTube channel can be found at here.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Kahoot, Part 2: Why I love Kahoot

Here is part 2 of my Kahoot mini-lesson.  I think this web-app has some great uses in the class for assessment of, for and as learning.  Here's how I use this game in FSL class.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Vlog: How to Kahoot! (Updated with a new idea)

Hi everyone!  Here's a short video that I recorded to show you how easy it is to make a and use Kahoot.

Kahoot is a great web-based program to enhance student leaning.  I have used it as an assessment tool, and as a review tool.  Students really enjoy the game aspect of the activity, and there are a number of tools that educators may find useful.  As an assessment tool: I have used Kahoot as an assessment of learning, and as assessment as learning.

Assessment of Learning:  Kahoot's quiz game is a great and interactive trivia-style question and answer game.  Students sign in, read the question and answer.  Because points are awarded, students don't readily share the answers (in my experience).  During the game, students get real time feedback about why their answer was right or wrong from you and other students.  After the game, Kahoot has an option to download the results of the game into an Excel spreadsheet.  The information included on the spreadsheet is the student's name, the number of questions they answered correctly, the number of questions they answered incorrectly, and each response for the questions.  This can be printed and saved in your gradebook.  As a class, we like to look at the results together and talk about why we answered the way we did.  A great tool for enforcing metacognitive strategies.

Assessment as Learning:  My students are working on a project in which they create their own Kahoot quizzes for the class.  Students must write and assess various questions for their quiz, they must demonstrate understanding by adding pictures or videos for each question, and then they must present the game to the class for them to play.  As a group, we assess the efficacy of their quiz as a study tool for our theme using a class-created criteria.  From the student generated questions, students practice the material repeatedly, but in different and interesting and engaging ways.  

In order to make Kahoot work in your class, each student needs access to a tech device that connects to the internet.  I teach intermediate, so many of my students have cell phones, so that's what we use.  I have played Kahoot in a computer lab as well, and it was effective.

My students love playing Kahoot.  I can't keep them in their seats.
I really love Kahoot for French class.  The students are engaged, and actively reading and discussing the questions in French.  I hope that you try it. Please tell me if you do!

How else could Kahoot be used in the FSL classroom?


UPDATE: One of my co-workers had a really great idea about using Kahoot for a listening comprehension quiz using video.  I thought the questions was great, so here it is with my response:

Hi Stephanie,

Thanks for posting this video. I've started using Plickers which is a similar quiz/survey type app. The students really enjoy it and it's been a fun way to do a quick assessment.

What I really like about Kahoot however is the feature of being able to include pictures or even video. From your video it seemed like you are able to display a video before the quiz begins. If that's possible, I'm thinking it could be perfect as an oral comprehension quiz. I can have the students watch a video and then answer a series of questions. Can you let me know if that's possible.

Thanks, DS

It is possible to do that... But. The video is obscured by the prep information for logging onto kahoot. So the students would really have to listen well. But the video plays over and over until you start the game, so students would get amp,e time to listen and sign on. The only other thing is that the video must be on youtube to add it to the game. So you would have to upload it there if you got it from somewhere else.

Within the game, you can add videos before questions as examples or supports, but, it is still in the early beta of testing, and can be slow, or the video can chunk in and out. I've used video in the game twice and once it was flawless, the other time it kicked some of my students out. The second time I may have used too many videos. So there are a few options to use it for listening comprehension. What I usually do is watch the video outside of Kahoot, and then add clips to support while students are playing. Hope this helps! I'm going to add this discussion onto my blog, because that was a great question! Thanks,

(**These opinions are my own, and Kahoot has not paid me to be their cheerleader.  I just really love their program!)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Bonne Idée on!

Do you have Twitter? I find Twitter is a great resource for FSL teacher collaboration. I think I should do a post about that. But for now, here are some headlines and tweets that I found and collected!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Do you Lino?

Just a quick post today on an online app that I have been using in class.  Lino is a virtual post-it board that students and teachers can add to from anywhere (provided there is wifi and a device handy.)  Teachers need to create an account for lino, but its free and can link to you google account.  (If you don't have a google account, get one!  Its free and so many apps and programs can link to it.  You don't need 609 names and passwords. )

Lino is a great tool for brainstorming, reflecting and anywhere you would use post it notes.  In the above pic, my classes were using it as a reflection tool and exit activity.  Since I discourage the use of English in class, students can post their exit ticket in English.  Students are encouraged to read other students posts for ideas/ inspiration or to help them create their own reflections.

Lino is great for Inquiry-based activities.  Students can create post-it notes on the information they find and post it to the board for others to see.  The board updates in real time, so students see what is being posted as it happens.  I like to assign colors for each class or group so that I can keep track of who posted what note.

Today we are going to use Lino as a vocabulary collection point for our review on adjectives.  Students will be able to add words and pictures to create a living list of adjectives that they can access.

