Proficiency-based Instruction: A thematic unit on bread and pastries

When I learn a new idea for an activity from another teacher, I am always interested in getting more context on how that teacher fits her activities into a whole unit. On these pages I have been posting activity ideas and so I now want to show you an example of what a whole unit would look like for me. This unit is on Le pain et la pâtisserie, a very delicious and accessible topic for students. Students are likely to encounter baguettes and croissants by the time they are in school. This unit will build on their understanding of French foods and will permit them talk about foods from France. All of the materials are in this resources folders and are also linked below.

The focus of my instruction is input. The students get input from teacher talk and from readings and videos; there is one almost daily. The reading input is accessible because I use picture books and infographics which both have limited text and lots of images. And the videos I use are short and straight forward. Accessible input is where the learning of the language happens. I make sure the there is repetition of content over the course of the unit and that lessons are structured around the can do’s and attempt to keep true to the vocabulary that will be needed to do the assessments at the end.

You will also notice that I like to have students start out the class in a circle. They get out from behind their desks to start with little warm up conversations. I have cued how I get those conversations started, but the teacher also keeps the conversation going by reacting to students and training students to ask follow up questions.

Day 1
To warm up, talk with students about what foods they eat and don’t eat, using foods that are cognates or otherwise familiar. Then play Four Corners asking students to move to a corner based on their opinion of the food you say, J’adore ça / J’aime bien ça / Ce n’est pas bon / Je n’aime pas du tout could be the names of each of the four corner.

Video Je teste la nourriture and Activity Je teste la nourriture

Show slides with different French foods and students ask each other in pairs what they think of those foods, using the vocabulary from the video. Activity with the slides 3-20 of presentation Le Pain Slides for Discussion

Day 2
Form a circle with the students for a warm up. Students ask their partner about their food preferences. They should be prepared to report to the class afterwards. Then, ask what fruits students eat, how often, what they like. Use cognates like les cerises, les kiwis, les bananes and les oranges, as well as others. Hand out Picture Dictionary.

Show the videos of the clip from the TV show Parents Mode d’Emploi and Le meilleur pâtissier band announce, using slides 21-25 of presentation Le Pain Slides for Discussion. Ask students the questions on the slides.

Reading Je mangerais bien un enfant Teacher reads the book aloud stopping the ask the class questions as she goes.
Demande à ton partenaire:
Pg. 9 Selon sa Maman, comment est Archille ?
Pg. 17 Nommez trois choses les parents d’Archille ont proposées.
Pg. 28 Pourquoi Archille veut manger des bananes maintenant ?

The questions Students asks the teacher the questions. Teacher answers to model how to answer. Students think ahead to their answers to the questions and ask for vocabulary that they need.

Les Devoirs: EdPuzzle Le Meilleur Pâtissier

Day 3
Form a circle with the students for a warm up. Have the students ask and answer with a partner: Qu’est-ce que tu aimes comme fruit ? Qu’est-ce que tu n’aimes pas comme fruit ? Ask students what they eat for breakfast. Introduce cognates les céréales, des crêpes and des croissants. (Point out that the French wouldn’t eat crêpes for breakfast, but for snack or dessert.) Refer to the slides 26-43 of presentation Le Pain Slides for Discussion as you go.

Video Petit Déjeuner and Activity Petit déjeuner.

Students turn to their partner and try to speak about bakeries for three minutes.

Game Pictionary

Exit ticket: Write a description of a brunch you would like to eat. The description should include the food and beverages served. Il y a… Then write how you liked the food. C’était…. Share with your group.

Day 4
In order for students to be successful at the Interpersonal Assessment at the end of the unit, ahead of time the students need to practice asking and answering questions with Question, Question, Exchange, an activity where students each have a card with a question. They ask each other the questions, answer, exchange questions and then go on to find a new partner. Find question cards on slides 44-48 of presentation Le Pain Slides for Discussion

Les petits déjeuners du monde web site. Ask students to read through the web site and find which country’s breakfast they would like to have and to explain why.

Day 5
Play Maître d’ which is an activity where the teacher asks a question and tells the students how many students to include in their discussion group. Students all answer the questions and discuss for as long as they can. Then, the teacher calls another round.

Reading Petit Déjeuner Équilibré and Activity Petit Déjeuner Équilibré
Put reading up on your school management system and print activity.

Using slides 49-51 of presentation Le Pain Slides for Discussion, show the videos and ask questions on the slides.
Le succès de la boulangerie française 0-0:43
Pâtisserie Gaston Bordeaux 0-0:44

Vinz et Lou Picture Talk— ask students to invite or predict a story with the pictures in the slide presentation. Ask students a lot of questions and offer some choices for them to decide between. After, show the students the Video Vinz et Lou and then have them read the next slides with the story printed on them. Finally, ask the students to write a retelling of the story.

