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!


Petit Prince Chapters 5-9

French 4/AP continues to plug along reading the Petit Prince and developing their Interactive Notebooks as we do so. I think the work we’ve been doing so far has been useful, but so very time consuming. Much more than I had anticipated! I hoped to average about 2 chapters of the novels per day, but am usually only getting through 1, between all of the pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading activities. I think I need to cut down a little bit! That being said, I do feel as though my students have a more profound understanding of the novel.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 addresses the baobab, a fairly big symbol in the novel. In real life, a baobab is an enormous tree also called the “tree of life” that bears an extremely nutrient-dense fruit. For the Petit Prince, however, a baobab represents a problem that, if too long neglected, may not be easily solved. For a pre-reading activity we watched a short informational video on the baobab trees. We read the chapter, and then the students cut out a printable I found online of a baobab tree and decorated it with what they thought were our community’s biggest “baobabs” and why.

The “baobab” printable is on the left hand side.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is very short, so we talked a lot about what sadness is/what do you do when you’re sad and journaled accordingly in our notebooks. The students read the chapter in their Reading Clubs and each group tried to come up with a 10 word summary for the chapter! It was fun to see how creative they could get and oddly enough, my “lowest” readers in each class had the most comprehensive 10-word summaries!

Chapters 7 and 8

These chapters are so important to the development of the book, as they are the chapters when we meet the Petit Prince’s flower for the first time! As a pre-reading activity we journaled about our best friends and added chapter vocabulary to our notebooks. We read the chapters via our Reading Groups, but summarized as a class. Finally, for our post-reading activities the students did an Inside/Outside summary for the flower. They used one page in their notebooks and drew a vertical line down the center. Right on the middle of the line, they illustrated the Petit Prince’s flower. On the left hand side of the page, they had to describe the outside of the flower – what physical characteristics does she possess? On the right hand side of the page, they did the same but for her interior characteristics – what kind of personality does she have?

Inside/Outside drawing for the flower.

Since this was a Friday I wanted to keep the mood light, so we also used this day as a chance to re-cap all of the vocabulary we had studied so far via a game. I chose several illustrations from the chapters we had already read in class and had the students partner up. One partner sat with his/her back to the board and an iPad in hand with the Educreations app open while the other partner described the image in as much detail as possible. We compared their drawings to the originals, and then switched roles so each student got a chance to describe AND draw!

Chapter 9

This is the chapter in which the Petit Prince prepares for his big voyage and bids farewell to his flower. We started first with the following prompt: What objects does the Petit Prince possess? If you were stranded on a desert island, what objects would you want to have and why? It was a good jumping off point for a review of the conditional, which my students are familiar with but tend to use inaccurately/confuse with the imperfect as they are so similar. We discussed as a group and then I read the chapter aloud. We also took the time to add to our Character Maps and update/tidy our notebooks. Chapter 9 is a sort of natural “breaking point” between sections of the story so it was a good place to stop – tomorrow we will assess on what we’ve read so far!

Working on the Character Map – document from Carrie Toth.

Interactive Notebooks and Le Petit Prince

So, I’m embarking on a new adventure – one that I actually thought I would never attempt but that after some time and consideration, came to be the most logical conclusion for the next unit in my French 4/AP split.

Combining interactive notebooks and novel study.

Let me admit up front that beyond what I’ve seen on social media (Pinterest, mostly), my knowledge of interactive notebooks is incredibly rudimentary. I get the concept but since I’ve never planned on doing them I haven’t done much investigation, but that’s definitely about to change!

I’ve known since the beginning of the year that French 4/AP would be reading Le Petit Prince. I want this to be a positive reading experience to them, since most of them have never read a novel in French before (we do lots of other kinds of reading, including fairy tales and legends) but I also wanted them to exhibit deep learning in the process as there is a lot of symbolism and metaphor in this novel. And, superficially, I wanted each student to have a place to organize their notes and activities for the novel that was separate from the rest of their school stuff. While my students are relatively responsible young people, most of their French supplies get stuffed into a two-pocket folder and I don’t want anyone to lose any key pieces of the puzzle as we move through this unit.

I’m sort of just jumping in with both feet and I’m not sure what to expect of this experience but I’m excited and my kids were surprisingly thankful that I provided them all with individual notebooks just for this novel. We read chapter one together today and did a pre-reading survey, a vocabulary foldable and a journal entry already (I’ll share more specifics in my next post!) but tomorrow I’m taking a page from Carrie Toth’s book (punny, I know) and splitting them into groups based on their reading preferences. Each group will have a slightly different task to complete based on their needs (to be recorded in their interactive notebooks) and all will begin the same Character Map.

Not to get even more ahead of myself, but I am also considering using the Seesaw app as a supplementary resource to allow students to post their best/favorite journal entries, illustrations, notes, whatever as an individualized assessment tool. So instead of telling everyone “turn in the journal entry from chapter one” I might ask them to take a photo of their best journal entry from chapters 1-5 and upload it to Seesaw for me to assess.

I’m hoping to keep a record of the process here in the blog. If you have any ideas or suggestions, PLEASE feel free to share!


Class Selected Vocabulary

One of the things I really struggle with in my teaching is the issue of vocabulary. How do I choose what my students should know? How much vocabulary should I give them? How should I present it? What kinds of activities should I design? What and how should I assess? How do I deal with gaps in their knowledge?

I like the idea of student selected vocabulary a lot, but despite everything I know about SLA and proficiency, I am still a what-ifer. What if the students don’t bother to do what I ask them to do? What if they don’t study the vocabulary they select for themselves? What if they can’t complete an activity I’ve designed because they don’t have the words? What if it’s just easier to give them a darn list?