What I really like about Lino is that I can post the boards to our class blog:

This is the blog zoomed out so that you can see the header and the board.  You can change the size of the Lino board by changing the size settings in your post.
Students then only have to access the class blog to post their notes.  You can embed the lino screen only any website, Lino provides the codes for you to do so.  You can also hotlink to your boards, so if you use Twitter or another messaging platform to communicate with you students, you can add the link there for students to access the Lino boards. Pro-tip: make sure that you set the publicity setting to public, otherwise it will not show the board.  Another pointer, if you are using a mobile device the board will prompt you to download the app, but it is not necessary.  Just click the small "close" x in the top right corner and to will take you right to the board.

Another plus to Lino, is that you do not have to download the app to use the program.  It is accessible through the website  As long as students have a browser on their device, they can add to Lino.  The Lino app makes it easier to add to boards, but for creating and editing, I like the online version better.  Its more user-friendly and easier to navigate.

A third positive for Lino is that it keeps all your boards together so that you can look at them later.

This is a handy little app to use in class or outside of class.  I found that some of my students were adding to the Lino boards outside of class time, which is a plus!

What are some ways that you could use Lino in your class?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

La rentrée: Sur mon iPhone

I was thinking of different activities I could use to get to know my students at my new school.  Instead of having them write a paragraph about them, I wanted something they could do a little more independently, and something that was creative.  After seeing a technology-themed bulletin board idea, I thought of this activity:

Students get a blank iPhone template, and they have to create icons of things that they like.  For my example, I drew a "creeper" from Minecraft and labelled it "les jeux vidéo." The students had to draw 12 icons, and I hope to use the iPhones in a display outside the French office.


If you are interested in doing this activity yourself, here's the handout (link) I made.  There are 2 phones per page, trying to save some trees.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

La rentrée: Ice Breaker- Name Bingo

I've been preparing for the new school year.  I am looking forward to getting back into it, although I will miss my afternoon naps! 

This week I've been focusing on what my class will do for the first few days of school.  I love playing ice breaker with new students because they are fun, and they are an assessment opportunity to see what the students remember.  One game I like a lot is Name Bingo. 

In this game, students get a game board and they have to walk around and get other students to sign the box that describes them.  At the end of the game, you can choose a few to read out and see which students correspond to the descriptions.   I quickly typed up a game board that you can feel free to use in class.  I wrote this for my grade 7s and 8s, so you can make it easier or more challenging to suit your needs.  

If you would like to use this board, download it here.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

À la carte: Anchor Chart Binder and Online Notebooks

This next school year, I will officially be on a cart, traveling from class to class to teach FSL. I say officially, because I was pretty much on a cart this year, even though I did have access to a FSL classroom.  Most of the time, I chose to teach the students in their homerooms.  

So, I am already used to being the "traveling show" when it come to teaching.  Over the past year, I was looking for ways to make my traveling easier for my students.  Any FSL teacher knows that there are many benefits of having a dedicated space for teaching French.  I want to be able to provide some one those benefits, even though I move from place to place.  

The biggest challenge for me was finding space to keep the anchor charts that I made visible for my students.  I have 2 ways that I do this: the first is heavily tech based, and the second is my Anchor Chart Binder.  

Anchor Chart Binder


On my cart, I have two front cubbies on the bottom, and in there I keep a binder that hold every anchor chart I make.  During class, I have the student designated as the class reporter for the week, take a picture of the anchor charts that we make/ use.  Then the pictures are uploaded to Google Drive, or emailed to me, and I print to to add to the binder.  


This is an example from one of my grade 4 classes.  We were learning our learning goals and success criteria, and so the class reporter took a picture of the chart.  The binder itself is organized into sections: verbes, vocabulaire, and unités (with the title of the unit able to be written in erasable marker on the tab.)  

The students were really good about getting and using the binder if they needed to review an anchor chart for some reason.  This binder was especially usuful for students that were away, and needed to catch up.  I could also photocopy certain charts for students to have access to with their notes or for activities in which I needed to differentiate for some students.

Notes on Google Drive


When we started to implement the use of iPads into our classes, I moved away from the binder to an online binder of sorts. I still had a class reporter, but now instead of printing, I uploaded the charts to a shared drive so students could access the charts and other notes from anywhere.  

Students can access the online notebook from my class blog, but I also created a shortened link so that students can memorize the link easily.  (create a shortened link through services such as or Google URL shortener.) Once in the shared drive, they can browse and download the notes that they need on their device.  I hope to cut down on the amount of paper we use. (I have a secret quest to become paperless.  More on that another time though.)  More, I want the students to be able to access the information they need anytime and anyplace.  

Through my school board, students have their own Google Drive space where they can download the notes they want to keep to their own drive.  Ideally, students would download the notes as we use them to their own drive to pull up in class etc.  

Pluses for using Google Drive are that the app is really user friendly.  My grade 4s and 5s last year were experts at navigating the classes shared Drive and uploading their projects and pictures to it.  It was a great tool because we had to used shared computers and iPads.  Students did not need to store anything on the devices and they had access to the projects and notes for homework or to work on when they finished other work.   More than this though, using services like Google drive are great inter-subject learning.  And knowing how to use cloud storage services is a crucial skill for our students as they grow and education become further and further entrenched in the technology that is readily available to us.  It was really exciting to see the students use the technology in FSL.  They knew that it was important, and it was engaging.  They know that they need these skills, and more they want to learn these skills. 