Day 6
Videos Ca suffit le gaspillage

Slides on the three fold problem of waste

Circonlocution Slides 52-56 of the presentation Le Pain Slides for Discussion
This is a variation of Taboo, played as teams. In the teams, choose a describer and the rest of the group guesses. Only the describer is allowed to look at the list of words on the board. They use circumlocution and gestures if necessary to get the group to guess the list of words. First team to finish the whole list wins that round. Rotate roles and play again.

Play Kahoot

Les devoirs: Study using the Can Do’s on the Picture Dictionary

Day 7
Interpersonal Assessment
Presentational Writing Assessment

A roadmap for a proficiency-based unit: My go-to activities

Five months ago a teacher I am continuously inspired by named Rebecca Blouwolff asked for our top-ten go-tos in a proficiency-based lesson. I am finally ready to answer on behalf of me and my colleagues, Jess Levasseur and Heather Pineault. Here are our favorite activities that we use in our thematic units. For me, this is a timely post because I have been asked by a couple first-year teachers who are starting next week what exactly happens in a proficiency-based classroom.

You can find all of the resources in this folder as well as linked below. As Rebecca asked for in her post and subsequent Twitter challenge, these activities give students repetition without the activities being repetitive, get them moving, and push them to use language motivated by a strong intent.

  1. We usually start the unit with a hook video. With this video we are asking students to activate prior knowledge on a topic and to get excited about the theme. For all of my examples, I am going to use the theme of the environment. This video is the trailer for a movie called Demain. I first saw the video on the site TV5 Monde.
  2. The next activity we got from Rebecca and we call it Partner Vocabulary Definitions. Students memorize their word or definition, and leave it at their seat.
    green grass field under white clouds
    Photo by Scott Webb on

    They then look for the partner who has the corresponding word or definition by discussing theirs with their classmates. I am happy for another activity that gets students moving and interacting.

  3. I use a multi-column chart to have students think about the vocabulary and sort it. Have the students brainstorm anything they can in French to fit into the categories.
    This is one of many chances to interact with the terms of the unit. Another way to use a chart is when reading an article in order to pull out vocabulary on the theme, like this one here that works this article.
  4. The bulk of the input happens through authentic documents. Students read infographics and articles, watch videos, read picture books and listen to songs. Students do a comprehension guide for these, like the one I made for the song. (The infographic I linked leads to the interview interpersonal activity in number five.) I feel like we are creating a great collection of accessible readings and videos for our students and can post them to our school management system so students can take a second look outside of class.
  5. Students are asked to do interpersonal activities using the input from the authentic documents. I always rely on Lisa Shepard’s blog for interpersonal activities. This time I made two my own based on her work. One is an interview and the other is a graphic organizer to compare partners’ habits. We are always trying to get students to communicate with a purpose.
  6. We first learned Question – Question – Exchange from Creative Language Class and ever since it has been a pillar of our units as it is the moment where my students get the most chances to speak from their own point of view.
  7. I have my colleague Jess Levasseur to thank for the game Spoons. Students sit facing each other with a Spoon between them. If the teacher reads a statement that is true, the students compete to be the first to grab the spoon and win a point.
  8. And I am equally appreciative to my colleague Heather Pineault who has us playing Circonlocution every unit. In this game students use circonlocution and gestures to get the group to guess the list of words.
  9. This next one goes under repetition without being repetitive. In every unit we play a Kahoot game, which really just takes ten minutes. It is yet another way to see the material again.
  10. And I will finish with yet another way to spiral back on the material a final time, a Jeopardy game made on the Factile site.

I leave you with my top-ten go-to activities.

Mini-Unit: Coupe du Monde 2018

Would you like to join my students and me for a mini-unit on the World Cup? I am planning to start one day ahead of the first game which is on Thursday, June 14th. This folder has all the resources.

Start with a video to pull the students into the excitement. Here is an ad Fiers d’être bleus for the World Cup. This isn’t about language input, but instead about setting up the big idea for these lessons. Later in the unit keep the excitement going with this Coca-Cola ad.

And, here are the Can Do’s:

  • I can talk about an individual’s country of origin and nationality.
  • I can talk about who is the best athlete and why.
  • I can give details about the 2018 World Cup.
  • I can understand the lyrics of a World Cup song.
  • I can talk about the social responsibility of sports.

