A Year Based on Simon's Cat
For those of you know me, you are well aware of my addiction to Movie Talk (AKA Video Chat, AKA Clip Chat). I'll be doing my MT session at MaFLA next week and NECFTL in February, and presented on it five times this past summer. FIVE. I am legitimately obsessed.
Someone just posted a question to the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching FB group about a good MT for French I. I believe that ANY MT can be adjusted to work for ANY level, but I wanted to take a moment to write about the year I based the entire content of my third grade program on four Simon's Cat videos: Fetch, The Box, Snow Business, and April Showers.
We started the year with a Card Talk, where students drew what they liked to do. This allowed us to talk about weather, times of year, people, all kinds of stuff! We spent a solid three or so weeks on this. Here are some of the activities we did on my SmartBoard with the information we gathered about students in the class.
For the picture on the left, we dragged the pictures from the bottom next to the names of the students who said they liked that particular activity. (The screen was originally just the names and the picture at the bottom.) The second picture is a set of true/false questions I asked my students orally; they wrote theirs answers on individual white boards. When I showed the third, we talked about which weather is best for which activities; this is always great because of the discussions that arise organically. There are invariably kids who like to play baseball in the rain, and we talk about how it's dangerous to swim when it's storming. The last contains sentences for goofy paired Pictionary (animals that like to do different activities, the same ones that the kids drew for the Card Talk); one student in the pair closes their eyes, the other looks at the sentence, then I cover the sentence up and the "open-eyed" students draw what they read for their partners to guess.
We then examined some pictures of kids around the world with their favorite possessions. (Ooooh, culture!) This is such a rich set of photos for Picture Talk-it's so powerful and can get you milking ALL FIVE OF THE FIVE ACTFL C's!! (Teacher mic drop.) The conversations can be so rich, and doing things like Venn diagrams, descriptive paragraph composition, and, comparison charts can really get the kids thinking about cultural differences. (The one picture that's fascinating and scary at the same time is the Ukranian boy with his toy gun collection.)
Our first MT of the year was "Fetch." It doesn't connect 100% with our Card/Picture Talks, but it has a cat and a dog and a stick and throwing and it's just fun. Simple, basic, repetitive. That's the key to a good MT.
After our first term ended, we worked with "The Box." This one is fantastic for prepositions. (BTW, it's also the video I use as a demo for when I present on MT. Someone in the group always has a cat, and we talk about how the cat may or may not like boxes. It's great.) Students make their own little paper boxes, and we play around with putting different manipulatives in them. (Confession-by the end of our work with the boxes, I did break out some Skittles for us to put in and under and beside and behind our little boxes. Life's short, right?!)
Once the weather turned, I cued up "Snow Business." Both"Fetch" and "Snow Business" have great structures for gestures. Gestures are important for me as I work with younger kids and they really benefit from that physical/oral connection. A friend of mine once told me that everything in my classes revolves around people or animals throwing things, stuff breaking, things falling....What can I say, I know what I like and what works for my kinds. I mean, if it ain't broke....
There are a couple of moments in the year when I deviate a little from Simon's Cat. During the winter, to mix things up a little, we do our Chapin/Cochien unit, which is always a ton of fun. I tie things to animals as much as I can, because, well, who doesn't love to talk about animals! I find that this unit is really beneficial from a linguistic perspective. Asking students to split words into syllables is not always easy, especially in L2, and it's not something one would think of being an "important skill." But it really is a cool exercise, and cognitively beneficial, I believe.
You can read about the unit in more detail here.
In their ELA class, third graders study folk tales. In our third term, starting in March, we read Le Petit chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), which takes us all the way through May. I love this unit because it ties into what the students are studying in their other classes. It uses a familiar story, so their affective filters are low. I scaffold it such that by the end of our work with the book, they are able to retell the story to me as I use a doll house and small stuffies and figurines to act it out. For some reason I can't upload that video to YouTube, but you can watch it here. The very last activity is homework: students retell it to a parent with images from the book, no written text in front of them. It's a powerful exercise.
