Sitcoms: Making the task accessible

You will find the resources for the post in this folder.

Television is a very compelling medium. Even taken in small doses of less than fifteen minutes, a segment of a sitcom can show us the products, practices and perspectives of a culture. TV shows are a mostly unexploited resource in the World Language Classroom even though fictional stories are central to the ACTFL Can Do’s. I have found clips from Les Sisters, En famille and Parents Mode d’Emploi that can be accessible in a beginning class if the activity is carefully planned.

Les Sisters is a realistic cartoon about two sisters. The elder sister is always getting annoyed by her little sister. Fortunately for me, I was able to find a clip where the action happens in different rooms of the house when I was working on a unit about La maison idéale. I made statements about what happens in the show and the students put them in order, then they retell the story themselves. This activity is accessible because while the dialogue in the show is pretty advanced, my students were instead decoding the accessible langauge in the statements I wrote.

En famille and Parents Mode d’Emploi are sitcoms about the members of a family, much like Parenthood or Black-ish. I decided to use the clips to work on the key language function of describing, so the task would be accessible for Novice and Intermediate Low students. To encourage more complex thinking, I also ask students to explain why the clip is funny. Again, these tasks are accessible because students don’t need to understand all the dialogue in the clip. If they are able to get the gist, then they can rely on beginning language to explain what they see is happening in the clip.

I included with the other resources two extra shows, a reality competition show called Le Meilleur Pâtissier and a version of Parents Mode d’Emploi from Gabon. For Le Meilleur Pâtissier I made an EdPuzzle for the first segment of the show, then we watched another few minutes together and discussed. The show is a lot of fun to watch with students. While watching this episode my students saw how a French pastry chef is very exact in the decoration of a dessert. Another good reality television show for French class is Recerche Appartement ou Maison and though I didn’t share a task for that show with you, you can find one by searching the show’s name in EdPuzzle. What I did share with you are some clips from the African version of Parents Mode d’Emploi that appeared on TV5 Monde. I have included those clips with the student activities also made by TV5 Monde.

I believe your students will find these television clips compelling and they will also find the tasks accessible.

Teaching language through songs: Reacting to the music

Current practice for teaching language using songs seems to be word clouds and cloze activities. A word cloud is a jumble of words and the student circles the words that are heard in the song. This is a solid listening activity as are cloze activities, where the students fill in the missing words in the song lyrics. I have used both strategies to help give my students something to support them as they listen to songs that otherwise might be overwhelming. I also see teachers use a song to give students examples of grammar to then have an indirect lesson on grammar. I am also a fan of this approach where you guide students to examples of the grammar structure, have them deduce the rules then ask them to do a writing assignment that has students using the grammar without implicitly asking for it, perhaps in the form of an Exit ticket.

For me yet a new way of teaching using songs is emerging. As I’ve mentioned on these pages before, TV5 Monde’s Paroles des clips is an excellent source for activities to use with songs in the classroom. Two of my favorite examples are On écrit sur les murs by Kids United and Cette Anée là by M. Pokora. As these are activities that are pushing into new territory, let’s see what we can gather from them. In Cette Année Là, students are asked to react to the song by giving their opinion, which is spot on for the proficiency-based classroom. I decided to adopt this kind of activity and use it for other songs, like Frérot and Le Plus Fort du Monde both by Black M.. I wrote the linked handouts with the help of my colleague Heather Pineault. We still use cloze activities as well and another new-to-us idea is to have students comment on what they see, like you will see in the activity I made for the song Papa by Bigflo et Oli. And a final technique we incorporate to use songs to further communication is to have students understand a structure in a song and then make it their own by doing a short writing assignment about something personal to them using the structure. You see an example of that in the activity for Le Plus Fort du Monde where students then write about their own family members.

Activities that ask students to identify words, while a good way to have them focus their listening, don’t give a chance for the same level of communication as activities that ask students to react to the song, give one’s opinion, talk about what they see and write about oneself.

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.

Jeux-Olympiques-Hiver-JO-2018-@Stux-Pixabay-950x671

Novices reading current events

1jour1actu is a French periodical about current events which is written for young people 8 to 12 years old. I find their website, videos, print copy newspaper and eMag great for keeping my students up to date on current events in France. My 8th grade students have subscriptions to the eMag and like the variety of articles and being able to independently navigate them, each student on a computer. Though the subscription is expensive, I am a believer in the quality of paid content. The 1jour1actu eMag has been a great addition to my 8th grade classroom because it allows for student-centered instruction and it shows American students what is of interest to young people in France.logo

Most importantly, student-centered tasks increase motivation at the middle school level. When we are working with 1jour1actu I try as much as possible to get out of the students’ way. This means keeping my role simple, for example I don’t supply vocabulary lists and I try to make extension activities where students can pick the content that they want to read. Here is an example of an activity that I used with my students when they were reading about what it means to be a good community member for an issue that was called Bien Vivre Ensemble. While I can’t share the paid content from the eMag, for this particular issue, there was some free-content released that you can find here. With that pdf, you have the materials at your hands to have your students read and do the activity I shared above. This could be a good way to try out 1jour1actu for the first time with your own students.

