10 Activities for Music in the Classroom (that aren’t fill-in-the-blank!)

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Bonne rentrée tous et toutes! I simply cannot believe I’m not back in the high school classroom today, greeting all of my new and returning students. I know I’m where I am supposed to be right now but today, I miss those kids, my colleagues, and the energy of high school way more than I thought I would.

Even though for many teachers in the United States today is the very first day of classes, what better way to kick off the year than jumping right into Mercredi musique tomorrow?! The first thing my students wanted to know when I told them I would not be returning this fall was, “Will we still be able to do Mercredi musique?!” While my own Mercredi musique routine is a very simplified version of Laura’s Coros process (listen to the song & watch the music video,  discuss our reactions, learn the chorus & sing all together), music is a great vehicle for language and culture! And most of all – it’s FUN! I’ve seen a ton of posts on social media lately, from teachers asking how to move beyond CLOZE activities when it comes to incorporating music in the classroom (no shade to CLOZE activities – I’ve used plenty of them!). Here are a few of my favorite activities, that are also relatively low-prep.

  1. Music Word Cloud Races: I learned this one from Carrie Toth at a conference a few years ago and it is so much fun! Run the lyrics (or major words from the lyrics) through a word cloud generator like Tagxedo or Tagul and print the word cloud. Give one copy to each pair of students, and have them select a writing implement that is a different color from their partner’s. Play the song, and when they hear a word that’s in the word cloud, they have to be the first to totally color in that word. The partner with the most of his/her color on the sheet at the end is the “winner.” (Activity Hack: For more advanced students, put the words in English).
  2. Arrange the Lyrics: Super easy and can be done individually or in pairs (which I suggest). Print the lyrics and have students cut them up, line by line, then mix up the strips on their desks. Play the song, and the students have to rearrange the lyrics into the right order. (Activity Hack: At the end, give an envelope to each kid and have them stuff the strips back in. Put all the envelopes into a gallon sized Ziploc, and you’ve got your activity already created if you want to use that song again.)
  3. Embedded Reading: If you’re using a song that features a lot of a particular language structure that you want to highlight, create an embedded reading based on the story behind the song or the video that features many repetitions of that structure.
  4. Re-cap with screencaps: Take screenshots of major points in the music video, and have students retell the story using the pictures as a visual aid/support. (Activity Hack: You will probably want to do an embedded reading beforehand, particularly for novice/intermediate low students.)
  5. Recreate the video: Based on their understanding/interpretation of the lyrics, have students develop a storyboard for their own version of a music video and provide a summary/description of each frame in the TL. (Activity Hack: Give the students the lyrics firstbut do NOT show the original music video as you listen; have students compare how their own interpretations related to the “real” version.)
  6. Lip Sync Battle: This is really fun to do any time you have some extra class time but don’t necessarily want to fill it with new material (before a long break, in-between units, at the end of the school year, etc.). Students can work in pairs or groups of three to create choreography and give their best performance of their favorite target language song!
  7. Blackout or Found Poetry: Print the lyrics and give a copy to each student. Blackout poetry is a little more complex, as they are required to keep the words in their original order and “black out” the parts that won’t be used with a marker, thus creating a new “poem.” Alternatively, they could create a found poem – using only the songlyrics, but cutting them up and rearranging them into a new order.
  8. Intruder: Give each student a set of lyrics, but include words and phrases that are NOT actually in the song. As they listen, the students have to identify which words and phrases do not belong. (Activity Hack: Students can “level up” by identifying what the REAL lyrics are.)
  9. The Voice: I used this with my 4/AP students last year during our Beauty & Esthetics unit but it could be adapted to any level, particularly if you want students to be able to talk about music in quantitative terms (describing the rhythm, melody, instrumentation, and so on). Just like the blind audition stage of “The Voice”, the students turn their backs to the SmartBoard (if you have one) while you play a snippet from a lesser-known song by a target culture singer (either known or unknown to the students). If the students like what they hear, they turn around to see who the singer is. If not, they remain with their backs turned to the board. At the end of the snippet, discuss together in the TL what they liked or didn’t like. This activity is extra fun if you have access to swivel chairs! (Activity Hack: Both France and Mexico have their own versions of “The Voice” and many very famous singers like Louane and Kendji Girac started out as contestants on the show! Play their audition videos and see what the judges had to say about them – do you agree or disagree? Why?)
  10. Don’t Forget the Lyrics: A great brain break or filler for those extra five minutes at the end of class, when things went a little faster than expected! Divide the class into two teams. Play a snippet of a song that the class knows, then “randomly” hit pause (I usually did it before the chorus, as that’s what my students knew). If the team can sing the next line of the song, they get the point. Each team gets their own turn, though if they’re wrong the other team can “steal.”


