Making the most of small classes


Have small class – teach almost anywhere!

French language classes with few students can be challenging for both teachers and students, especially at the lower levels. They require thoughtful preparation and a variety of skill practice and activities related to the topic to engage and challenge students for the duration of the class. However, it can be very rewarding to work closely with students on their language learning and to see them form a bond to support one another in their learning too.  I am going to share some strategies that worked for me both at the middle school and high school levels for interacting with small classes. 

To get going with a small group

  • Have an honest conversation:
    • Be upfront with beginners that it is “scary” to communicate in a different language but point out the benefits. (The AATF site has a great list but brainstorming with students will also help.)
    • Point out that we help one another in English by finishing one another’s sentences and suggesting words to complete thoughts and ideas and the same will happen in French as everyone works together. No one will be left “hanging” when they can’t finish a sentence or find a word. Half a sentence is also better than none! It also helps to tell students about an experience you had when you struggled to finish a thought… ( I think we all have at least one!)
    • Assure students that mistakes happen and are part of the process of language learning. We learn gradually to self-correct when we recognise a mistake; assure the students that you will prepare them for success and everyone will have a good time in this safe learning environment. 
    • Remind students that respect is essential – we are all learning together.  Sometimes we will laugh at ourselves too because we are creating with language and sometimes that just leads to funny situations.
    • Finally warn students that they might be exhausted after class because it demands everyone’s attention ALL THE TIME! There is no place to hide or take a break! Careful use of transitions can provide breathing spaces though. 

Useful strategies


  • Push the desks aside and form a circle with chairs. This more informal classroom set up fosters participation and a supportive environment. I liked the circle because it meant I was part of the lesson and “learning” and I did all the things I wanted the students to do. Students could easily make eye contact with others and me and it was easy to provide assistance where necessary.  If we were counting, I was part of counting games; when practicing questions, they asked me questions too. It is particularly effective for modeling sentence structures and having students follow patterns. Each person in the circle responds and then asks the model question of the person beside them.  Some other examples:
  • Start each class by greeting others. Expand to provide feelings or emotions and then add a reason.
    • Use for sentence structures with il/ elle est + adjective.
    • Use a basic verb structure to give information about self and the person to right/left: je joue au tennis; il/elle joue au…/ il aime jouer au….  You can set a pattern and each student follows – sometimes saying the same or sometimes changing a word.  Saying moi aussi or moi non plus is valid in responses before using the pattern sentence. You can encourage positive verbal reactions – just like in a conversation and provide all students with possible follow up responses as language expands. 
  • Use choral work to model pronunciation and intonation (useful for questions etc.) You can begin with basic “mini-conversations” such as greetings and ça va with responses to build patterns and develop mini-dialogues.This can become question and response choral work to build basic sentence structures and to assist in  differentiating between statements and questions.
  • Use a soft ball or object (soft toy or classroom mascot) – maybe even a timer – to pass around in the circle. This works if you are trying to get more spontaneous responses and students can show they are ready to speak by requesting the ball. Students often buy into wanting to hold the ball and it encourages participation. 
  • Work in pairs where possible. A very small group can sit around one (larger) table making sentences with vocabulary or flashcards.
  • Work in pairs or as a group for reading comprehension by having students give details.  
  • Small groups provide the possibility for interactive work and lots of movement :  
    • Gather and name 10 items in the classroom, in your backpack, school supplies etc.  
    • Walk up and down the hallway/ stairs for je monte, je descends, je marche (nous montons, nous descendons etc.) with a suitable context. 
    • Do a  tour guidé of the building.  
    • Build in movement by using the space; ex.  put the vocabulary for places around the classroom and have students go to the place and provide a purpose etc. (to concentrate on à la../ auje vais au terrain de sport pour jouer au foot.)

Board work

Arrange chairs in a semi-circle in front of the TBI depending on the activities. Invite all students to add details of what they hear or see to build comprehension. 

Writing:  (presentational)

  • White board or large sticky notes (expensive though)
    • Brain storm in pairs the vocabulary you need for a specific topic
    • Add good expressions and useful linguistic constructions you need ..
    • Prepare some good sentences 
    • Stand back and have each pair/ group read, make minor corrections,  and let all students participate in adding details. We often talked about 3*** 4**** and 5***** sentences on account of adding detail as our knowledge increased.
  • I created a Google “mini-book”  (ma vie passionnante for beginners)  in Google slides, with “a page” for each of the topics we were going to cover.  (Je me présente/ moi!; mes amis; ma vie scolaire; mes passe-temps/ activités etc…) to introduce controlled writing activities.  For the early assignments prompts provide useful guidelines and sentence structures assist as students progress.  When doing in-class writing, I would ask students to come and read their work to me as this gave immediate feed-back and they often would see their mistakes when they read their work aloud. Periodically we would go back and add to previous entries to demonstrate additional learning on a topic and thus the book comes to reflect growing language skills as the year progresses.

