French Immersion Curriculum: How to Deliver Total Immersion with 7 Teaching Strategies
Many French teachers long to expose their students to every facet of the French language and related cultures.
If you feel this longing, it’s time to incorporate French immersion into your curriculum.
In an immersion curriculum, you’re not “teaching” language.
Instead, you’re using language to deliver even more lessons.
This enables students to learn French through authentic, enriching content that isn’t normally taught in the classroom but will give them a huge edge in the real world.
Wondering what magic tool you can use to get your students so wonderfully immersed?
Technology, as it turns out, is the tool of choice when it comes to recreating full immersion. It makes immersion possible for every teacher, student and classroom. It’s a way of experiencing, sharing and using authentic French-language content without the cost of round-trip tickets. But more on that later.
Here’s everything you need to know to create the perfect French immersion curriculum.
What Are the Components of a Great French Immersion Curriculum?
- Content learning. Language classes tend to narrow down the content learned in the classroom to language only, perhaps with a theme or cultural note thrown in. An immersion curriculum broadens the scope of subjects taught in the classroom and enriches students with invaluable information that’s often reserved for much later in their academic careers.
French immersion teachers expose their students to core aspects of culture, including authors and filmmakers, historical events, philosophy, science, art and music. This is a fantastic way to develop students’ curiosity and make them feel like they’re not wasting time in theory.
- Variety. Adding a variety of content to your curriculum helps develop all four language skills, which are reading, writing, listening and speaking. The variety of formats also keeps lessons fresh, interesting and incredibly more effective.
They’ll also get regular practice and exposure to a huge diversity of words, just like native French-speaking students do in their usual classrooms.
- Technology. Immersion is achieved through the constant use of French information and authentic French materials, and technology is the best way to find a good variety of content. That’s because technology lets you instantly find an endless supply of new and exciting documents for free in real time.
In addition, online messaging tools—such as those provided by language exchange communities—are great for getting students connected and practicing with French speakers who share similar interests.
- Relevance. An effective immersion curriculum is based on your students’ age, fluency level and general knowledge. It takes into account the unique skills and content that they’ve learned throughout their academic journey so far and expands on it. It supports integrated and cross-functional learning so that students can utilize what they’ve seen beyond the French classroom.
- Ongoing. Learners who move to a French-speaking country reach fluency faster than those who don’t live where French is spoken. The reason is because the students living abroad are constantly engaging with French. They naturally find themselves in situations where French has to be used, through frequent interactions with natives, exposure to French TV, billboards and magazines.
An immersion curriculum is, in essence, an artificial simulation of the traveler’s experience. Your goal is to create various, real-life situations that will require your students to use French just like they would if they were abroad. This will get them to practice the language regularly and eventually to think in the target language.
- Seamless integration. The perfect immersion curriculum fits the routine and environment of your students. There should be multiple points of contact with the language so that thinking in French becomes second nature.
Ideally, you should encourage your students to continue the immersion experience at home. Watching French films they enjoy, for example, is a simple, effective way to support their acquisition of the French language outside the classroom. Who doesn’t want to watch movies?
- French-only zone. Removing English from your curriculum is a pillar of the immersion curriculum. Replace it with authentic French content that’s both educational and exciting to your learners.
Print out a list of common questions, keywords and instructions that are commonly used in the classroom at the beginning of the school year so that students are properly equipped with the vocabulary to navigate an all-French lesson. For example, they should be starting to say things like “Excuse me, Miss.” and “May I go to the bathroom?” in French on the first day.
Don’t be tempted to translate new French words into English. Instead, provide explanations and use drawings, objects, comparisons and synonyms to help students understand the meaning more completely.
Why Turn Your Classroom into a French Immersion Classroom?
- It builds cultural awareness. Immersion helps your students quickly discover multiple aspects of Francophone culture, from literature to cinema, gastronomy and history.
This will support a solid understanding of the cultural differences between regions and countries, including more subtle, non-verbal elements such as social etiquette, body language, paralanguage, clothing and the display of emotions. Students who are sensitive to these aspects are more capable of building relationships with individuals from international backgrounds and are highly sought after in the workplace.
- It develops mental flexibility. Immersion trains your students to switch effortlessly into French mode and stay there. Research shows that bilingual individuals retain information better and have an enhanced ability to concentrate.
- It promotes communication. Immersion empowers self-conscious students tremendously. That’s because language no longer is the exclusive focus during conversations. Knowing that they’re judged on their ideas and knowledge rather than their language skills helps them communicate their thoughts with more confidence and less fear.
Being surrounded by French is what it’s all about. This leaves French to become the medium of communication rather than the subject itself. Immersion allows students to learn the language more naturally and immediately than in a traditional language course setting.
