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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Micro-unit: Les partis politiques français


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In an effort to expose my students to as many cultural topics as possible before the AP test, I did a very quick, brief overview of the French presidential elections and the political parties in France. And I mean very quick. I could (and should) have done a lot more with this concept but I’m feeling a little panicky about the amount of material I have to get through in the next eight weeks so we did a very brief micro-unit so they are at least familiar with the system and the candidates, should anything crop up this year’s test (given that it’s an election year).

I slapped together a brief dossier (this does not include an article I found on 1jour1actu) for this micro-unit; there’s not much in it, it’s more of a guide to help me and keep my students organized.

Day 1: Look at the graphic on the front page of the dossier and brainstorm the major values of French politics; are they similar to or different from our values? How so? Examine the logos on page 2 and try to guess where the parties fall on the left-right spectrum. Watch this video from 1jour1actu: Ca veut dire quoi, droit et gauche en politique? The students then used their devices to go on I Side With and filled out the survey to find out which French politicians/political parties best fit their perspectives on a variety of issues. We culled vocabulary related to politics and political stances during this activity as well.

Day 2: We explored some of the articles from the presidentielle 2012 dossier on 1jour1actu, bearing in mind that the candidates are not currently relevant but the practices and concepts are basically the same. I also cut up the pieces of a document shared by a fellow teacher on the French Teachers in the US Facebook page (thanks, Debbie McCorkle!) that broke down the viewpoints of 13 major French political parties on issues such as the economy, the European Union, immigration, terrorism and the army, and the environment. I put students into pairs and assigned them a political party to be the “expert” on, then they had to share out to their classmates, giving only the essential information before moving on.

Day 3: I did a quick direct lesson (in the TL, of course) on how the French president is elected (le suffrage universel direct), how many elections there are (le premier tour, le deuxième tour) and how long a President is in office in France (5 years). We looked at some of the survey results from Le Figaro regarding current candidate popularity, and then did a Venn Diagram of all of our findings thus far regarding similarities/differences in French and American political parties and processes (days 1-3) I then assigned everyone the identity of a French politician for an in-class “primary” debate.

Day 4: Students researched their candidates’ viewpoints on major political issues (immigration, economy, etc) as well as the viewpoints of 1-2 opposing candidates to prepare for our debate.

Day 5: In-class whole-group role play with me as the moderator. I asked questions about various issues and called on “candidates” at random to express their views and challenge the viewpoints of their “opponents.” We also did a quick AP-style reading from a textbook on the voting process in France.

There you have it! Fast, a little shallow, but still relevant and engaging for my students, particularly since it’s been a year full of politics in the United States.


Mystery Student


In the past 24 hours, the subject of “how do you get kids speaking in the TL?” has come up twice; once with a colleague and then again on last night’s edition of #langchat.

There are definitely a lot of strategies that one could use – I’ve written before about my love for Class Dojo and after a brief hiatus from the system I brought it back just to see how my kids would respond and sure enough; they’re back to wanting to speak more and more French.

But then, it comes time to set up an interpersonal speaking activity in-class. Those are always frustrating for me because I can never monitor everyone at once and am never certain that everyone has participated in the way that I would like them to. Enter the “mystery student” tactic which is very simple and has worked well in all of my classes so far (though I wouldn’t use it every day or for every interpersonal activity just to keep it novel).

  1. I announce to the class that I am going to randomly select a student. I will not tell them in advance who the student is. Since I have every kid’s name written on an individual 3×5 notecard, I can choose randomly from the stack.
  2. After I choose the mystery student, I announce that I am only going to be listening to THAT student, to see if he or she remains in the TL for the entirety of the activity. I still mill about the room so they don’t know who the mystery student is, but my ear is always trained on that one kid.
  3. If the mystery student is successful, everyone will receive points (no more than 5) for the activity. His or her name is then revealed and everyone thanks him or her.
  4. If the mystery student is NOT successful, then no points are given (just nul, not 0/5) and the mystery student remains a mystery. Better luck next time!

Give it a try! Let me know how it works in your classroom!

Rethinking the Choice Board


One of the first things I did when switching to a more proficiency-based teaching model (and the subject of one of the earliest blog posts I made) was to ditch traditional homework in favor of a Choice Board due at the end of each unit. A Choice Board is a great way to incorporate student voices into your classroom, as it allows them to choose which assignments to pursue outside of class time and it can be a way to get students to interact with the language in a more authentic way (and is more interesting than a workbook page!).

My Choice Board has always had two parts – the top part, or the “written work” and the bottom portion, which are speaking prompts. I’ve been giving Choice Boards to all of my students for about three years now and I absolutely believe they are the biggest reason why my students are (generally) very comfortable speaking French in class and why the eventually become very proficient speakers. I do not spend a lot of time honoring the “silent period” of language acquisition and I do indeed force output, which can be a controversial topic in the SLA community. In my experience (and I’m hardly an expert) there are many kids who, if not forced to speak, simply won’t. With the Choice Board, they can accomplish a task whenever they are ready and in a one-on-one environment with me; that way, I can still assess how their speaking skills are developing and they don’t have to put themselves “out there” in front of their classmates if they aren’t ready yet.

