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
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!!
(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!
When life gives you lemons...
...you do Movie Talks featuring kids, dogs, and lemons!
You spend lots of time exploring images from books by Saxton Freymann, such as How Are You Peeling? and Fast Food.
SOOOOO much fun!
GAH!! So much to write about! But I'll take it slowly (never easy for me!), and give a little at a time.
I wanted to share something I'm doing with my fourth graders right now. (I started this in the first week of school.) These are the first students at my school who, as fourth graders, have already had two years of French. I've been their only teacher, so I know them quite well, but I have made it a goal to include even more personalization in my classes this year. So we started the year with a Card Talk around food; on a regular sized piece of paper, students drew two things they liked to eat, and one that they didn't. This allowed for a lot of PQA, sharing, and community building. After a couple of weeks, we finished going through their drawings, wrapping up with some true/false and fill in the blank questions. (See the video of that class here.)
Then I did a Picture Talk, which I've never done. I chose some photos from the book Hungry Planet and made a Notebook file with them. (Some of the photos from the book are in this Time article.) We did a little “geography lesson,” looking at the large world map I have in my room. The first photo I showed the students was the image below.
We talked about what we saw, and then I asked how much they thought the food cost. (This was a fantastic opportunity to bring in big numbers, which are annoying in French!) I taught the the words for "fresh" and "packaged/canned," and we compared which countries had more fresh and more packaged food, how many people. (I'm gone today at the TCI Maine conference, and I left this reading with this chart for the kids to do with the sub.)
NB-Annabelle Allen just reminded me about using Google Maps street view to look at places. I'm going to go back next week and revisit the photos from the book looking at where the families live!
All of this is is in preparation for my FAVORITE activity: Movie Talk!!
(I used the animated short Feast; here's a link to ALL of my resources for the clip.)
There is something to keep in mind about this "unit." I came up with this idea THE DAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED. I ditched all of the plans I had created and started from scratch. And it just keeps growing. There's a good chance I'll just be wrapping up right when report cards go out and parents come in for parent/teacher conferences. AND THAT'S OK! CI enables us to be flexible, and that is so liberating.
Again, check back in a couple of weeks to see how it all plays out.
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.