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!”
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.
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!