Formative assessment activities

  • Have students work individually, in pairs or groups of three at the board with markers to check on vocabulary or sentence patterns/ verb or adjective endings.   This can easily become competitive and you can award points if you wish. 
    • You can call out numbers and dates, words singular or plural, nouns with articles, and mini-dictations or sentences for translation to check for correct verb endings, plurals or adjective and noun agreement.   Eyes will wander but call out 5 or 10 items before stopping;  then allow students the opportunity to correct their work before reviewing responses.
    • Working in pairs removes the “threat” of being wrong if you let students collaborate on answers.  You can also select one person to write and have others be the “editors.”
  • This is a useful method to review material required for unit tests. Students then can reflect on their preparedness and make a plan for follow up work.

I enjoyed my small classes and loved watching their progress. As always, it is important to find what works best for the students and to exploit a variety of possibilities.


Universal Design Strategies to Support Language Learning

As language teachers we know it is not enough to select materials (content), create lessons to engage (practices), and determine appropriate outcomes (product) that reflect student learning, but as we consider the variety of students who appear in our classrooms, we need to do it all against the backdrop of the question “How can I support my students in their learning and help them be successful?”

Recently I came across this very informative blog post on Universal Design for Learning.  The same article appeared in  Education Magazine October 2018.

In 2006 I attended a summer workshop at Landmark Vermont and was introduced to Universal Design Techniques as a way to assist language learning students with learning disabilities.  But the beauty about Universal Design practices is that, while they are designed to help “level the playing field,” they are useful for all students.  As Livia Bran, the author of the article states: “Because when we design for disability, we all benefit.” ¹.

Many strategies we discussed at the workshop have become mainstream and are now regarded as good practices to assist students in their learning. Some are required by schools, and technology, teacher websites and the use of  Google Classroom have greatly facilitated teachers in complying with requirements as well as providing ways to organize materials for students – and also for themselves!

My goal is not to address learning disabilities, executive function, or individual  requirements and language learning – I leave that to the experts in those fields. This list of Universal Design Techniques² put forward at the workshop shows how we applied, updated, and expanded strategies as a department over the years in conjunction with input from learning specialists to demystify our teaching practices, provide common experiences, and support all our language students.

It is not a to-do list!  In keeping with Universal Design practices, there are lots of choices!

  1. Advance Organizers
  • Provide the big picture – post syllabus, establish goals, a weekly plan. This allows students to see what is expected and can also help in case of absence or may assist those students who like to organize their week or work ahead.
  • Graphic organizer of whole unit: keeping the end in mind, what will students need to know to succeed? What will they be able to do at the end of the unit; list expectations; the nature of the assessments and interim assignment(s); and the vocabulary and language structures that provide the tools. This anchors the experience and gives a context for all the work. Periodically review progress towards goals.
  • Reminders of dates and completion points for long term assignments (projects; presentations).
  1. Activators
  • A “starter” to draw students in as class starts – maybe a question of the day or brief activity to tie in with previous lesson.
  • A “hook” related to the objective to find out what pertinent information students already know; activity to set tone for class and gauge understanding of previously learned material (formative).
  1. Directions
  • Break down multi-step directions: who hasn’t been frustrated with the “20 questions” when you give an assignment! By including step-by-step directions you are more likely to get what is required. This also helps the students who are anxious as well as those who need a little verbal “hand-holding” to get things done.
  • Numbered steps/ bullets/ check boxes for writing assignments so students know exactly what information to include.
  • Rubrics to provide expectations.
  1. Connectors
  • Point out familiar patterns in language structures; word families.
  • “Recycle” – use familiar material to build in review and confidence and to provide context for new material.
  • Consciously connect material and point out its relevance to goals; (students often think that once you have completed one topic and move on, previously learned material is no longer relevant!).
  1. Multi-sensory Techniques (Language teachers are generally stars in this area!) 
  • Movement/ games/ visuals; CI and TPRS.
  • Concept maps/ writing templates, words and pictures – clear pictures to avoid confusion. Demonstrate good models for writing to students
  • Use of technology to assist learning (a mere sampling here as this is a list that is now pretty endless and grows each day!)
    • Ditchthattextbook: great ways to use Google Classroom now  – even if you are familiar with Google Classroom, this is a comprehensive review of all the tools available to organize materials.
    • Record vocabulary and sample sentences/ structures on Quizlet so the students hear and see.
    • Use of videos – for learning, speaking and providing responses.
    • Physical book or online text
    • Record screen or class presentation (grammar) and attach it to the class page or blog (useful for students to have for tests and end of semester exams). Smart boards can provide a link to lessons.
    • Take picture of board work and post to class page (students now often do this anyway so they can have a record of work).
    • Mini-podcasts of grammatical structures / drills to assist with automatisation of structures (Useful for students with a long commute).
    • Create audio versions of reading selections (if not provided by text – this is useful for early French learners where words often do not look similar to pronunciation).
    • Template for notes/ assign a note-taker to share notes with everyone).
    • Provide notes.
    • Flow chart or graphic organizer for longer writing assignments (compare/ contrast etc. with what to include in each section. Brainstorm to include connectors, useful vocabulary and language structures).
  1. Strategizers
  • Goal setting for students at the beginning of the year or quarter; review periodically. Students should be responsible for their progress.
  • Teach good language learning strategies. Reflect on metacognition so students become aware of how they learn best.
  1. Summarizers
  • Encapsulate the lesson or have students summarize by taking a few minutes at the end to make sure it has been understood and to answer any student questions. “Exit tickets” are useful too.
  • Review objectives if using ACTFL I can statements to demonstrate how the class work ties to the objectives and how students are progressing towards the larger goals of the unit.
  1. Routines
  •   is an excellent tool for posting objectives and activities.
  • Clear daily objectives displayed – for some students it is reassuring to see how the class will progress (avoids questions “Are we going to..?”)
  • Reminder about homework and expectations before the rush for the door.
  1. Flexible Assessments
  • Determine goals and essential requirements of each unit and how students will be assessed (made clear at the beginning so students know what they are working towards). Will there be a choice? What will the choices look like?
  • Determine tasks so students can demonstrate what they know (formative and summative; levels of application of knowledge).
  • Study guides (where to find information; model questions/answers). “No surprises” – test what has been taught.

