Ah! Les adjectifs !
They enrich our language with vivid details and subtle nuances that make communication more precise and effective.
They also add some poetry to the French language by bringing finesse and elegance to our thoughts.
What they also add, however, is a lot of confusion for your students.
As much as we love the French adjectives, teaching them isn’t always a walk in the park.
Here are some simple but effective steps to never struggle when teaching French adjectives to English learners.
4 Simple Yet Effective Steps for Teaching French Adjectives
Teaching French adjectives can be difficult.
Try these fantastic strategies and activities to help your students learn them without pain.
Step 1: Expand Vocabulary with Natural Immersion
How It Works
Teaching French vocabulary is more effectively achieved through immersion, that is, by recreating the conditions of the French lifestyle using authentic content on an ongoing, ideally daily, basis.
This will guarantee exposure to a diverse range of French adjectives and will facilitate assimilation of new vocabulary. The more your students are in contact with genuine French content, the faster they’ll absorb new knowledge and be able to intuitively use and recognize these adjectives.
As a general rule, it’s best to only incorporate authentic content into your lessons. Avoid the stuff that’s made for students as much as possible.
To keep lessons interesting—as well as stimulate all four major language skills—be sure to pick from a variety of topics and formats, including French videos, books, newspapers articles, blog posts and podcasts. The more diverse the content and sources are, the greater the range of adjectives your students will encounter.
If you don’t know where to start, this article will help you find the best online resources for native French content to add to your lessons.
Watch video clips in class and ask students to describe the characters. The more abundant they are in their descriptions, the better. The objective here is to get them to use as many adjectives as possible.
To point them in the right direction, ask your students to describe the characters’ personalities, physical appearances, body shapes and also details like mannerisms and unique skills.
There’s no need to watch the entire movie for this exercise! Rather, pick a scene, play it for them once, then play it again and pause it when you find a good shot of each character. Ask them to describe the character, first physically and then emotionally and more broadly, based on the scene that they’ve watched.
It’s important that you ask many students to participate and contribute to the descriptions. This will result in richer discussions and will benefit the entire class. Indeed, students often see and perceive different things, which means they’ll use different adjectives and end up painting a more accurate picture as a group than on their own.
Create French adjective billboards. Make them colorful to attract their attention and large enough that they can be easily read from afar. Billboards should follow the same principles as study cards: Keep the structure simple and avoid inserting long and complex rules that your students won’t necessarily read and understand at a glance.
Use different colors to help them quickly differentiate and memorize key adjective agreement rules, such as masculine/feminine and singular/plural. Pick contrasting colors and stay consistent across your billboards. For example, if you’ve established that red is the color of choice for the masculine ending, stick with it. Your students will eventually associate this color with the correct ending, which will train their brains to memorize the rules and patterns faster.
Another great strategy to help expand their vocabulary database is to incorporate vivid images to create memorable image/word associations. Gather and cut out expressive images from old magazines and glue them on your billboards. Then, simply type and print the best descriptive adjective (or whichever one you want students to learn) and place it underneath the image.
Make sure not to use unrelated adjectives. As much as you can, it’s preferable to stick to theme-based billboards to help your students remember the connections and find the meanings of these adjectives more quickly.
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Step 2: Teach Adjective Placement Through Observations
How It Works
This effective method is designed to help students understand the rules of adjective placement by letting them draw their own empirical conclusions.
Rather than try to”teach” the rule, present your students with authentic samples featuring lots of adjectives and ask precise, yet simple questions to get them to notice and gain familiarity with the rule. In essence, it’s activating the rule in practice: you’re guiding them in the right direction rather than forcing them to memorize something.
You’re also providing very concrete examples as well as a method for them to find the rule by themselves if they come to forget it. The idea is to let them find the answer themselves so they can remember it more effectively and really get a grasp of how French works.
Alternatively, it’s always a good idea to use mnemotechnics. Teach your students about the BAGS acronym for adjectives that are placed before the noun in French, but make it as catchy as possible. In case you’re unfamiliar, BAGS stands for Beauty, Age, Goodness and Size.
Turn BAGS into a jingle, where all letters of the system have their own dance or moves. For “beauty,” mimic the shape of a pretty girl with your hands (or whatever feels most appropriate for your class). For “age,” place your hand on your back as an old person would. You get the idea!
Be sure to sing it over and over together until it sinks in. Odds are, your students will remember BAGS for the rest of their lives.
Encourage reading French books and magazines. Why? The more they read, the more impressions their brains will receive and the more easily they’ll remember the position of French adjectives in a sentence.
It should be fun, not homework. Instead of telling them what they should read, create a list of recommended readings and let them choose from them.
Better yet, let your students find their own reading materials based on their unique preferences and interests. If this is what they opt for, make yourself available to help them identify books and magazines that they’ll like, and be sure to incorporate their desires into your next reading lists.
Play the detective game. Form pairs and ask students to work together as detectives in this thrilling adjective game. Find an adjective-rich text, ask students to circle all the adjectives and let the games begin!