I’m sure there are solutions to all of these things but my analytical mind can’t seem to come up with a way that works for everyone that is both engaging and effective and that oh, yeah, still allows me to hit 90% TL every day.

Today was possibly a middle-ground of sorts. After some Personalized Questions and Answers regarding my French 3 students’ attitudes and preferences about travel, I asked each table group (4-5 students) to come up with a list of vocabulary words in either French OR English (based on their prior knowledge) that they thought were absolutely essential to either talk about travel or to use WHILE traveling. They did pretty well for about 5 minutes, but then I noticed they started to get stuck just thinking of isolated words, so I told them to come up with categories for the words, and then see what was lacking in each one. My idea was that we would then build our unit vocab list from their brainstorming and perhaps they would feel like the words and phrases were more personal. Here are some of the categories they came up with (and honestly, some of these I never would have thought of without them!):



Places to go/things to do

Asking/giving directions

Important things to bring

Courtesies and cultural customs (seriously, they came up with that one!)

Tomorrow we’ll add some “essential” vocabulary to each category – I’m not sure how much we’ll come up with but I feel like these categories may sequence quite nicely if I put my focus on one category at a time rather than ask them to memorize the whole list in a given time frame (which I really never do, but big lists can be overwhelming!). It may seem like a lot but they’ll have the resource to pull from and use whenever they want throughout the unit.


Le Monde du Travail

My French 4/AP split is starting a unit called Le Monde du Travail (the world of work). It’s a follow-up to our unit on the French school system and I wanted to introduce the vocabulary in a way that was in-context but also personally relevant to the students.  Since most of my students at this level are juniors/seniors, they’re at the time in their lives when they’re starting to mull over career choices so I’m hoping this will be an interesting unit for them.

So, how to introduce professions? How could I create a vocabulary list for the unit that wasn’t completely unmanageable, considering the many professions that exist in the world? I didn’t want to give them too much, but I also didn’t want to leave off any jobs that might be of interest to the students.


I projected the following question in French on the SmartBoard: How do you imagine your future? The students discussed this question with their table groups. This was a good opportunity for us to also review the formation of the futur simple (will be, will do, etc). I randomly called on students for answers afterward, or took volunteers as willing.

Then, using the iPads, each student went to I found this website on a total whim and was shocked and amazed at how relevant it was to what I would be teaching AND at its level of comprehensibility! The test is broken down into five sections and asks students to rate themselves based on a series of statements/criteria. I found that for my kids, it really was input + 1. The students needed very little support from me to understand each of the questions. When they finished the test, they received a list of possible career options. The extra-cool thing was that they could click on the name of each profession and it gave a short job description, so if a student wasn’t sure about what an esthéticien was, they could read the description and find out.

Following the little “quiz” the students discussed in pairs the following questions:

  1. What careers did the quiz suggest for you? Do you agree with the choices or not? Why?
  2. If you had to choose one of the careers on the list, which one would you choose and why?
  3. Is there a career on the list that you’ve never considered? Which one?

All in all, a fun, personal way to introduce career-related vocab, in French, with an authentic resource! I’d say that’s a win-win situation.

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).

Screen shot 2015-10-19 at 6.44.34 PM

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!

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!

Vocabulary Squares

Over the summer, my district hired a new Superintendent (who was previously our Assistant Superintendent, so not totally new to our district) who has made a lot of for-the-better changes in quick succession. One of the things he has really encouraged us to do is to take risks and be willing to fail. As a perfectionist/control freak, being willing to fail is certainly not something that comes easy to me as I much prefer to believe that everything I do is flawless :). Unfortunately, something you quickly realize as a teacher is that even the best laid plans and activities can fall utterly flat (at best) or go down in a horrible blaze of hellfire (at worst) when you least expect it.

I mention this because the verdict is still out on the activity I did in my level 3/4 this week. I was inspired by a recent #langchat about facilitating vocabulary instruction and wanted to come up with a new way to introduce some vocabulary to my French 3/4s (they’re in the same class). I really dislike the kill-and-drill method of traditional vocabulary instruction, but I find the vocabulary sheltering that comes with TPRS a little too limiting at times. I do still give vocabulary lists so students have some frame of reference as we work through a unit, but I don’t assess the words and I allow them to add vocabulary as needed. Still, I wanted to offer an opportunity to learn new vocabulary in context, exercise some creativity, and allow them to do more of the heavy lifting (for a change!) by teaching one another. Instead of giving just a list of vocabulary and filling in the English, we did vocabulary squares.

student vocabulary square
student vocabulary square

I split the kids up into groups of 3-4. Each group was assigned a portion of words from the vocabulary list (5-6 words). They then filled out a vocabulary square for each word; the new word is put in the middle, in one corner they draw a picture that represents the meaning of the word, in another they write a sentence using that word, and then they had to supply both synonyms and antonyms for that word in French. I also had them look up the pronunciation for each word on (many thanks to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell at Musicuentos for the idea!). When they were finished, they had to present their squares to the whole class and ask their classmates what they thought the word meant, based on the context provided by the vocabulary square. If the meaning was unclear, the student had to work to clarify the meaning for the rest of the class.

I have to admit, I almost really liked this activity but a couple of things did not flow very well or were not super efficient that I think I would have to fine-tune before doing it again – mostly, students copping out and not pulling their weight enough to be an asset to the class as a whole. I also am a little stuck with what to do with the vocabulary squares after they’re all finished – my original thought was to make photocopies and create a sort of vocabulary book for the students, but that seems clunky and ecologically irresponsible, given how much paper it would use. A technological option would be my preference, but I’m not sure what kinds of tools would be suitable and accessible to a wide variety of technology – open to suggestions!

Has anyone else tried something similar when introducing new vocabulary? What’d you do? How did it work?