Saturday, 25 January 2014

Oral Communication Strategy: Qui Suis-Je?

Qui suis-je in action with one of my Grade 4 classes.
This week I introduced a new strategy to my students.  Right now we are working on the CEFR focuses (foci?) of "Je pose des questions,"  and "Je decris les personnes and les places."  I thought a good way to bulk up their vocab for description, and get them used to asking questions was to play Qui suis-je?, a game not unlike the game "Headbandz."  There was quite a bit of preparation for students to get the the independent practice level in this game.  We played this game for a while as a class, and the shared practice was something that the students really enjoyed.

Anchor charts for support
In order to set my students up for success, the preparation for this game was pretty involved.  I had created anchor charts that had pictures of celebrities, and asked questions about a personality.  We created the questions as a class based on the anchor chart of celebrities that I introduced first.  One lesson that came out of this game was the mini lesson I had to teach on inversion and intonation. The students grasped the concept pretty readily-- they made great connection.  One student noted that we use the question "comment t'appelles-tu" and asked if that was inversion.  It was a great mini-lesson!  

After we created the list of questions, I created a scorecard for the students to use: not only to organize their thinking, but to get them reading the questions without the support of the images I added for comprehension.  The scorecard was a table that I filled with the questions, and a box to check or "x" depending on the question and answer.  We had 2 answers for the grade 4 classes (Oui ou non), and 4 for the grade 5s (oui, non, peut etre, et parfois.)

For the "headbands," I used some dollar store sunglasses with velcro dots attached to them.  Then each of the pictures had velcro on the back so students can swap the pictures in between turns.   

Glasses  instead of headbands.  We have a critter problem at our school .
The shared process was fun for the class.  I modeled one turn, by having the students pick the picture for my glasses.  I modeled how to use the scorecard on a giant version that I created for modelling.  There were only 12 pictures to choose from, so all the images were hanging up for students to consult.  We played a class version of the game each class for a while.  Until the students were really used to the questions.  Some students started creating their own yes or no questions, which was fabulous!  

When we moved to the independent practice, students played the game in groups of 4 or 5.  There was quite the buzz in the class, students were really enjoying it!  While the students played the game, I circulated and assessed their progress.  

Again, it was great to see the students using gestures, and other speaking strategies that they had learned earlier in the year!

Scorecard for student book
The great thing about having created this game is that I can use it again when we meet the new characters for our next unit on mysteries.  I have some grand plans for that unit! 

I have used post-it notes to play a version of this game with some of my older classes.  I opted for this picture-based version for my younger students to ensure a level of success.

See the bottom of the post for download links to my resources!


If you would like to make your own, here are the files that I made for the game.  Feel free to download and print!

Celebrity cards: (I printed two sizes, 1 collage per page for the anchor charts and 2 collages per page for the playing cards.) Download here (page 1). And here (page 2).

Scorecard worksheet: I printed it for the students to consult when they played and to track their thinking. Download here (PDF).

Making Music for French Class Again

After I posted about making music for French class, I got some great comments!  Thank you!  One comment asked if I wouldn't mind sharing the "karaoke" version of the song so that other students can try writing their own verses.  No problem!  Great suggestion.  So I have added to the original post the track without my singing, and a copy of my lyrics for you and your students to consult.  Click here to go to the original post.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Making music for French Class

Students reading my song lyrics to understand the format
I love using music in French class.  The kids love it, and I do too.  Its the one thing that can really get me moving.  My grade 5 classes had completed a short unit on Popular French music.  Some of the songs we discovered are some of the kids' favorites!

Lately, I have been writing my own French songs for the kids to listen to in class.  I wrote one song for our project on Movember; we had some male staff in our school participate this year.  The song was part of a webquest that some students completed.  They loved that song!  For the whole week, they walked around singing "je n'aime pas les moustaches."  They even requested it in their class party!

I thought that I would try again by creating a song for our unit "Je me presente!"  I wanted the song to be simple so that the students would understand it, and so that we could turn it into a writing activity.  Here's what I came up with:

And here is the track sans vocals:

 We started listening to it this week, and we read the lyrics. (Click here to download a PDF of the lyrics.)  The students understood the song very quickly (using their strategies!).  They thought it was funny.  Then I told them that they were going to write their own songs, and they were very anxious.  There were a lot of "I can't"s and "too hards" floating around the place.  The students were adamant that they couldn't.  It was quite frustrating, so we moved onto the next activity.  But I knew that we would revisit the song later.

