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

CSI with Jacques the mannequin! (How to teach students to describe past events)

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 hand...you 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 hand...so 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 stick....my 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 before...it 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! :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Graduation Gifts for your Students

It seems to me that it is just as important for a teacher to end well as it is to begin well.  Educators speak a lot about beginning well, but I almost never hear anything about ending well.  I want my students to know that I've genuinely valued the brief intersection of our lives, and I want them to have a memento of our time together that will be meaningful to them in the future.  I imagine that you feel the same way!  But how to come up with meaningful gifts that won't cost a fortune?  I found an interesting idea on Pinterest that I thought I would try this year.  

You will need:  an old copy of Le Petit Prince (or any piece of literature that you've studied together), a picture frame and a printer.


  I chose a famous quote from the book, which we had read and studied together, and printed it on a page of the book in a different direction so that it would stand out.  I also chose to add a little art work.  I was very pleased with the results.  What do you think?

The total cost for this gift was $10 since I was able to find the frame on sale for 40% off at a local craft store.  I chose to make these for each of my Advanced Placement students since I've taught them for the past 5 years.  I hope they will remember their love of the French language and all the happy times we spent together learning when they look at these in the years to come.  I really liked how these turned out, and now I'm thinking about making one for myself!  Do you have any great ideas for graduation gifts?  I invite you to leave a comment!  I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. :)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How to use a Mannequin in your Classroom #11: Describing your daily Routine

Bonjour fellow teachers!  It's the end of April...a time of year when most of us feel tired and are wondering if we can make it to the end of the school year.  It's the time of year when we feel like we're just limping or maybe even crawling to the finish line.  Creativity wanes.  We find ourselves just trying to survive.  And our students probably feel the same way.  Believe me, I know...and I feel your pain. I want to offer you some encouragement.  It is for all of these reasons that something new & exciting is just what is needed in our classrooms.  For our own sake, and also for the sake of our students.  We can not hope to pass along enthusiasm for learning to them if we're not excited about what we're teaching ourselves!  I get excited when I try something new and it turns out to be successful, and that's exactly what happened last week.  I had an idea about a new story I could write about my classroom mannequins, Jacques & Suzette.  

I decided to create a story about Suzette having a really bad day...similar to the story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, no good, very bad Day . Right now my French II students are learning how to use reflexive verbs and how to describe their daily routines.  So I wrote this story about Suzette's routine and how things went wrong.  Basically, she washed her hair with toothpaste by accident and got a comb stuck in her hair.  Then, she tried shaving with a new razor, and cut her leg.  In the story I used the vocabulary words (toiletry items) and reflexive verbs (to wash, to shave, etc.) that we're studying in the current lesson.  When students came to class on the day of this lesson, this is what they saw:

Suzette has a "bad hair day".
 Students said things like, "Is this for us?" and , "Madame, what's wrong with Suzette?" as they entered the room.  They were interested in the lesson before I even began to teach it. A mannequin with a comb stuck in her hair is so much more intriguing than the story in your textbook that is meant to teach the same thing.  And here's the REALLY exciting part.  One of my colleagues (thanks, Katie Beth!) let me borrow some theatrical make-up...some fake blood, which is truly amazing stuff in how much it resembles the real thing... so that I could make it look like Suzette really cut her leg!



I made a video on my iPad about Suzette's day.  I used the above photos and an app called Morfo which allows you to make a photo "speak", and I created the whole thing in the iMovie app.  Here are the results: (p.s. the joke about Kansas at the end is an inside joke in our class)


I was actually teaching students how to use reflexive verbs in the past tense on this day.  I showed the video to the students, and asked them to listen to how the verbs sounded.  After viewing the video twice, students were able to tell me (rather than me telling them) what the rule is for using these types of verbs in the past tense!  The next day, I gave students the text to the video with the verbs missing, and they practiced changing the verbs to the past tense.  So, this is what I accomplished with this short video:
  1. Students figured out the grammar rule on their own & were able to tell me what it was.
  2. Students practiced their listening skills while viewing the video.
  3. Students practiced their reading & writing skills when working with the text to the video.
  4. Students wanted to understand what was happening in the video because it was of high interest to them.
I have to say that I wasn't entirely sure beforehand that they would think this video was as great as I did.  But, they actually gasped when they saw the blood and laughed at the appropriate times.  And someone even said, "Madame, WHERE do you come up with these ideas?"  

It was not easy to come up with the time to create this, but I'm so glad that I made the time to do it while I was thinking of it.  It was definitely energizing for me and enjoyable for my students.  I encourage you to consider doing something new before the year ends.  Fake blood might be just what you need to make it to the finish line!!!

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