The French Immersion Curriculum You Need to Adopt
French immersion curriculum benefits your French classroom. Here are some ideas to help you create the ultimate French immersion program.
Subjects You Should Teach in French
- Arts and music. Art is a natural subject to add to your French immersion curriculum. Performing and plastic arts, literature and music are intrinsic components of Francophone culture and lifestyle.
Since the Francophonie has significantly impacted the art scene worldwide, you’re giving students valuable modern world history lessons while exposing them to French-speaking authors, scientists, musicians and even fashion designers.
- History of France. Teaching French history is a way for your students to gain a richer perspective on global events. This may also support their progress in their general history classes, as learning about Francophone history can serve as a complement to their current studies.
As much as possible, try to follow the general timeline of their regular history class. This will help them reinforce what they’ve learned in history class and promote cross-functional learning. Ask their history teacher what they’re currently studying!
- Geography. It’s a cliché that American students are bad at geography. What better way to change that and make a positive impact than by teaching geography in French class? It’s tempting to focus on French geography only, but don’t limit yourself to that.
True, with 35 885 communes (cities), 74 fleuves (major rivers), 416 rivières (small rivers), 1,1714 canaux (channels), 1,288 torrents (torrents) and 27,347 ruisseaux (brooks) there’s more than enough to keep your students busy with France alone.
Try to use geography to teach them the proper names of cities and countries all over the world in French. If they plan on traveling or if you’re reading global news articles in French, it’ll set the right foundations for them to get situated anywhere.
- Physical education. Sports and outdoors activities are a part of life. Your students should be able to discuss them in French as well. In addition to supporting your students’ learning through movement, hosting P.E. sessions in French is a great way for them to learn the vocabulary of sports while having fun. They’ll activate lots of action verbs as well as exclamative and imperative phrases.
- Science. Adding science to your French curriculum is a fantastic way to bring your math and science enthusiasts back into the herd and instill in them a passion for the French language. You’ll help students directly acquire technical words while also teaching them what’s behind important biological, chemical and geological concepts.
7 Ways to Start Your French Immersion Curriculum with a Bang
1. Stage a Play
Given their strong cultural and storytelling components, theatrical plays are naturally excellent tools for learning the French language.
Plays are often wrongly perceived as elitist and intellectual, but they are really about life. This makes them powerful ambassadors to the language and culture of the Francophonie.
To get started using plays, first choose three age-appropriate plays, preferably from classic French-speaking playwrights such as Molière and Corneille.
This website features simple scripts for students of various ages and skill levels if you’re looking for inspiration. The idea is to focus on the stories and the acting, rather than the language. Then briefly summarize each story and ask students to vote on which play they want to bring to life.
Cast characters, making sure that each student has a part. Cast doubles if necessary, or have students rotate between characters from scene to scene. This will ensure that everybody participates. Then hand out the roles and scripts, asking students to practice and memorize the lines. Make it fun and let them express themselves.
No need to make this a formal exercise, but if your students feel confident enough to act out the play before an audience, do it!
2. Create a French Museum Wall
The French museum wall is a collection of iconic paintings, sculpture, jewelry and artifacts from French-speaking countries. The items here should represent French-speaking cultures as much as possible. It’s a good way to transport your class abroad without actually leaving to France, and to educate them on the history of the arts from a French perspective.
To get started, discuss art theory and movements. This site features a collection of texts about art theory by contemporary artists. The idea should be to equip them with the foundations to understand and appreciate art, as well as to give them the necessary vocabulary to describe a work of art. Give them a general timeline and focus on important artists, movements and representative pieces.
The Grand Palais has a very nicely done site to help you cover the essentials of art history in French. The articles here are varied, organized by time period and succinct. Don’t forget that art is very subjective and conceptual, so you shouldn’t be afraid to incorporate writings or quotes that best illustrate the artists’ perspectives on their works.
After this introduction, ask students to collaborate on a museum wall for their French classroom. They should try to create a frise (timeline) that summarizes what they’ve learned in the preliminary class session.
Then give them the homework assignment to gather and create collages that feature their favorite artworks. After that, you can spend the next class setting up a group project.
Create small groups of three to four students to work on a given artistic movement within the timeline, such as Baroque, Classicism or Surrealism. Let students volunteer for a movement as much as possible. It’s best if they’re emotionally involved and genuinely attracted to a style, but make sure that each era is covered by a group. Give each group a week to complete their contribution and end the project by hanging up each poster and getting a 5-minute presentation from each team.
3. Create a Café Littéraire
Literature is a passion of the Francophonie.
French speakers love to discuss literature, stories and authors. Hosting a literature circle is a good way to expose students to this aspect of French culture while also letting them discover important French writings. It’s also a fantastic activity to learn to how to analyze and critique a text, as well as to express opinions in French.