Today, we listened to the song again, and focused on the structure of the lyrics.  The students noticed that there were many repetitions in the song.  We broke down the song into sections: the chorus, and the verses.  The students were asked to write one verse about themselves.  To help them in their writing, they used their notebooks with all their work from the unit "Je me presente."  Each student had written a lot about themselves already.  They just needed to put it in the right format!

Some student lyrics
 Once they got over their initial fear, they started to write some great lyrics!  They were allowed to used my chorus, and format.  That way it would work when they sang it to the instrumental version of my song.  To get them started, I suggested that they write out the chorus, because its less intimidating than a blank page-- that's what I do.  Many of the students said this helped. And they were writing!  They were talking to each other about song ideas, and trying to find rhyming words for their verses!
It was really exciting for me to see them trying to create their songs.  They were very intimidated about the idea, but as they started, they were adding more ideas.  What we will do is finish our verses, and record our song about our class. 

If you were interested in making your own songs, I will tell you how I made mine.  I use the ipad app Garage Band to make and record songs for class.  Its easy to use, and I can hook up my guitar to it, or use the sounds in the program.  The best way to start is to play around with the app, and find a sound you like.  If you have a friend or child that plays music, they can help too!  I make my husband sing on some of the songs if I need a deep voice.  The resulting song is not bad in quality, or sound.  Its great for class, and you can export the song to other platforms if needed.  For my mustache song, I exported it to Moviemaker, to create a video.
More student's lyrics

If you are not the type to write a song, there are other cool ways to incorporate music and writing into your classroom.  This teacher had his students write the lyrics of the popular song "What does the fox say?" in French.  I had a friend who was in a French children's music group, and they had a contest:  Schools submitted their translations of songs, and then the group recorded it and a video starting the students!  I like to use French Pop music in the activity "Milling to the music" or as we call in in French class, "Marchez a la musique."  Universal France has a great You Tube channel for discovering upbeat modern French music.    
Want to take the plunge and try GarageBand?  This is a great tutorial site if you are interested in trying out the app.  If you make up a song, let me know!  I love finding new french music.  And, as always, you are welcome to use my song in class.  It will fulfill my dream of being a pop star ;-) 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Fixed links on Printables page

Hi!  I got a few emails asking my to share some documents on my Google Drive.  I had thought I did, but it turns out I forgot to check the box to share.  Now, I've fixed it!  If you have the link, you should be able to download any of my strategy cards and resources.  Sorry about the inconvenience!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Morning Mystery Messages

This week, I posted a resolution to address the challenges that I was having with my transitions from class to class.  I decided to implement a morning message for the days that I travel around the school.  I asked the homeroom teacher I work with to post the message (I emailed it to them in a notebook file) on their Smartboards a few minutes before I arrives in the class.  The instructions were simple, "Qui est-ce?"  The students knew that they were to read the message, and try and figure out who sent the note with their elbow partner.

This strategy was successful in that it focused the students and prepared them for French class.  They were actively using their comprehension strategies to guess the author.  Some students made great comments about the evidence they found in the note.  One student noted that "P.P" must be a girl because friend was spelled "amie."  But another student said P.P. could be a girl because the sentence started with "mon."  In the end, they did figure out that the author was "Tony Stark" aka "Ironman."  It was a great, short warm-up activity.

The Mystery Message also served as a type of diagnostic assessment for me on the students' ability to read in French.  This past term, we had been focusing mainly on oral communication skills, we had done very little in terms of explicit literacy lessons.  I asked the a few students to read parts of the note out loud, and made a few notes on my clipboard about where they had difficulty to help me plan a few lessons on accents and diphthongs.

One challenge I did have with this message, was that some students were so keen to just solve the question of who the author was that they didn't even read it before they started telling people their guesses.  Instead of relying on the message as mainly an oral and reading activity in the future,  I think I am going to print out specific slips of paper for the students to write down their guesses and clues on.  That way the experience is not taken over by a few more extroverted students.

Overall, I think that this was a great exercise for my students!  I am looking forward to trying to create more messages from more mysterious persons.

If you want to try this activity with your students, and you would like to use my message, click on the picture of the message for a larger version and save it for later.  To save, right click on the large picture, and select "Save As" to save to your computer.  To make my message, I used Photoshop and a torn paper vector I found here, and the logo vector here.       