The detective game borrows from the scientific method and follows five simple steps: question, hypothesis, observation, verification and conclusion. Student-detectives should start off by asking questions about the text:
- What do they notice about French word order and placement of adjectives?
- What do the adjectives that are located before nouns have in common?
- What about adjectives that are located after nouns?
What do you want students to learn about French adjectives here? Ask them the question directly, or let them choose a question that piques their curiosity about how adjectives are used. Then let your students make an observation, formulate a hypothesis, gather evidence from the text and verify whether they’re right or wrong.
As a variation on the game, select an adjective-dense text and read it to them out loud. Ask students to identify adjectives and understand how they’re positioned. What do they deduct from it? Do they see any patterns? Use the same five-step method to let students reach their own conclusions. Unlike the text-based version, this variation stimulates their listening skills and focuses on pronunciation and oral understanding instead of reading.
Whether or not this is more challenging or not really varies among students. You’ll probably quickly see that some find the listening exercise less difficult while others prefer the text-based version as it allows them to spend more time during the observation process. It is, therefore, a good idea to mix it up and keep your students on their toes!
Step 3: Tell Stories
How It Works
If you’re teaching French to English speakers, you’re in luck! Your students have a tremendous head start when it comes to learning the French language.
As a result of the close history between France and the U.K., the English language has incorporated numerous French adjectives into its vocabulary. Many of these adjectives have retained their original French definitions, meaning that English speakers already know what they mean.
It’s always a good idea to teach these friendly words as early as possible. Aside from providing a large base of useful words that they’ll effortlessly memorize, this will help your students build confidence that they know more French than they think!
In addition, these words can support your students’ overall engagement in class, as they’re learning more deeply about something very relevant to them and the language they’ve always used. Each word has its own unique story behind it.
The story behind how English came to include so many French words is as entertaining as it is educationally enriching. Watch this video in class for an in-depth understanding of this fascinating, shared linguistic history.
You can also focus on etymology. Introduce your students to common adjective roots, such as prefixes and suffixes. Many French and English words (and notably their prefixes and suffixes) come from Latin and Greek, so learning about this will equip your students with fundamental knowledge that will serve them throughout their studies.
Give them the option to remember set root tables, but introduce them progressively. Start by selecting the 10 most essential endings and add 5 news roots every other week. Be sure to incorporate model adjectives to help your students learn new adjectives along the way.
Real friend or false friend? This guessing game is a great way to help your students have fun with French adjectives and verify their understanding of their meanings.
As suggested by its title, the game is pretty straightforward. Pick a French adjective that looks and sound similar in English and ask them whether it’s a real friend or a false friend.
Use pictures or write down the French words on slips of paper and place them in an urn. Ask students to pick the folded papers at random, read the French words written down out loud and then give you their answers. Keep track of points and reward the winner with a mini surprise gift or French treat.
Tell the history behind French adjectives. Students love hearing stories, especially when they’re full of little anecdotes that make them unique.
To prepare this activity, read up on etymology by browsing this website and keep track of interesting details behind age-appropriate adjectives. When introducing the word, rather than give away its meaning, try to explain its meaning and complement your description with the actual story of the origins of the adjective and its evolution over time. This will help your students connect the adjective with the context of the story, a method that proves very helpful when teaching French adjectives—or any other language lessons, for that matter.
Step 4: Play Adjective Games That Are Actually Fun
How It Works
Adjective games are a great way to help students build their vocabulary of French adjectives. Rather than focus on difficult rules, they put your students in a condition to more readily absorb and retain knowledge.
Games also help students learn better by allowing them to engage their body and learn using movement.
They’ll start to really hear the differences between le and la if you repeat these particles over and over, and will distinguish between masculine and feminine adjectives with greater ease with time and repetition alone.
Another reason why adjective games work is that they enable your shyest students to leave their shells and participate. Rather than fearing failure when they’re on the line, adjective games help build confidence and appreciation for French adjectives.
Describe this! This is a fun picture description game that focuses on activating your students’ knowledge of common and lesser-known French adjectives. Find large pictures featuring expressive characters and unusual objects. Ask each student individually to tell you what they see. This exercise will help them build their vocabulary.
To get started, find large pictures featuring characters and unusual objects. Ideally, the characters should be expressive enough that students immediately associate them with several colorful adjectives. Then, ask each student individually to tell you what they see.
Not everybody should agree. Rather than asking the same question over and over, ask their peers whether they believe that the character described in the picture is the way the others saw it. This usually leads to some vibrant and exciting discussions.
Tout et son contraire (everything and its opposite). This is a fun game that will tremendously expand your students’ vocabulary by also teaching them opposites words. Plus, tout et son contraire actually expands on the last activity.
Now that they’ve described something accurately, show them the picture of something totally different to get them to use opposite adjectives. This will help you verify their command of the language and should provide an opportunity for you to introduce more precise adjectives that will give more force to their thoughts. Have fun with it!
Isn’t it easy to teach French adjectives and some of the rules that govern them?
We can’t wait for you to try these strategies and activities and see your students make real progress with the French language.
Bon courage ! (Good luck!)
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