So there you go-a year with Simon's Cat! I hope this give you some ideas. What are some videos you think that could serve to be the cornerstone of a year's curriculum?
Themes and "Vocabulary Lists"
Eight years ago I went through a pretty significant break-up. I dumped my textbook. Sorry, Valette and Valette, it's not me, it's you.
When thinking about my teaching, I have found myself in situations recently where I take a step back and say to myself, "Wait a second....am I organizing my lessons by groups of vocabulary?! NOOOO!!!" I mean, I "do" modes of transportation and body parts with kindergarten. My first graders learn rooms of the house. My fourth graders do some significant work with fruits and vegetables. But I have come to the conclusion that while I do work with themes, I do not really have units based on certain categories of vocabulary. Seem contradictory? I know, I get it. But let me explain.
You may want to start thinking about this by reading my post about the unit with which I start the year with my fourth graders. We start by talking about their culinary food preferences and things go from there. We then look at photos from the book Hungry Planet, which shows what families around the world eat. Finally, we finish with a Movie Talk with the animated Disney short Feast.
So now let me elaborate a little more. Sure, when I think about it, I am working with sets of words that could be considered categories. But I really believe the difference between teaching focusing on themes and teaching focusing on vocabulary is how the teacher introduces the words and how the students interact with them. Let's take my kindergarten unit that highlights transportation. The culminating activity is a Pocoyo video, "La Course" ("The Race"). It has a tortoise-and-the-hare flavor to it, and we do a lot of activities leading up to that.
Here's a PDF file of the Notebook file I use when introducing the structures featured in the video. I use one of the stories in the Stories by Gus on the Go app, which is actually the tortoise and the hare. Through that story I can teach the words fast and slowly. We talk about which modes of transportation move quickly and which go more slowly. We have races with actual toy planes and trains and automobiles. We play "What's in the Bag?" with different toys, and I ask students to make predictions. I happen to have a taxi that is smiling, so let's bring in emotions. I have a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, and his friend Percy. Enter colors. Everything we do circles back around to things we've already discussed, recycling vocabulary and making our discussions totally comprehensible for my students.
NB-The video on the left is in the gym and there's a PE class going on the other side of the curtain, so it's noisy! Plus, this was the day before vacation, so...!!
We talk about what animals move quickly and slowly, and how they move (jump, swim, walk, fly). We play some games on the Linguascope website that focus on different vehicles but also require students to think and process vocabulary differently. Students do some categorizing, drawing different things (animals, vehicles) that travel at various speeds.
So what's my point with all of this? That it's OK to work with different groups/categories of vocabulary and words, as long as the students are given a context in which they can use the words. We teach language, not words. We cannot teach things in isolation, especially when dealing with young children. So sure, I can tell someone that my kindergarteners learn modes of transportation, but the way they process the vocabulary goes so much deeper than simply looking at a list.
Sometime soon I hope to write a similar post about my "body parts unit" with kindergarten, or my "farm animals unit" that starts my year with second grade. But I needed to get this post out
Back in April I had a couple of lightbulb moments with some modifications to one of my favorite Brain Breaks, Qui a volé les biscuits de la boîte à biscuits? (And I'm just now getting around to posting them!) There's a significant shift in the structure of these activities, but the kids like them!
Both of these new games are rooted in specific units of our curriculum. My second graders were watching the second "season" of the Muzzy video series. In the early episodes of that season, Corvax kidnaps Bob and Sylvia's baby Amanda. (Don't worry if those names don't mean anything to you, just know Corvax makes off with Amanda.) I have a little Playmobil baby that represents Amanda. Students sit in a circle, and one student leaves the room; he or she becomes Bob or Sylvia, on the quest to locate their poor missing daughter Amanda. I hand Amanda to one of the students seated in the circle, and all students in the circle clasp their hands together in front of them. We call Bob or Sylvia, the student who had gone into the hall, back into the room. That student stands in the middle of the circle and looks around, trying to figure out which classmate has Amanda. They have three chances to find Corvax. When they have chosen someone to accuse, they look at that student and say, "Tu es Corvax?" ("Are you Corvax?") The accused responds with either, "Oui, je suis Corvax" ("Yes, I'm Corvax") if they are indeed the kidnapper, or "Non, je ne suis pas Corvax" ("No, I'm not Corvax") if they didn't take Amanda. If the accuser is unsuccessful in locating the kidnapper, the kidnapper opens his or her hands and reveals Amanda. Regardless of whether or not the accuser correctly identifies the kidnapper, the student who played Corvax and stole Amanda becomes either Bob or Sylvia in the next round, searching for their kidnapped daughter.