 10.    Study Skills

  • Calendar for student learning.
  • Vocabulary lists (preferably within a context) color coding of genders/ adjective endings/ tenses.
  • Making class presentations available for students to review.
  • Active learning – groups; stations.
  • Provide material in different formats (print; online).
  • Test preparation – model writing responses; build sentence structures.
  • Test formatting – awareness of layouts; simplify directions and provide model response  ( we try but we still find no one reads the directions….!)
  • Teacher availability to provide support and answer questions.

Over the years I have found that language teachers are some of the most creative and passionate people who have great ideas to support student learning and encourage students continue with their language studies.

And finally,  as suggested in the article, take time to watch the TED talk at the end of the article.  It is time well spent!



²  List of Universal Design Techniques from course material “The Classroom Journey”  at Landmark College – summer 2006. Landmark College  is a college for students with learning disabilities.





Teaching Outside the Book

French books


I took a break during the past few months to read and catch up on many of the blogs, articles, books and social media sites for language teachers that I could only glance at while teaching. There are many excellent ideas out there and I felt I had nothing more to add. But a New Year nudge and seeing comments from teachers who were feeling a sense of exhaustion or burn-out prompted me to resume sorting through my accumulated French materials to see if there was anything I might contribute to support and connect with other teachers.

In my reading I noticed some growing trends in language teaching:

  • To move beyond the textbook or abandon it all together.
  • To use authentic texts and materials to present students with “real-life examples of language.”
  • To request specific lessons and materials prepared by other teachers on social media sites.

A couple of years back I gave a presentation that provided some of my experiences with leaving aside my textbook,  along with units that I created for my students. They are available on this Padlet2:  Padlet – Teaching Outside the Book.3


As a general rule textbooks are useful as they provide structure and a cyclical approach to thematic units where students learn and build on skills and vocabulary topics in subsequent chapters and levels. This is especially important in light of the AP course where the units expand vocabulary and language complexity to scaffold the sub-topics into to the six overarching themes. It is convenient to have the skills, teaching and learning activities all mapped out and to have access to the choice of ancillary materials.  This can help teachers who have several classes and levels.

Textbook challenges

Textbooks take a long time to create and the some information can quickly go out of date (ex. musicians, fashions, and sports stars) by the time the textbook becomes available.  Students take great pleasure in pointing out the anomalies!

Textbooks in middle school

Textbooks are expensive and often the same textbook is available for level I at the middle school level, the high school level and even the college level.   The vocabulary and the pacing are very different for each group and teachers are left with having to select and modify as a “one size fits all” does not work for the separate experiences.  Such was the case for me with my middle school students and as a result, I used the book less and wrote more of my own materials and worksheets based on the standard themes that focused on the basic skills that should be learned (thoroughly) in a level I course with enhancements from additional materials I sourced. The emphasis on creating a communicative classroom remained so many activities to focus on acquisition of language patterns stayed the same.

 What to do?

