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 Pexels.com

    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.

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.