Now let’s get started with activities for novice high to intermediate low students. My students will choose one of the teams and work in groups to make a slide with a picture of the team, name of the country and the nationality of the players and highlight a top player, describing him. From the site Livre de Sepienta you will find the following handouts for each team:

  • Présentation pays coupe du monde (1-4)
  • Carte nomenclature équipes foot coupe du monde 2018

Print each of these in color, cut and distribute to groups. And here are some good photos of the teams for students to include in their slides. When students have completed their slides they can present them to the class. This is an opportunity for students to talk about countries and nationalities and top athletes.

At this point you may want to have students practice the names of the countries who participate in the World Cup with this Quizlet Coupe du monde 2018– pays.  Ask students to begin by using the flashcards and then playing Match as homework. Next class students can compete at Quizlet Live. Later in the unit students can do the same with another Quizlet called Coupe du Monde. Before they play, pass out to them the Picture Dictionary Coupe du Monde.

Then, starting on June 15th, the day after the first game, students will fill out the table with scores as games are played and discussed in class. Here is the schedule to print and hang in the room. How many games you discuss depends on how long into June your school goes. We go late!

On the site I found a good reading called Coupe du monde 2018 that includes two activities. Students will write in names of countries under the heading of the correct continent and will match descriptions of mascots with the pictures. From this reading students have the content to give details about the World Cup. This will be, in my classroom, the opportunity to practice questions and answers with students.

Who are the famous people who will play? Who would you give the best player prize to? I chose a few videos of some of the famous players. Students discuss the one they would choose as the best player and explain why. I used this article as my resource and made this slide show.

While you are viewing the slide show linked above, take note that I have included two activities, Circonlocution and Maître d’. Use these as ten minute warm ups in class to get students speaking. Also to start class, note that I have slides with the latest scores and pictures in Actualités de la Coupe du Monde. Use the scores to discuss and fill out the Tableau Mondial. Use the pictures for partner turn and talk discussions.

The singer Tal has a song for the World Cup called Mondial. Find the video here. And, Black M has made the official video for Senegal. Students are asked to read the lyrics in pairs and watch the video and complete a Song Analysis, from Mercredi Musique. Or, here is an activity to do with Gainde.

For homework during this unit, I have a Google Form Coupe du Monde reading that I made with an infographic from 1jour1actu. And, I found an EdPuzzle made by another teacher, Quels pays participent à la coupe du monde. You may consider assigning either of the Quizlet sets for homework too. I ask students to do the Learn game until they reach 100%.

Our next activity is a competition in teams to solve math word problems about soccer in French. The questions are in this document Défi Foot. Cut out the questions and stack in the middle of the team. They turn one over and start and as they finish each question, they pick a new one and continue. Answers are submitted to the teacher to determine who has the most number right in the quickest amount of time.

And finally I will have the students make a Coupe du Monde Review Game to review vocabulary and I will discuss with the students Inequality and the World Cup. Here is a Slide Presentation (that I edited from Oxfam and translated) which pairs well with readings on soccer players who have acted for change called Foot rebelle— in my class we will read about Drogba and Socrates. In order to talk about what regular citizens like our students can do for change, you may want to talk about Malala and have students do this reading or you can have them view this video.

If you get a chance to go outside with your students, here are some community building games to play outside in the target language. At my school the last few days start to feel more casual as many students go off to camp. These games are a way to enjoy ourselves when we aren’t really doing curriculum any longer:

1. Le Beret Two teams of an equal number of players line up facing each other about ten meters apart. Give each player a number on one team and then repeat the same number to give each player a number on the other team. A ball (the béret) is placed in the middle. The teacher calls out two numbers and the students with those numbers race to grab the béret and run back to their own line without being tagged by the player from the opposite team. If they are tagged they join the other team.

2. Les nations (also known as Spud) Each player decides what country to be. We go around the group with the players sharing what country they are. One person starts with the ball in the center of the bunch. At the beginning of each round, the person with the ball (who is in the center of the bunch) throws the ball upwards to the sky while yelling a country. Everyone disperses and runs in all different directions away from the bunch except for the person who was called. That person catches the ball and then yells “Stop” (in the target language.) When he or she yells this, everyone must freeze. The person with the ball then is allowed to take three giant steps toward any player. He or she throws the ball and tries to hit someone. To dodge, players are allowed to move all parts of their body except they may not move their feet at all. If a player is hit for the first time, he or she loses the right to one of the three steps. The person who was hit becomes the new thrower; otherwise, the thrower who missed loses the right to a step. The next round begins and play continues.