There is a vast array of authentic resources in videos, reading and audio excerpts, and infographics, in addition to teacher created materials at the fingertips of language teachers. Many of these are very creative and can be used to develop lessons and units that can be used to engage students with meaningful language experiences. With the guidance of a good plan, it is possible to determine skill areas and communicative requirements with the assistance of the  ACTFL Can Do Statements and then select specific resources to achieve the desired results.

One caveat is that it is easy to become overwhelmed and lost in the search for the perfect materials in an attempt to emulate the gurus and the experts in the profession.  It also doesn’t take long to discern that, despite the abundance of resources, not all of them are useful.  I think serious teachers recognize resources that are cute but have no useful purpose for teaching a skill, and others that might be useful but that don’t match the levels of our students and would therefore frustrate both them and us.  To be honest, I’ve been guilty of trying to fit a linguistic square peg into a pedagogical round hole in the effort to please students or create a more than memorable language experience that, unfortunately, has not achieved the desired result and left me scrambling to rethink the lesson. However, it is also deeply satisfying to produce lessons tailor-made for one’s students!


  1. There is no single way to teach language. Sometimes the textbook / a textbook will provide a suitable lesson and sometimes it will be useful to create a separate lesson or unit that more effectively suits the needs of the students. The teacher is also a resource for authentic language in the classroom. Often the book will provide an idea that can be developed or changed to make it more relevant to the students.
  2. It is good to have the freedom to choose materials and not to be obliged to sign on to the latest trend. I felt most comfortable in my classroom when I could see the students growing in their language skills and understanding the materials that were at their level.
  3. To experiment with teaching beyond the book, try one lesson and prepare it to achieve the goals you have selected.  We all recognize a lesson that has gone well and it is very satisfying for both us and our students.
  4. I discovered it was easy to develop units for my small group of talented and fast learners in line with their interests to enhance their communication skills. In doing so, I always started with the question “What should the students be able to do and understand at the end of the unit?” to guide the choice of language skills and activities. The challenge is always with the less-motivated students!

I love to create lessons but it takes time (and some make-overs) to achieve the desired results.  This is perhaps what I miss most since I have retired! Fortunately I still get to work with some teachers from time to time!  I look forward to seeing more discussion on these trends in the language magazines and to see how they continue to impact teaching.

 A note about Padlet

I like how it is possible to gather all the information – documents, sites, videos –  for a specific topic or project all in one place. It therefore makes it easy to share a lot of information in one place.

Lessons on Padlet attached:

  1. Le passé composé – a journal approach to having students learn and use the patterns of the tense. (To be updated soon- ugh, I noticed a couple of mistakes.)
  2. Webquest- Destination: Paris – learning about differences between life in France and the US for beginner students. (We still use F for temperature and lb. for weight!)
  3. A unit (4th quarter review of level I material) – Voyage à Paris (Padlet Destination: Paris with all resources attached).
  4. L’éducation des filles: for the advanced level II students (all girls) to compare their lives with those of others around the world.
  5. L’éducation des filles: single lesson (Marthe – les tâches ménagères – I used this after my students told me they didn’t do chores! Touches on social justice connection.)
  6. Les migrants – using special booklet

Other resources attached were used for pictures for discussion or other units (la technologie). I hope to update or rewrite the plans to make them more accessible as Word or Google docs.


  2. .


Made with Padlet





Let’s talk! Communication activities to start off the year

Ah – la rentrée– that time when teachers return with high expectations only to encounter their students enter the classroom declaring defiantly that they have forgotten everything! (…or did this only happen to me??)  All the more reason to start the school year off by showing them that this is definitely not the case!

My goal was always to send the beginners home on the first day with some simple phrases and sentences and to prove to returning students that we just needed to refresh their memories and bring out all the latent language skills.

In 2015 I attended a superb workshop with Haydée Silva1. (if you are familiar with the excellent magazine le Français dans le Monde 2.  you may recognize her name from the puzzle pages).  She had excellent activities to engage students and to promote learning. The workshop expanded my repertoire and I used these activities frequently to engage students and to work on “automatisation” of the language throughout the year also. The following year Angela Silva (sister of Haydée) also presented an excellent workshop with more activities to enable students to use vocabulary and structures in context.

On the attached handout, you will see they are very flexible and you can no doubt find lots of additional ways to use them.  Students were always eager to participate and engage with the clear communication activities focused on a particular structure.  Having activities that took them out of their seats from time to time didn’t harm either!

Another favorite activity I’ve been using for years came from YouTube tag videos I came across by accident:  “les 25 questions pour me mieux connaître.”  I can no longer find the original video that gave me the idea.  However, I copied down the questions and modified them to fit the level for the students basing them on grammatical structures and thematic vocabulary we had studied the previous year.  You can give students flash cards with the questions or simply a printout with the questions and prompts to be used in pairs or in small groups with the challenge to see how many they can get through in a specific time. This activity also has a diagnostic element as you will be able to note structures you may wish to review or mini-lessons to circle back through to reinforce grammar or language patterns.