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A Play on Write, Draw, Pass

If my students had an all-time favorite activity, it would probably be Martina Bex’s Write, Draw, Pass. It’s like the game telephone, but written and with images. They love to see how well the story stays together (or how crazily it falls apart!) as they pass the papers around.

Last week, I needed a quick, no-prep way to work on si clauses with my level 3 students. We’re not going super in-depth with it, just enough to say “If I did _________, then ______ would happen.” Since the imperfect (the part after “if”) and the conditional are SO similar in French (they have the same endings!) the students really need practice differentiating between the two since they always tend to make it either usingly ONLY the imperfect or ONLY the conditional. So, I busted out Martina’s Write, Draw, Pass template and we made a story chain!

For simplicity, I provided the very first “If” clause and the students filled in the rest. Of course, I went with “If there was a zombie apocalypse…” and in the first box, the students had to finish the sentence with what they thought WOULD happen. After that, they passed it to a neighbor, and the neighbor drew a picture that represented the first sentence. They passed again, and in the third box, they continued the story using the last half of the first sentence as the beginning of the next “If” clause. So it went like this:

If there was a zombie apocalypse, I would fight the zombies. If I fought the zombies, the zombies would die. If the zombies died…etc.

When the kids got their original papers back, they had a lot of fun seeing how their original scenario panned out!

And, of course, because you can never have too much of a good thing, I adapted the same activity to my level twos who are currently working on the difference between the passé composé and the imperfect. We used Amy’s One Sentence Story template and created a Write, Draw, Pass story chain one sentence at a time. It was fun, which at this point in the year is super necessary (still three weeks left! gah!) but still requires them to use their language and keep their brains thinking!

Bonne continuation!

Crazy Teacher

Don’t let the title fool you: this post isn’t about me. (Although I am a crazy teacher. Especially right now.) “Crazy teacher” is just the name of a super-fun activity that you can use to spice up reading any novel! I read about this activity in this article and thought it would be perfect for my French 4/APs as they continue reading Le Petit Prince.

Something to know before you start: this activity works best with a shorter reading selection, so either a very brief chapter from a novel (this was the case for my students – chapter 19 and 20 of Petit Prince are very short) or a shorter significant passage from a novel.

The “game” has four steps that each build on one another and help students’ comprehension of the text as well as retelling a story.

Disclaimer: This activity is VERY LOUD. You may want to warn your neighbors.

Step One: The students read the passage aloud to themselves in the most dramatic, enthusiastic voice they can manage. It needs to be WAY over the top in order to be fun!

Step Two: The students re-read the same passage aloud, using the same over-the-top, dramatic voice but now they have to add hand motions to accompany what they’re reading. So if the text says, “The Little Prince ascended a huge mountain” they need to use their hands to show ascended and huge mountain as they read.

Step Three: The students pair up and ask each other questions about the text, still with as much enthusiasm as they can possibly muster.

Step Four: Crazy Teacher! This is the ultimate part of the game – the crazy teacher part! One partner is the teacher, and another is an eager student. The crazy teacher needs to summarize the chapter to the student – again with total drama, but also incorporating charades, hand gestures and props (if available). The student has to react to everything the teacher says with complete gusto.