Having set up my binder and Google Drive for my students this upcoming year, I am looking forward to being "à la carte."  I will get to keep my online resources up to date, and hopefully it will become an integral resource for my students.

How do you manage sharing information to your students without a dedicated class space? Have you thought about going paperless?  

Monday, 14 July 2014

Summer Learning- HWDSB Summer Institute Series

Our board has some great opportunities for Summer learning.  One of the PD sessions that I attended was a mini-course on using technology in the classroom.

This was a jam-packed, 2-day PD session where teachers from my board was able to explore topics relating to using technology and transforming technology in the classroom.  Of the number of sessions that were available I decided to attend the crash courses on using the ePortfolio app, Explain Everything app, using Inquiry-based learning in the classroom, using the Binder app and what to do with tech when the iPad goes down.  All the groups were very small, and allowed for a lot of one-on-one attention, which was great when you are frustrated and having a tech problem.  The second day sessions that I attended were mainly about my own development as a teacher; Collaboration, and the iPad as a teacher tool.  In these sessions we were given more time to practice using the tools, and trouble shooting, which I found helpful.

I could talk about all the sessions, but I have attached my notes for anyone interested, so I'm just going to focus on the sessions that made me think even further about my own teaching: the "when the wifi goes down" crash course and the second day sessions about collaboration and a singular iPad classroom.  

"When the Wifi goes Down"

The techie-teacher's nightmare.  This has happened to me a few time this year.  On my cart, I usually keep a back-up activity for when this happens.  What was great was that the instructor Jared Bennett (  provided us with lists of apps and resources, and little tricks to prepare for the common occurance of wifi-lessness.  (See my notes for that list.)

The challenge for me, however, is that my classroom is not one that has enough resources for students to have their own devices to use.  I can plug in my iPad using an adaptor to project the image, and that doesn't need wifi.  I would have liked to learn a little more about those physical things that I could use; are there any more?  

Overall, I wish that the session was longer!  But, Jared's really good about answering my questions via email (no matter how silly or inane) so I'm not worried about when I inevitably have more ideas and questions.

"Using the iPad to Collaborate"

Even though this session was about how to teach the students how to collaborate, I found this session useful because I can adapt it to use for planning with my colleagues.  Everyone is busy, and it is difficult to organize time to plan together, with the programs we used and learned about, that is something that could no longer be a challenge.  Most helpfully, we were given over an hour to apply what we were learning on a question.  I learn best through application, so I was greatful for the opportunity to work through the process with support.  

"The One iPad Classroom"

The afternoon session was a great introduction in using the iPad as a teacher tool.  To start the session, Jared noted that for schools with limited access, the teacher's should be the one's that are equiped with the tablets first.  I found that I agreed with this idea; Jared introduced a number of ways that the teacher could use the iPad to provacate and engage the students, instead of passing a few devices around.  

I appreciated that Jared took the time to display how a teacher can use the iPad as an organizational tool.  I felt that there was enough new information for me who is comfortable with using tech in the classroom, that I still took so much away from the ideas that he introduced.  I'm looking forward to trying some of the things he outlined throughout the summer.

What PD are you hoping to complete this summer?

If you would like to have a copy of my notes, click this link:

Hope you find them helpful!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Updated "Apps I Use" Page

I have updated the "Apps I use" page with some apps that I have found to be engaging and useful in my FSL classes.  With each entry, I try to give some idea as to how I used this app in my classes.  I love finding new uses for apps, though, so if you have another idea, please share!  I would love to use apps my students are familiar with in new ways.

I have made my list available as a downloadable PDF for sharing.  Just follow this link to access the document.  I will be adding to this list as I create new ideas with new apps, so keep checking back!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

On Managing Assessment

My assessment management tool in action
When I talk to other French teacher, the thing we seem to struggle most with is organizing our assessment.  I think most FSL teachers have a handle on what they want to assess, but organizing that for sometimes hundreds of students is daunting.  It was for me, anyways.

Still, one thing that I am always struggling with is capturing an accurate view of my students' progress.  More than that, as a newer teacher, I couldn't keep all the expectations in my head.  In French class, a lot of my planning of activities include the expectations-- but often, I am assessing spontaneous conversations, so it is important for me to have quick access to the expectations, and their relation to the Achievement chart (A-Chart). 

Many veteran teachers shared with me that they use a class list to record and track their students' progress.  I thought that was a great idea, but I did not have the confidence that I would remember exactly what I was assessing for, being new to the FSL curriculum.  I decided to try and create a tool that works for me for Assessment purposes.  I knew that I would have to create a cheat sheet to help me track the curriculum expectations that I would need to teach.  So, I came up with this:
Click the picture for a larger view

My assessment tool is 2-sided, I couldn't get away with one page.  On the one side is a table that includes my class list, a section to record what activity I am marking, a breakdown of the grades I use and a section for the assessment "codes." 

The back of my sheet is a "Cliff notes" version of the FSL curriculum for the grade I am teaching.  This is an example of the grade 5 FSL curriculum that came out recently.  Each of the expectations are bundled and organized according to where I felt they fit in the Achievement Chart (Page xx-xx).  I like the way the new curriculum is organized, it makes fitting each expectation into the chart easier as the expectations are already clustered thematically.  For example, I know that all "3.1" expectations have to do with French culture and contributions to the world.