You can find the Word docs. for both these activities below.

Bonne chance pour la rentrée!

Strategies to promote communication – H.Silva

Activités de systématisation – ASilva

Les 25 Questions pour mieux me connaître

  1. Le web pédagogique – site de Haydée Silva  – you can find lots of more activities for use in the French classroom on Haydée’s site.
  2. le français dans le monde

HyperDocs in the ML Classroom – Solutions pour la planète

As a recently retired French teacher and department chair,  I am reviewing and posting some of the materials that I have found useful in teaching French. In particular, I would like to share some of the ways that I have found technology useful to organize materials and to present information to students.

This post refers to the use of HyperDocs1.

Why is this important?

When I was teaching I liked to have my materials for the various parts of the lesson lined up and easily accessible, and to have an easy and logical progression for me – and of course – my students to follow. It is also important to be able to archive them to make changes and updates as students, lessons, and needs change.

This is even more important if I wanted my students to engage in a project and I wanted them to have all the steps so that class time was purposeful and focused.

What is a HyperDoc?

A couple of years back, during a winter break professional development series by Matt Miller on his Ditch That,  there was a session by the “hyperDoc girls”*  with the emphasis on teachers becoming lesson designers instead of just planners.  I realized the idea would be useful for lessons where I wanted to move beyond what the textbook offered or to create a lesson or project that was designed with my students in mind. The philosophy is that a hyperdoc goes beyond being a document simply with links, but is designed to provide students with a way to  “Engage • Explore • Explain • Apply • Share • Reflect • Extend the learning.”3.

How did I use it?

For an accelerated mid-level class, we were working on l’environnement et l’écologie and I wanted to have the students work on a project to select problems and provide solutions. I like to have all the links for students in one place so that time is focused on using the given sites and the information is controlled.

Plan for Solutions pour la planète

I translated the hyperdoc sections to suit the project and added the information and related sites to the appropriate sections. This allowed students to progress through the information, generally in pairs as a follow up to our lesson on the l’environnement et l’écologie. As the students worked, I was available to guide and direct discussions and to provide mini-lessons to focus on linguistic structures.

Students enjoyed the autonomy and the ability to do research on the 1jour1actu site – dossier -protège la planète, and they were able to use the language to talk about topics that were of specific interest to them.

I have attached the basic hyperdoc4.that I created so you can use it to develop your own plans.  ( To gain access, open the document, go to File,  Make a copy – rename and edit.)

I look forward to your feedback or suggestions for better ways to use the document.

  3. see
  4. Basic hyperDoc – French version


Love – tennis and teaching

As language teachers we want our students to participate actively in their learning and design and plan lessons to engage and develop learning.  My understanding of using centers fell into place one day while I was playing tennis – my other passion! During a break, my attention strayed to the teaching court where a substitute coach was giving a group lesson to mini-athletes that was different from the usual routine: namely, line up, take turns trying to hit the ball, run quickly round the net and return to the line and repeat! Invariably boredom set in and the budding athletes ended up using the tennis rackets as swords and yelling at one another! Why not – they hadn’t anything else to do.

But not today…it was a skills-based tennis lesson. Students would hit (or not) the ball fed to them, run up the court between well-placed cones to practice footwork, practice sidesteps back and forth to work on balance,  hit a tethered foam ball a couple of times and finally sprint down the court to arrive just in time to get in place to hit the ball again. Every minute and activity was spent working on a skill related to tennis–-hitting the ball was just one skill among many––and there was no time for mischief!  I was mesmerized and thought: how can I apply this “routine” to my French class? On my commute home that evening and for the rest of the week, I brainstormed on how I could use and structure learning activities for my students to work productively on different skills.

Over the years I have found it works most successfully to review units or “PIT”  (putting it together) activities to help student see the application of recent work.  I divide students into groups (generally 4) and they circulate through 4 activities to work collaboratively on a vocabulary activity to use the words and phrases in context; to review and practice linguistic structures by asking one another a list of questions (interpersonal); a third activity generally involves reading with questions or two passages to find the differences and “how to say…”  phrases  (interpretive); and a fourth activity is often to brainstorm and write good sentences relating to the topic using specific prompts (presentational). All activities use the same vocabulary, grammar and language structures while also integrating some previously learned materials depending on the level and stage of the year.  It does involve up front preparation with the prompts and sample sentences, but it allows me to circulate and address questions or give mini-lessons –-and occasionally to refocus middle school students! The classroomscreen allows the posting of instructions on the active board with the timer in view to keep everyone on task using approximately 12 minute rotations. Most recently we worked on centers more frequently as we reviewed and prepared for the exam.

