Friday, 7 December 2012

Finding "The Element"

Recently, I have been looking into ways of incorporating personal development into my lessons. Personal development refers to the task of improving your attitude towards learning or working by diversifying your skill set or gaining a new perspective on life as a whole. It may involve reflecting on your past experiences, answering questions that you have of yourself, examining your life's path or seeking the advice of others to put you back on the path to enlightenment. Famous personal development authors could include Og Mandino, Norman Vincent Peale, Tony Robbins, or Sir Ken Robinson. What does this have to do with FSL or learning a subsequent language? Well, learning a new language involves learning about or experiencing a new culture. This can be an overwhelming experience for young learners as they are forced to think outside their schemas and incorporate new ways of thinking into their lives in order to truly be in the most ideal frame of mind for language learning, which is the immersion experience. This may cause students to start to examine their own culture and heritage with a more critical eye, especially if they encounter challenges in their learning. Personal development will help students to get over some roadblocks to learning so that learning a new language involves less culture shock and more enjoyment and cultural exploration. Examining ones own cultural bias will aid in the process of interacting with a new culture in a way in which you can learn from it and learn to enjoy it. Of particular interest to educators and parents alike is the book "The Element" by Sir Ken Robinson. It is all about discovering your passions and talents in life and working towards getting into a mindset where your talents are used to their full potential to achieve great works. These great works might be a brilliant math formula, a science experiment that leads to a discovery, a beautifully choreographed artistic dance, a musical score, winning a game of basketball or designing a thrilling new video game, just to name a few examples. When students find their element, they are also finding out the way they learn best. To sum it up, when students find the way in which they can produce great works and live up to their fullest potential, the sky is the limit as to what they can achieve. Allowing students the time and energy to go through the process of finding their element and learning to work within its perameters is what education should be all about. The following is a link to a discussion Sir Ken Robinson had at Penn State University. He is world renowned for his thoughts on creativity in education, and his book "The Element" can help you get to the place in your life where you can truly be great. Don't be afraid to take risks in your language learning and teaching, and take that first step in the process of finding your element today (if you haven't already)!

Sunday, 1 April 2012


Recently I showed the Disney film Ratatouille in class in French. I found that the movie was a good springboard for talking about French culture because it takes place in Paris and features some French cuisine. I created a Ratatouille package that has worksheets to preview the new vocabulary in the movie and make a web that connects all the characters. It also has comprehension questions for specific sections of the movie if you want to break it down into 15 minute chunks for viewing. The students enjoyed the movie, and next they will make a menu and media project to show what they know about French food and culture. At the Madame Giraffe Store you can find a Ratatouille worksheet featuring the Eiffel Tower to give to students during or after watching the film.You can also find an outline for the menu project as well as rubrics for assessment. Bon travail!

Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Homeschooler -

Thursday, 29 March 2012

French Cafe

At school this week we have been busy planning our French Cafe. The French Cafe is an event that showcases our students French language abilities in a fun and creative way. Each French class gets to perform a 3-5 minute act in the show, whether it be a song, dance or short play. We also have all the classes watching at different times. The scheduling can get a little tricky, but the students love to both perform their act and then have the opportunity to watch other classes perform as well. While the students are watching the acts on stage, we will have our older classes act as servers for the cafe. Students can order croissants ahead of time, as well as apple juice. Another way to incorporate French culture into the French Cafe is through art work on the walls of the performing space and students' work being displayed on the cafe tables where students are sitting at to watch the show. This year we have decided on posters with French cultural symbols for the walls and some French restaurant menus to add to the tables. Students will have fun practicing for their cafe act, and they will learn some new French language skills and vocabulary at the same time. Also, parents love to come in to see their child perform so the French Cafe is a great way to get parents involved in the French language program.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