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Updated Printables Page

I got a few emails asking me for the files for my speaking strategy cards that are in the photo from this post.  No problem!  I added the link to download your own on my "Printables" page here or follow this link to download them.  I also added a link to some cards I made for listening strategies.  They are also on the "Printables" page, or download them right this way at this link.

And, a BIG thank you to all the nice emails I got about my blog.  I was not sure if this would be of interest to anyone, but I got such encouragement!  Thank you again!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

"Je suis un voleur"- Fun Oral Strategy

Even though today was really cold, and we didn't have that many students, we had some really good discussions going on!  Today we tried a new strategy to get the students talking in French.  I wanted them to push the limits of what they knew, and get them use the strategies they learned.  We set up the class as a challenge:  Each student was given 3 popsicle sticks.  The goal was to collect as many stick as you can by the end of the class.  Using the questions and words they knew in French, they had to have a conversation with a classmate.  if they spoke any English, they had to give their partner a stick.  If they made an error in answering a question (that their partner noticed) they had to relinquish a stick. 

It was really great to see the students push themselves to communicate in another way than English.  They were using gestures, facial expressions, and other strategies for speaking!  It was wonderful to see one of my fourth graders (who struggles with French class) have his "A-Ha!" moment when he started to read the resources around the classroom.  It was so rewarding to see that he knew where to find the answers to some of the questions asked.

While the students were having their conversations, I was able to work with my strugglers.  It was great to have the time to work with the small group to help reinforce and encourage them.  All the students were on task and trying hard to keep their sticks. 

After the activity, we had a quick discussion (in English) about what challenges they faced; the strategies they used; how they could be more successful in the activity; and what would they change about playing next time.  The class had some really insightful comments about their learning.  One student noted how some of the strategies came "naturally" when they were trying to communicate.  Another student made a great connection to a social issue: she noted that even though she knew some French the activity was challenging.  She connected her experience to that of a New Canadian trying to communicate after immigrating.  So much learning!

If you want to try this activity, here are the instructions: This activity works best when anchored to a specific set of vocab.  We were using some questions from our "Je me presente" unit as a starting point for discussion.  Each student is given a number of sticks (or counters, something that they can trade for the activity.)  In pairs, they start to have a conversation.  I found that the students were really good about "policing" themselves to speak in French.  I often heard, "ah ah ah, en francais!" while the game was going on. 

The goal is to collect all the sticks from your partner.  I gave the students 3 sticks, so when someone collected 6 the game was over.  With my older students, I have them switch partners and play another round. 

I am already thinking of some adaptations to try this again.  Do you have any ideas?  Suggestions?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Les stratégies- Explicitly Teaching Strategies in Class

Click on pic for larger image
I am always looking for ways to improve my students' confidence when it comes to understanding and using French.  Convincing my students to speak in French has been one of my biggest challenges this year!  I explicitly teach/taught/am still teaching some strategies for comprehension, speaking and reading to help my students navigate the many parts of speaking French, and to build their confidence in understanding it. I did not makeup these strategies; I learned them from my mentor.  I thought they were great, and set off using them right away!

Currently in my class, we have been focussing mainly on the "stratégies de comprehension."   I started at the beginning of the year, teaching the first five on the list (Je regarde les image/ I look at the pictures; Je cherche les mots-amis/ I look for cognates; Je cherche les mots-connu/ I look for words I know; Je lis la salle de classe/ I read the classroom; and J'infere/ I infer.)  I added at the beginning of the year  "J'utilise le dictionnaire/ I use the dictionary" because I thought that was an important skill to learn right off the bat.

I think they are great tools.  I have the same pictures and words hanging in my classroom, and in the students' homerooms as well.  I refer to them constantly.  We have used them explicitly in most of our activities.  But, the students still do not use them on their own.  They know all the strategies and what they mean.  And they can use them when I tell them to.  But they are not making the connection to use them on their own.  How do I get them to that level?  This is a new challenge for me.  When I taught these strategies in the past, the students used them frequently and without being told to do so.  My current students do not, which means I need to change something to encourage them to use these strategies.  My goal is for these students to use these tools on their own without my direction.

I found an article on Edutopia about helping students to become "deeper listeners."  This got me thinking about how have I been encouraging my classes to be active listeners. I had not taught active listening explicitly.   When I spoke to my colleagues about this question, they agreed that our classes have a difficult time listening, actively or otherwise.  Active listening hadn't been taught explicitly in their homeroom either; so one strategy I want to try is based around this idea. I would like to use the Think-Pair-Share (Pensez-Partenaires-Partagez ?) strategy in FSL class.  Students would speak about a text they had listened to, collect some information about what they needed to listen for, and how they had understood or misunderstood it.   I would have to prepare some vocabulary for this activity, but I think that it would be valuable to practice active-listening.  This activity would be very short: 3 minutes listening, 3 minutes in partner discussion, and 3 minutes in sharing.  I want it to be short so we can do this activity often.   What activities do you use to encourage active listening?