The best part, however,  is always when I announce the need to wrap up because it is almost the end of class or lunchtime and students look up and say “Already… that was fast! ”  But practically, it also helped me know that every student was preparing for the exam and had covered all the information required.

Lesson Plan – Centers for Review



Les soldes – verb style!


On our return to school following the lengthy winter break, my 8th grade level I students (in their second year of French) looked a little confused and seemed hesitant when responding to familiar questions. By the end of the class, things were better, but I did feel a little frustration that we seemed to be playing the usual game of language snakes and ladders with the students forgetting so much during a break.  As class was coming to a close, a conscientious student asked, “Can we just review verbs and all those present tense endings – then it will be easier.” Enough others nodded in agreement that I had to give the matter serious thought. I don’t often do grammar “drills” or specific grammar teaching in class without a context, and so it would need to be purposeful with a focus on what each student needed to learn.  At lunch I took a few minutes to catch up on the French news, and it was there that I got my inspiration – les soldes!  The January Sales – for verbs!

1jour1actu les soldes

But how would it work? For the sales in France, you need to develop a plan! I set out some important elements. We started with the vidéo for a little cultural context.

  1. Les publicités (advertising): Only shop for what you need: I gave students a handout with all the verbs patterns, irregular verbs, and list of verbs we had used and learned. They had to determine those they knew well, those they needed to review, and those they struggled with. Some pretests with matching or completion or simply writing on the board (a favorite with middle schoolers) allowed them to identify areas of difficulty and make their “shopping list.”
  2. Comparison shop: Students worked in pairs to identify patterns, relationships between groups of verbs, familiar verb endings or stem changes (as in step or boot verbs) with colored highlighters. Some wrote “rules” while others wrote sentences with the verbs used in context. We took time to note the discoveries: ex. “for all verbs nous, vous, ils have -ons, -ez, -ent endings; many verbs have -s, -s, -t,  singular endings; pronounced endings (infinitives, nous, vous) have similar stems.”   This might have been the most important step as it demystified many of the different stems and endings for students.
  3. Les promotions: (different from les soldes in the cultural sense but still works for verbs). Students took advantage of the “2 or 3 for 1 deals”: venir, revenir, devenir; sortir, partir, dormir; pouvoir, vouloir; and gave some time to the “One of a kind” specials: aller, avoir, être.
  4. Tell a friend:(Accountability) Students explained a pattern or a verb they had learned or understood better to a friend. They also shared their plan to study to get the endings right.
  5. Allons-y!  Let’s go! We reviewed in teams to see if we could use the verbs correctly. I don’t often use competitive games but the first group gets the best deal! At the end students self-evaluated to see what remained on their “list”.
  6. A la caisse: Time to check out and prove you know it. We did this with a variety of formative assessments:  fill in the blanks, online resources, matching, completion, and dialogues.
  7. Après vente: (after sales service) in a follow up writing assignment, as students read their work to me, it was satisfying at times to hear say, “I need to change that verb ending – it should be  (-s/ – ent)  and they were correct!  Self-correction and a growing sense of confidence were also evident following the exercise.  And of course, I am more than willing to assist any student who still needs assistance or reminders.



A little learning is a dangerous thing… – Alexander Pope

  or….  “20th century teacher in search of 21st century skills”…..

The summer for a teacher means the opportunity first of all for recovery from a taxing and draining year of work.  After that comes the opportunity for me to update and reflect on next year’s plans. And then there is the opportunity for professional development by checking in on the latest in technology, learning opportunities to grow and develop as an educator up to date with the latest technology suitable for teaching language… or maybe not..!Tonight as I separated the burnt from the edible pieces of my dinner, I realized that maybe it is time to take a break from all of the self-imposed professional development I have subjected myself to in the name of keeping up through social media.  Everyone puts out that you can contact them through Facebook, Twitter,  or other social media and I have been doing my best to read and post in the idea of keeping myself in the loop. But it might be time to unplug….just to have some vacation before the social media circus, not to mention a teaching schedule, starts all over again.