The modification I made for my sixth graders came to me while we were reading Pirates français des Caraïbes, the French adaptation of Mira Canion's Spanish reader. This plays out almost identically to the Corvax scenario above. In the novel, François the pirate captures a sailor named Charles, who is under the employ of Antoine Médina. I place a little toy pirate (who happens to be holding a telescope, which is what Charles actually has in the book!) in the hands of one of the students sitting in the circle. When "Antoine" comes back into the room, they ask, "Tu as capturé Charles?" ("Did you capture Charles?"). The accused responds either, "Oui, j'ai capturé Charles" ("Yes, I captured Charles") if they are indeed the kidnapper, or "Non, je n'ai pas capturé Charles" ("No, I didn't capture Charles"). Once again, the kidnapper becomes Antoine.
Can you think of other ways to adjust Qui a volé les biscuits? to fit into your curriculum?
I have uploaded a bunch of resources to my TPT page to accompany both the French and English version of this story. (I'll add more English resources if there's an interest, so let me know if that's something you'd like! Enjoy!!
Brain Breaks for my littlest ones
As a FLES teacher, TPR is often my go-to Brain Break for my K, 1, and 2s. However, it's good for everyone to mix it up a little. There was a question in the "CI/TPRS for French Teachers" FB group about Brain Breaks for "circle time." Here are some of my favorites that don't require a lot of moving or shuffling around of kids and can have quick transitions.
Below the descriptions are a couple of videos during which I do all of the following Brain Breaks. Check out the time stamp for each one.
WARNING! I filmed these today, the day we came back from vacation, so the kids are SQUIRRELLY!! Not my best decision, but I was chomping at the bit to get this post out. I seriously debated on whether or not to publish the videos, but I decided, why not. Yes, there's a girl who pulled out an apple and started eating it in the second class. Yes, there are a boy and a girl who seem truly smitten with each other in the first class. Yes, a stuffed giraffe appears in the camera in the second class. I certainly felt at moments like the worst teacher out there. But I guess it's good to see the rough days as well as the home-run classes! We're all human, right?!
Tiens, voilà main droite (#1 1:50)
This is a hand-clapping game, easy to do in a circle and great for hand-eye coordination.
Aller-retour (#1 5:10)
Another hand-pattern game in partners. This is my take on the Spanish chocolate. I really like the words I chose in my French version (in French, aller-retour means "round trip").
Papier, caillou, ciseaux (#2 4:45)
There are soooo many variations of this, but here's the basic (kids playing in pairs against each other), and one alternative way (me "against" the class). Check our La Maestra Loca's blog for different versions of this.
(And can I just say it totally cracks me up when, at 6:30, one girl shouts, "Hey, I gagne!" and one of her classmates responds with, "You do NOT gagne!" Man, I love this age group!)
Dansez comme maîtresse (#2 0:38)
Silly!! This was actually the first time I've ever done this BB with this class, and I thought it went pretty well and didn't need a ton of introduction.
Animal movements/statue (#1 10:25, #2 10:10)
I ADORE this one! It's a great comprehension check as well.
There's one more I thought of that I forgot to film today: On ferme les yeux, on touche le nez. Students close their eyes and try to touch their noses with one finger. We do it once with the left hand, and once with the right hand. It can get goofy, but it just serves as a little reset!
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public PreK-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twenty-third year teaching, and twentieth at Marion Cross.