Friday, December 23, 2016

How to use a mannequin in your classroom #14: Le pique-nique de Jacques & Suzette!

I would say that after more than 20 years in the classroom that one of the most important lessons I've learned is this:  If you can get your students interested in what you want to teach them, it will make you instantly more effective as a teacher!  My mentor would agree.  When I was a new teacher, he encouraged me to find out what students wanted, and then repackage my lessons accordingly.  I have found this to be very wise advice.  

My students are immediately interested in anything that has to do with my classroom mannequins.  And why wouldn't they be?  Wouldn't it be SO MUCH more interesting to sit in a lesson where a teacher was telling & acting out a story about a life-size department store mannequin than to read a boring dialog in a textbook about Pierre & Anne who went to the grocery store?  I took that textbook dialog meant to teach students how to use the passé composé and threw it out, replacing it with a  story I wrote about Jacques & his girlfriend Suzette (my classroom mannequins, which you are aware of if you've been reading this blog) and their picnic date.  Because we were learning vocabulary about how to describe the countryside, I chose to have the story take place in the countryside.  I acted out the story for students with props.  Here's a photo.

I had already taught students how to form the passé composé (the past tense).  In this lesson, I wanted students to practice using it in the context of a story.  The story about the picnic date ended thusly:  Jacques was waiting for Suzette to show up, having spread out the picnic (see above), and he was starting to get upset and wondering where she was.  Students were instructed to write a few lines about what they thought happened next, using the passé composé.  Then they acted out their lines for the class, and they always come up with some very creative endings, so this turns out to be quite enjoyable and engaging.

A few days later, I piqued their interest again by letting them know that I was going to tell them what REALLY happened to Suzette at the end of that story.  I had the same picnic scene set up when they arrived to class, and Suzette was also there, but covered up with a sheet so that they couldn't see her.  This really causes them to be interested.  I unveiled Suzette after the bell rang, and this is what they saw:

I played the part of Jacques: Jacques got bored while waiting for Suzette, so he ate the whole picnic, and then he started shooting at squirrels with his bow & arrow...but he didn't know that Suzette had just arrived (she was behind the bushes), and he accidentally shot her with an arrow!  She screamed, and he ran to her and told her he was so sorry.  Then, he took off his shirt, tore it up and made a bandage for her leg.

Above is Jacques' shirt, which I was wearing over my clothes.  When I took the shirt off and acted out "ripping it", I didn't want to actually rip the shirt, so I improvised by ripping a sheet of paper for the sound effect.  I thought my students would think this was dumb, but one of them stayed after class to tell me that was her favorite part of the story :).  Then I picked Suzette up over my shoulder and RAN across the classroom with her to the doctor's office, where I also played the part of the doctor (see the props below).

The doctor examined Suzette and told her she would be ok.  Then Jacques hugged Suzette and told her he loved her.

There was gasping, laughing and spontaneous applause at the end of this scene.  Students were genuinely interested in what was happening.  Afterwards, I gave them a typed copy of the scene, and asked them to change the verbs to the passé composé.  As a result of these lessons, students heard, spoke, read and wrote the passé composé.  They also enjoyed themselves, and so did I.  Immensely.  I love that teaching a language affords me the opportunity to be creative.

Happy teaching, everyone!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Get students speaking by hosting a Game Show!

Bonjour tout le monde!  I hope everyone has had a great start to their school year! I haven't posted in a while, and I'd like to thank those of you who've recently reminded me that you are reading my blog which has really encouraged me to keep on writing. I'd like to share a successful lesson that I taught last week.  This lesson was used in high school French II and students were learning how to name various professions.  I took a writing activity from my textbook (which described what certain people did in their professions and asked students to guess what it was based on the description), and turned it into a television style game show!  I made index cards on which I wrote the short descriptions and the French name of the person assuming that profession.   Then I made a Power Point presentation to create a game show atmosphere.  The slides of the Power Point showed the same names and descriptions that were on the index cards.  I also inserted game show music and applause at appropriate times in the presentation, which definitely helped to set the tone.  The index cards looked like this:


Je travaille dans un hôpital.  J'aide les malades, mais je ne suis pas médecin.

 DO NOT READ THIS OUTLOUD:  Je suis infirmière. 