In addition, I love that a French publisher with an eye for what interests young people curates the news. Through the eMag we have been able to discover the French point of view on the US presidential election as well as find out more about the music group Kids United. Without subscribing to paid content, my students are subjected to the articles that I choose to download. What I share with them, by definition as I have chosen it for the students of my French class, is filtered through the lens of an American language teacher and is much less authentic than what they will experience when they read content selected by a French editor.

After the students do the reading, using the activity sheet, I have them participate in a class discussion on the topic and each student much speak once. The students stand up their notebooks and then put them down once they have contributed to the conversation. Students try not to repeat what others have said. We did one recently on the simple topic of Les français aiment-ils le chocolat ?, after we read a multiple page infographic about chocolate consumption in France, called Les Francais, fondus de chocolat. That day twenty-three students spoke about French consumption of chocolate, each one adding in a detail that was at his or her own level of difficulty. The reading we had done together was so rich in details that it gave us excellent material for a class conversation.

As we get more and more used to using this bi-weekly periodical, I hope that my instruction could follow the content of the eMag. We could use the articles for our content and vocabulary and I could assess the students’ reading and listening skills through Interpretive Assessments seeing that there are articles, videos and sound clips from young journalists who interview specialists in their field. Then, my students could discuss the content for our Interpersonal Assessments. And, finally my students could write and speak about the content for our Presentational Assessments. I am not there yet, but this is what I would like to build towards, with the help of this exceptional resource.

How to lead students to think further

How do teachers revisit content without being repetitive? How can we encourage students middle-school-motivators-464x600to spend more time and delve deeper? How can students interact positively with other students and get up out of their seats? In the book Middle School Motivators! 22 Interactive Learning Structures by Responsive Classroom there are explanations for activities that engage students in thinking, interacting with their peers and moving around the classroom. Here I am going to explain three Interactive Learning Structures that work in the Middle School language classroom and to further paint a picture for you of how to use them, I will give examples for each. 

Maîre d’ Call out, “Table for [a number from 2 through 4]”. Students quickly assemble in small groups with that number of members. Ask a question for students to answer in their group or give a topic for them to discuss. After all students have had time to share in their small groups, debrief in the large group asking what students heard from each other. Call out another table number and students form new small groups based on the new number and answer a new question or discuss a new topic.

As an example, when I did a unit on healthy lifestyles and the Interpersonal Assessment at the end of the unit had a prompt to discuss suggestions for a healthy lifestyle, I had students practice for that exam by doing a Maître d’ Interactive Learning Structure with four questions that break down the topic and ask students to revisit the material:

Table for three, What can a person your age do to reduce stress?

Table for two, What are the good outcomes of getting exercise?

Table for five, What actions can you take daily to get exercise?

Table for four, What changes can you make in your eating to improve health?

Prior to this activity the students had done a reading on each topic and this was a way to synthesize the vocabulary and ideas in preparation for the over-arching question of how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Venn-ting After students complete a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two topics, assign one student to be the reporter and the other to be the presenter. The reporter roams the room looking for ideas from others. The presenter stays put and explains the pair’s work to the roaming reporters. Allow reporters to visit 2-3 other groups for 1-2 minutes each. Reporters return to their original partner, discuss what they have learned and add to or revise their original diagram.

As an example, when I did a unit on stories, I had the students analyze using a graphic organizer each story based on a common set of the elements of a story. Then at the end we compared two stories using a Venn diagram and the students did a Venn-ting before passing in their final draft to make it delve deeper.

Four corners Students choose a response to a teacher-posed question that best reflects their thinking or interests. They move to the corner representing that response and discuss it in small groups then share what they have learned with the whole class.

As an example, for a unit on Family and Friends, the essential framing question is, How are we connected to others? We did a reading on what it meant to be a good friend. To encourage students to use the vocabulary and ideas from the reading and further explain their own ideas, I used the Interactive Learning Structure to have them separate into four corners to further examine which statement they agreed with most:

What makes a good friend?

