Are you desperately looking for brilliant teaching ideas for your high school French students?
If so, let French movies come to the rescue!
With the right films, your students will show just the enthusiasm you were hoping for.
French movies are renowned for blending the art of filmmaking with superb narrative—a good reason why your French students will find them particularly interesting.
French movies are incredibly diverse—from smash hits to great love stories and hidden gems—so there’s definitely a French film for everyone.
Some are great for beginners, but your high school students may need something more challenging.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of six excellent French films which will spark riveting discussions among your high school students—plus how to best use them for such discussions. So without much ado, let’s start with some great teaching methods to use with full-length movies.
Tips on Using French Movies as an Efficient Teaching Tool
Let’s be honest: Too often your students view movies as pure entertainment. Movies don’t have to be time wasters, though. They can be a very effective way to learn a language, all while having fun!
Make It a Routine Activity
Repetition is key. Videos stimulate listening skills and develop understanding in context. For this to be effective, it’s best to incorporate it as part of your regular teaching curriculum—at least once a week. The idea is to maximize exposure and help students gain familiarity with the French pronunciation and spoken language without traveling to France. Eventually, students will be able to intuitively speak French and communicate with great ease.
Encourage them to watch French movies at home. Learning French shouldn’t be limited to the classroom. For classes to be effective, students should continue their studies even when formal lessons are over. Movies are a great way to show them that learning French doesn’t have to be a chore—it can be incredibly fun and enriching, too. To maximize impact, send them a link to the video that you’ve watched in class and ask them to review and take notes at their leisure. This will be an occasion to review known content.
Display Subtitles the Right Away
There’s an art to using subtitles. Keep in mind that students need to challenge themselves, but still need to make the most out of the movie they watch.
You can find subtitles on most streaming services, and you can find subtitles for some DVDs. I also recommend French learning programs with interactive subtitles. For that, I recommend FluentU.
Make sure to first start with no subtitles when you play a scene. It’s stimulating, tests their listening skills and puts them in a real situation. Let your students make an effort to understand what’s being said by using their own experience with the French language. They’ll thank you for it later.
Then, replay the scene, but this time display the French subtitles. Rather than simply reading the subtitles, encourage students to take notes of unfamiliar words with the idea that they’ll be able to identify the meaning later via context, or to look them up later with a dictionary as a final resort.
Last, replay the scene one more time, now revealing the English subtitles. It will help students make sense of what occurred in this particular scene and may help them understand the rest of the movie without subtitles as the movie unfolds.
Use that Replay Button Strategically
Students tend to dislike replays, but for legitimate reasons. Replays can be boring—unless you bring fresh, new elements to the table. Rather than replay the same scene two or three times, make sure to gradually introduce content that can help students make sense of what they just watched.
For example, you can use replays as an opportunity to interact with your students. Go beyond the language component and discuss the scene from a cultural and artistic perspective. Rather than breaking down grammar structures or discussing conjugations, this means that you’ll be integrating language, art and culture in your discussions.
Developing a sense of aesthetics is particularly important in language development. Concretely, focus on narrative story elements and investigate what effects they create. Like in novels, the narrative, character choices, settings and costumes in movies reveal strong artistic choices, as well as social, political or cultural features. Highlight them and discuss together to enhance your students’ speaking skills.
A good cultural and artistic question requires that your students use critical thinking to answer. For example: “To what extent do you believe that the use of irony in this scene takes it to another level?,” “How does the contrast between both characters create an artistic tension?” or “What are the elements that reveal that this character belongs to a certain social class?”
In this respect, you’ll be elevating the knowledge of your high school students and showing them that they’re equipped to use French to communicate complex and personal ideas—rather than just build structures and answer test questions!
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6 Life-Changing Movies for Riveting Discussions in High School French Class
The wait is over! Here are our favorite movies for the French high school class, plus themes you can use for engaging discussions.
1. “Comme un Chef” (“The Chef”)
A painter passionate about cooking—but with no formal training—becomes the rising star of an assisted living community. Eventually, a well-known chef gets word about it and decides to give the painter a job as a chef, until their personalities clash and he fires him.
