After you exchange the niceties requisite of a limited vocabulary—you know, Ça va? Oui, ça va! Et toi, ça va? Ça va, merci, et toi? Comme ci comme ça, mais ça va—you begin the lesson.
That’s when you notice that your students’ faces are going blank. You ask a question. Silence.
More silence. Perhaps one of the braver ones will venture, “Euh, je ne comprends pas.“ (Uh, I don’t understand). This is every teacher’s nightmare…
…but it’s also one that language teachers, particularly those using an immersion method, face all the time. The key is to not panic.
Then, you get them invested in speaking and getting to know one another. One of the best ways to do this is to get them talking about where they come from. Talking about family and food is an effective strategy to get students to open up.
The point is to give your students the linguistic tools they need and then get them all to talk as much as possible. Teachers droning on and on does not make for a vibrant class room. Disagree? Here’s some research on the topic.
Note: This guide was created for beginner-level students, but can be easily adapted to suit the needs of intermediate or intermediate beginners.
3 Fun French Project Ideas to Get Your Students Talking About Food and Family
1. Create un arbre genéalogique (a family tree)
Learning topics: Possessives, vocabulary of family and relationships, numbers, years and nationalities.
Activity: For this exercise, give a sample tree in class. Here you have a couple of options: Either create your own family tree ahead of time (complete with photos), or make this a group activity and “invent” a family together with the students.
As mentioned earlier, choosing a group activity will more likely get students personally invested in what you are teaching, and of course will get them talking, which is the desired goal. You’ll be the judge of how much time you have and how you want to manage it.
With this sample tree, introduce possessives and family vocabulary, and get students thinking and talking about their own families.
There’s no reason not to teach beginners a few sophisticated vocabulary words. Though learning a brand-new language often makes one feel like a baby, there is no reason to treat them like babies. Teaching a little advanced vocabulary right away gives beginners a boost and is always appreciated.
Here are some suggestions for slightly more advanced vocabulary that’s likely to come up!
- fille/fils unique – only child
- frère/sœur ainé(e) – eldest child
- frère/sœur cadet(te) – youngest child
- demi-sœur/demi-frère – half-sister/half-brother
- belle-mère/beau-père – step-mother/step-father or mother-in-law/father-in-law
- le côté germain – mother’s side
- le côté paternel – father’s side
Assign a family tree for homework requiring names, years of birth, relationships to the student, and photos if possible. At the next session, ask your students to present their trees (on smartboard if available), introducing each member of the family to the rest of the class. Some students will have a lot to say, and will utilize much of the vocabulary they know in sharing their families’ history.
For those who need some prodding, make sure to ask questions such as, “If Louise’s grandfather was born in 1928, how old would he be now?” or, “What is the relationship between Pépé and Louise if they have the same mother and father?” etc.
Invite your students to ask clarifying questions of the student presenting. They should be using the vocabulary they’ve recently learned to ask questions about relationships, ages, places of birth, places where family members live currently and so on. For this exercise to work to the fullest extent, you’ll want your students in the “audience” to be engaging with the presenting students at least as much as you are, if not more.
In an ideal class situation, you’ll hardly be talking at all!
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2. Write a family mystery, or l’enquête de l’orphélin
Learning topics: Possessives, family and relationship vocabulary, nationalities, numbers, years, cities, countries and their respective articles.
Activity: This project is a little more advanced, but a lot of fun.
Divide your students into groups. Each group has the same objective: Create a character who’s an orphan and has returned to the city of their birth to track down possible remaining family members. The orphan has certain pieces of information, such as a family name, a mother’s year of birth or physical description, etc. You as the teacher will give each group its own distinct set of data.
By talking to people they meet in their city of birth, the orphan discovers more about their family tree. The interactions are to be decided in class among the group members and written down. If your students have time, give them the option to meet as a group outside of class to practice. This also encourages bonding, which makes students less likely to be shy during class. The scenarios will then be performed as short 2- to 3-minute skits during the next class.
As the rest of the non-performing students watch the skit, they must pay close attention and write down the information gleaned from the scenario being performed. The objective at the end of the class will be to reconstruct the orphan’s family tree belonging to the group presenting.
If you’re doing this activity with beginners, or even upper-beginners and lower-intermediate students, the skits may need to be performed twice in order for the non-performing students to understand what’s going on. If your students are more on the upper-intermediate level or above, be sure to include vocabulary for very detailed physical descriptions in the vocabulary you cover and let their imaginations run wild.
Activity-specific vocabulary and phrases:
- orphélin(e) – orphan
- Vous pouvez m’aider? – Can you help me?
- Connaissez-vous____? – Do you know_____?
- Excusez-moi, je cherche_____. – Excuse me, I’m looking for______.
The vocabulary for this activity can also be used in practice for those students who will be visiting francophone cities and want to know how to ask for help navigating.
3. Share la recette de grand-mère (grandmother’s recipe)
Learning topics: Definite, indefinite and partitive articles; food and measurement vocabulary.
Activity: Have students bring in recipes from their grandmothers or older members of the family that they remember enjoying. Choose a couple of recipes to talk about and go through, going over food and measurement vocabulary as well as indefinite articles. Check out this vocabulary guide for French food and measurements: Understanding French Recipes. You can also draw vocabulary from these lists of French restaurant language and regional French cuisine.
Once this introduction to vocabulary is done, have the students exercise what they’ve learned by talking amongst themselves about what their recipes mean to them, who makes it or made it for them, why they’re so delicious and so on.
If your students are more at the intermediate level and you’ve covered the past tenses already, this would be a good time to pause and have a quick grammar review.
- une entrée – appetizer
- un plat principal – main course
- un dessert – dessert
- un gateau – cake
- des biscuits – cookies
- sucré – sweet
- salé – savory
The vocabulary for this activity can also be used in practice for students visiting abroad when they order food in restaurants.
From this point on you have two options for your project:
1. If you do not have the facilities to cook in your classroom: The students will trade recipes and make them at home to bring to the class on different designated days (or all at the end for a class party if desired).
2. If you do have the facilities to cook in the classroom: The students will vote on which recipe they’d most like to try making as a class. Be sure it’s nothing too complex so that it can be made within the timeframe of your class. If you have a big class, one idea for an extra level of fun is to divide the class into smaller groups and make it a contest to see who can make the best recette de grand-mère.
Food and family are always topics that gets students excited to speak.
Take these projects, jazz them up however you see fit and make the embedded lessons suit your students’ needs.
You’ll have your students confidently presenting information in French in no time!
Just One More Thing…
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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.
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