The "code" I use on the front, are based on the heading of the A-Chart, with a number for the order on my chart.  The expectations and their strands that fall under that section in the A-Chart are below my "codes" bundled.  I know that if I am assessing an oral activity, that something "coded" "C1" or Communication 1 covers the expectation B 1.2 or B 1.3, because I note which strand the expectations belong to beside the expectation number.

Throughout the term, I can look at the tool, and note which expectations I am missing, and therefore what I have to teach.  The bottom of my second page helps me plan my activities.  I made sure to copy some of the teaching strategies and suggestions from the curriculum on my tool, to help me plan meaningful and expectations-based activities. 

I find that having the expectations handy while I teach is useful.  At-a-glance, I can see which expectations my students excel at and struggle with, and this informs my planning.  All in one place!  What do you use to manage your assessment data?

If you are interested in downloading a copy of my Assessment tool to try and create one of your own, click here.  If you are interested in me sharing an editable version of my tool, please let me know in the comments, and I will upload it once I get to my school computer!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Challenges in Student Engagement in FSL

For me, one of the most difficult things about teaching French in the inner city, is the lack of interest or "buy in" from almost everyone.  I'm sure it differs from school to school, but where I am, French education is just not a priority for everyone involved.  From my collegues, I hear that our students have "other problems" then French.  From the parents, I hear that their kids "can't do French," or that "they will never use French."  From the students I hear, "French is too hard," or "French is boring."  Much of their opinion is based on what they are hearing from the other shareholders.

If you are reading this blog, I don't have to tell you the benefits of learning a second language.  Becasue there are many.

If you are reading this blog, you have probably heard something similar in your area of expertise.  So, the million dollar question is how do you engage students in a subject that may not be valued as much as it shoud?  There are other questions that go along with this, like how do I raise the profile of my subject in my school?  Which is a great question, for another blog post.

We are looking at engagment.  There are many great articles on student engagement.  I spoke a little about engagement  when I wrote about using the Inquiry Model in the FSL classroom, but I wanted to reflect on what I do to ensure student engagment is happening in my class. 

Here's an example, of me getting my students attention.  If you were wondering about the name, I have a moon on my back: clown+lune= clune.  We were thinking about adjectives and nouns, and how to combine them to make titles/ names for our "superheros."  So I dressed up as a caped clown.  You know, a typical Wednesday.

There's a moon on my back if you are wondering about the name.  Clown+Lune= "Clune"

I tend to use a lot of humor in my teaching.  Sometimes throw in a joke to see if the students are listening closely.  At the end of the class, students have a chance to tell me the joke for a stamp on their incentive cards.  Sometimes, I just make sure the lesson is silly itself.  Luckily, I don't need to feel very dignified in my job.  According to author Ruby Kane (from the book Understanding Poverty: A Framework for Teachers), inner-city kids who live in poverty value humor, and the ability to tell an entertaining story.  I see how this works to my advantage, and so I use it.  For example, I was teaching my students how to say/ read our school pledge in French.  I used the echo strategy, but to make it interesting, I really emoted the recitation.  And the studnet had to copy me, so they had to emote as well.  At the end of the reading, one of the student's said, "that was fun.  Can we do it again?" Even the most boring task, can be made interesting in its delievery.  

While I was in teacher's college, I read the book, Teaching Content Outrageously by Stanley Pogrow and I think it completely impacted the way I teach.  I am forutante to be a person with a lot of energy, and a wicked sense of humor (if I do say so myself,) so it made sense that I wanted to be "outrageous" as an instructor.  I know that this method is not for everyone.  Some days, I am too tired to do the whole French class as a happy-fun-time thing.  So I use another strat to get their attention.

I like to problematize my content.  I introduce the class to a problem that I need solving.  Usually one that is grounded in an authentic, real-life situation that the students will encounter. As the culminating task for our "Je me presente" unit, my grade 4 and 5 students had to solve the real life challenge of welcoming a French speaking student from Central Africa into our school.  We had a list of questions to start with:  What would we say?  How will we introduce ourselves? How will we pass along information?  What challenges would we have if we just memorize a bunch of stuff?  What is a better way to prepare so the new student feels welcome?  We also did a little research about the country the student came from.  The students were really engaged because it was a problem, and it was going to be something they would use.  Not may use, but definitely use.  

Lastly, I think that students have a responsibility to be involved in creating their education.  So many of the themes that we cover in my class are student-selected.  For example, my students knew that we were going to look at French literacy/ reading this month, so we had a survey about what type of texts they wanted to read.  They chose comics/ graphic novels and so we started looking at those.  Now our study has started to include superheros, so we looked at costumes and what superheros wear-- which is a cluster of transferable vocubulary.  Even though they chose the topic, I control the lessons, so the students are engaged, but learning what they need to- even if it is a different, albeit fantastic context.  

And even though I use all these strategies, sometimes my lessons fall flat.  So I am always trying something new, and talking to other teachers for ideas.  I like trying new things, it keeps it interesting for me.  Especially because I have to teach the same thing sometimes 3 times a day.  So, if you have some great ideas that you have used in class, please share!  I would be so grateful!