The kids were reluctant at first when I explained the activity, but they got totally into it very quickly and even asked to do it again today! With everyone acting totally crazy and dramatic, there was no time to feel anxious – during the first two steps, no one is paying attention to anyone but themselves and the book!

Bonne continuation!

Petit Prince Chapters 10-17

French 4/AP continues on our journey of reading Le Petit Prince! It’s been going well, but is a long process due to the number of chapters in the novel and how often we stop to write/discuss/draw/summarize/etc. This is exacerbated by end of year field trips, AP tests, senior exams, and so on. Unfortunately I won’t have time for the mini-unit on soccer that I planned for this year which is a SUPER bummer, but I’m hoping I can start with that in a few of my classes next year, to re-cap the Euro Cup that’s happening in France this year. Otherwise, I plan on giving my exams prior to the official exam day, so perhaps on that long class period we can get out on the pitch and my soccer kids can show us how it’s done.

So, what’d we do for Petit Prince chapters 10-17?

Chapter 10

I printed out the illustration of the king that accompanies chapter 10, and asked the kids to write all over it and surround the king with as many words and phrases as they could in response to the question, “What makes a good king?” We discussed this together as a class, and then I read the chapter aloud to them as they followed along. When we finished, they journaled on a quote from the chapter – It is more difficult to judge yourself than others. They discussed their responses to this journal in small groups.

Chapters 11 and 12

I handed each small group a stack of post-its and had them read chapters 11 and 12 together (for my independent readers, they read alone). On each post it they had to tell me the following things:

  1. Key vocab they wanted to remember
  2. A quote or passage that they found interesting and why
  3. A 10-word summary of the chapter
  4. A question they had about the chapter

It was at about this point that I had a TON of kids out for AP testing and didn’t want to continue the book without them, so with those remaining in class, we did a roleplay in which the Little Prince’s flower is visited by a butterfly – what would the rose tell the butterfly about the Little Prince?

Chapter 13-14

The students read these chapters alone and updated their character maps. There was still a ton of AP testing going on at this point, so it was not as interactive as I would have liked it to be. We played Freeze Frame to re-cap the major events of the book so far.

Chapters 15-17

We had a couple of big discussion questions for these chapters, as the Petit Prince makes his final stop on his trip, on the planet Earth. The first was: How would you describe the earth to someone who had never heard of it?

In responding to this question, I asked the students to draw a visual representation of the Earth and note it’s major physical features, as well as other things they thought were important to know. We did a roleplay in which one person was the “alien” and the other had to explain the Earth to that person. We also did this as a whole-class activity, with me playing the role of “alien.” I really tried to ham it up and make them dig deep with their language – for example, a student would say, “There are big cities with buildings!” and I would respond, “What’s a building? Who goes there? What do you do? Why?”

Our other discussion question was about the role of snakes in film and literature – What do you think of when you think of a snake? In what stories does a snake play a big role?

We also played The Marker Game to review and did a few listening assessments.

Coming up next – we just finished what is probably my favorite project to do with my kids that follows Chapter 18 of Le Petit Prince. Stay tuned!



What We’re Loving Right Now

Happy February!

Things continue to truck along here in my salle de classe. As I blogged earlier, this year has been challenging. That’s still true, but we’re trying to keep on keepin’ on. Scheduling cards went out last week and thankfully, many of my students plan to continue their studies in French. 20 out of 30 Level 2s want to move on to Level 3, and a whopping 30 out of 35 Level 4s want to continue on to AP. My one sticking point is the jump from Level 3 to Level 4 – only 15 out of 36 have signed up so far. I’m not sure what the disconnect is, unfortunately, but it looks like I should have a full schedule for next year, but I’m terrified that after a year of a regular AP class I’ll probably be back to teaching a split, but that’ll be a worry for a year from now.

On a more positive note, here’s what we’re loving right now.