During the afternoon I had checked my customized reading site and learned the 7 ideas to motivate students, the 10 latest ideas to integrate technology (that is up from the 8 of yesterday); the 15 essential sites I need to visit on Pinterest (thanks to my supervisor..!), and the 25 best practices to remain relevant within the classroom  (and that is just today)!  I’ve added all of those to yesterday’s 10 “no-rules” for the classroom,  7 best technology sites, the 50 things I need to know about teaching in the 21st Century, and the 25 best sites I need to visit.  I am now buried underneath the math of the essentials, the names of the latest gurus, and the blogposts of the people who hold the keys to the educational kingdom of success.  This is not to be confused with the blogs and best practices I glean from my Twitter account and the myriad genii I follow on that platform – every now and again adding my own 2 cents worth of dross (all while trying to sound knowledgeable) and then checking out the professional organizations on Facebook: in a week I’ve been to AATF, SCOLT, CLEAR, CeLTA and GWATFL. This alphabet soup leaves me nightly dreaming of organizations I can create with the remaining letters, working the ZXWV into my own webpage of petty offerings in this digital age where each person is an expert. If I miss a day, I feel so behind… I am buried under the numbers I missed, the letters I have yet to unscramble, and the sites I have not yet accessed.

But back to my dinner,… while waiting for the vegetables and the pasta to cook, I left it all to its own device while I read another article and added another site to my own wiki, and in this time, dinner: summer vegetables  carefully chosen for their beauty and flavor were overcooked… and so I think, perhaps it is not necessary to try and do it all, to read all the blogs, to follow all the ephemeral tweets, to be everything to all people – but to rest in enjoying the minute and to remember that the evidence points out that the most important device in a classroom is still the teacher… and given long enough I can find and quote the article on Twitter that says just that!!

I hope you are enjoying your school year.

French: Teaching and Learning with Technology

Teaching and Learning in a Laptop World

This article (note below) explores how the introduction of a 1:1 laptop program changes and adapts language teaching to integrate 21st Century Skills.

 Then and Now

I rarely admit that I started teaching French when the typewriter and mimeograph machine provided the “technology” for planning lessons and disseminating notes and handouts. I spent hours making posters and flashcards; I recorded songs, drills, and comprehensions to use in the language lab; and I amassed all kinds of materials with the goal of providing an outpost of France in a generic classroom somewhere in the world. Over the years, frequently updated tools in the form of computers, CDs, podcasts, and active board technology replaced my early collections to provide my students with authentic experiences of Francophone life and language. When almost two years ago our school announced it was initiating a 1:1 laptop program to best equip students for learning in the 21st century, excitement at the possibilities was countered by concerns that laptops could distract students and hinder learning. Given this latest challenge with its opposing perspectives, two related questions formed in my mind as I anticipated the arrival of my students eager to use this latest tool in their overstuffed backpacks:

  • How will the laptop program influence or change how I teach?
  • How will the laptop program influence or change how my students learn?

To maintain balance in this move to integrate technology in a purposeful manner, I focused on the three pillars of curriculum: content (what students learn/ goals), process (how my students achieve and are equipped to achieve the goals), and product (the demonstration of learning).2 I determined that my goal over the first year of the program would be to explore ways to teach more effectively while providing greater flexibility for my Middle School French I students (the unwitting guinea pigs) to learn in the required skill areas. In teacher-speak, the overarching goal was, through trial and error, to seek out and implement best practices for my students and me. Armed with input from my students, I embarked on the second year with clearer strategies and sense of purpose.

 How does the laptop program influence the way I teach?

Content –  Important point: The textbook is only one resource – and not always necessary.

A greater reliance on technology allows me to choose, control, and create content to meet my students’ needs.

Choose: The web puts a plethora of instructional materials at the hands of the language teacher and careful selection is key to effective teaching. A look at the end goal, the AP French Language and Culture course, with its emphasis on communicative skills in the six principal thematic areas, requires that Pre-AP skills must be incorporated, even for novice learners, if they are to move confidently through more challenging levels of language acquisition. With this in mind, I revised or redesigned existing materials into thematic units; in other cases I created units independent of the textbook. Following the ACTFL standards, I designed presentational, interpersonal, and interpretive goals for these units with lessons and assessments to enable my students to achieve the goals and performance tasks. With new units, I compiled vocabulary lists and presentations to teach and review grammar; I sorted through myriad bookmarked sites to select and assign specific tasks for practice or vocabulary study, videos and excerpts for reading and listening comprehension, and sites that provided cultural links or authentic readings pertaining to the themes. Discussions and collaboration with colleagues who taught at different levels were invaluable in this process.

Control: Having designed the unit, I needed to provide my students with easy access to all materials and presentations for assignments and assessment preparation. For this purpose, I created a wiki with pages for each unit to furnish links to the sites, activities, and presentations, and I built and edited these as the year progressed. To create a seamless flow from one source to another in my daily lessons, I used Keynote or flipcharts for the active board with imbedded links to sites and presentations. Having all the material in one place was important for my organization, but it also made the material accessible to students for study or review once I posted it to the wiki.

Create: Many programs on the Mac make the creation of videos and podcasts very easy; if I was going to encourage my students to be “doers and creators,”3 I had to be a role model. I made podcasts to deliver instruction on the go for today’s busy students who use commute time for learning and review. During snow days last year, I created and posted short videos on vocabulary and grammar points. After preparing a Keynote presentation, I often recorded and shared it as a QuickTime video for students to access outside of class.

