Imagine you walk into your French classroom one afternoon and hear tons of chit chatting.
Upon entering, you can see that every single student is gabbing away.
Not even one student is sitting quietly!
But then—suddenly you realize that everyone is talking… in French!
Can it be?
This is what you’ve always dreamed of—to hear your students using French authentically.
So, how can you make this scene a reality?
If you ban English, French will flourish in the classroom.
But if I ban English from the classroom, how will I teach?
My students won’t understand what I am saying.
Classroom management and maintaining discipline will be impossible.
We have all heard these excuses, and we have probably used them ourselves to justify allowing English in the classroom. Insisting that French be the prime or only language spoken in your classroom may be daunting, especially if you are a new teacher or you are not yet confident in your behavior management skills. Initially, it will be a challenge for your students as well.
However, the rewards of increased language acquisition and student engagement far outweigh any problems you may face in establishing your French classroom as an English-free zone. Let’s take a look:
What Are the Benefits of a French-only Classroom?
- French becomes meaningful, as students have to use French to communicate about every aspect of classroom life. Students will begin to appreciate the value of the high frequency words and conversation fillers that allow us time to gather our thoughts, and which are necessary for smooth communication.
- Progress becomes encouraging, because with so much practice, students will improve rapidly and gain enormous confidence. When improvement is slow we tend not to notice it, but in a French-only classroom progress is so rapid that students will become acutely aware of just how far they have come in a very short time.
- French lessons become fun since students will be inspired to seek out other ways of communicating in French. Students feel encouraged by progress, and this “high” inspires them to explore their personal interests within a French context.
- Responsibility for learning is now firmly in the hands of the students. You no longer have to constantly force feed vocabulary lists to the students, because a large part of their learning will take place through conversation with other students. The more thought and enthusiasm the students invest in these classroom interactions, the faster their learning progresses.
In a French-only classroom, you can relax and spend more time observing the students and focusing your help on those who need it the most.
Let’s explore some ideas that will ensure a successful transition to an English-free classroom.
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5 Valuable Teaching Ideas to Quickly Create a French-only Classroom
1. Give students the language they need to communicate
The key to making your classroom English-free is to ensure students have the French language they need to undertake daily tasks.
You can transform a simple task, such as choosing partners for pair activities, into a rich French learning experience even in the very first lesson.
Wait a minute—can a student even have a basic conversation in French in their first lesson?
Yes, they can. Give each student a sheet with the hours 1 to 12 printed on the face of a clock.
You need to teach the following two phrases and the numbers 1 to 12 (in French):
Tu es libre à ________ heure(s)? (Are you free at … o’clock?)
Oui, je suis libre./Non, je suis occupé(e). (Yes, I am free/ No, I am busy).
When students are confident with the pronunciation, they approach another student and ask, “Tu est libre à une heure?” to which the second student will reply, “Oui, je suis libre” or “Non, je suis occupé(e).”
Both students must ask the question to check they are both available at that time. If they are both free, they each write the other student’s name on their sheet, by that number on the clock. Then the they move around the classroom repeating the process until they have found a partner for every time slot.
Remind the students to glue the sheet into their books, because this will be referred to throughout the course. For what purpose? When you want students to work in pairs, it’s now a simple matter of saying:
Travaillez avec ton partenaire de deux heures. (Work with your two o’clock partner).
You can choose a different time each day. This means that students get to work with different students, and they have just had a lesson in using French to communicate. That’s not too bad for a first lesson!
Cover the walls with useful phrases the students need to communicate
Here are just a few useful phrases, but the age and interests of the students and the particular context you are teaching in will suggest others:
- Comment dit-on… en français ? (How do you say … in French?)
- Je n’ai pas de stylo. (I don’t have a pen.)
- Pouvez-vous répéter… ? (Can you repeat…?)
- Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement ? (Could you speak more slowly?)
- Pouvez-vous m’aider ? (Can you help me?)
- Pouvez-vous corriger mon travail ? (Can you grade my work?)
- C’est quelle page ? (It’s which page?)
You could also create some table mats with useful phrases for particular tasks, laminate them and place them on the students’ desks. We will look at an example of a table mat in #3.
You need to teach these phrases as phrases. You do not need to explain all the grammatical rules at this point to first-year French students. Do not underestimate their ability to pick up and use these phrases.
As students hear other students using these phrases in the classroom, they will gain the confidence to use them as well. Later on you can teach the grammatical aspects of these phrases, but to begin with, it’s enough that they start using them.
2. Provide authentic tasks that demand French
Students are more likely to use French if the tasks you set for them have a real-world application, an application that they are interested in as opposed to simply practicing rote phrases out of context. For example, teach students the phrases necessary to talk in French about their favorite celebrities or how to download their favorite music, and the students will see the value in the learning.
To set students up for an authentic task, you should give students an authentic French context. That means you should include native French media such as videos to complete a French-only classroom. For that, I recommend FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
An authentic task could look like this:
Give the students a handout with around 12 French phrases expressing opinions about music in one column and the English translations in another column, but in jumbled order. Model these phrases for your students by naming some well-known pop groups and making comments about them, such as the following:
“Justin Bieber, je peux chanter mieux que ça.” (Justin Bieber, I can sing better than that.)