What are some ways that engage your students?  

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Using the Inquiry Model in a Core French Class

This week during our staff meeting our team was introduced to the Student Inquiry Model.  I was very interested in this topic, as I have seen it used (and used it myself with my gifted class.)  I was wondering how this framework could be used in a Core FSL class, especially since my students have a very limited use of French.
Click here for the full document.
The student inquiry model is heavily focused around talking; teachers are expected to give students opportunities to share their learning in very step of the project.  Students are asked to revisit steps when new information surfaces, and they are expected to demonstrate their learnings in new ways.  If you are interested in some more information about this model, the MOE has a great monograph (October 2011, ISSN: 1913 8490 or French version click here) as an introduction for the model.  

I had some reservations about trying this in my FSL classroom.  My concerns were similar to a lot of Core French teachers: do my students know enough of the language to make this activity useful? Will they be engaged in another language?  Will they be successful?  Can they stay focused while researching in French?  Will they understand the materials they find?  I thought the best way to solve these issues would be to work through it.  So I tried an inquiry activity with my Grade 5 Core French class. 

Step 1: Setting the Focus

In order to set up an Inquiry activity for my students, I went to the MOE monograph and looked at the parts that could specifically be applied to Core FSL.  In the first step a topic of inquiry has to be chosen.  In order to peak my students curiosity, I created some interest in my classes prior to the inquiry.  I picked the students up from their lines and brought them into the school while wearing a very fancy mask.  When they got into the classroom, I had some music playing ("Beau's Mardi Gras" from the album Mardi Gras in New Orleans by Rounder Records).  They students wanted to know what was going on.  I refused to answer any questions until our entry routines were finished.  

Even thought I chose the focus, the students were interested in what was going on.  I told them it was a special day-- it was Mardi Gras.  Living in Canada, students had little prior knowledge about the event, so I had to provide some.  An important sidebar:  Teaching in the inner city, my students have very different experiences, and sometimes do no process the prior knowledge for some of our lessons.  In these cases, its important to make the experiences for them, and to provide them with some prior knowledge.  I brought my own mask and some beads from the last time I was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Additionally, I showed the students some pictures, and we answered some basic prompted in French:  Qu'est-ce que tu vois?; Qu'est-ce qu'il passe? The students were able to point out the items they recognized in French, and answer the questions simply.  One of my students saw a disco ball, and commented that there was "un ballon de disco a l'image." 

After the picture activity, the students were interested in why such a big party occurred. Using a simple information log, we wrote down what we knew/saw and what questions we had.  Students had some great questions that they could state simply.  They asked, "Pourquoi la fete s'appelle 'Mardi Gras'?"; and "Ou est Mardi Gras?"  I added one question, "Pourquoi est-ce que nous étudions cette fête à la classe de français?"  

Step 2: "Explore"

Next was the "explore" step.  This was the step that I was most anxious about.  In order to prepare students for "recherche" we had a crash course on French website terminology, and we discussed which of our comprehension strategies would be best for this activity.  I also only allowed students to use the websites that I listed for research.  I wanted to make sure that they were not only looking at French websites, but I wanted them to be successful, so I had made sure that there was information on the sites I chose.  

In order for the students to be successful, I searched for some helpful French  sites to guide the students in their research  I posted the websites on the Smart board, and had them in a Nearpod lesson for my students who needed more support.  The main sites that the students used were:

Students were tasked with answering the questions we came up with.  After they did that, they were able to add any additional information that they thought was interesting.  They added this information to their graphic organizer.  To differentiate this part, some groups were tasked with finding "mots amis" or cognates in their searches-- they were still able to find information about Mardi Gras, but they were only focused on using one of the strategies.  This was less overwhelming for some of my students with more challenges.  The differentiate in the other direction, students were allowed to search for additional information or connections.  

Step 3: Analysis

The analysis step was built into our first two steps:  What I wanted them to find out was what does Mardi Gras have to do with French class?  Many students found the Cajun influence in the festival.  Which is a great frist step.  I found that I had to lead them with questions like, "Who were the Cajuns?" And, "Why are they in the United States?" Making these connections was difficult for some of the students.  And we will have to revisit our answers again in another class.

Step 4: Share Learning

To share our learning, we held a "knowledge congress."  We sat in our groups, and each group was expected to share their findings. During the first congress, there was not much to share.  Students had only found answers to the first questions about the name Mardi Gras and the reason for the party. As a class, we decided that we needed to do more research, and so we went back to the "Explore" step.  Which was were we were at March Break.  We are not finished, and I think this is a project that will be ongoing.  I think that students enjoyed this-- they would come up to me and share what they found.


I worried about doing this because I was sure that the students wouldn't focus, or understand.  In reality, they did have difficulties but the challenge was manageable.  I had to keep reminding them to use their strategies, and to look for keywords, like they would if they were searching in English.  It was a great activity in getting the students to make connections to the literacy strategies they use in English, and how helpful they were in French class.  At one point a students was complaining to me and I asked her, "what did I say yesterday?"  She replied, "Stop whining, use my strategies?"  That's right.  And she did.  So that's progress.

