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.”

Enjoy!

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Password

I’m not sure where I originally saw the link, but over the summer I came across a post about class passwords by Bryce Hedstrom and immediately thought to myself, I’ve got to try this! I am quite happy to say that it has been going swimmingly in my 4/AP split. I picked that particular class as a means of introducing and reinforcing more idiomatic language, but it’s definitely something I would consider implementing in my other levels!

I don’t have any particular rhyme or reason to selecting a password; sometimes it has something to do with our current topic of study, but more often than not it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just a particular quote I found interesting, or a funny proverb.

This year’s passwords so far: I typically make the students use the password in a complete sentence/in context if applicable.

tant pis! (too bad)

quand même (anyways, all the same)

mieux vaut tard que jamais (better late than never)

ça vaut la peine (it’s worth it)

avoir un poil dans la main (literally: to have a hair in one’s hand; idiom for: to be lazy)

à quoi bon…? (what good is…?)

à partir de ce jour (from this day forward)

de plus en plus (more and more)

plus on est de fou, plus on rit (the more, the merrier)

de l’autre côté (on the other hand)

Un sourire coûte moins cher que l’électricité, mais donne autant de lumière. – Abbé Pierre (A smile costs less than electricity, but gives as much light)

la soupe au pistou (vegetable soup; this was borne out of a weird dream I had in which I made this the weekly password and the kids thought it was so funny that they actually wanted to have it as the password for the week. I am NOTORIOUS for having school-related nightmares, so it’s a bit of an in-joke with us)

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame/Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués (a formal e-mail closing; they’re required to memorize a few for the AP exam, might as well make it a password!)

il n’y a pas de mot de passe (there is no password – I forgot to come up with one, so this became the password)

il s’agit de (it’s about/it concerns – introduced as a way to correct students saying il parle de to relay information from another source)

365 nouvelles journées, 365 nouvelles opportunités (365 new days, 365 new opportunities; this was the password the week we came back from winter break!)

I really like the password not only as a linguistic function, but also as a relationship builder – it gives me and the students something to talk about as they enter the classroom and, as Bryce said in his post, kind of gauge where they are mood wise that day and I can check in with anyone I need to check in with. It’s also fun to hear a student use an old password in a real-life context; like when someone arrives to class tardy, there is always a chorus of “mieux vaut tard que jamais, Mademoiselle!” Or when I grill them a little bit for whining about something silly, “Oui, mais quand même, Mademoiselle!”

I’m always taking suggestions for more passwords, so feel free to share!

 

Gift Guide for the Modern Teacher

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Well, with the passage of (American) Thanksgiving, the gift-giving holiday season is officially upon us! While I really like giving (and receiving) gifts, I’m not always good at picking out gifts for people I love. I know requesting a list tends to take the magic out of surprising a friend or family member, but I always like to make sure I’m getting them something that they’ll actually want and use, not just something that think is cool.

And while I am always grateful to receive gifts and I do believe it’s the thought that counts, I’ve been on the receiving end of about five hundred Eiffel-Tower-shaped ornaments, knickknacks, posters, lotion bottles, you name it – so I think I’m not the only one who appreciates a solid gift recommendation! While it’s not the only part of my identity, being a teacher is certainly a big part of who I am and I really do appreciate when people buy gifts with that in mind; that being said, I think a good gift is one that brings both pleasure and purpose.

Gift giving is always a subjective practice and there is no one-size-fits-all, but if you know a teacher, love a teacher, have a teacher, or are a teacher who simply wants to treat yourself during this holiday season, here are a few of my go-to suggestion that are both fun and useful. Maybe you can even benefit from a few last-minute Cyber Monday sales!

Instant Pot: If you have a little money to spend on the teacher you love, the Instant Pot is like the Crock Pot’s way cooler cousin. It’s a pressure cooker that can cook rice to perfect in five minutes, a whole roast in 1 or 2 hours and countless other meals. It’s definitely on my list this year!

Essential Oil Diffuser: I’m definitely not an essential oil enthusiast, but I have to admit that a little lavender oil in a diffuser goes a long way toward helping me chill out and sleep better.

Stitch Fix gift card: Admit it – after a while, shopping for cute teacher clothes gets a little tedious. I tend to gravitate more toward function than fashion, but black-pants-solid-top-maybe-a-scarf outfit gets a little old. Stitch Fix is a personal styling service that sends five pieces of fun, fashionable clothing (or even accessories) to your home for only a $20 initial styling fee. You can try on the clothes, pick what you want to keep, and mail the rest back in a prepaid USPS bag. The $20 fee is applied to whatever you keep; if you keep all five pieces, you get a 20% discount. (If you don’t want to get a gift card but want to sign up for Stitch Fix, you can do so here). I’ve been using Stitch Fix semi-regularly for about four years and I LOVE it.

