They paint our wardrobes, food, dreams and, of course, art.
Colors play such an integral role in every aspect of life—it’s hard to note an instance where they don’t appear.
As a result, if you’re teaching beginning students French, they need to get acquainted with French colors as both nouns and adjectives.
But this ain’t your mama’s way of learning French colors!
We’re gonna get our hands dirty (yep, with colors) this time around.
In this post, I’ll help you bring color vocabulary alive for your students of all ages and abilities by showing you some fun, hands-on activities to get them learning the full color spectrum…in French!
Why It Pays to Put a Little Extra Thought into Teaching French Colors
French colors are worth knowing beyond the basics
Of course, basic color names are taught in most French classes. While there may be no true “standard” set of colors, we’re all familiar with the usuals:
noir(e) — black
brun(e) or marron — brown
rouge — red
orange — orange
jaune — yellow
vert(e) — green
bleu(e) — blue
violet(te) — purple
rose — pink
blanc(he) — white
gris(e) — grey
But your students would be amazed to learn how many colors in the French language exist beyond the ones typically found on the color wheel.
Here are a few colors that don’t often get much play in the typical French-language classroom:
kaki — khaki
lilas — lilac
pourpre — reddish purple (remember to point out les faux amis, or “false friends”)
turquoise — turquoise
corail(e) — coral
beige — beige
doré(e) — golden
argent(e) — silver
multicolore — multicolored
And we can’t forget our color (adjective) qualifiers that tell us how a color presents itself:
vif/-ve — bright
foncé(e) — dark
clair(e) — light
Teaching colors can cover a wide range of useful vocabulary, and it creates opportunities to teach grammar, as well. For example, you can emphasize to your students that the color adjectives of the phrase les maisons bleu vif (the bright blue houses), would not take on feminine or plural forms like in other cases of noun-adjective agreement, since combining color adjectives makes them invariable.
French colors are useful for better understanding the art world
It’s important for your students to know how to apply French-language colors in order to describe things, especially in the arts. When they engage in learning about or practicing any sort of art form, particularly visual, their knowledge of French colors and color descriptions will only enhance their awareness of it.
Phrases such as la chambre noire (dark room), l’espace blanc (white space) and le niveau de gris (greyscale) are often used in the visual art world. Encouraging your class to learn terms like this and to get familiar with descriptive color alternatives will help them think and express themselves creatively and knowledgeably where art is concerned.
However, it’s also important to be aware that with language, there’s power in naming things. Color names and descriptions can sometimes conjure up socio-political and cultural meanings, whether applied in or out of their intended context. So you may want to emphasize to your students how and why applying language with care is important. But of course, don’t forget to have fun while learning together!
French colors are useful for reading and understanding French-language literature
Since the 12th century, French writers have employed the use of color to invoke different emotions along the story spectrum (I know—so poetic, right?). Even today, writers will often use color as a way to set a scene or describe the disposition of a character. So of course, acquiring knowledge of colors in French is useful as your students read various forms of literature. This will help them pick up on colloquialisms and, perhaps, additional vocabulary related to colors that they may not normally learn from a textbook. (Remember that second list of “rare” colors and those qualifiers? Yep.)
How Students of Varying Visual Abilities Can Learn Colors in French
Before getting into this section, I want to first make a note about self-autonomy and collective access. The latter term, a friend recently taught me, is the act of non-disabled folks coming together to create accessibility for disabled people. You’re an awesome French-language educator, so I know that—following your amazing teaching methods—you’ll trust that your students can (and will!) continue to develop their own way of learning colors that makes sense to them. However, here are some ideas you can take into consideration for students of different visual abilities.
If any students in your class self-identify as blind, you can employ tactile-based teaching methods with the whole classroom so that both students who are blind and those who are not blind can effectively learn colors in French together. For example, you can set up plate-sized pods full of items commonly associated with a particular color (which we’ll get to in greater detail later in this post). You can also label markers in Braille with their associated colors. If you’re not familiar with French Braille, we’ve got you covered. (An additional explanation is available here.)
While they may still be able to make out visual images, color association in students with colorblindness will differ from yours if you’re a person with high vision. For example, two different colors for a high-vision person may appear to be the same shade for a colorblind person. In order to most effectively present French colors to everyone, you can employ common-object association: label markers, post up a basic color wheel and note any other objects in the classroom with their associated color.
