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Teaching Culture

When teaching culture, World Language teachers avoid making generalizations or rules. Instead, we show students examples from the culture by sharing authentic documents in order for students to make their own observations and draw their own conclusions. We do our best work when we share multiple authentic documents in an attempt to avoid representing a single story.

I have been showing my students multiple authentic documents on each theme we study so that the students have many views into the culture. Yet when I look at the culture standards in my state’s framework, I realize that to accomplish the intended level of understanding, I need to do some conceptual work with my students around culture.

Novice High Cultural Standards, from the Massachusetts Framework:
In a variety of settings, using the target language exclusively or almost exclusively, with appropriate linguistic scaffolding, students most often succeed but sometimes need help to:
– Analyze products and practices to help understand perspectives within the diverse cultures of the target-language communities.
– Investigate, explain, and reflect on how culture affects identity.
– Investigate, explain, and reflect on the similarities and differences of cultures over time.

I was having trouble working out how to teach these concepts to students in K-12, but luckily I found high-quality materials for free on the Internet. What I have put together for you are examples of these materials. For the most part, I have taken them as they are and made very few edits. For continuity, I made my presentation of the slides very uniform, but the materials are otherwise as I found them. You will find the URL of the site where the resource was found in the speaker notes at the bottom of the slide.

As I worked I noted the enduring understandings and have listed them here as a way for the teacher to keep track of the concepts that these lessons communicate to students.

Enduring understandings:
– Culture manifests in products, practices and perspectives. All three are connected. And, one can look at products and practices to try to understand perspectives.
– Everyone has a culture and everyone is different. People participate in different groups or cultures, which may be defined according to nationality, ethnicity, language, age, social class, gender, religion, political or sexual orientation.
– When one first enters into another culture, one is usually first interacting only with what you can readily see. Sometimes, people make assumptions or develop ideas about another cultural community without really understanding the internal or deep culture that makes up the majority of that culture’s values and beliefs.
– When meeting somebody for the first time, if prejudices are identified, we can try to go beyond them to establish a relationship that goes beyond the stereotypes conveyed by our society.

Leveraging EdPuzzle through Live Mode

I am excited to share with you that EdPuzzle can be employed with the whole class together by using the Live Mode feature. Showing your class a relevant video with embedded questions, gives students input on the theme you are presenting in your unit. The language will be used in context and the video makes the input more compelling. As you watch the video with the class, especially at the Novice level, Live Mode presents the opportunity for you to talk students through an interpretive activity.

The video you play will pause to ask questions, the questions appear on the students’ screen for support and you can give students time to think. Then, each student at their own device answers. While their answers could be used as an interpretive formative assessment, another reason to have students answer questions is to keep them engaged. As I have been moving away from frequent assessment toward prioritizing input, I use the embedded questions as a guide to keep students engaged in the input.

Here are 32 EdPuzzles for you to consider using with your Novice French students. Copy the EdPuzzle, make a class of your students and assign the video to your students as a link on your Learning Management System. From the page on EdPuzzle where you see the assigned video, you click on Live Mode, then the students follow the link and the activity begins.

Within these examples, find one that is useful for the current theme you are presenting to your Novice students and try using the video as an additional source of input. I think that you will find that alongside the other ways you deliver input, this will further the repetitions of vocabulary that lends itself toward talking about oneself and describing, two Novice skills, and Live Mode will become an additional tool to advance your students’ proficiency.

Watching TV to teach language

The Disney show Weekend Family, that streams on Disney +, has characters of color, a same sex couple and a complex blended family. As it is a family show, the scenes depict scenarios that revolve around our students’ experiences, for example being dropped off at Dad’s for the weekend, making food together for Sunday brunch and getting kids out to activities like swim class. These are great contexts for Novice language.

As I see this show as an opportunity to teach language, I started thinking about how I could make the dialogue in the show comprehensible for my students. I want to make lessons that draw in learners, preview vocabulary, tease out cultural commentary and set up an activity that isn’t about language but uses language. The first step, I decided, is to make sure that the activity isn’t about evaluating students for a grade, but is about making the language in the film accessible.

Allow me to share with you the activity that I designed for the first two episodes of Weekend Family as an example of how to make input comprehensible for Novice learners. Here is a folder were you can find all of the materials. Use the slides with the whole class. And, you can make copies of the Google Forms by doing “control click” or “right click” on the thumbnails visible in the folder, then post them to your students’ Learning Management System like Google Classroom. 