Blue Apron gift card: Who likes grocery shopping? Not me. Blue Apron sends awesome recipe ingredients straight to your home. Help your favorite teacher out and get them a box of healthy food so they can avoid the school cafeteria!

The Happiness Planner: This is more than just a regular planner – in addition to the usual calendar and to-do list, the Happiness Planner has room for you to note down each day’s goals, meals, exercise routine, what went well about each day and what your hopes for the next day are. At the end of each week, they also offer a “weekly reflection” space with thoughtful writing prompts.

Lush bath set: I am a LUSH junkie and cannot recommend their bath products enough. Their products are vegan, cruelty-free, and use all-natural ingredients. Great for relaxing in the bath at the end of a long week!

Lunch Crock: The Lunch Crock is an electric mini-crock pot that lets you have a nice, hot lunch every day! I love to put leftovers in it and plug it in about an hour before lunch starts; it’s so awesome to have a warm lunch during the cold winter months.

Anthropologie Candles : These smell awesome and the jars they come in are super cute and can be repurposed for small items around your home!

Nespresso: This is a pricier item and it’s one that I don’t have yet but I seriously covet. My friends in Paris have one and I know I’m going to sound like a crazy coffee snob but deal with it because this machine is LIGHT YEARS better than the Keurig. The coffee is of far superior quality, it makes an awesome espresso or regular coffee, and certain machines will froth milk for you for lattés and cappuccinos. And the pods are recyclable, which the Keurig pods are not. Your machine is also guaranteed by Nespresso – if it ever needs to be serviced, they will send you a replacement machine while you wait for yours to get fixed. How cool is that?

Contigo travel coffee mugs: Simple, but the BEST travel coffee mugs I have ever encountered and a must for the on-the-go teacher who likes a hot beverage. My coffee or tea stays hot (not lukewarm, HOT) literally for hours in these mugs. Can’t beat it!

Happy shopping, and happy holidays! Also please note, there are no affiliate links here – just recommendations of products that I really enjoy!

 

 

Mystery Student

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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!

Don’t Look Back

Today I did something really scary. For me, anyway. Before I tell you what it is, you should know a few things about me.

  1. I often refer to myself as a Type A-perfectionist-control-freak but that’s not true. Well ,the perfectionist control freak part is, but I’m not truly Type A because I am insanely disorganized. It makes me crazy and I tell myself every year that’s it! No more! but I just cannot seem to find an effective system. I hate it.
  2. I have a hard time letting go of anything that could maaaaaaaaaaaaybe, “someday”, potentially be useful.
  3. As a result of 1 & 2, I am…well, kind of a hoarder.

I dislike these things about myself but they’re just how I am. In my constant quest for efficiency and many attempts to make my life simpler, I end up hanging on to things that actually weigh me down and hold me back. Which is how I arrived at today.

I was looking for a sample of student work that I’d saved from a couple of years ago (I know) to show my students as we prepare for a creative-y assignment that I do following chapter 18 of Le Petit Prince. The student in question had done a BEAUTIFUL job, so I wanted to share it with my students to illustrate what I was looking for. I had painstakingly held on to this piece of work for over 2 years, waiting, WAITING for the moment when I could use it in class. I remembered exactly where it was.

Only when I went to look for it, it wasn’t there. Arrrghhhh. You know what else was there, though? The millions of photocopies, manipulatives, textbook lesson plans, realia, worksheets, grammar quizzes, multiple-choice tests, vocabulary lists, grammar explanations (in English), project instructions, English cultural readings, HANDWRITTEN LESSON PLANS ON LOOSE-LEAF PAPER, A DIFFERENT TEACHER’S EVALUATION NOTES AND BOOK CODES AND OLD PERMISSION SLIP FORMS, and do you KNOW what the WORST part was?!

90% OF IT WASN’T EVEN STUFF I HAD CHOSEN OR CREATED. IT WASN’T. EVEN. MINE. 

It was stuff that I had “sorted through” at various points when I got this job (FOUR years ago, for the record) that I shuffled from one place in my room to another because of that little voice in my head that said, “You might be able to use this one day! This could save you so much time, this is one less thing you have to create yourself!”

Do you know what the SECOND worst part of all of this was?

Most of this stuff corresponded to philosophies and practices that I don’t even associate myself with or engage in. I don’t give grammar worksheets – why was I hanging on to them, thinking that maybe they’d be useful? Why would I keep realia that I didn’t collect, half of which was (verifiably) older than I am? Why? WHY? 

Why ON EARTH would I enable myself that way? How can I ever expect to move forward with one foot rooted firmly in the past – a past that wasn’t even mine to begin with?