La compassion dans la salle de classe

A few weeks ago I attended a conference for junior teachers (teachers who teach grades 4-6), and the theme was creating a caring, compassionate classroom. The ideas I got from the conference can certainly be applied to any FSL classroom. It is so important to create a caring, compassionate classroom atmosphere in a second language classroom because students need to feel comfortable enough to take risks and try to pronounce new vocabulary words. At the start of the year, it is a good idea to have the students share some of their own personal stories in the target language to help create a classroom community and to get to know each student. An activity that was introduced at the conference was to have students work in pairs and each pair is given a circle, a triangle and a square. The pair is then to arrange the three shapes in a particular design. After giving the students a couple of minutes to decide on the position of their shapes, the students are then told that each shape represents a person in a bullying scenario. One shape is the bully, another shape is the victim and the third shape is the bystander. The students would then discuss in their pairs which shape represents which person in that scenario and why. Addressing the bullying issue upfront and discussing it is a good way to set expectations for student behaviour in the classroom and set the stage for a compassionate second language classroom. Dr. Larry Swartz, a professor for the teacher education program at the University of Toronto, has focused a lot of his research on creating caring classrooms and addressing the bullying issue in schools.  Here is a link to a video of Larry Swartz talking about the importance of creating caring classroom environments. Two books that I recommend that promote a caring attitude are Le Vol du colibri by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and L'homme qui plantait des arbres by Jean Giono. In the words of Dr. Seuss "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better. It's not." (From the movie The Lorax).

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

La Tour Eiffel

Whenever possible, I try to incorporate French culture into my lessons. A fun way to do this is to focus on famous French monuments and cultural activities in France as part of daily language lessons. I have recently taught a mini-unit on the Eiffel Tower. I taught a grammar lesson on the past tense using scenarios related to the Eiffel Tower and traveling to France. I included a reading comprehension activity by which was great because it had reading comprehension questions to answer that went along with the article on the Eiffel Tower. I also did an art lesson where students were shown a picture of the Eiffel Tower and then sketched their own version in 3D. We outlined them in black marker and added sparkles to represent how the Eiffel Tower is lit up at night. There are some great books out there that feature the Eiffel Tower as well, including Un Jour avec la Tour Eiffel by Victor Simiane, Rendez-vous à la Tour Eiffel by Elzbieta and Le Grand voyage by Jean-Olivier Heron. The Eiffel Tower theme fits well for this time of the year because of March Break, and many students are going on vacation and traveling. After March Break, the students will be able to tell about what they did on their vacations using the past tense. Bon voyage!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Les liens

Making connections, or les liens, is a reading strategy that I taught my class this week. It is important that students are able to relate to the text that they are reading. Making connections will help with reading comprehension, especially when students are reading in the target language because it will help them to understand new words without having to seek out the help of their French-English dictionary. I focused on three types of connections: text to text, text to self and text to world. For text to text connections, students have to take a passage of the text they are reading and relate it to another book, story or article they have read before. Text to self connections are when the student relates the text to their own personal experiences. Text to world connections ask the student to dig deeper into their schema and relate what they are reading to world events, places and different cultures. Together as a class, we read an article about endangered sea turtles. I had the class make a chart that has two columns. The first column was "le texte dit..." and the other column was "Cela me rappelle....". The students had to fill the first column with passages, ideas and main points from the text, and in the second column they had to make their own connections. As I was teaching the lesson, I focused less on differentiating between the three types of connections and more on the quality of the students' responses and how they can improve their answers by providing more detail and using descriptive language. The Rainbow District School Board in Sudbury, Ontario has a website that helps parents learn about reading strategies. This website is useful for parents who are looking to help their child with their FSL reading homework and includes a reference sheet on making connections.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Les jeux coopératifs

Les jeux coopératifs, or cooperative games, are a great way to engage students in the FSL classroom. Brain research has shown that when students are engaged in cooperative games they are using more parts of their brain than during other types of learning activities (eg. giving presentations, listening, reading, or writing). This is because cooperative learning lets students interact with each other and generate their own words and sentences instead of using scripts or memorized lines to practice speaking a new language. To see a teacher using cooperative learning strategies in action, watch these videos. Here is a table with four cooperative games and activities to try with your class: 

Les jeux coopératifs
Rally Robin

1.Assign partners A and B
2.Decide on a question to use
3.Pass a sheet of paper back and forth, with each partner sharing one idea
4. Share the sheet with the class

Eg. Name all the colours you can think of
Determining key ideas

1.Assign an amount of reading
2.On a post-it note, have students write one or two main ideas found in the reading
3.Put all the post-its on the board to discuss after two minutes
Identifying the main idea


1.Make groups of six
2. Each member of the group of six becomes an expert on one aspect of a task
3. Each member then divides off into their expert groups to read or discuss a certain topic
4. Each member then reports back to their original group to inform them about what they now know
Reading (dividing 6 difficult readings up)
Inside/outside circle

1.Divide into two groups
2.One group is on the inside and the other is on the outside of a circle
3.The inside circle faces out and the outside circle faces in
4.Start with a partner
5.After two minutes, step two steps to the right to discuss a topic with a new partner.
Review for a summative task

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Le hockey pour toujours!