How does the program influence how my students learn?

  1. The process – the link between content and product

 While “le wiki” for our class has become the repository of all instructional and ancillary materials with lessons, links, podcasts, videos, and music links, it has allowed some subsequent changes in the learning process:

  • Differentiation and personalized instruction are possible: students who need more time to master the material are able to access it on the wiki in their own time. More advanced students find other activities or WebQuests4 to practice and expand their skills and cultural knowledge. For students who forget how to do things by the time they arrive home, they can review the details of the lesson to apply it correctly for homework.
  • Students collaborate and assist in peer to-peer learning: they create and share verb tables, vocabulary lists, and flashcards to assist in the learning process.
  • Review and assessment preparation: students can work individually or in small study groups during which time I circulate to provide mini-lessons and answer questions.
  • Easy access: even when absent, most students complete the work by visiting the wiki and accessing assignments.
  • Re-ordering of activities: it is beneficial to ask students to prepare for class by listening to or reading the comprehension material, viewing a video, or brainstorming on vocabulary for a writing activity. They can do this several times if necessary so that class time can be used for interaction and language practice, or for written expression when I can help and provide immediate feedback.
  • Personal language lab: students have access to skill building and pronunciation activities that they can practice for homework or according to individual needs.

The transparency of access to course materials gives students greater control over their learning and brings cohesiveness to the course work. Students have progressively become more proficient at accessing helpful materials independently and consulting the dictionary ( I have also been impressed that students have used their editing rights responsibly to add music and useful learning games that they have experimented with and found useful.

How does the program influence how my students learn?

  1. The Product

The ways in which my students demonstrate their language acquisition has probably been the most rewarding part of the process both for them and for me. The good news—and bad news—for my students is that homework is no longer just homework! It has not been eliminated, but it is now tied to a skill area. Many students enjoy learning grammar and vocabulary with the interactive flashcard program “quizlet” (; but their mastery is measured in how they use them within the modes of communication: Interpersonal; Interpretive; and Presentational.

Presentational and Interpersonal speaking: The Rich Interactive Activities 5 developed by the Center for Language Education and Research (CLEAR) at Michigan State University provide the perfect practice and assessment tools for these skill areas. Students use the Audio-Dropboxes and Conversation activities to make recordings and respond to various prompts and questions. These can reflect the TAG questions that appear on YouTube of the nature “Qu’est-ce que tu as dans ton sac à dos/ casier/ ta chambre?” to grammar based “Qu’est-ce que tu as fait hier soir?” It is gratifying to see students gain confidence and develop the ability to provide more detail as the year progresses. For in class interpersonal presentations, students use PowerPoint or Keynote that they record and share as QuickTime movies. These can be presented before the whole class or in small groups and subsequently posted to our student work page on the wiki.

For presentational writing, there are many choices: students produce e-mails, posters, brochures, journals, and Glogs to chronicle their progress and provide evidence of their expanding language acquisition. By the end of the year, students have created an electronic portfolio containing written and audio presentations on the Level I theme “Ma Vie” under the headings: Ma famille; Mes amis et moi; Ma journée scolaire; Ma maison, mon voisinage et ma ville; Mes loisirs; Les fêtes et les vacances. The portfolio reflects proficiency goals and provides a foundation to build on at more advanced levels.

While the methodology of teaching language continues to evolve, my primary goal and role of teaching students to be prepared, linguistically and culturally, for the day they visit France has not changed. Language acquisition and practice is still the daily norm in my classroom. However, the laptop program provides access to more strategies to equip my students and to engage them with 21st century skills that support their learning. Increasingly, the reality is that my teaching and my students’ learning intersect and complement each other daily both in and out of the classroom. As I evaluate their progress, I must constantly re-evaluate my teaching methods and choice of materials in light of the unit targets and goals.

Middle School students are discriminating refiners and candid critics of my methods and readily inform me of their likes and dislikes, but more pragmatically, of what works and doesn’t work for them in the learning process. Their anecdotal evidence tells me they enjoy the variety of ways to learn and the authenticity the experience brings to their language study, but ultimately, it is the quality and proficiency of their performance that determines the success of the program in our French class.

Selected References:
1 World Languages 21st Century Skills Map (
2 Carol Ann Tomlinson (
3 World Languages 21st Century Skills Map ( – page 4
4 WebQuests (
5 Rich Internet Applications for Language Learning    (

J. Moore

This article was originally published in the AATF magazine in  March 2012. I have continued to review practices but many remain the same. Each year teaching needs to be modified according to the needs of the students. I continue to monitor the outcomes as the main indicator of my student’s progress.