You will notice that students preview lines from the episode prior to watching. I carefully chose lines that are important to understanding the main ideas. In class I have to translate some of these lines for the students, but once they have the meaning, then they are ready to use the language. These are the steps:

  • Teacher gives a few points of cultural commentary from ideas brought up in the show
  • Students in pairs guess who will say each line
  • Students in pairs predict what will happen in the segment we will watch
  • The class as a whole shares predictions
  • We watch the 7-12 minute segment together and students confirm who says what and answer one comprehension question

The work that the students are doing is not to evaluate them. It is to lead them through the input and to make it possible to watch the show to try to understand the main ideas. 

It is important to note that I am not attempting to teach the vocabulary that the show revolves around, I am teaching frequently used French vocabulary that builds on the other stories my students have heard in class. For example, when Fred first presents his children and his ex-wives, there is vocabulary around description. When the new girlfriend meets the ex-wives, there is vocabulary around saying hello and introducing oneself. When they are making a brunch out of just the leeks, there is vocabulary around preferences, “I don’t like leeks”. This distinction is important in how to teach language through watching a television show with your students.

Stations for communication and culture in French class

What are the reasons teachers use stations? It allows students to be self-directed, groups to collaborate and the teacher to work in small groups. I thought I would try out this strategy and wanted to share my sample lesson on the country of Niger and daily activities with you. Here is my step by step process to make it easy to set up.

Post to your learning management system: 

  • The directions to read to all students– you will need to swap out the links with the ones you make 
  • The presentation Niger 
  • Assign the Kahoot on classroom, students play as an assignment– you will need to copy the game to your Kahoot account first
  • EdPuzzle: Aboubakar au Niger– to assign it on Classroom, you will need to copy it to your account first
  • Link to Aboubakar au Niger video


My version of these stations is for Novice students. I tried to make the activities well supported and super accessible so that stations would go well and we could build on this in the future!

Here is a second example of stations, this time on Senegal and free-time activities.

French Proficiency-Based Unit on Clothing

It is March and in public schools the month feels long. We look forward to Spring vacation and for some of us teachers, our inspiration is shot. Lately I am getting requests from teachers for ready-made materials because the teachers are busy, burnt-out or lacking motivation. As the days get brighter and the weather warmer, I wanted to offer a ready-made unit for my readers.

Please find the unit plan and materials for a Novice French Unit on Clothing in this shared folder. Pieces of this unit you will recognize because I have shared them before, but this is my updated unit for the current year. A good place to start is with the unit plan and the teaching slides. Please note on the teaching slides that there are frequently links in the speaker notes to the corresponding documents. And, it is worth mentioning that my students keep a journal in the classroom where they do all of their work, such as complete graphic organizers, write a hint for a guessing game or complete an exit ticket. I read through the journals periodically and respond to the ideas.

What does it mean to update a unit? Well, this new version relies on the template from Leslie Grahn and makes use of her suggestions from her One lesson at a time materials on Clothing with a Conscience. Leslie helps us understand how to use authentic resources and include all three modes of communication. This helped me greatly with my instruction and I hope it helps you too. In addition, I have added in references to gender neutral clothing. So my unit is updated in its approach as well as, in part, in its content.

I am not able to completely revamp the unit every year. I don’t have time for that. But these little changes help respond to current advances in teaching and new topics of student interest. It is my hope that you find some inspiration in this unit!

Movie Talk Resources

Joshua Cabral and I delved into Movie and Picture Talks on the World Language Classroom Podcast. You can find our conversation on the episodes page of his website, or wherever you get your podcasts by searching World Language Classroom.

To accompany the interview, I wanted to re-post Movie Talk Resources so that listeners have some examples to get started. In this folder you will find ten sets of slides to accompany movie shorts.

