Each day, in every single one of my classes (even French 1!) I start with the same question: Quoi de neuf? (“What’s new?”). It’s a simple, but extremely effective way, to get students speaking in the TL in a no-pressure situation. I let them speak about whatever they want, for however long they want, and anyone who wants to talk gets a chance to have the floor – so long as it’s in French. I used to do this mostly on Fridays or Mondays, to discuss weekend plans and goings-on, but it has since expanded into everyday use.
I used to – well, who am I kidding, really, I still do – feel the pressure of having to “get to work” and maximize our scant 55 minutes to dig into our current unit topics and spending this kind of time to just talk to one another about whatever was on our minds felt like an enormous waste. But then I thought about it – doesn’t language exist for this reason? To have conversations? What use is it to rush into vocabulary and grammar and reading/writing/listening, however authentic and CI-based they may be, if the kids are happy to just use the TL to speak to each other? So now we talk, for however long we’d like; sometimes it’s 5 minutes, sometimes it’s 25 minutes. The students are happy because they think they “didn’t do anything” in French class that day, and I’m happy because we got to practice speaking without me having to actually prep anything special. 🙂
I’ve found extraordinary participation during this Quoi de neuf conversation. Even students who wouldn’t normally be willing to participate in regular speaking activities or games are willing to raise their hands and tell me what’s going on in their lives that day; I have three tests today, or I’m going to dinner with my family, or I have homework in five classes! Sometimes I’m sneaky and get in a little bit of a grammar reminder, like when a student says that she’s “going to go to a restaurant this weekend” and it’s Monday – I’ll say something like, “Going to go this coming weekend?” as if I’m verifying her detail, and typically that will be enough for the student to smile, re-assess, and tell me, “No, I went!”
My students regularly tell me that this conversation time is their favorite thing about class, and I often get comments such as, “You’re the only teacher that actually wants to know about our lives.” I feel fortunate that, as the only French teacher in my building, I get to know these students so well and can share these moments with them.
So, go ahead…quoi de neuf?