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 piqued 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!!


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