However, if you’re a high-vision educator, you’ll want to be careful of teaching colorblind students how certain colors “should” appear, as of course you want to create an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes everyone’s experiences.
Also, when showing colors, it’s imperative to use white-colored backgrounds (including whiteboards) to create a high level of contrast for colorblind students.
Typically, students with low vision experience partial sight in some way, so you’ll want to use extra-bright color examples, large French-language text and light-colored (or white) backgrounds as you present objects commonly associated with their respective colors. Brightly-colored versions of the items you highlight help create more accessible visibility.
For example, instead of simply une pomme rouge (a red apple), you could present un poinsettia rouge vif (a bright-red poinsettia)—clearly noted in large text for easier readability.
Your students with high vision should be able to follow your lessons around color-object association. Encourage your high-vision students to come up with additional ways to help out blind, colorblind and low-vision students in the classroom, so that everyone can effectively learn French colors together.
3 Activities for Teaching French Colors, with Flying Colors!
1. My life in color
This activity focuses on your students using color to create a self-portrait out of different materials.
Gather up some clay, as well as markers, colored pencils, paint, brushes and some sort of blank canvas, such as large sheets of paper—all clearly labeled in large French-language text and/or Braille.
Have your students dream up visions of their own image and identities by expressing how they perceive themselves: They can, for example, create a mini-bust of themselves, or sketch out their appearance or what they believe makes them them.
After your students have finished their portrait or mini-bust, have them pen sentences in French on an index card or in French Braille using a slate and stylus. You could also give them the option to read their sentences aloud, describing their inner and outer selves using recently learned color names.
For example, they could write something like:
J’ai les yeux marron clair et les cheveux noirs. (I have light-brown eyes and black hair.)
Have your students get creative with language! Encourage them to think outside the box.
2. Let’s go outside!
Absorb that fresh air and warm sun! Take a trip outdoors with your students. But before heading out, you’ll want to acquire several paint trays and label them with their respective color names in Braille and/or large text.
Ask your students what they see or feel around them, using the French names of colors learned in class. This will be more of a verbal activity that will get their brains in high gear around the ways in which color vocabulary contextualizes itself in the French language.
For example, if your students turn towards the horizon, and see or feel the sun in the sky, they could select shades in, say, the orange or yellow color families (or get super creative and select shades of blue or purple!) and begin painting away. They could then pause and say out loud:
Le soleil jaune vif éclaire le paysage. (The bright, yellow sun illuminates the landscape.)
Have your students pause in between each nature scene, using these learned color names in French.
Now, sit back and paint away with your students as they conjure up images of nature while doing these verbal exercises at the same time.
3. This feels like…
This is a pretty cool activity that may appeal to blind and low-vision students, as there’s an emphasis on tactile methods and color-oriented descriptions.
Remember those plate-sized pods I mentioned earlier? Here, you’ll want to section off small, colorful items on small paper plates that your students can touch, feel…and even taste!
Try out natural (and not-so-natural) objects, such as des herbes vertes (green grass blades), un canard jaune en plastique (yellow rubber duck) or even de l’eau claire (clear water). As they pick up each item, have your students construct descriptive sentences using French-language names of colors learned in class.
Get edible with it, too! Present des quartiers d’orange (orange slices), des bleuets (blueberries) and des fraises (strawberries) as fun lessons your students can eat.
If you have any students who experience blindness, you could ask them to write about how they sense colors, how the colors “feel” to them. Again, have your students use descriptive terminology that applies the vocabulary listed in the first section of this post.
Ces tranches de banane jaunes sont tellement délicieuses ! (These yellow banana slices are delicious!)
Later on, your students will have not only an artistic record of these interactive activities, but built-in teaching tools that will continue to prove useful to them.
And there you have it! Three fun ways that all students can sketch, sculpt, sense and savor their way to learning French colors.
While things may seem stop-and-go with some of your students grasping these color concepts, continue to emphasize the philosophy around “practice = progress”!
Tell them what it was like for you learning French colors (or numbers or other vocabulary), and the obstacles that tripped you up in the beginning.
Trust me, they’ll definitely appreciate that.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these colorful teaching ideas, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic French videos that people in the French-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “suit,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun questions based on what the student already knows.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach French with real-world videos.