However, the chef lacks inspiration and needs serious help in order to not lose a star. Will he do the right thing and give the painter a chance?
- What’s so special about French cooking?
French cuisine is one of the most highly respected cooking styles in the world. Use this movie as a support to a discussion about the legitimacy of this reputation, and investigate why this could be the case.
To bring new elements to your discussion, introduce your students to the fathers of French cuisine from Escoffier to Ducasse. This brief history should highlight the key principles and novel techniques that have given French cooking its noble letters.
- Are Michelin Stars just hype?
Discuss with your student the phenomena of the Michelin guide. Do they believe that higher prices are justified and do they understand why chefs go through such pressure in order to obtain recognition from the Red Book?
To keep your debate active and fresh, use recent examples from the press claiming the guide has become irrelevant for not reflecting today’s dining trends, and compare the traditional Michelin Guide with more modern and international rankings, including “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.”
2. “Les Choristes” (“The Chorus”)
Successful orchestra conductor Pierre Morange returns to his hometown upon the death of his mother and finds the diary he wrote as a child. His notes take him back to late 1940s France, when Clément Mathieu, a music teacher, helped the unruly children at the austere boarding school where Morange was studying.
Acting against the strict headmaster, Mathieu brightens up the place and organizes a choir—eventually helping Morange and his classmates overcome their anger and fears through music.
- What are the keys to a successful upbringing?
This poignant movie raises numerous questions about what constitutes a good education and a happy childhood. Be sure to put the movie into perspective and identify the cultural and historical elements at play before asking students to make their case.
Then, move on to a theoretical and idealized vision of education. What do your students believe is the best possible environment to foster talent and help skills to develop to their full potential? Ask them if they believe that the current system enables them to achieve these goals.
- Is discipline the most effective method with children?
The ineffectiveness and injustice of discipline, as opposed to compassion and understanding, is one of the recurring themes in this movie. Discuss the value of both, and set up provisions on how to best frame their usages in context.
Then, take the discussions to the next level by introducing the concept of “dystopia” in art and literature. Remind your class that a dystopia is a society where everything is unpleasant and negative, and ask them to imagine a system where discipline rules everything. What are their thoughts? What do they think may happen? Why is it to be avoided?
3. “La Guerre des Boutons” (“War of the Buttons”)
In the French countryside, two rival gangs of children from the villages of Longeverne and Velran are constantly at war with each other, for no other motive than an ancestral peasant rivalry. The children would have kept with tradition if it weren’t for one of the boys falling for a girl from the other village.
- The countryside: A better place?
This movie provides an idealized vision of life in the countryside. Use this theme to draw attention to how life outside the big cities is often shown as extremely bucolic in France. Is this justified? What are your students’ thoughts on the matter? What do they believe are the pluses and minuses of living in a rural area? Where do they personally aspire to live?
Then, introduce the fact that up until the 1930s, more than half of the French population was living in rural communities. Could this cultural element influence how the French perceive life in the countryside today? Discuss by bringing to their attention the popularity of such TV shows as “L’Amour est dans le Pré” (Love is in the meadows), a long-time reality TV show where bachelor urbanites on a quest for love and authenticity battle for the heart of a French farmer.
- Forbidden love in art: The recipe to success?
This movie can pave the way for great discussions about an all too familiar theme: the strength and appeal of forbidden love and its importance in art. Start by asking students for feedback about the way it’s portrayed in “War of the Buttons,” and compare with other movies and novels they know.
Then, ask why they believe it’s such an important theme in art. Discuss goals and intent: What is the artist trying to achieve here, and what techniques are at play to make it work? Conclude by broadening the talks with a general question about the essence of art. Does the intensity of forbidden love match the intensity of the artistic process?
4. “Yves Saint Laurent“
This movie shares the incredible life story of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, showing his unconventional lifestyle and rise to fame.
Starting 1957 in Oran, following his dismissal from the House of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent builds a formidable fashion empire with his once-lover and long-term business partner, Pierre Bergé—all while oscillating between Saint Laurent’s atelier, his nightlife escapes, his rendezvous, his pill-popping binges and luxurious home.