I also was not sure what our focus should be, as I spend most of my classes trying to engage students in using our vocabulary, and teaching them how to use/ speak French.  In a meeting, it was suggested to use the lessons on French culture as a springboard into inquiry.  So I thought Mardi Gras was a great entry point as it has the possibility of opening up a great discussion of the Cajuns, and ultimately the Acadian disapora.  

The connection of the Cajuns to the Acadians is a great example of higher-order thinking/ connecting and in line with the curriculum in FSL.  I was especially worried that there wouldn't be that use of higher-order/ critical thinking in this activity as the students have limited French skills.  But, students were finding information and inferring the meaning of things based on the vocab they knew.  They were applying their comprehension strategies, and trying to answer a fairly difficult question in their L2.  Additionally, students had to decide which of the resources they were using were useful and which one's were not.  There were many examples of critical thinking in this activity.

What I was most happy to see were many of my students were working together, and sharing information they found.  It was great to see students helping each other, and wanting to find the answers instead of just finish their work.  As I worked with my more challenged students, we looked at the cognates we collected, and they were able to draw a conclusion from the word they found.  They were able to contribute in the congress, which is exciting.  

To be honest, I wasn't sure if an inquiry activity was going to work in my French class.  But it turned out to be a great learning experience for me and my students.  It is an especially usful strategy for exploring French culture.  I am thinking of some other ways to try and use it in the FSL classroom.  An inquiry  for skills-acquisition? Would that work?  What are some ways that you have infused inquiry into your L2 classroom?  What else can I try?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Writing Activity: Mon Caractère

Writing activities are usually an ordeal in FSL class.  My students have specific challenges in writing in English, as well as French.  As a result, I find that I have to be very strategic in creating writing activities for my students.

This activity/ project that I came up with was meant to be a bridging activity between the focus questions from our last unit "Je me présente," to our new focus around "Les bandes-dessinées."  Before we started this activity, we learned the third-person singular of the verbs "to be" and "to have."  We learned how to apply the questions of "Je me présente" to other people.

To engage their interest in writing, I thought that it would be fun to create cartoon characters and write about them.  I found these great drawing sheets while browsing Pinterest, and thought they would be perfect to help the kids create their cartoon.

They loved the drawing part.  I encouraged them to create silly characters-- characters that they would want to write about.  Some didn't even use the books.  The example that I created was a Viking-turned-father named "Sven."

I created the example as a way of modelling the writing we were going to do.  I made sure that I followed the Gradual Release of Responsibility model here because writing in French is fairly new to my grade 4s.  We read the paragraph about "Sven," and the students thought it was funny.  We looked at the structure of the paragraph they were to write.  Built into the activity, were questions and prompts to remind the student to write in complete sentences.  I worried about being so rigid, I wanted to students to be creative with their writing, but I wanted them to feel confident that they could write a paragraph in French.

During the modelling part of the lesson, I made sure that the students knew that they would have to bump-up their paragraphs by adding 2-3 original sentences.  We added some to my paragraph together.

For the next step of the activity, we created a paragraph through a shared writing activity.  I drew a  large version of a cartoon on some chart paper, and using the prompts, as a group we wrote the paragraph.  Because my students needed a little extra practice to build their confidence, in small groups we did a second shared writing activity.  Then each group shared their paragraphs.

For the last step, students drew their cartoon and wrote a paragraph about them.  Students really enjoyed this project.  They liked that the drawing books I had made for them helped them draw something they were really proud of.  Their paragraphs were creative, and well written!  And many of my students could write them independently.  I liked that they were working independently in FSL class-- this is a rare occurrence.  Until recently, my students have not had the confidence to complete something without assistance in some way.  I was able to work with small groups of students who were having trouble.

Here are some examples of the work my students created:

To read the paragraphs, click on the image for a larger version.

This was a great writing project for my students.  They were really interested in each others work, and we did several gallery walks after we were finished.  

To add an oral component to it, I'm thinking of having the students interview each other about their characters.  We have a great article which is an interview with a real cartoonist in our books (Acti-Vie 1: Les aventures d'A-V).  We will record the videos on our ipads.  I will let you know how those turn out!

Here are the materials I used for this activity.  I copied 20 drawing booklets for drawing the characters.  I put them in duo-tangs so that we can use them again.  

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Oral Communication Strategy: Qui Suis-Je?

Qui suis-je in action with one of my Grade 4 classes.
This week I introduced a new strategy to my students.  Right now we are working on the CEFR focuses (foci?) of "Je pose des questions,"  and "Je decris les personnes and les places."  I thought a good way to bulk up their vocab for description, and get them used to asking questions was to play Qui suis-je?, a game not unlike the game "Headbandz."  There was quite a bit of preparation for students to get the the independent practice level in this game.  We played this game for a while as a class, and the shared practice was something that the students really enjoyed.

Anchor charts for support
In order to set my students up for success, the preparation for this game was pretty involved.  I had created anchor charts that had pictures of celebrities, and asked questions about a personality.  We created the questions as a class based on the anchor chart of celebrities that I introduced first.  One lesson that came out of this game was the mini lesson I had to teach on inversion and intonation. The students grasped the concept pretty readily-- they made great connection.  One student noted that we use the question "comment t'appelles-tu" and asked if that was inversion.  It was a great mini-lesson!  

