Your First French Lesson Survival Guide
So, you’re finally a teacher.
You’ve dreamed of the day when you can stand in front of a class to share your passion for languages and enable others to learn French, giving them the key to a door that opens up a vast world of opportunities and experiences.
Isn’t it exciting?
But then you wonder if it’s a little too exciting. You notice you’ve got butterflies in your stomach and you feel like you want to faint.
What will your students be like?
How will they react to you?
Will they find the work too easy or too hard? Will they even listen?
Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Read further to beat those first-day jitters and deliver a smashing French lesson.
How to Teach Your First French Lesson Like a Superhero
We’re all nervous about meeting our students for the first time. But keep in mind that it’s just as new of an experience for them as it is for you. You may find that when they first arrive, they seem a bit subdued as they come in. Just like you, your new students are unsure of what to expect from the first day of class, and will probably look to you to set the tone and pace of the lesson. The first few minutes of your interactions with them will help them gauge their expectations and can pave the way for future successes.
Consider banning English in the classroom and speaking only French to your students (yes, you read that right). Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible to get students on board with the teaching French in French approach. Granted you’ll need sufficient teaching aids, like flashcards and props, and will need to be patient as you try to elicit answers from your students.
Whether you teach in French exclusively or drift between French and English, you need to be consistent in how you teach. Choose a style and stick to it, and when your students get comfortable with your teaching methods, they’ll be more likely to participate.
Also, don’t forget to be confident—even if that’s not how you feel in the moment! Teaching can be a little like acting at times, so if you’re feeling nervous, just imagine that you are playing the role of a confident, world-class teacher. You’ll be surprised how often this works.
How to Prepare Yourself for Your First French Lesson
Before conducting your first class, you’ll probably get a roster with all your students’ names listed. If you didn’t receive one, check with your teaching department and try to get it before your initial lesson. Having a list of your students’ names enables you to check that everyone is in the right place and helps you with learning your students’ names.
If possible, try to show up early on your first day so you have time to set up and become acclimated to the classroom before teaching. If you’re sharing a classroom with another teacher who happens to be using the room just before you, it might be worth talking to them beforehand to see if they’re willing to have their class packed up and out of the door promptly so you can get in before your students.
Small things like this can help to settle your nerves and start your class off the right way. If it isn’t possible, however, you could ask your class to line up outside for a few moments while you get things ready.
What Resources Can You Use?
If you’re teaching through a school or at a language academy, you should also have received a textbook beforehand, as well as any other relevant resources to help your students learn French. Don’t expect all of your students to have their books with them during the first lesson. Often, with both children and adults, there’ll be students who have not yet gotten their books or who have not received the information they need to get one.
You may even have to distribute the books during the lesson and sometimes you might not have enough. It isn’t, therefore, a good idea to base your first lesson on the textbook. Instead, prepare activities beforehand that you can use in case some students pitch up without a textbook.
In most classrooms, you’ll have access to a computer and projector or television, which makes it easier to use multimedia in the classroom. Here some popular French resources to help you get started include:
- BBC Languages (French): While no longer updated, the BBC’s French Language page is filled with videos, interactive games and various activities to help kick off your first day of French class, regardless of skill level.
- French Pod 101: If your students aren’t complete beginners, you can start them off with some listening exercises through French Pod 101. This interactive podcast has more than 1,300 audio and video episodes, as well as printable transcripts, flashcards and more.
Be sure to check beforehand to see if you have any technology in your classroom or not. If you won’t be teaching with a computer, you’ll need to prepare supplemental material the old-fashioned way. If you need some help coming up with low-tech activities, check out this post on fun French worksheets.
What to Teach in Your First Lesson?
One of the hardest things to figure out in your first lesson is the level to aim for with the activities. Without knowing your students, how can you be sure what to teach them? After nobody wants to spend their first day of class just doing worksheets. If you need some more exercise ideas, have them talk about the three things everyone has in common: food, family and fun.
Of course, you may not be teaching students skilled enough to hold basic French conversations. In that case, prepare a series of low-level activities that accommodate complete beginners and elementary students. I recommend starting your first class by teaching students how to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about their interests and why they want to learn French.
If you’d like to do something a little more fun on your first day, try one of these games instead:
- Two Truths and a Lie: Tell the students three things about yourself in French, two facts and one lie, then ask students to guess which one is the lie. Get them to give reasons for their choices. Students can then make up their own truths and a lie and play with each other, or you can lead a group conversation.
- Baccalauréat: Ask students to divide a piece of paper into six columns and give them six different category headings (depending on what vocabulary you would like to cover). Then give them a letter and for each round. They must work as quickly as possible to find a French word in each category beginning with the letter. Give out points for winning each round.
- Speed Dating: Arrange the class in a way that allows half of the students to remain seated and the other half to rotate around the room to speak to their colleagues for a few minutes each. Ask the students to introduce themselves to each other in French, then give one or two interesting facts about themselves. Afterwards, lead a class discussion to see which students can remember the most information.
- In the Teacher’s Shoes: Ask students to prepare three questions each that they would like to ask you. Then ask students to take turns to sit in the “teacher’s chair” at the front of the class. There, they’ll assume the role of teacher and answer questions asked by their classmates—speaking as much French as possible while doing so.
Need to dive in a little deeper?
If your first lesson is longer than the average hour-long class time, you may need to prepare some actual teaching material alongside your games and activities. And if you don’t have a French textbook to teach from yet, this may feel a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, preparing a first-day French lesson is pretty easy, especially if you’re teaching complete beginners. Simply come up with a list of basic French words they need to know and help them make simple French sentences using those words. Ultimately, with beginners, your goal isn’t to get them speaking perfect French on the first day. Instead, you want to get them to build enough confidence to speak French with you in subsequent lessons.
If you’re teaching more advanced students, stick to the same topic but adjust it for higher levels. Pick some advanced verb structures or quirky French idioms to teach the class. You could even stir up some interest by selecting a topical news article from the newspaper, Le Monde, and have the class talk about it.
Ultimately, your first lesson should focus on getting to know your students. Don’t stress too much on activities, as the pace of this lesson will go much slower than subsequent lessons.
You Got This!
Your first lesson may seem like a daunting experience, but once you get there, you’ll realize that it’s really not that much to worry about at all. Be confident, be yourself and above all, have fun! You were born for this!
Lisa Wilton has been teaching French and Spanish in the UK and Europe for 20 years. She is also an examiner for IB.