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!!
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!
(You will find all of the resources mentioned in this post, in addition to others, here.)
There are multiple Notebook files; please email me if you would like these files in PDF format.
We are preparing for a massive dumping of snow tonight here in Vermont. I decided I should pass the time curled up with some hot chocolate, blogging about one of my favorite units I do with my six graders: snowmen! I had been doing one isolated snowman activity for a long time, but a couple of years ago I discovered some new things and from there it just, pun intended, snowballed!
I can be a bit of a traditionalist, and I really like for my students to memorize and recite poetry. I think it’s a good exercise to help students make the connection between spoken and written French, and I believe it is important for students to become comfortable speaking in front of others from a young age. So for years my students have been memorizing the Jacques Prévert poem, « Chanson pour les enfants l’hiver. » We usually start working with it in January right after we come back from vacation. (Part two of this post, which I will write next week, will highlight the fantastic random connection between this poem and a popular French pop song from a few years ago I made back when students who are now college sophomores were in sixth grade. SO. MUCH FUN!!!)
I loved having not just one, but TWO fun MTs to do. They are very different, but complement each other well. So how happy was I? Super. MTs are my absolute favorite, and I was able to get so much mileage out of these.
But then IT GOT BETTER. In February of that year, Mary Peters, a colleague of mine at the Richmond Middle School in Hanover, came up with a great Pictionary activity with some of the classic Calvin and Hobbes snowman cartoons. The teacher describe one of the cartoons, the student draw what they hear. They then see the sentences written that they had just heard orally, then make comparisons between what they drew and the actual Bill Waterman images.
And if that weren't enough, my father sent me some fun snowman cartoons that we discussed in class!
I have a lot of follow-up activities, both for each video individually and some activities that combine the two videos: worksheets, readings, sentences to cut up, and small printouts of the screenshots from both videos with which students can do a variety of activities. (Directions, in French, for those activities here.)
This whole unit usually takes me from the first of the year to our February vacation. It’s very timely, and even if you do not live in a location that experiences tons of snow, I hope you can find something worthwhile here.
Have fun, stay warm, and let me know how you like these lessons!
Allison Litten teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This year she is teaching kindergarten and grades 1, 2, 4, and 6.