Posted in Building Confidence, Work it!

I Can Read in French!

Salut!!!

I am still working on this regular posting thing, but it’s definitely time for this post:

Every year, I notice that as soon as I hand a paragraph of French to students, they lose all knowledge of any language and shut down.

“I don’t know French!”

“I can’t read this!”

“……… No.”

Those are all remarks I hear when I ask my middle schoolers to read something in French.

I know this, and you know this, but the students can’t connect the fact that the way they read in English is the same as in French. You use context clues to figure things out. You skip words you don’t know without even realizing it.  You guess at meanings and mostly are right. It’s a skill you have been honing since you started learning to read. The difference is you don’t already speak the language.

I have tried endless ways to fight the students determination to be unable to read French. The first being just simply teaching them about cognates and pointing them out every time they pop up.

Then we started making cognate posters which I put on my wall to give a visual to the amount of cognates there are with French and English, not even starting with how many of my Spanish-speaking students have even more cognates.

cognate examples

This helped some. But they would do the lesson and quickly forget it. And I still couldn’t get them to try context clues or educated guesses to figure out new things.

I used authentic text as much as I could, but was often discouraged because students would not even try. I would give them text made for language learners and fight through reading it and getting them to guess at words. They were literally SCARED of guessing or being wrong or skipping a few words.

Last year, I was lucky enough to have a parent who volunteered at her daughters old elementary school, and they were cleaning out the library. It was a French immersion school so they had a nice collection of French children’s books. All of the French books they were going to get rid of, she donated to my classroom. So now, I have a decent sized classroom library. I also have books that I have purchased (off Amazon, when I am in France or Canada).

I love this library, but again, because of the fear of too many words at once, the kids didn’t touch it, even when they had spare time and nothing to do.

Then, this summer, it hit me. Make them use the library! Find a way to chunk the skills they need to use into a short and manageable activity and practice it regularly to build their confidence with it. Trick them into reading!

I created a sheet to use after the annual cognate and dictionary lesson we do, that has them pick a book from the classroom library and find specific things in it. For now, they have to find cognates and some new words that they had to use pictures or context clues to guess at. Then they use the words in a sentence.

But they don’t know sentences! No they don’t, but they can “Franglais” their way to full French sentences. Their first sentences are all English except the new word. It’s ok to work only with what you know. Slowly as we learn more and more, the sentences will be come more and more French, and eventually they will be doing a classic reading exercise that you could use in a lower level reading class: read a text, find new vocab, use it in sentences. BAM!

I haven’t been doing this for more than a month now, but the very first time was so interesting! Watching them struggle through things, asking me for help and me just waiting for them to see that the word “chien” on the page with lots of dogs probably means “dog”.

I gave them a completion grade for the first few, as long as they tried, they win. I need them to just want to try, to feel comfortable trying. I might start really grading them as we go, but this is new for me, so I am still working it out.

Some things to note:

  • I know that not everyone has the luxury of going to France to get books (I spend my spending money because I like having them anyways, and I get to go to France because I take students on a trip almost every year, I’m not a rich teacher…hahahaha oxymoron… 😦 )
  • I know that not everyone has parents at their door trying to donate things to the class
  • I recommend pulling things from the internet, short pages of common stories with pictures, or TV5 Monde – Jeunesse has good things, and have them use that.
  • Make sure they have a strong understanding of cognates and know how to use a dictionary
  • Encourage mistakes from day one, make guessing ok, push them to believe that trying is enough for you

On my Freebies page you will find my cognates lesson, cognate poster examples, and examples of student work with the book activity from an older version of my work page.

On my TpT page, I have the cognates lesson and the newly revamped book activity page and directions in PDF and Microsoft editable versions for only $2.

What do you do to help your students build confidence reading in your language class? Share in the comments or on Instagram @frenchteacherforlife!

Bonne soirée!

Posted in Work it!

We work it on Day 1!

When I started teaching, I would always put together the syllabus and talk for an hour about EVERYTHING the kids could possibly know about EVERYTHING. It was overwhelming for them and for me; I don’t want to talk that much non-stop!

So, I switched things up and started looking for ways to teach them how my classroom works, without talking at them and while using as much French as possible.

Some things (I personally feel) you just have to talk about in English to make sure you are extra clear: classroom expectations, grading policy…

But showing them where supplies are located in the room is one (of many) that you can do in French at ANY level.

My 6th graders (who, at our school, do an exploratory languages rotation, trying 5 different languages for 6 weeks each) and my 7th graders (French 1A) do this activity in “Franglais.” The key words I want them to start learning are bolded and in French, the answers are to be written in French, but location information, verbs, and descriptors are in English. It’s not EASY but they are always able to complete it, normally within 15 minutes (max – they are middle schoolers and tend to stop and chat every 2 seconds).

My 8th graders (French 1B – high school credit class) do it in French. Everything is in French, they might not remember it all, but it helps their brains start pulling the old dusty French files out from behind Fortnite or how Bobby broke up with Suzy “like, literally yesterday. So cringy!”

Some things that make this work:

  • I preface it with pointing out that there are words everywhere in the room, even doing the first one with them.
  • There are words everywhere in the room. Almost every single word they need is a label in French by that item. Below is a picture of labels like pencil sharpener, tape… and those things are located underneath their labels. IMG_3804
  • Things that aren’t labeled can be figured out by using context clues, cognates, or other questions on the paper.
  • I encourage making educated guesses, working together, asking me for hints, and accepting that if they get one wrong, so what? We always go over it at the end (I don’t tell them that until after they finish, though).

At the bottom of the scavenger hunt is a matching section; they match the French and English word, just to help them focus in on all the French words they saw. These words are words we will work with all year. I do not focus on all of them at the very beginning though. After this activity, we take the most important and useful words for functioning in class in French as much as possible; we will work on others as we need them.

In general, I find that after we go over the answers, they make corrections if needed, and then they pass them in knowing that their first grade in French class is a 100, the students feel just a little less anxious about this whole “speaking French thing.”

The documents I use are attached on the Freebies page and on my TpT store for free! You have access to a pdf and a docx format for all of them. Edit it to work for your classroom and the words that your kids will use most often, even change it to another language, whatever you like! There are 3 different documents: The advanced scavenger hunt (all in French for my 8th graders), the “Franglais” scavenger hunt, and an answer key.

What do you do with your kids on the first day? Share in the comments below, on Instagram, or my TpT store!

Bonne nuit!

** Side note: I use the word “le Scotch” for tape because its just way easier to remember and say for the students, and it works just like Kleenex for us. I do however have the label for it also say the real word for tape: le ruban adhésif. A few students want the challenge of a longer word and will learn it as that instead. That is fine with me!