After we created the list of questions, I created a scorecard for the students to use: not only to organize their thinking, but to get them reading the questions without the support of the images I added for comprehension.  The scorecard was a table that I filled with the questions, and a box to check or "x" depending on the question and answer.  We had 2 answers for the grade 4 classes (Oui ou non), and 4 for the grade 5s (oui, non, peut etre, et parfois.)

For the "headbands," I used some dollar store sunglasses with velcro dots attached to them.  Then each of the pictures had velcro on the back so students can swap the pictures in between turns.   

Glasses  instead of headbands.  We have a critter problem at our school .
The shared process was fun for the class.  I modeled one turn, by having the students pick the picture for my glasses.  I modeled how to use the scorecard on a giant version that I created for modelling.  There were only 12 pictures to choose from, so all the images were hanging up for students to consult.  We played a class version of the game each class for a while.  Until the students were really used to the questions.  Some students started creating their own yes or no questions, which was fabulous!  

When we moved to the independent practice, students played the game in groups of 4 or 5.  There was quite the buzz in the class, students were really enjoying it!  While the students played the game, I circulated and assessed their progress.  

Again, it was great to see the students using gestures, and other speaking strategies that they had learned earlier in the year!

Scorecard for student book
The great thing about having created this game is that I can use it again when we meet the new characters for our next unit on mysteries.  I have some grand plans for that unit! 

I have used post-it notes to play a version of this game with some of my older classes.  I opted for this picture-based version for my younger students to ensure a level of success.

See the bottom of the post for download links to my resources!


If you would like to make your own, here are the files that I made for the game.  Feel free to download and print!

Celebrity cards: (I printed two sizes, 1 collage per page for the anchor charts and 2 collages per page for the playing cards.) Download here (page 1). And here (page 2).

Scorecard worksheet: I printed it for the students to consult when they played and to track their thinking. Download here (PDF).

Making Music for French Class Again

After I posted about making music for French class, I got some great comments!  Thank you!  One comment asked if I wouldn't mind sharing the "karaoke" version of the song so that other students can try writing their own verses.  No problem!  Great suggestion.  So I have added to the original post the track without my singing, and a copy of my lyrics for you and your students to consult.  Click here to go to the original post.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Making music for French Class

Students reading my song lyrics to understand the format
I love using music in French class.  The kids love it, and I do too.  Its the one thing that can really get me moving.  My grade 5 classes had completed a short unit on Popular French music.  Some of the songs we discovered are some of the kids' favorites!

Lately, I have been writing my own French songs for the kids to listen to in class.  I wrote one song for our project on Movember; we had some male staff in our school participate this year.  The song was part of a webquest that some students completed.  They loved that song!  For the whole week, they walked around singing "je n'aime pas les moustaches."  They even requested it in their class party!

I thought that I would try again by creating a song for our unit "Je me presente!"  I wanted the song to be simple so that the students would understand it, and so that we could turn it into a writing activity.  Here's what I came up with:

And here is the track sans vocals:

 We started listening to it this week, and we read the lyrics. (Click here to download a PDF of the lyrics.)  The students understood the song very quickly (using their strategies!).  They thought it was funny.  Then I told them that they were going to write their own songs, and they were very anxious.  There were a lot of "I can't"s and "too hards" floating around the place.  The students were adamant that they couldn't.  It was quite frustrating, so we moved onto the next activity.  But I knew that we would revisit the song later.

Today, we listened to the song again, and focused on the structure of the lyrics.  The students noticed that there were many repetitions in the song.  We broke down the song into sections: the chorus, and the verses.  The students were asked to write one verse about themselves.  To help them in their writing, they used their notebooks with all their work from the unit "Je me presente."  Each student had written a lot about themselves already.  They just needed to put it in the right format!

Some student lyrics
 Once they got over their initial fear, they started to write some great lyrics!  They were allowed to used my chorus, and format.  That way it would work when they sang it to the instrumental version of my song.  To get them started, I suggested that they write out the chorus, because its less intimidating than a blank page-- that's what I do.  Many of the students said this helped. And they were writing!  They were talking to each other about song ideas, and trying to find rhyming words for their verses!
It was really exciting for me to see them trying to create their songs.  They were very intimidated about the idea, but as they started, they were adding more ideas.  What we will do is finish our verses, and record our song about our class. 

If you were interested in making your own songs, I will tell you how I made mine.  I use the ipad app Garage Band to make and record songs for class.  Its easy to use, and I can hook up my guitar to it, or use the sounds in the program.  The best way to start is to play around with the app, and find a sound you like.  If you have a friend or child that plays music, they can help too!  I make my husband sing on some of the songs if I need a deep voice.  The resulting song is not bad in quality, or sound.  Its great for class, and you can export the song to other platforms if needed.  For my mustache song, I exported it to Moviemaker, to create a video.
More student's lyrics