To start, assign a book to the class and give your students two to four weeks to read it, the amount of time depending on the length and complexity of the book.
Don’t give students any pointers. Let them immerse themselves in the work itself and form their own opinions about what’s important. To get some inspiration, check out this list which features many excellent French novels for high school students and beyond.
If you teach younger students, opt for the simplified versions of novels from Le français facile series. This offers bilingual versions of the stories as well as comments that can make reading a lot easier.
After assigning a book and having everyone read, gather your students for a rich discussion about the book in question. Change your classroom display into a U-shape or circle to give this gathering an intimate feel.
Start by asking students to summarize the novel and to give their opinions. Did they like it? What did they think about the characters? The story? The writing? Let them come up with their answers and interact with each other to generate more ideas.
Then ask them to identify the main themes of the book and discuss their perspectives. What did they learn? Did they feel it is relevant today and to them?
Conclude each café littéraire by asking students to suggest and vote for a book for the next café. Let them pitch their ideas and let students decide what they’re most interested in reading. This will keep reading and discussion sessions relevant and personal.
4. Perform Historical Reenactments
What better way to learn about history than by becoming a part of it?
Historical reenactments are the perfect way to convey to students that history isn’t just a bunch of vague, irrelevant stories they find in dusty textbooks—it’s all about real events that happened to real people, and which got us to where we are as a civilization.
First, create teams of up to six students. Ask students to select events based on what you’ve studied while teaching French history. It can be whatever they felt was most surprising, interesting or important.
Let each group work on one specific event and dig deeper, doing research for information about the event, including key players, causes of the events and consequences. The goal is for students to really understand each event from the inside out, enough that they can act the part.
Next, student groups can create scripts or rough outlines to bring to life. Once everyone is prepared, host a class session where each group will recreate the event before their peers. It should be factually accurate and give students plenty of information about the context, stakes and stakeholders.
5. Explore the World’s Capitals
This fun activity is designed to enrich your students’ lives with facts about world geography. It’s a fantastic way to test their knowledge of the world and allow them to travel without ever leaving your classroom.
First pick a part of the world and ask students to memorize the regional map as homework. They’ll be part of a fun game during the next French class, so they better study up if they want to win!
Print out maps of the region in question or send them over to this website to let them learn all the countries and capitals in French. This website also features lots of detailed maps to help students practice and prepare for the game.
In the next class, display an empty map on the overhead projector and ask students to quickly identify each capital in question as you point. Whoever guesses right first scores a point. Alternatively, ask students questions using a simple format: “quel pays a X pour capitale ?” (which country has X as its capital?) or “quelle est la capitale de X?” (what is the capital of X?).
Whoever scores the most points wins.
6. Deliver Soccer Newscasts
Hosting a soccer tournament is fun, but it requires a lot of dedication on your part. Students have often a lot of energy and you don’t necessarily want to play referee—plus, you might not have the space to play sports!
A great alternative is to let students play the soccer newscast game.
To get started, select a soccer tournament video with comments. YouTube has an endless supply of content to get you started. Don’t necessarily pick a full game. Shorter segments are fine, considering the intensity of the exercise.
In class, play the video twice. Play it once without sound to allow students to focus on the game and observe the dynamics, and then play it a second time with sound so that they can identify missing details and even take notes on the comments.
Then play the video one more time, this time muting the sound again. Ask two students to volunteer as commentators and let them work their magic. Encourage them to describe the game but also interact together. What do they think about a player’s move and the team’s tactics?
Ask students to critique their performances, and then repeat the experiment with at least four other pairs of students.
7. Bake French Pastries for an Introduction to Chemistry
Did you know you can teach chemistry with homemade sweet goods?
Baking is an active yet relaxing activity to develop your students’ creativity while exposing them to important science concepts early on.
To start, discuss the chemical processes at play when baking. Explain the importance of each ingredient. This website summarizes the elements at play in pâtisserie (baking)—read it to get a general overview and to find simple recipes in French that are specially designed for children.
Alternatively, watch this video in class and ask students to break down the concepts in their own words.
Either way, the goal is for your students to understand the roles played by each ingredient so that they can understand why chemistry is such a precise science. This can also be a great way to discuss nutrition and substitutions if they have food allergies.
After all this, ask students to pick a recipe of their choice and create it at home. This French-language recipe website features plenty of traditional and delicious French recipes that will get your learners excited. Let them choose their own recipes, making sure that no more than two students work on the same recipe, and give them a week to prepare them.
Recap with a French goûter (tea time) where students come with their own creations. Use this as an opportunity to bring the parents together and to get to know you, or to organize a bake sale to raise funds for French study materials or a field trip.
Now that immersion holds no secrets for you, we’re sure you’ll have lots of ideas to share with your students.
Chemistry, biology, philosophy—whatever you’re dying to teach, you can do it in French.