So the bell rang, my students left for the day, and I hunkered down and threw. it. all. away. All of it. Every vocab list, grammar worksheet, manipulative that I had no idea how to use – all of it. If it wasn’t mine, it was gone. Au revoir and vaya con Dios. The janitor just now came and took it all away. This classroom is mine now.

And for the record – I didn’t end up finding that student’s example. But you know what? Maybe it’s just as well. Now my students can’t compare themselves to the past and instead will have to forge their own paths – just like I’ve been trying to do.

 

My #csctfl16 experience

The Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has come and gone! It was my first time going to Central States, and I have to say, it was a blast! Unfortunately I ended up having to head home early on Saturday because I came down with what I think is the flu (currently on day 3 of fever, blech!) and I missed a lot of sessions I was super excited to attend :(. Major bummer! BUT, the ones I did get to attend were amazing. There’s always next year to make up for what I missed this year :).

I learned a lot during the two-ish days I was at the conference, and something I always look to do at conferences is to add more resources to my arsenal, particularly when it comes to different ways to deliver CI to students. Nelly Hughes’ “Comprehensible Input the Easy Way” gave me a ton of new ideas for providing students’ with input and Cynthia Hitz offered great ways to breathe life into reading in the TL. I can’t wait to try out some of these strategies!

Amy presented on liberating yourself from the vocabulary list – something I’ve been wanting to do but wasn’t sure where to start. While it’s going to take some adjusting to implement, I’m excited about the possibilities.

Laura Terrill’s session on the Keys to Planning was the one that had the most A-HA! moments for me and it made me want to run out right away and buy her book. Laura and I agreed that we’re going to do a book study this summer for the Keys to Planning for Learning – anyone else in?!

This conference had many highlights, not the least of which was getting to meet some of the teachers that have inspired and challenged me on this journey to become a more proficiency-based teacher. I still have so far to go that sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but attending professional development like this gets me closer and closer to my end goal. Teaching really is a craft – one that takes years to develop, and even then requires near-constant tweaking to maintain and improve.

My biggest takeaway from CSCTFL16 is that I need to be way more intentional in my planning than I currently am. My day-to-day activities are good, sometimes great, even, but my units lack depth and most of all, they lack concrete direction. I think in my quest to do less, I’ve pared down too much. I need real can-do statements. I need essential questions. Most of all, I need to determine what real language functions will go with each unit, as opposed to saying, “Well, I guess I could introduce X grammar point here, it would probably fit…” It means I will have my work cut out for me this summer, for sure, but I think it will absolutely be worth it. I also need to commit to using storytelling more regularly and more purposefully in my practice!

Thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of meeting at CSCTFL! I learned so much, and I am already looking forward to next year!

 

 

What’s New This Year

Bonne rentrée! It’s been a crazy, whirlwind start to a new school year. We’re now starting our third week and I still don’t quite yet feel into the swing of things, as I’ve had a little bit of a rocky start to the year – my grandmother passed away during the first week of school, I received a cart of 30 completely blank iPads that needed to be individually prepped, and just this week I combined French 2 classes with another teacher who needs some support.

Whew!

So, what’s new this year?

  1. Tables: My classroom is kind of an odd shape, with one edge of it being totally unusable because there’s a raised platform that currently houses my desk and many file cabinets (apparently it used to be a language lab? I don’t know). Typically I’ve done rows, with the outside edges facing inward to the center rows, but I grouped everything in tables of 4 or 5 this year. So far it’s a little tight, but I like the ease of not having to say “Find a partner/small group” because they’re already right there. It’ll make learning stations easier, too.

2. Varied Seating: This is an idea I found from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell that I loved, but felt like it would be hard to adapt. We only have six minutes in between each class, which is usually filled with getting kids out the door, putting technology away, collecting papers, and making a mad dash across the hallway to go to the bathroom. Changing seats every day didn’t seem realistic for that time frame, but I’ve been putting out their name cards every Monday to change up their seats and so far I’m enjoying it. It’s been a mixed bag with the kids but I’m hoping the novelty might win them over.

3. Schoology: My school district ditched Edline, our old learning management system/grade reporting software and instead adopted Schoology. There’s been a bit of a learning curve associated with using the new technology, but I’m excited to use some of the new features like discussion boards for interpersonal writing, online homework assignments/submissions, and built-in rubrics.

4. Shadow Puppet EDU: In a fit of madness, I applied last year for an iPad cart for my classroom. I’m still trying to figure out how to best utilize the new tech tools (so PLEASE share any ideas/strategies/fun things!) but one I’ve really liked so far is the app ShadowPuppet EDU. It allows users to select an image (or more) and create an interactive presentation with voice overs and a small amount of text. We used them in my French 4/AP combo to narrate “Awkward Family Vacation Photos” as we reviewed the passé composé/imparfait. Fun!

Bonne continuation!