And here are extension activities to get the most out of your Movie Talks:

  • When listening to the story being read before doing the Movie Talk, students draw the story as they listen to the teacher read the script.
  • Matching activity: have students match the pictures with sentences describing them.
  • Have students describe one of six pictures on the board and their partner says which one.
  • Ask the students to write for homework a story like the story they watched in the video. Then the next day students get into groups and students read their partner’s stories and decide on the best one to present to the class. The group would tell that person’s story by acting it out and the rest of the class would point out the differences between that version and the one depicted in the video.
  • Watch the video and answer questions on EdPuzzle
  • Sequencing activity: take the story script and put it out of order, then have the students put it back in order
  • Group retell: Have students do a group-retell of the story with each person adding a detail. To make it challenging and more collaborative tell the students if the story finishes before we make it to the last person, then we will start over again until we draw out the story enough that everyone can add a detail.
  • Retell in pairs: Have students pair up. Each student retells the story to their partner in two minutes, timed by the teacher. Then students find a new partner and retell the story, each one taking a turn, this time in 30 seconds.
  • Blind Retell: Project the story text on the board. One student has their back to the board and retells the story. The other student is the coach, who listens and helps out as the other student needs it. The student looking at the board uses the full text as support in order to help their partner.
  • The teacher makes a statement and have students put their thumbs up or down to show whether the statement is true or false.
  • Pencil game. Students sit across from their partner. The teacher makes a statement about the story. The students does nothing if the statement is false. If it is true they both grab for the pencil. The one who gets the pencil gets a point. If a student grabs the pencil and the statement is false, they lose a point. Students can write the statements for homework the night before.

Here is my Pinterest board on Movie Talk for the links to different Animated Shorts.

How to extend authentic resources

I love using authentic resources in my thematic units because when students read or watch a text from another culture, they make cultural observations. When you find a good authentic resource you will want to get as much out of it as possible, that is you will want to extend that authentic resource. In this post I want to remind you of ideas for communicative activities in all three modes to use to get the most out of authentic resources.

– For a reading, ask questions to lead the students to scan the text for words or to read the text to gleam the main idea.
– The first time you show a video, show it without sound and ask students to write three sentences to say what happened in the video. Then, students share what they wrote. Next, play the video with sound and afterwards ask students to compare what they understand now with what they thought the video was about.
– Make a script of a short segment of the video. The script can be the straight transcription of what was said or the script can be a simplified retelling.

– Have students make personal connections to the text by asking them questions about themselves that relate to what was explained. Ask questions and give answers either in pairs or groups.
– Discuss details on the topic of the reading or video, first in pairs and then in the large group. Then do a “shared writing” where students and the teacher construct a paragraph of linked sentences and the teacher acts as a scribe to write down the sentences on the white board as they go. As a final step, the teacher reads the sentences to the class while they read it from the board silently to themselves.

– If personal connections were explored in the interpersonal activity, then students can write about their own practices as they relate to the topic to explain them to a penpal or to offer explanation for a student who is new to school. Or, have students explain these personal connections in a video as a vlog post to share with students from a different country.
– After a “shared writing”, have students write a summary of what was said during the conversation. They can repeat what was written down by the teacher word for word, or change it to simplify it. Students can then be asked to elaborate on the topic by writing their own sentences.

To give you an opportunity to try out these activities here are a couple authentic documents that might be of interest to your students. I used them in my unit on describing family and friends.

La famille de l’émission Magic: Website and Questions
Brebis et Chiens: Video and Reading

To better understand how I am using these activities in the unit on Describing family and friends, check out the unit plan in this post.

Unit Plan on Friends

Thank for you all of the feedback on the two other units I posted. As teachers are scrambling to plan for the month ahead, I have a third unit plan to offer to others as an example, this time on the subject of Friends. This unit has taken me months to plan as I wanted to make the topic relevant to my students, connect with cultures of the Francophone world and speak to students about important acts of activism in as diverse countries as France, Belgium and Canada. For some reason before this I haven’t had a unit on description that I really liked and with a little extra work this week now I am pleased with the product. I would love to see activities and unit plans from readers for description. Please share generously if you have something to add and benefit without guilt if you want to use something I have included.

Unit Plan on My Day at School

When teachers share work on Twitter or other social media platforms, one great way to communicate how to promote student learning in a language is to share a unit plan. Leslie Grahn’s template for unit plans on her website is visual and shows how the components of a unit integrate, so I like to use it. I had great response to the first unit I shared earlier this week and so I have decided to share a second unit, this time on the school day.

Here is link to a unit plan on My Day at School. It is my hope that through sharing online other teachers will be inspired to take this unit plan and make it their own or incorporate some of the resources into their teaching.