And then, I DRESSED UP as a game show host, and my students participated as either contestants in the show or members of the audience.  The goal was for the audience to guess the professions of the  contestants by listening to the description and then asking questions.  I welcomed my students at the door, dressed in a mullet wig, a ridiculous sport coat, a name tag that read "Gigi Paris", and a toy microphone. When greeting students, I said (in French), "Welcome sir/miss.  My name is Gigi Paris".  If they addressed me as Madame, I corrected them.  I wish you could have witnessed the giggles on the way to their seats, especially from those who try not to show their emotions.  It was almost worth all of the effort just for that!  I welcomed the class to the show with my mic and asked for a volunteer, and then gave that person the mic (an important prop for this lesson!).  They came up front and were given one of the index cards to read.  All they had to do was give the name on the card and read the  description.  In the background, I was projecting the Power Point slides at the same time, which gave the same information they were reading.  After each description, I projected a slide that showed  questions students could ask to narrow down the answer, such as "Do you work in an office? Do you travel a lot?".  The contestant could then call on any audience member to ask a question.  The rule was that the audience had to ask at least 3 questions from the screen before attempting to guess the profession.  The person to guess correctly became the next contestant, and the game continued in this manner.

My game show host costume!
This lesson was successful for several reasons: students were interested, everyone was engaged in either speaking, listening or reading French, and everyone was having a good time.  I encourage you to consider doing something similar. Your students will thank you!  One of mine approached me in my costume, hugged me, and said, "Madame, you're awesome!"  I'm sure you would love to hear that as much as I did :).  Happy teaching!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Les petits bonhommes

Happy winter from the Mitten!  This weekend I spent a lovely few hours in my kitchen trying a new recipe.  Even though I've had the incredible good fortune to have lived in France, I had never heard of les petits bonhommes until I saw a French chef preparing them on a cooking show.  They are absolutely adorable, and ever since I saw the show, I've wanted to find time to make them for my students.  You can find the recipe here.

The recipe is not simple and does require some time.  I love to bake though, so for me it was enjoyable and also very satisfying to be able to expose my students and also my own family to this French treat!  Here's how mine turned out:

Let me tell you, these things smelled heavenly!  Not only are they cute, but to me they are so very, very French! I would describe the taste and texture as something close to a German soft pretzel, except that the dough is slightly sweet.  They are made in Alsace (during the Christmas season), so I guess the pretzel-like dough must be a German influence.

I only made a small amount since the recipe was so time-consuming, and I shared them with some of my upper level students since those are my smallest classes. What a fun way this was to celebrate French on a snowy day.  They were delighted!  And why wouldn't they be?  France offers some of the most delicious foods in the world, and this is one of the things that makes the French culture so unique and special.  I think offering my students new types of French food helps to rekindle their love of the culture, and therefore the language!  

Petits bonhommes = happy students with a renewed desire to learn :)  

 If you like to bake, I highly recommend trying this out.  Let me know how it goes if you do!

Friday, July 10, 2015

How to use a mannequin in your classroom #13: Crime Scene Investigation!

As I write this post, I'm sitting by my swimming pool enjoying the month of July and reflecting on the past school year.  This lesson was one of my favorite lessons, and it was something I'd never tried before.  I think it's so important for teachers to continue to learn, grow, and adapt.  This lesson was born out of a desire to find a more effective and interesting way to introduce the correct use of the passé composé (compound past tense) & the imparfait (imperfect tense) when describing past events.  I used it in my French II class, which for me is the first time the concept is introduced.  The idea I came up with is something that I discovered that many elementary school teachers already use...I first saw the idea on Pinterest.  Here it is:  use a crime scene investigation to get students to recreate a past event.  Brilliant!!!  I have to say that I've learned a lot from elementary school teachers over the years! 

If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I have a classroom mannequin named Jacques.  I'm continually making up stories about his life to incorporate into my teaching, and my students absolutely love it.  Naturally, I decided to invent a story about a crime that happened to Jacques and his girlfriend, Suzette.  Here's what students saw when they entered my classroom that day:

I peaked their interest before they even entered the room by putting caution tape on the door.  When they came in, they said things like, "Is this for US?" (with excitement!)  I asked them to take a few minutes to observe the crime scene.  There were six clues:

1.  sunglasses
2.  footprints
3.  spilled cup of coffee with lipstick on the cup
4. a spilled purse
5. a bandanna, a mask & blood splatters
6. a shattered mannequin hand & blood splatters

Students went back to their seats and were given a paper with the following questions on it, in French of course: 

1.  What was the weather like?
2.  What time of day was it?
3.  How many people were there?
4.  What was Suzette (Jacques' girlfriend) doing?
5.  What was the bandit wearing?
5.  What did the bandit take?
6.  What did Jacques hit with his hand?