That being said, this year I felt the need to start revamping some of my Choice Boards to better reflect improvements in my teaching practice. Before, the top “written work” was separated by the letters A, B, C in which A corresponded to vocabulary, B corresponded to grammar and C corresponded to culture. Students were to get a tic tac toe with each letter (A-B-C) in order to fulfill the top portion assignments. The vocabulary prompts tended to be things like “Draw a birthday party and label the elements” (eeeeek!) and the grammar prompts had things like, “Create a 10-question -ER verb quiz and an accompanying key, then quiz a classmate!” (oh mon Dieu!) The speaking prompts on the bottom were similary separated by topic.

I’ve evolved a little bit since then and have been working on revamping my Choice Board to make it more culturally and linguistically authentic. I definitely still have a long way to go, but the current version for French 2 is I think a baby step in the right direction. The prompts are still labeled A B C for organization (I still want the tic-tac-toe element) but there is (I hope) less isolation between grammar, vocabulary and culture. Some of the written tasks are not as authentic as I would like, but I think it’s a definite improvement over earlier versions.

The speaking tasks have remained mostly the same; I’m working on developing a way to present the information in a less visually-confusing way and to remove the linguistic segregation that is still present on the labels but does not really correspond to the given prompts. I’m open to suggestions!

C’est Halloween!


On veut des bonbons! (You know, from the Têtes-a-Claques video. Anyone? Bueller?)

I have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of Halloween, but my students are! Last week I shared some of my My Favorite Spook-tacular Resources for French Class but since then a few more resources have cropped up that I would like to add to the list and incorporate into my instruction!

My French 3 kids will use a lot of the resources from the link above, but I’m always on the lookout for opportunities for my upper levels (French 4 and AP) to work on their comparison skills since that’s such a huge part of the AP test. We won’t spend a ton of time on Halloween since we’re right in the middle of our Haiti/L’eau, source de vie unit but I didn’t want to totally miss the opportunity to address the differences between Halloween and Toussaint (and their cultural links)!

I’m not sharing the work I’ve made to go along with the following resources since my students haven’t done any of this yet and I know some of them are aware that I keep a blog. I almost always follow a traditional IPA format, though, and at the end they’ll do an AP-style cultural comparison.


Infographic: Halloween: de plus en plus populaire

1jour1actu: Qu’est-ce que la Toussaint?

1jour1actu: Ceux qui sont contre Halloween

Video: La Toussaint, une tradition toujours très présente chez les Français

After we interact with these documents, we’ll work on stating our opinions about both holidays with a Beyond “Oui” and “Non” speaking activity, then work in partners to do a comparison of the two in order to prepare for our cultural comparison.

My students also LOVE this crazy Halloween video by Têtes-à-claques, so we’ll probably watch it again as per our tradition.


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 Chapter 18

If it seems strange that the 18th chapter of Le Petit Prince – by far the shortest chapter in the novel – gets an entire blog post to itself, please just do me a solid and continue reading because this chapter is accompanied by one of my favorite student projects ever.

In this chapter, the little prince meets a flower in the desert. He’s lonely and looking for friends, so he asks the flower if she has seen any men. The flower, being that she lives in the desert, has only seen about six or seven men, and she tells the little prince that men lack roots. This quote becomes the basis for our project.

To prepare for our project, we read the chapter and then discussed the purpose of roots -what do roots do for a tree? What happens to the tree as a result of its roots? We discuss how roots grow strong and anchor the tree, provide it with stability and allow it to grow. We discuss that, as a result of the tree’s growth, the tree can grow leaves, flowers or fruits that can germinate and create more trees. We also talk about how roots can be hard and ugly, not always visible above the surface, but without them, the tree can’t grow and nor can it nourish another tree or plant, or give shade and oxygen to humans and animals.

Then they receive the following prompt (in French): Draw a tree. Put yourself in a hole in the middle of the tree and write your name in its bark. Then, use words or images to create your roots – think about your family history, your interests, your religion, etc. How have your roots allowed the rest of your “tree” to grow? How do you use your tree’s “growth” (leaves, fruit, etc) to nourish the “roots” of another?

We took a day to draw our trees, and then I had them record an explanation of their tree to Schoology. The oral explanation is done with no advance preparation – I do not allow them to write their comments down beforehand or to practice before recording!

I was very pleased with the results of this project and got really good feedback from the kids as well. They seemed to really like the project and put in a lot of effort! It was also a nice way to break up the reading of the novel. 10/10, would do it again! Below are some photos; to see an example of one of my students’ oral presentations, click here.