Jake is staring off into space.
Maria is texting a friend.
Leo and Stephanie are both doodling, while Drake has definitely fallen asleep in the back.
It comes around eventually in every teacher’s classroom—the day you walk into class and find your students are bored, disengaged and snoozing through lessons.
Never fear! It’s time to inject a little practical usage into your students’ lives with authentic French materials!
Why Use Authentic Materials in French Class?
First of all, what are authentic materials?
Authentic materials are items created by French speakers for French speakers. These are quite different from materials which are designed for classroom use. Authentic texts bring a new challenge to students and exposure to real life French instead of the cheesy passages written for textbooks.
We’re teaching the language and culture, so it only makes sense to incorporate these invaluable tools into the classroom. Anyone who takes French seriously wants and needs to move on from overly structured academic learning and begin using the language for its true purpose: to communicate ideas with one another in a practical way.
By preparing learners for the real world of communication, authentic materials help students become more engaged. You may notice that students feel more confident in their abilities after tackling authentic materials—and they also tend to develop a stronger sense of purpose in the classroom. All this results in students gaining a better understanding of why learning French is actually beneficial to them.
So now you may be asking yourself where to begin, especially if you’re short on time. Keep reading, my friend! Today we’re breaking down some of the common (and not so common) ways authentic materials can be used in the classroom.
4 Ways to Fire Up Your French Classroom Using Authentic Materials
1. Expose students to some of the best films ever made
You already knew this, of course, but French film is highly regarded all over the world. The French New Wave of the 1960s didn’t just change film in France—it influenced the entire industry! To this day, top filmmakers name French superstar directors as inspirations.
Listening comprehension is put to the test as students hear authentic voices speak a language that sounds familiar to them, even if they don’t understand every word.
Film is an excellent way to start a spontaneous class discussion, challenging students to express their own thoughts and opinions while using the skills they’ve been learning.
But how do you find the best French films for your students? It’s a great question because the answer isn’t always easy.
First, check your local library or Alliance Française for collections of French films to explore. Luckily, we live in the age of the Internet and have services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime—you’re probably a member of at least one already. Hulu is my personal classroom favorite because they have a partnership with the Criterion Collection that allows them to stream hundreds of Criterion films. This is exciting because Criterion has added a tremendous number of francophone films to their collection, plus you can be sure the films are considered exemplary pieces of art.
Check out these top ten films for beginners to get started! Some of my personal favorites include:
- “Les quatre cents coups” (The 400 Blows), by François Truffaut, 1959—A story which explores the life and shenanigans of a school-aged French boy (your students will relate!), and also considered the film that kickstarted the New Wave.
- “Au revoir, les enfants” (Goodbye, Children) by Louis Malle, 1987—An emotional but educational story about friendship, differences and the realities of life for Jewish French children during World War II.
- “Les heures d’été” (Summer Hours) by Olivier Assayas, 2008—A quiet look at a French family and its struggle to carry on familial tradition while simultaneously facing the realities of modern life.
- “Panique au village” (A Town Called Panic) by Stéphane Aubier, 2009—A lighthearted stop-motion film that keeps viewers laughing from start to finish. Roommates Cowboy and Indian forget their best friend Horse’s birthday, and rush to throw together the biggest party of the year.
2. Give students a head start on French literature
Literature is an important touchstone in francophone culture, so early exposure can jump start success for AP and IB students. Your students’ French counterparts are studying the classic works of Voltaire, Molière and Hugo—arm your class with the same French experience.
Reading comprehension and analytical skills aren’t just for English class! In fact, coordinate with your colleagues in the English department to help reinforce elements of language and literature being learned at the same time. It can be a win-win!
Get started with a few easy read French books, including some of my favorites, “Le Petit Nicolas” and the fairy tales of Jean de la Fontaine. If you find you’ve got a couple intermediate to advanced readers on your hands, no worries—there’s plenty out there for them as well. Watch with amazement as verb tenses start to click in learners’ brains! (This is honestly how I finally understood the simple past—it works!)
While traditional literature is important, let’s not forget the modern age—two article-driven websites targeted towards French teens, 1jour1actu and GeoAdo—present stories from the news, entertainment, sports and more, along with reading comprehension questions that could easily be turned into a class lesson or assignment.
3. Play fun French music in class
Music is an amazing tool for learning, a fact which can be attested to by anyone who’s ever learned a nursery rhyme. The very nature of it helps us figure out the flow of words, and music has been found to stimulate memory more than anything else. Can you still sing a commercial from your childhood? Exactly.
While a general search for French music is likely to bring you to the catalogs of French legends such as Édith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg (legends for a reason, don’t overlook them!), your students will surely find some favorites amongst these French stars: Lady Gaga-esque Yelle, rap master MC Solaar, pop sensation Jenifer, singer-songwriter Christophe Maé and the folksy Anouk Aïata. Some American-based groups include the gypsy-like Rupa & the April Fishes (they also sing in Spanish and English) and beloved American pop star Mika, who has recorded a few songs in French (and speaks fluent French as well).
Take the time to subscribe to Universal Music France on YouTube. They regularly update with a wide variety of new music that’s worth discovering.
If you’re still looking to work music into more structured lesson plans, La chanson en cours de FLE can help you out. Numerous music-related activities are available, including fill-in-the-word worksheets and more!
4. Keep lessons current with the news
We of course don’t want to forget the news! France can seem like a far-off fairyland if always examined in the abstract. Get students listening to news clips, even if they don’t understand every word. Help them pick out the words they do understand and guide them through figuring out the rest.
Recognizing a news story (e.g. an American news event) helps to understand the French news report and strengthens skills in identifying context clues.
Hopefully by now you’ve already gotten a million ideas that will work in your particular classroom. Don’t forget to mix and match sources as well! Have students explore film versions of French literature, then compare the differences. Discuss how the music in a film influenced its scenes.
Encourage students to write, film, and perform their own pieces of art inspired by what they’ve seen.
The possibilities are endless!
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking for the ultimate streamlined approach to teaching your students French with authentic materials, look no further.
FluentU lets your students learn French from real-world content like music videos, commercials, news broadcasts, cartoons and inspiring talks. Since this video content is stuff that native French speakers actually watch on the regular, your students will get the opportunity to learn real French—the way it’s spoken in modern life.
There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students:
FluentU brings authentic French videos within reach of any learner. Interactive captions will guide your students along the way, so they’ll never miss a word.
Your students can tap on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more. For example, if they tap on the word “suit,” then this is what appears on the screen:
That’s not all, though. Students can use FluentU’s learn mode to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video with vocabulary lists, flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
What’s more, FluentU keeps track of all the grammar and vocabulary that each student has been learning. It uses viewed videos and mastered language lessons to recommend more useful videos and give students a 100% personalized experience.
With a FluentU teacher account, you’ll get access to a ton of cool features. Aside from being able to incorporate the videos into your regular classroom activities, you can assign your students videos for homework and track their progress individually.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach French with real-world videos.