3. Avez-vous vu mon extraterrestre? (A variation on Duck, Duck Goose) Students are seated in a circle sitting down. One player walks along the outside of the circle asking, Have you seen my extraterrestrial? That player describes one of the sitting students by the color of his hair or eyes, clothes, physical or personality characteristics or what he likes. Once the player recognizes that he is being described, he must run after the player who described him until he gets back to his place. If he is tagged, he must sit in the center of the circle.

And you can end the instruction with a Kahoot quiz Coupe du Monde 2018. As for assessment, I like to record students using Voicethread. I don’t know if you will be able to access the one I made here, please let me know if it works. If not, I used the picture below and gave a prompt for the students to record:

“This is a picture of the French goalie saving a goal in the game against Australia. In French, say as much as you can about the World Cup. Consider including:

  • The name of the event, the World Cup, and details you know about it.
  • Who the teams are who are playing. What the nickname is for the French team.
  • What group they are in.
  • Who you see in the photo, i.e. players and a goalie.
  • What they are doing.
  • Invent details you don’t know. The score of the game, who won and who played well.
  • Talk about a famous French player on the team.”


I hope you will have fun with your students with this end of the year mini-unit!

Les jeux olympiques

Creative Language Class did a one day training in my district last year and it has changed how we think about Interpretive Activities. Until then I was making Interpretive tasks that asked for students to find words or to mark statements as true or false. Creative Language Class explained, as you can read for yourself in this blog post from Kara Parker, how to include higher order thinking skills by encouraging students to react to what they hear and see in videos. Kara’s idea is that it is real world communication to have students tell someone else about the video or give their opinion about it.

You will see in the slide presentation that I am following the Creative Language Class lead. I show a video and then ask real questions that while they are accessible to beginning language learners, they get students to think and express themselves. At the end of the slide show there is a slide with many athletes on it. The teacher describes an athlete and the students say which one it is. For students who have learned ages, nationalities, sports and physical descriptions, this is a chance for a lot of repetition in communication. Students can then do the guessing game with each other.

My students yesterday got especially excited about the Olympic Games. Students couldn’t wait to talk, so I thought I’d share what we did so that you can introduce some Francophone athletes to your students before the games begin and you could see how I have tried to make our tasks use higher order thinking skills. You will find my materials here.


How to organize curriculum by cultural theme

My units were always defined by the chapters of the text book.  This was an embarrassment to me because I knew I could do better.  In fact, when talking to teachers at my grade level who taught other subjects, I found myself saying the “unit” we are currently studying while I silently berated myself that I should just say it for what it was, the “chapter we are currently using from the text book”.

What does 7th and 8th grade curriculum look like if it isn’t chapters 1 through 12? Culture can be the overarching theme to the unit, it can be the topic that brings it all together.  As we know from Laura Terrill, it is most engaging and leads to the best retention, when framed as an essential question.  For example, “How does where I live define what I eat?”, “How do I contribute to my community?” or “What is a family?” Questions as sophisticated as these set up units which get students to think.

Are you surprised that this is what I mean by culture?  Let me give you a little background.  Defining culture has preoccupied language teachers for decades.  We have talked with colleagues about culture with a big and little c, we have wanted to share our own travel and living experiences with our students and we have all taught extensively on monuments and holidays.  Though I have done it all, my latest understanding of the term comes directly from the National Standards of Foreign Language Education, first published in 1996.  The Culture strand advocates that students gain an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives as well as the products and perspectives of the culture studied.

In my unit on “What is a family?”, with my 7th grade students I instruct on the relationship between the practices and perspectives of French-speaking people.  We start by learning the terms for family members in French and we even learn grammar concepts by using word “my” to talk about our own family members.  It is appropriate that students begin by speaking about their own families.  In a program where many students start in 7th grade and continue on into high school, as a 7th grade teacher it is not my responsibility alone to give them a deep understanding of the topic.  I give them a start by helping them talk about their own family.  Then we dig a little deeper with listening to, watching and reading authentic documents and doing Interpretive Communication tasks.  With a fairy tale “Mon papa le roi” and a pop song “Papaoutai” by Belgian singer Stromae, absent parents are addressed.  We read the poem “Toute la famille” by Pierre Lozère and students think about which family members live under a roof together.  Students listen to “Elle me dit” by Mika think of parental pressures and read a short comic strip “Père et fils” thinking about family pride.  In order to stay in the target language I don’t address all these themes in depth with the students, but they are there as the students’ first exposure to the concepts even if I am only using them in a very basic way to learn new vocabulary. Beginning language students in 7th grade don’t have extensive L2 vocabularies, but they have 12 year old thinking skills.  Using authentic documents, I can’t even guess at all the cultural observations my students will make as every authentic document is loaded with information about culture.