1. Mercredi Musique continues to be a huge hit in most of my classes. I was absent on Wednesday last week and thought we’d just have to wait until the next Wednesday, but there was such a demand that we did Mercredi Musique on Thursday instead. My formula is pretty simple – we listen to a song by a French/Francophone artist and watch the music video (if there is one) and afterwards, the students discuss if they liked/disliked it and why at their tables. Then, we sing the chorus together.

2. Fizz Buzz is a super-easy brain break that my kids have a love-hate relationship with. I can’t remember where the original idea came from, unfortunately! We stand in a circle and count in the TL, basically, but the twist is that whenever you get to a number that has a five in it or is a multiple of five, you say fizz. If the number has a seven or is a multiple of seven, you say buzz. This causes just as many groans as it does laughs, and as a bonus, helps the kids remember their numbers in French as well.

3. The French Revolution is our current until in my Level 4/AP split. History is one of my huge passions – I can nerd out big time when it comes to discussing the French Revolution, the two World Wars, or the women’s rights movement. I really wanted to infuse more of my own passions into my classes and thought the French Revolution was a great place to start. There are so many parallels between French and American society in that particular time period it really makes for a great cultural comparison. Plus, the kids are already somewhat familiar with the Revolution from their history courses, so they’re enjoying seeing it now through the lens of a culture they’ve spent four years studying. It’s been a lot of fun!

Side Note: I would LOVE a TPRS Publishing book related to the French Revolution. How cool would that be?!

4. Schoology Discussion Boards have completely changed how I assess Interpersonal Writing – meaning, I actually assess it now. The Discussion Boards have been super awesome for controversial topics; for example, we most recently did a debate in Level 4 about whether or not the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen should be adopted as law by the Assemblée Constituante and the French monarchy. Each student belonged to a group that would have been represented during this time – the monarchy, the nobles, the clergy, the Tiers-Etat and women – and had to argue “their” viewpoint and respond to others’ posts. My class of 26 generated over ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY posts in one 50-minute period! Some of them even started integrating hashtags in French and attached Revolution-related memes to their posts. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive so the Discussion Board will be sticking around!

Bonne continuation!


Beyond “Oui” and “Non”

One of the things I really value about my particular teaching style is how much time we spend just chatting in French. I’ve blogged before about my daily “quoi de neuf” discussion and it continues to be a favorite activity amongst my students. We do a LOT of discussion-based work in my class, in an effort to see vocabulary and grammar in as much context as possible and to help remove some of the anxiety that comes with speaking a new language by speaking a lot.

So I ask a lot of questions and get some great responses but I hear a lot of oui and non as a result. Well, there are a LOT of different ways to respond to a question negatively or affirmatively and knowing that French 4/AP had a debate coming up, I really wanted to avoid having to listen to a bunch of oui and non cop-out answers but also didn’t want to distribute a worksheet.

The day before our debate, I projected this slide on the SmartBoard and put the students into pairs (easy peasy, since they’re at tables of 4 already).

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The ones that have no English next to them are ones my students already knew. We went through the pronunciation of each expression and I gave an example of when to use the ones that might have been a little trickier. Then, I read aloud a series of statements/questions related to the film we had just watched, Entre les murs, which required the students to take a particular position and defend their answer. But because my students love competition and I wanted the activity to be a little more fun, we game-ified it and said that after I asked the question, if you started your answer with oui or non, your partner would be awarded a point.

We had a lot of fun with this activity, for two reasons – one being that responding with either oui or non was such an automatic response for many of my student that they found it really difficult to stop themselves from saying it (though their partners were happy with the points they racked up!). I also purposely asked follow-up questions to keep them on their toes 🙂 The other reason was that some of the statements I asked them to respond to prompted some heated discussion in French – it was a fun way to get everyone engaged and hit that 90% TL at the same time!

Bonne continuation!