With this in mind, I believe that I may have to do more work with metacognition in my classes.  This creates a new set of challenges, because speaking about one's own thinking is difficult in one's own language.  How do I encourage students to reflect on their learning when their vocabulary is so limited?   One strategy that I want to use is an "exit ticket" for students to complete at the end of the class that deals specifically with student learning.  I want to give them time to think about their learning process, and the challenges that they may have.  Another strategy that I have used in the past and may fit here, is using sentence stems that help students form their thoughts on metacognition in French.  What do you think?

I don't mind sharing either!  If you would like to print out my strategy cards for your own use, please do!  I have them hanging up in the class, and I carry a set on my cart for traveling purposes.  Click on the link below for a PDF of the comprehension strategy cards.  I hope you find them helpful!

Comprehension Strategy Cards:

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Les Résolutions!

Since its the new year, I thought it would be a great time to think of some resolutions for the upcoming term.  I think its a great time to reflect-- enough time has passed in the school year that I can really look at what is working and what is not working in my teaching practice.  Since I am still kind of new to teaching French, I know that there is still a lot to learn (as if that ever stops) to get the most from myself, and my students.

My first resolution is to SPEAK MORE FRENCH!  For the first part of the term, I have been speaking a combination of French and English in the classroom.  If I had to give it a number, I would say I've been speaking French about 70 % of the time.  When it comes to an explanation of an activity, or addressing the students when they become frustrated, I have returned to English so that I'm sure they understand.  This is a very bad habit.  One that I don't want my students to use.  If I remember how I really learned how to speak French, it was through immersion, and not being able to use any English.  I had to find ways to make myself understood.  I need to bring this experience to my students.  I have taught strategies, and created resources and images in place to help the students understand, now I need to give them a chance to use those resources. Does anyone else have difficulty speaking only French in their classes?

Resolution 2: I am a part-time itinerant teacher (a "travelling show" as my husband calls it.)  Transitions are very difficult for me and the students.  There is a space of 2 minutes where the students are waiting for me to arrive, and in this short time they lose focus.  I need to put in place a strategy or activity that the students can be doing, while they wait.  One idea that I had was to ask the homeroom teacher to post a message on their SMARTBoard before I arrive.  The students can work on reading it, or listening to it before I arrive, and then the class is started before I am even there! What do you do for transistioning into a new subject or a new room?

Resolution 3: I need to create a comprehensive literacy unit that works for my teaching situation.  I have some challenges in this regard:  I need to find resources that are high-interest, but low vocab;  I only have 40 mins a day with the students;   I travel, have to carry all my resources with me;  and my students have difficulty working independently in FSL.  When I am creating these lessons, I have to keep all of this in mind.  Not to mention all the different levels of readers in the classes.  I find this task the most intimidating of all things I teach in FSL.  What are some good resources for creating a balanced literacy program in FSL?

Resolution 4:  I am very lucky as a French teacher at my school, I have a team of teachers to work with.  This year, I am going to make more of an effort to meet with my colleagues for planning purposes because we are a great team.  It has been difficult to carve out some time to meet-- we do not have any preps together.  We have a planning session this month, and I am going to ask that we find additional time to meet.  My colleagues are a great resource I should be using more!  How do you find time to meet with colleagues during a busy school day?

Resolution 5: I have found many ways to integrate technology into my students' learning, but I haven't used it enough for my own learning!  This year, I am going to make sure that I use the resources for myself too.  I have started by looking at blogs and other sites that are created by and for teachers.  I am really excited to check out the work by other teachers in my board that are blogging their learning for others to read.  Are there some teacher blogs that I should definitely be reading?

Resolution 6: I need to keep up on my reflections/ journalling this year.  Up until now, my journalling has been sporadic.  I find that journalling helps me work through some challenges that I have in the classroom, and in planning.  Keeping a log has helped me track what works and doesn't work with my students.  I need to set time aside for this as often as possible.  How do you keep track of your reflections during the school year?

Phew!  A big ambition list.  That's the kind of list I like to tackle.  Do you have any resolutions for the new year?  For "la rentrée?"