Disclaimer: “Yves Saint Laurent” was rated R for sexual content by the Motion Picture Association of America. If your school has a strict policy about movie content, this movie may not be appropriate.
- High fashion and luxury: Is France’s reputation justified?
The movie provides an interesting perspective into the world of high fashion in France. Start by asking students which designers they believe have most contributed to the clothing industry in France and worldwide. Is the “Made in France” label still as prestigious as it once was? Broaden the discussion by asking them whether high fashion can survive in the era of counterfeits and discount online retailing.
As an activity, ask your students to identify a French designer or fashion house of their choice and deliver a 10-minute oral presentation about it. Students can work together as a group and may decide freely what the right format for this exercise is—a PowerPoint presentation detailing the designer’s life, a website showcasing their best collections, a video clip using archive news pieces, a mock runway show replicating the designer’s most famous pieces—let them be creative!
- Can fashion designers do more for society than creating clothes?
This movie is a great opportunity to discuss with your students the social and cultural impact of fashion designers throughout history. Compare Coco Chanel and YSL and discuss how these two French fashion designers helped with women emancipation. To what extent were their efforts revolutionary and ahead of their time? What are their legacies today?
In addition, discuss the soft power at play with fashion. To what degree does the French haute couture (high fashion) contribute to disseminating a positive image of France worldwide? Are there any similar soft power vehicles that they know of?
5. “La Reine Margot” (“Queen Margot”)
A young queen finds herself entangled in an arranged marriage during Europe’s religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Unsatisfied, she finds a new lover and tries to escape, only to be imprisoned by her powerful and ruthless family.
- Should the monarchy make its comeback in France?
This movie shows the hardships of a life as a royal. Use it to discuss to what extent the monarchy has shaped French culture and society, starting with a brief timeline of the various regimes and an introduction to French history pre-revolution. Then, discuss the impact of the French Revolution in France and how the monarchy has effectively left an indelible mark on the French today.
The debate isn’t so far-fetched. In spite of it all, royalists groups fiercely campaign for a return to the monarchy in France.
Use some of these elements to take your debate to the next level, and draw a parallel between today’s democratic society and the prior monarchy. What would be the most appropriate regime?
- The case for women’s rights: What took them so long?
This movie depicts a society where women had little to no say in their own lifestyle. Use it as an opportunity to go over a history of the women’s rights movement and compare its success in France, the United States and worldwide. What has been accomplished in 500 years and what remains to be done? Do your students feel that enough has been done?
Put it in perspective by stressing similarities with the quest for equality in general, and ask students to share a cause that’s dear to them and why they believe that it’s important.
6. “La Saveur du Palais” (“Haute Cuisine”)
Danièle Delpeuch, a humble chef from the South of France, becomes the private chef for former French President François Mitterrand. Quickly enough, the president’s fondness for her cuisine stirs the jealousy from the Elysée Palace’s veteran chefs, who do what it takes to sabotage her work.
- How does terroir influence French cooking?
We’ve all heard about terroir for wines, but do your students know that terroir extends far beyond that? Start the discussion by asking what they think this concept means, and to what degree they believe it has influenced French traditional cooking. Ask them for concrete examples, and eventually try to map out France’s region according to popular dishes and ingredients.
Put it in perspective and highlight that terroir impacts every country, including the United States! What are some of the signature dishes of their state? What are other communities known for? Make it fun and conclude these discussions with a tasting of France’s must-eat foods. Your students will be very, very happy!
- What influences chefs today?
Chefs, like fashion designers and painters, are artists. More than cooking a meal, their goal is to create an emotion through tastes, smells and textures. Ask your students what contributes to the creative process of culinary artists today. With the democratization of travel and visual platforms like Instagram, chefs are increasingly exposed to exotic flavors and products which can help promote their imaginative process.
Then, end this discussion by asking your students what influences them individually. How do they maintain a high level of creativity and inspiration, and why does it matter?
Using this complete selection of the most captivating French movies and our discussion points, have no doubt that your students are in for a great time.
So, what are you waiting for? Start streaming already!
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