It was easy for students to figure out that I wanted them to answer the first question with "It was nice weather", and so on.  Once they had attempted to answer all of the questions, we reviewed the answers together, and then I asked students to notice what verb tenses were used in each question, and to try to figure out why.  This was how I introduced the rules that govern which tense to use when describing the past (students had already mastered how to form the two tenses).  Here are a few more photos:

As a side note, if you're wondering about the shattered mannequin may have noticed in previous photos that Jacques is missing a hand :).  The real reason for this is that I dropped it one day, and it shattered.  I've always meant to repair it, but haven't.  So it's been in my cupboard for years.  And students are always asking me what happened to his this was the perfect opportunity to make up a story about it!  He smashed his hand saving his girlfriend from a bandit!

This lesson was very successful.  100% of the class was interested and engaged.  Students used critical thinking skills and were able to tell me what the rules were for choosing between the two tenses.  And I think they actually enjoyed themselves in the process.  I know I did.

I'd like to thank author, teacher and presenter Dave Burgess for validating this approach to teaching.  I read his amazing book on the first day of summer vacation this year.  It's called Teach Like a Pirate, and if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it!  He reminded me that engaging & exciting lessons like this are not less rigorous than those that include lengthy grammar exercises.  In fact, he reminded me of the importance of getting students to want to learn what we're trying to teach them.  It is essential to their success.  

I hope you'll consider trying a crime scene investigation lesson in your class next year!  Please feel free to email me if you'd like to see any of the documents I used.  I'd be more than happy to share them.

P.S.  I found the caution tape at a Halloween store, and I found the footprints, blood splatters and coffee stain via Google images.  Also, I am not compensated to promote Dave Burgess' book :).

Friday, April 3, 2015

Le Poisson d'avril!

Bonjour tout le monde!  I hope you're all having a great school year!  Today is the first day of my spring break, and I'm really looking forward to some rest and relaxation, and some time to catch up on my blogging :).  And it looks like spring is finally arriving here in Michigan!  I feel invigorated already!

I've been teaching for a number of years, but for some reason I've never included Le Poisson d'avril (the French equivalent of April Fool's) activities in my classes.  I tried it for the first time this week, and was happy with how it went.  I explained the French tradition of taping paper fish on the backs of others without their knowledge and then yelling "Poisson d'avril" when the prank has been discovered.  My classroom mannequin, Jacques, was decked out with fish in order to draw attention to the activity.

The paper fish are traditionally taped on one's back, but I put them on the front here so that students could see them.
 I gave students about ten minutes to cut out their own paper fish and to write "Poisson d'avril" on each one.  Then I explained that we'd be having a Poisson d'avril competition on April 1st.  Students were instructed to try and tape their fish on the backs of others before school, during lunch, or after school that day.  I made this rule because I didn't want the activity to be a disruption in other classes. I also sent an email to all of the faculty members to explain this.  Students were told that if I heard from any other teachers that they were being disruptive, they would be disqualified from the competition.  I also came up with a point system:  

Student or sibling: 10 pts.
French student: 15 pts.
Parent: 20 pts.
Teacher: 50 pts.
French teacher: 100 pts.

To verify, students were asked to take a photo of the fish on the person's back and then email it to me.  I was really wondering how this would all go, since I can think of a million ways it could have been disastrous.  I'm happy to report that my students really had a ball, and it was just good, clean fun!  Here are some of the photos they sent me.

I love the look on her face...she has no idea yet that she has a fish on her back :).
More classroom decorations.  I found these on Pinterest.  Aren't they cute?
This is our high school counselor...she doesn't know she has a fish on her back yet :).
The students seemed to especially enjoy trying to tag their teachers.  This is a history teacher who loves to pull pranks.  I can't believe anyone was able to get him!  He was busy that day trying to scare students with a plastic spider dangling from a thread attached to a long colleagues are awesome!
This is a music teacher.  My colleagues were very good sports about it all!
More fish for my classroom!  I made these from scraps of wrapping paper and some card stock.
Ha ha ha!  Poisson d'avril!

