Old-style teaching falling flat in your French class?
Mindlessly copying vocab or listening to you drone on for half an hour about the glories of the subjunctive will not engage your French students’ attention.
These ways of teaching just don’t work today.
If you insist on using such approaches, you’ll likely face a classroom full of switched-off students and behavior management problems!
So how do you engage with your students?
Think of the most memorable learning experiences you’ve had.
Those experiences didn’t involve passive listening or watching.
No, they demanded some action, a response from you.
It was through your response that the information sank in.
You were tasked with your learning, you had to do something and it is because you were so involved in seeking out the knowledge that you didn’t even realize you were learning.
You need to get your students learning in the same way—actively.
You need to engage your students in activities that reinforce their learning.
So how do you do this?
Creating Activities That Spark Your Students’ Interest
You need to put a lot of thought into the design of the learning activities you create for your students. You need to take into consideration their background, their interests and of course their abilities.
In general, it is important that learning activities include one or both of the following two qualities.
Relevance to your students and their lives
You need to base activities on the types of things that your students do in their daily lives. This is where background knowledge is so important.
An example will show you what I mean: If your class of teenage boys has no interest in poetry, you may get them to write a poem in French, but few of them will remember the lesson.
When we make learning an isolated experience without a direct, living connection to our daily lives, the learning tends not to go deep into the long-term memory.
A great resource for finding material that is interesting and relevant to your French students is FluentU, an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
While you can definitely build a lesson around FluentU, it also provides students with engaging at-home practice, with fresh new videos being added every week!
Engage your students’ attention through pushing them to actively search for missing information. This is especially effective if the gap in knowledge needs to be filled through communication with another student. Students often learn better from their peers than the teacher. This returns us to the earlier point about active listening.
If the teacher is seen as the repository of knowledge and the students make no efforts on their own behalf, the given answers will never sink deeply into their minds.
Here are 5 great activities that will really engage your students in actively pursuing knowledge independently of you. You can modify the activities to suit a range of situations and topics.
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5 Fun French Learning Activities Using Problem Solving and Teamwork
1. Dictionary quest
This is a simple activity that requires students to find out information for themselves and to pass it on to other students. Again, a student teaching their peers is one of the most effective ways of reinforcing learning.
Here’s how to go about it:
- Students, in pairs, must use a dictionary to find the meaning of a series of words chosen by the teacher. The choice of words can be entirely random or deliberately weird and you can have some real fun. Let your imagination run wild. (Here is another post to explore for some zany words.) Put the list on the board and turn it into a race.
- Challenge the students to find three other words of their own choice and share and explain the meaning to another pair of students. Giving students the opportunity to explore language looking for words they like is a wonderful way to engage them—it becomes a veritable treasure hunt. The super big bonus is that students reinforce their new vocabulary when they share their words with friends.
This is a great speaking activity. Students love it because it gives them the opportunity to talk about others and themselves. You need to ensure that students ask extended questions and give extended responses.
Here’s how it works:
- Divide the class into three or more groups. Each group is assigned a station where they will find a card with a series of questions.
- Each group is given five minutes to think of their answers (full French sentences) to those questions and practice them.
- All the groups move around to the next station and repeat the process.
- The groups mingle and take turns asking and answering the questions.
The result = a lot of French conversation.
Here are some example questions. This is just one possible topic—the model is infinitely adaptable.
Tu t’entends bien avec ton père?
(Do you get along well with your father?)
Tu t’entends bien avec ta mère?
(Do you get along well with your mother?)
Tu t’entends bien avec ton frère?
(Do you get along well with your brother?)
Tu t’entends bien avec ta soeur?
(Do you get along well with your sister?)
Décris ton père.
(Describe your father.)
Décris ta mère.
(Describe your mother.)
Décris ton frère.
(Describe your brother.)
Décris ta soeur.
(Describe your sister.)
Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire avec ton père?
(What do you like doing with your father?)
Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire avec ta mère?
(What do you like doing with your mother?)
Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire avec ton frère?
(What do you like doing with your brother?)
Qu’est-ce que tu aimes faire avec ta sœur?
(What do you like doing with your sister?)
It is best to use this activity or these examples after you have taught the language needed to respond with more than a simple yes/no. The students need to give reasons.
For example, the response to “Tu t’entends bien avec ton frère?” might be “Non, parce qu’il est gâté et égoïste.” (No, because he is spoiled and selfish.)
3. Sentence create
This activity can turn into a great competition and it really reinforces students’ knowledge of French syntax. It has the added advantage of being really simple to set up.
- Divide the class into pairs, and give each pair a group of ten or more French words that can be formed into multiple sentences. Obviously, you need to choose the words carefully and do the activity yourself so that you know that complete sentences are possible. Here is an example: “Dans ma chambre il y a une télévision et un ordinateur et j’ai un chat gris avec les yeux grands.” (In my bedroom there is a television and a computer and I have a gray cat with big eyes.)
- Each pair must create as many sentences from that selection as possible.
- Points are awarded for each correct sentence; points are deducted for grammar errors.
One great feature of this learning activity is that students must discuss spelling, word order and other aspects of grammar. Once more, students are teaching each other—one of the important qualities for learning activities.
This is a great way to get students to collaborate with each other in the learning process. You can use this highly adaptable learning activity to help students teach themselves about a huge range of topics from intricate grammar points to understanding complex texts, and you can vary the amounts of French used according to the level of your class.
In this example, the students will be learning about how to create French accents on a computer.
- Choose a text that explains how to change your keyboard language. (This site has a very clear explanation.) Print it on a solid card.
- Cut up your chosen text just like the pieces of a puzzle so that all the sentences are jumbled.
- Repeat the above two steps for the text that explains how to recreate the actual accents. (Here is a great explanation.) Print on a solid card and cut it up. If you wish your students to do this entire exercise in French, there’s an explanation in French here.
- Divide your class into groups—assign a topic to each group. It’s a good idea to have two or more groups doing each topic.
- Each group has a set time to put the pieces of their puzzle together. It is a good idea to make this phase of the activity competitive—it adds some fun. The very process of reassembling the text requires the students to engage with and understand the text.
- Each group then discusses their particular topic (within their group only—to make sure they understand it) and makes notes or copies the text into their books.
- Each member of each group then teams up with a member of a different group and they teach the other what they have learned, e.g., a student who knows how to change the keyboard language teaches a student who knows how to do the accents.
Students need to talk to each other (in French or English according to how you want to structure the activity) to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
Once again, student-teaching-student is a really effective model. Most students (especially teenagers) will listen to each other more readily than to the teacher and the student passing on knowledge reinforces his/her own knowledge in the process.
5. Web quest: Spend 500 euros
For this activity, students are given a list of websites (in French) and an imaginary 500 euros to spend on a weekend in Paris.
Tell students that they need to research and get prices for:
- Transport to and from the airport and their hotel.
- Their accommodations for the weekend.
- Their activities.
Students will need to budget carefully as Paris is expensive and 500 euros will not go a long way. Here are some useful pages from the RATP site to organize transport to and from the airport:
Here’s how the activity works:
- Students research the given sites and decide how they are going to spend their money.
- Students write a report (in French) about how they spent their money, what they did and what they thought of it.
Most of these websites have an English language page, so you will need to strictly enforce the requirement to read the websites in French.
Learning through real-world activities—the type of activities a student might actually need to do—is a very effective way of encouraging French language learning.
The requirement to seek out information from other students encourages the students to think in French. As they share what they know, they reinforce their recently acquired knowledge.
These are the keys to creating a good French learning activity.
Bevan C has been a teacher of French, a traveler and explorer. He is now a writer and editor. You can find out more at: https://www.elance.com/s/writeintention/
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach French with real-world videos.