Peek-a-WHO? Icebreaker Activity

Students don’t come back until next Tuesday, but at my school, we’ve had staff inservices all week long. Today we did some large-group icebreaker activities, one of which I thought could lend itself well to a nice icebreaker activity in level 2, or a fun way to practice Il s’appelle/Elle s’appelle in French 1. It’s called “Peek-a-Who.” I’m not teaching French 1 this year, so I’ll use it as a fun first-week activity with my French 2s.


  1. Divide the class into two equal teams. (Team A and Team B, or whatever).
  2. The teacher and one other person (since I have a student teacher, I’ll use him but if I didn’t, I would take a student volunteer and make them switch every few rounds with another student) hold up a big sheet/blanket/tarp that blocks Team A from seeing Team B.
  3. One student on each team walks up to face the tarp (be sure that it’s a secret!)
  4. The teacher and his/her +1 count to three and drop the tarp. The goal is for the two students on either side of the tarp to be the first to correctly identify their opponent by name, using Il s’appelle ________ or Elle s’appelle _________.
  5. The student who correctly identifies his/her opponent by name and using the correct phrase gets to steal that person from the other team.
  6. If the students don’t know each other’s names when the tarp is dropped, they can use the rest of their team for help.
  7. The process repeats as long as desired – the team with the largest number of people at the end is the winner.

Bonne rentrée!

A-MAZE-ing Speaking Practice

French 3/4 is in the midst of their “Bon Voyage” unit right now and have reached the point when they’re practicing both asking and giving directions. I start prepositions of location very early on and do (generally) the same TPR motions for each word from day 1, so these are words my students are relatively familiar with by the time they reach level 3. This time, though, we’re adding in words like cross, pass by, continue straight ahead, until, and so on which are (happily!) mostly cognates.

Nevertheless, using the words in context, after we’ve gone through the motions, is what’s really important to me. I try my best to start with as much input as I can, but then it becomes time for OUTPUT!

Today, I started with a version of Martina Bex’s “Bad Baby” game that involved giving verbal directions to the object instead of counting. The bonus was that it was relatively low-stress, but that meant not everyone got a chance to speak. So, what next?

Being the resource thief that I am, I turned to the internet and the activities I had seen on various list-servs and blogs over the years. Typically, these activities call for blown-up and laminated city maps, which are a logistical nightmare for me to procure as no one but the media specialist is allowed to a.) enlarge copies or b.) use the laminator. I know. So instead, I found some easy children’s maze printables and distributed them to the students. Each student sat with a partner, and while one partner closed his/her eyes, the other student had to verbally direct that person through the maze. Then, they switched.

Fun, quick, easy-to-prep speaking practice! Several students felt confident enough to achieve that stamp on the choice board today, and everyone got a chance to practice, so I’ll consider that one a win!

Second Marking Period Favorites

I’m a little late in gathering up a list of my second marking period favorites, as our second marking period/first semester ended in January (oops). Mieux vaut tard que jamais, as they say.

You can find here as well a list of my First Marking Period favorites who have continued to serve me well beyond October!

TheFrenchCorner: Samantha Decker blogs over at TheFrenchCorner and there’s just something about it that’s not your typical teacher blog. I can’t quite put my finger on it – but I like it! I love having more French teacher blogs to follow; the majority of the ones I read are written by Spanish teachers who are fabulous, but it’s nice to encounter some of my own content area, too. Most recently, Samantha has posted some GREAT roundups of activities and assessments she’s done in her class, grouped by unit. She’s also done roundups of her favorite blog posts from around the web, which is an awesome resource if, like me, you have the attention span of a gnat and can’t spend too much time trying to find specific blog posts without falling down the rabbit hole.

#langchat: If you’re not participating in the Twitter-based PLN #langchat, you really should be! Something I think is really lacking in the (otherwise great) district where I work is the opportunity to connect and collaborate with my colleagues. Other than one in-service day in August, I have no time to get together with the three other French teachers in the district (who do not teach in the same building as I do). Fortunately, #langchat offers an amazing opportunity to collaborate with language teachers all over the WORLD! It’s something I look forward to each week because I never end a session without an idea that can be implemented almost immediately. #langchat takes place at 8PM Eastern Time on Thursdays and 10 AM Eastern Time on Saturdays.