If you are not the type to write a song, there are other cool ways to incorporate music and writing into your classroom.  This teacher had his students write the lyrics of the popular song "What does the fox say?" in French.  I had a friend who was in a French children's music group, and they had a contest:  Schools submitted their translations of songs, and then the group recorded it and a video starting the students!  I like to use French Pop music in the activity "Milling to the music" or as we call in in French class, "Marchez a la musique."  Universal France has a great You Tube channel for discovering upbeat modern French music.    
Want to take the plunge and try GarageBand?  This is a great tutorial site if you are interested in trying out the app.  If you make up a song, let me know!  I love finding new french music.  And, as always, you are welcome to use my song in class.  It will fulfill my dream of being a pop star ;-) 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Fixed links on Printables page

Hi!  I got a few emails asking my to share some documents on my Google Drive.  I had thought I did, but it turns out I forgot to check the box to share.  Now, I've fixed it!  If you have the link, you should be able to download any of my strategy cards and resources.  Sorry about the inconvenience!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Morning Mystery Messages

This week, I posted a resolution to address the challenges that I was having with my transitions from class to class.  I decided to implement a morning message for the days that I travel around the school.  I asked the homeroom teacher I work with to post the message (I emailed it to them in a notebook file) on their Smartboards a few minutes before I arrives in the class.  The instructions were simple, "Qui est-ce?"  The students knew that they were to read the message, and try and figure out who sent the note with their elbow partner.

This strategy was successful in that it focused the students and prepared them for French class.  They were actively using their comprehension strategies to guess the author.  Some students made great comments about the evidence they found in the note.  One student noted that "P.P" must be a girl because friend was spelled "amie."  But another student said P.P. could be a girl because the sentence started with "mon."  In the end, they did figure out that the author was "Tony Stark" aka "Ironman."  It was a great, short warm-up activity.

The Mystery Message also served as a type of diagnostic assessment for me on the students' ability to read in French.  This past term, we had been focusing mainly on oral communication skills, we had done very little in terms of explicit literacy lessons.  I asked the a few students to read parts of the note out loud, and made a few notes on my clipboard about where they had difficulty to help me plan a few lessons on accents and diphthongs.

One challenge I did have with this message, was that some students were so keen to just solve the question of who the author was that they didn't even read it before they started telling people their guesses.  Instead of relying on the message as mainly an oral and reading activity in the future,  I think I am going to print out specific slips of paper for the students to write down their guesses and clues on.  That way the experience is not taken over by a few more extroverted students.

Overall, I think that this was a great exercise for my students!  I am looking forward to trying to create more messages from more mysterious persons.

If you want to try this activity with your students, and you would like to use my message, click on the picture of the message for a larger version and save it for later.  To save, right click on the large picture, and select "Save As" to save to your computer.  To make my message, I used Photoshop and a torn paper vector I found here, and the logo vector here.       

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Updated Printables Page

I got a few emails asking me for the files for my speaking strategy cards that are in the photo from this post.  No problem!  I added the link to download your own on my "Printables" page here or follow this link to download them.  I also added a link to some cards I made for listening strategies.  They are also on the "Printables" page, or download them right this way at this link.

And, a BIG thank you to all the nice emails I got about my blog.  I was not sure if this would be of interest to anyone, but I got such encouragement!  Thank you again!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

"Je suis un voleur"- Fun Oral Strategy

Even though today was really cold, and we didn't have that many students, we had some really good discussions going on!  Today we tried a new strategy to get the students talking in French.  I wanted them to push the limits of what they knew, and get them use the strategies they learned.  We set up the class as a challenge:  Each student was given 3 popsicle sticks.  The goal was to collect as many stick as you can by the end of the class.  Using the questions and words they knew in French, they had to have a conversation with a classmate.  if they spoke any English, they had to give their partner a stick.  If they made an error in answering a question (that their partner noticed) they had to relinquish a stick. 

It was really great to see the students push themselves to communicate in another way than English.  They were using gestures, facial expressions, and other strategies for speaking!  It was wonderful to see one of my fourth graders (who struggles with French class) have his "A-Ha!" moment when he started to read the resources around the classroom.  It was so rewarding to see that he knew where to find the answers to some of the questions asked.

While the students were having their conversations, I was able to work with my strugglers.  It was great to have the time to work with the small group to help reinforce and encourage them.  All the students were on task and trying hard to keep their sticks. 

After the activity, we had a quick discussion (in English) about what challenges they faced; the strategies they used; how they could be more successful in the activity; and what would they change about playing next time.  The class had some really insightful comments about their learning.  One student noted how some of the strategies came "naturally" when they were trying to communicate.  Another student made a great connection to a social issue: she noted that even though she knew some French the activity was challenging.  She connected her experience to that of a New Canadian trying to communicate after immigrating.  So much learning!

If you want to try this activity, here are the instructions: This activity works best when anchored to a specific set of vocab.  We were using some questions from our "Je me presente" unit as a starting point for discussion.  Each student is given a number of sticks (or counters, something that they can trade for the activity.)  In pairs, they start to have a conversation.  I found that the students were really good about "policing" themselves to speak in French.  I often heard, "ah ah ah, en francais!" while the game was going on. 

The goal is to collect all the sticks from your partner.  I gave the students 3 sticks, so when someone collected 6 the game was over.  With my older students, I have them switch partners and play another round. 

I am already thinking of some adaptations to try this again.  Do you have any ideas?  Suggestions?