  1. A person you can tell everything to, but you also don’t have to
  2. A person who doesn’t ask anything in exchange for friendship
  3. A person who respects your choices, even if he or she doesn’t agree
  4. A person who stays with you silently when you have a worry

And when we shared what we learned from others, everyone in the room received additional ideas on all four points of view.

These Interactive Learning Structures increase student interest in the content, motivate students, lead them to engage positively with the content and with each other and show students how to think more deeply about the topic.

A refreshing new idea: Organic World Language

Jacqueline from Organic World Languages came to our K-12 World Language department today to teach how to do a language circle. I was very excited for the session as my interest in OWL has been building since I attended a short workshop by them at ACTFL. I find their approach to be a good new tool for my teaching seeing that it focuses on community building, staying in the target language and making language learning engaging.

What is a language circle? I am nowhere near an expert on the topic after an hour long training, but I am intrigued to learn more. OWL offers full sessions on the topic. You can learn more via at owlanguage.com, which was my first step and how I decided that I wanted to incorporate the language circle into my teaching. The language circle is getting students into a circle to communicate with each other. Students are given a few chunks of language and then are asked in pairs to express their own meaning with the new language. This was a very freeing step for me. I quickly found once students are out from behind their desks and looking each other in the eye, there is increased communication. We were getting in more pair work more quickly and the number of times each student speaks has skyrocketed.

Classroom management is a strong component of OWL. Much like the clap echoing back and forth that we all learned from Responsive Classroom, OWL employs physical movement to refocus students when they first come to the circle and at other transition points. For example, after students communicate in pairs, the teacher says “un, deux, trois” and then claps and the students clap with her. Or, students are asked to touch their nose, touch their toes and touch their shoulders. The class comes back together to listen to the teacher without the teacher raising her voice.

In OWL Gestures are used to convey meaning. The teacher enthusiastically over-acts the gesture and repeats many times to express the new words. Words are made understandable through acting and then students use the new chunks of language right away. I need to spend more time learning about this approach in order to understand if the input is quite as rich as language learners need. Right now it seems that the teacher gives the input and attaches meaning to it through gesture or picture and I didn’t hear anything about the interpretive mode through reading or listening today, but again, I haven’t received the full training. Currently, with my limited exposure, this seems like another strategy for my toolbox and then I can use authentic documents and TPRS for further input.

In conclusion, an interesting approach to explore. The best new idea I have discovered in a while. I would recommend that you check out OWL.

Who to see @ACTFL 2016

ACTFL 2016, the national conference on language teaching, is taking place in Boston this weekend. It is an opportunity to hear about current trends in language education. Last year when I attended the conference in San Diego, it took a lot of time on Twitter to prioritize which presenters’ sessions to attend. I took interest in the teachers who were active on #langchat, the ones who were making comments that showed the merit of their practice. In addition, I relied on the list of ACTFL Teachers of the Year as they are all excellent professionals.

In case you don’t have the time to do your own research, I want to share with you a handful of excellent presenters that you can catch this year.

  • Catherine Ousselin is a Digital Literacy Coach and French teacher. She has attended MaFLA in the past, so maybe you have already heard her speak. She is a leader in the area of technology. When the site Photo de Classe came online recently, its merits were obvious to French teachers and so I am intrigued to find out how Catherine uses it. Photo de Classe: Connecting Origins, Family and Identity Using Global Units. Friday 11am-12pm
  • Amy Lenord is a Spanish teacher and is the #langchat moderator. Here she will be addressing whether or not vocabulary lists hold us back. Liberation from the Lists: Vocabulary Instruction without Limits. Friday 3:45-4:45pm
  • Nicole Naditz is a French teacher and was ACTFL teacher of the year in 2015. I blogged about her tips after ACTFL 2015 and can’t wait to hear what she has to say about Interpersonal communication for novice students. Breaking Through: Building Up to Spontaneous Communication from Year 1. Friday 3:45-4:45pm
  • Noah Geisel is a Spanish teacher and was ACTFL teacher of the year in 2013. The description of the sessions states that, “Mobile Storytelling… facilitates reciprocal communication with authentic audiences” I will get out of bed early Saturday morning and leave my husband with the kids to find out what “authentic audiences” means. When Digital isn’t Enough: The Magic of Mobile Storytelling. Saturday 8-9am
  • Sara-E. Cottrell is the Spanish teacher who is responsible for Musicuentos.com. Here she is addressing a very timely subject for me and my colleagues, how to use a text book. Textbook as Aid: Adapt, Incorporate and Ditch. Saturday 5:15-6:15pm

france-2