The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin: In July, I learned from one of my administrators that I would be teaching a full class load with no prep hour all year long. While this was great news because it meant my program was growing, I was also very nervous because I am NOT a well-organized person and I was concerned about what the loss of my prep hour might mean for my productivity and efficiency. I found this book on Amazon because I wanted some tips on how to stay more organized and manage my time more effectively; while I can’t say that I’ve been perfect about consistently implementing the strategies that Ms. Heyck-Merlin suggests, I can absolutely tell that I am more productive and efficient when I have my “Weekly Worksheet” filled out and ready to go on Monday!

Class Dojo: I realize I am probably the last person on the planet who knows about Class Dojo, but I used it consistently throughout the second marking period as a target-language management tool (for the students) and have really come to love it. In the past, I used a marble jar as a way to reward students for speaking French during class – whenever somebody used French without me having to remind them (silly things like “Bonjour” and “J’adore Mademoiselle/le français” don’t count, even in level one) I would put a marble in the jar. When it got to 20 marbles, we could have a food day, watch a movie, whatever. Unfortunately the students either a.) couldn’t come to a consensus on how to use their marble rewards, b.) were moochers in cases of a food day and c.) sat around looking at their phones instead of partaking in “fun day” activities so I clearly needed a better system. Plus, the marble jar allowed a lot of students to just sit back and let those high-achievers do all the work, yet they were still able to reap the benefits. With Class Dojo, those issues have been mostly resolved – the students love earning Dojo points for speaking French, and it allows them to “compete” with one another which means I have kids literally FIGHTING TO SPEAK FRENCH WITH ME. Come on.

So, there you have it – my Second Marking Period favorites!

Volleyball Reading

I love to read and was a voracious reader throughout my childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, most of my students don’t seem to share the same interest in reading as I did when I was their age (which wasn’t all that long ago!). Since many of them dislike reading in English, getting them enthusiastic about reading in French is no easy task!

I do my best to make the actual process of reading more fun for my students and I often read to them to provide them with input that is both comprehensible and accurate. From time to time I like to take the heat off of myself and have the students do the reading – but I also don’t want to have to worry about students making comprehension errors when I step back, which means that I would have to work double-hard to undo something that had been cemented into their heads incorrectly.

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Enter…volleyball. It’s a technique I picked up a couple of years ago at a TPRS Workshop and it is probably my students’ favorite reading strategy. It works best with smaller chunks of text at a time – say, an Embedded/Extended Reading or perhaps 1-2 pages of a chapter in a novel – and it provides students with LOTS of repetition and CI (provided that the text you pick is comprehensible)!

First, the students and I read through the text together; I give them the French, and they respond together in unison with the English translation, line per line. This is what helps to provide comprehensibility. If it is a text that features a lot of structures the students are already familiar with, I will ask them to read it together with a partner, and circle or underline any words/phrases they don’t know. Before we start volleyball, I will clarify the translations of those words or phrases.

Then…we play! Students sit with a partner, and they begin to “volley” back and forth; Student A reads the first line of the story in French; student B translates that line into English, and then reads the following line in French. Student A translates that line, then reads in French, so on and so forth. During this time, I am circling and listening for accuracy; if I hear an inaccurate translation, we clarify, and I send them back to the beginning of the story. After an indeterminate amount of time, I call, Arrête (Stop)! and the students stop reading. If Student A was in the middle of speaking when I called stop, then Student B gets to mark one point on his/her paper and vice versa. I do my best to vary when I call stop, so that the students can’t predict when I’m going to say it. If they get to the end of the reading sample before I call stop, they are to go back to the beginning and start again.

Whichever partner has the most points at the end of the game is the “winner” – and students usually ask for a rematch, which I love – more repetitions! and the students love – more game time!

Bonne continuation!