“Techno, J’aime/n’aime pas ce genre de musique.” (Techno, I like/don’t like this type of music.)
“Beyoncé a une belle voix.” (Beyoncé has a beautiful voice.)
“C’est un peu répétitif .” (It’s a bit repetitive.)
“C’est mon groupe préféré.” (It’s my favorite group.)
The students match up the correct meaning for each phrase. At this point, you might choose to point out the rules for adjective agreement in French.
Now, in pairs, students create another four phrases with the aid of dictionaries. They use the given phrases as models, but need to replace the adjectives. You might place a list of adjectives on the board but encourage the students to find out the meanings for themselves.
The students now have some useful, rich language they can use to talk about music in a meaningful way. This material can serve as the basis for student-created presentations (in French) discussing their favorite musician/singer or a class survey of student’s favorite musicians.
3. Play games and activities that encourage French fluency
Games do have a place in the classroom, but you need to set them up so that they have a real educational value. The key is to provide the language that students need to communicate in French about the game. The game itself is not important—but don’t tell the students that.
Transform games with these simple phrases
I mentioned table mats earlier; here is another situation where you could create a set of laminated phrase lists to sit on the students’ desks. You need to model the pronunciation first, but with time the students will learn the principles of pronunciation, and even unfamiliar words will hold no fear for them.
The phrases here are just some examples to give you the idea:
- Tu triches! (You’re cheating!)
- J’ai gagné./Tu as gagné. (I won./ You won.)
- C’est faux. (It’s wrong.)
- Dommage (Shame/It’s a pity)
- C’est mon tour. (It’s my turn.)
- Zut alors. (Oh, bother!)
- Lance le dé. (Throw the dice.)
- Prends une carte. (Take a card.)
Yes, you can include the English translations, but the important thing is that students must use the French—do not allow the student to take the easy road and use English. How you enforce this is up to you as each teacher’s style is different.
Turn learning French into playtime
A picture paints a thousand words, so use picture dictation in your classroom to develop your students’ speaking and writing skills. Choose pictures that depict aspects of the language that you are focusing on at the time. For example, you have been talking about describing your house, so choose photos of houses and rooms in the house.
In pairs, one student describes the house in French (keeping the picture hidden) while the other student draws what he/she hears and then describes the result back to the first student.
Let students talk in French the way they want to
Poetry, especially for a special day such as Valentine’s Day, is a winner. The key is to give the students the language they need and want. Review idea #2 and apply these strategies to the language of Valentine’s Day. Depending on your teaching context and the nature of your students, you can spice up the language a little and your students will love it. Add some slang or verlan.
- Une nana/Une minette (A cute girl, a bird)
- Une gonzesse (A woman)
- Un mec, un keum, un minet, un gars, un type, un bonhomme (A guy, a cute boy, a bloke)
Of course, you also want to have some more traditional phrases such as:
- Nous sommes faits l’un pour l’autre. (We’re made for each other.)
However, the language has to be real to your students or they will not use it.
4. Establish a reading program that extends students’ French fluency
How many teenagers want to be limited to reading this:
J’ai un chat. Il s’appelle Sam. Il est chouette. (I have a cat. His name is Sam. He is cool.)
Your students are capable of reading more complex language than either you or they realize; encourage this.
There are many magazines (online and print) with helpful glossaries targeted at the teenage French learner. It is well worth spending some of your school budget on these resources.
Give your reading program a purpose
You have set your class routine to begin with 5-10 minutes of silent reading in French: That is a great beginning.
Take that reading experience and couple it with writing by requiring each student to keep a reading journal. When they finish an article or book, students should record their thoughts about that book, in French. I return to idea #1 because it is crucial: Give students the language they need to discuss books in a meaningful way.
Do not accept only, “Je n’aime pas ce livre, c’est nul,” but rather demand a reason (i.e. “parce que je trouve les personnages un peu égoïstes et gâtés.”
Provide language for expressing opinions such as:
- Je trouve que (I find that…)
- Je pense que (I think that)
- parce que (because)
and lots of adjectives:
- C’était embêtant, intéressant, formidable (It was boring, interesting, amazing)
5. Encourage students to take over your job
When students can express opinions that extend beyond simple, “J’aime… c’est cool,” then you have opened up a whole world of language exploration for your students.
Once a week allow a student or pair of students to choose and present “the word of the day” to the class, in French. Let them choose, but censor the word first just to be on the safe side.
Phrases such as:
- Ce mot signifie… (This word means…)
- À mon avis ce mot est… (In my opinion this word is…)
- Je trouve ce mot intéressant parce que c’est drôle. ( I find this word interesting because it is strange)
and the rich list of adjectives that you have built up in #2 and #4 allow students to communicate in a real and practical way.
The students will see an appreciable improvement in their learning, they will learn to take responsibility for their learning and you will be able to sit back and observe your students happily engaged in learning: it’s a win-win for you and the students.
So what are you waiting for? Your French-only classroom dreams are completely reachable with these teaching ideas. Enjoy!