The next day, the student with the most points in each class was awarded a French prize.  I gave them each a bottle of Orangina and a Toblerone chocolate bar.  Students were required to cut out the paper fish, but they were not required to participate in the competition.  It was successful for many reasons:

It got French outside of the classroom (promoting your program!)
It got students to participate in a cultural activity
Students learned about French products through the prizes that were awarded
It was fun!

Happy Spring.  P.S. No one was able to tag the French teacher!  Huzzah!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

National French Week 2014

Bonjour!  It's been a while since I've blogged because I've been even busier than usual with life at school.  This fall I decided to go ALL OUT celebrating National French Week!  I was able to do this thanks to the fact that I now have a colleague teaching middle school French, and we worked together!  We met over the summer to brainstorm.  We chose the top 5 reasons that students at our school should study French.  Then we figured out how to get these reasons outside of our classrooms in as many ways as possible.

I live in Michigan in the Detroit area.  Here are our top 5 reasons to learn French:
  1. French is the official language of approximately 50 countries.  (I have found over the years that very few people understand this.  We French teachers should be shouting it from the mountain tops!  In fact, while we were putting up our display, two parents stopped to observe and told us they had no idea that this was the case!)  
  2. The number of French-speakers is expected to triple in the next several decades. (from an article in USA Today, 2014)
  3. Detroit was founded by a Frenchman.
  4. There are more than 300 French companies in Michigan. (French-American Chamber of Commerce)
  5. French is beautiful. (I made a video of my students speaking French to help emphasize this point).
So we decided to put up two giant displays in both the middle school and the high school with this information on it.  Here's what they looked like:

I purchased the map shown above specifically for this display.  It was not cheap, but I really felt that the map would validate point #1, which is maybe the most important one, in my opinion.  Surprisingly, I've found that people sometimes have not believed me when I've made this point in the past.  So, I wanted the map there to show exactly where French is spoken.  You can see that I added my top 5 reasons to learn French.  The black rectangles are actually reusable chalkboard vinyl sheets  and I wrote on them with wet-erase liquid chalk markers.  Here's a closer view:

I love the liquid chalk markers!  We used a red plastic table cloth for the background, and the letters at the top were a free download (for a limited time) from Teachers Pay Teachers, which the Spanish teacher discovered (thanks, Katie!).  We attached the letters to some baker's twine with mini clothespins:

We also decided to have our students make French labels for various places in the building such as the water fountain, the bathroom, the main office, etc. & of course we then put them up around both buildings.  In addition, I had my French I students make posters about French-speaking countries, and I hung these in the hallways in the high school.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the posters & the labels.  You can see though how we got French outside of our classrooms with these activities.  It was impossible not to notice French when one walked through our school that week!

This was only one of many things my colleague and I did for National French Week this year.  Stay tuned for more posts about what else we did.

Bonne Année...Happy New Year!!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Paris Bulletin Board

Bonjour fellow teachers!  I hope you've all had a good start to the year & that you're settling into your routine like I am.  I decided that my bulletin boards needed a fresh look this fall.  So I searched around on Pinterest for some new ideas.  I updated the look of my bulletin board by using a double border in red & blue, and some amazing silver glitter wrapping paper for the background.

I've never tried a double border wasn't too hard and I really like the look!  The glittery wrapping paper was purchased at a craft supply store (Michael's).  Here's what it looks like up close:

I also made the Paris banner.  I found these wonderful free printable letters on Pinterest here, and I love the look!  The banner was so easy to make.  I just printed the letters on white card stock, and then put decorative craft tape around the edges.  I strung them all together on red and white baker's twine, which I also purchased from the craft supply store.  Here's an up close view:

And voila!  A brand new modern look for a new school year!  While I was at it, I purchased some peel & stick chalkboard "wallies" and some wet erase liquid chalk markers (on Amazon).  It seems like chalkboard everything is the new look, so I wanted to try this out.  Here's a new decoration I made for the wall:

I hope you enjoyed these ideas...bonne rentrée à tous et à toutes! :)


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