Privilege: A unit for Intermediates



Last year at OFLA, I was incredibly inspired by Carrie Toth’s workshops and sessions in which she talked about getting students involved in communities beyond their own through service learning projects (all in Spanish, too!). One that really stuck with me was the project she did (inspired in turn by Kristy Placido) that had students researching borrowers on Kiva who were in need of loans to grow their local businesses. Both teachers had students choose a borrower, create a video to promote him/her and then the classes voted on their favorite videos. The incredible part is that both Carrie and Kristy put up their own money to offer as a prize for the winners.

As soon as I heard Carrie describe this project, I knew I had to bring it into my classroom, and my French 4/AP split was the perfect environment to do so. While I teach a relatively culturally-diverse student population, the socio-economic diversity is not as marked. Most of my students are lucky to come from pretty fortunate families, and my school does its best to be as charitable as possible to not only our community, but the communities around us as well. Every February we have a “charity week” that raises enormous sums of money for local charities – last year was upwards of $57,000 – so thankfully the spirit of giving really is a part of our overall school culture. Still, though, I wanted to give students to the opportunity to go even beyond our own state and examine the fact that literally billions of people in the world live in abject poverty, and also to reflect on how they can use their privilege to give a leg up to those who need it.

The Intro

I introduced the notion of privilege by co-opting the activity that I once saw on a BuzzFeed article in English. As luck would have it, this same article had been translated into French – perfect! In short, I dragged my classroom trash can to the front of the room and told the students that I would give them a prize if they could throw a wadded up ball of paper into the trash can without leaving their seats. As predicted, there were outbursts from the students in the back of the class as the students in the front were easily able to toss their paper into the trash can while the students who were further away faced many more obstacles. I asked why the students in the back were angry, and whether or not the students in the front did anything to make this task easier on them. This led to a really valuable discussion about privilege – what it is, how you can be aware of it, and how you can use your privilege in a meaningful way. How could the students in the front of the classroom have helped those in the back while still adhering to the requirement of not leaving one’s seat?

After we discussed this, I wrote the word privilège on the white board and had students write their ideas of what that word meant to them around it. They all took it very seriously and I was impressed with what they were able to come up with!

The Input

During the next two-three days after the introduction, the students did a lot of reading and listening about the state of poverty in the world and the practice of microfinance as a way for entrepreneurs in developing countries – who otherwise don’t have access to their local banking systems – to create a business that earns them money to support their families but also services the community they live in. The cool thing about Kiva (and other microfinance sites like Babyloan) is that you’re not just throwing a donation at an agency with a big money pot; it’s a loan that helps an individual do something meaningful and that they will eventually be able to pay back once their business gets off the ground.


We did a couple of jigsaw reading activities where small groups of students were responsible for reading the following documents and reporting out to their classmates on what they learned.

L’extrême pauvreté par zone géographique

2,9 milliards vivent avec moins de deux dollars par jour

Mettre fin à la pauvreté est à notre portée

Le microcrédit à Brazzaville in the Thèmes textbook (Vista Higher Learning)


We also did some listening activities about the principles of microcredit and about Kiva itself.

I introduced the basic idea of Kiva/microcrédit with the animated video L’histoire de Pedro. We did a CLOZE-style activity, but I typed up an English translation of the video and had the students fill it in with English while listening to the French. (You can get that here).

Then, we watched a more in-depth report from I stopped the video after Jennie from Paris speaks, but you could easily continue on with it. The students filled out some (admittedly superficial) comprehension questions (You can get mine here).

The Product

The past couple of days, just as Carrie and Kristy did in their classes, my students spent some time perusing Kiva and finally chose a borrower to focus on. They made their videos today and tomorrow we’ll narrow down the “best” ones who will be in competition for a monetary prize from me. I will not be voting, but I’ll have the kids watch each others’ videos on YouTube and the top like-getters will come away with the prizes. I’ll share some examples tomorrow!

4 thoughts on “Privilege: A unit for Intermediates

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