My class has been completing a unit on hockey. We started reading Le hockey pour toujours! by John Morrison. It is part of the Trésor Junior reading program by RK Publishing. The book is great to use because it has a good storyline as well as information relating to the history of hockey, current hockey teams and famous players. Each week the class learns new vocabulary from the chapter, answers questions, makes connections and tells about their reaction to the story. I also give the students quotations from the book and they have to put them in the context of the story and draw a picture representing that part in the plot. Other books we will read while completing this unit include: Encore un but! by Robert Munsch and Le chandail by Roch Carrier. We will also watch the short film for Le chandail found on the National Film Board of Canada site. Throughout this unit we will focus on action verbs, expressions with the verb faire and using the imperative tense in French. Students can put the new vocabulary and verbs they are learning straight to work through a gym unit on floor hockey and intramural floor hockey teams. Il lance, il marque un but!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Un festival oratoire

Les discours!  It is speech time at my school and my students are engaged in a flurry of activity over their speeches. Writing speeches in French can be a challenging endeavor for new French immersion or extended French students who may be writing a speech in French for the first time. The speech writing process took almost a full month to complete, from brainstorming topics, to rough copies, editing, good copies and practicing. My students wrote five paragraph speeches, with three main ideas that there supported by researched details as well as an introduction and conclusion. I came across this interesting site about speaking and presentation skills and it mentions "The rule of three". Powerful messages came be said using tios, triads or triplets. Take for example Julius Caesar's message "Veni, Vidi, Vichi" (I came, I saw, I conquered) or the French motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The next time I write speeches with my French students, I will spend more class time teaching about good oral presentation techniques. It doesn't matter how well written a student's speech may be, if they rely too much on cue cards and do not connect with the audience their speech can become ineffective. It is important to have students practice their speeches in French using expression and focusing on their pronunciation and enunciation of new vocabulary words. Also, having a well-constructed rubric for marking speeches is key, since you do not want to be jotting down marks and comments while students are speaking. A rubric made marking my speeches easier because I circled the level the students are at and later went back to figure out their final mark.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Les cercles littéraires

Last week at school I introduced les cercles littéraires, or Literature Circles. This is a cooperative learning activity where each student in a group has a different role to play. The roles include different reading strategies, such as asking questions, summarizing, making connections, illustrating and finding new vocabulary words. In my classes, we are all reading the same book for literature circles, but it can be done where students choose a book on their own in groups. Before I was able to start literature circles in French, I spent two lessons on explaining the different roles and then assigning the roles. I also gave time in class to read the first chapter of the book Valentine Picotée by Dominique Demers (A short novel which works well for junior level readers, and fits perfectly for a February Valentines Day themed read). I had to really emphasize that when students meet in their groups they must speak in French, and each person must do their part in order for the literature circles to work. On the day of our first literature circle meetings, there were some students who did not complete their role and they let their group down. It is important to give time in class to start working on the roles, and not leave all of it for homework. Another name for les cercles littéraires is les cercles de lecture. If you are interested in starting up les cercles littéraires, here is a blog dedicated to literature circles. Happy reading!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Bienvenue! Welcome to Madame Giraffe, my blog about teaching French as a Second Language. I am a French teacher who is passionate about teaching the language in a way that is fun and engaging to students. Through my travels and studies I have gained an appreciation of how important it is to learn new languages and hope to pass on some of my resources, tools and knowledge to you. To start off, I will share a resource that I used on the first day of class in September to help students answer the question why do we need to learn French? The poster Why Learn French? contains many reasons to learn a second language that students will find amusing, such as "French is the only other language other than English that is taught in every single country in the world" or "There are well over 20 million native French speakers in the Americas". The poster can be found on the French for the Future site, which promotes bilingualism in Canada and has many useful resources for French teachers. Enjoy my blog, and feel free to leave comments or stories telling your experiences in teaching or learning the French language. I would love to hear from you! À bientôt!