Sunday, March 23, 2014

When immersion doesn't mean immersion: How not to organize a French class for children, part III

In which our beleaguered heroine (part I of this saga) gives in to the pressure from the camp organizer (part II) and creates a play in French that includes the campers' violin accompaniment, and it even kind of makes sense.

So here's how I pulled it all together....

the Pinterest board that I used to collect resources and ideas
I had developed the entire French immersion class for kids around the story Roule Galette, a folk tale similar to The Gingerbread Man, about a cake that rolls itself off the windowsill where it's cooling, through a forest, narrowly avoiding being eaten by the denizens of various fairy tales (the bear, the wolf), where it finally succumbs to the wily fox with a sweet tooth.

The students heard the story a different way each of the five days: first with me relating it in very simple French using pictures of the main characters and main ideas and lots of gestures and movements;

8.5 x 11" print-outs of the salient ideas, slipped into plastic sheet protectors
then by watching this short animated version of it;

by working together to arrange sentences in English telling the tale into chronological order;

I used a total of about ten sentences; the older students read them to the non-readers.
next, by listening to me read the story from the book, pulling out my pictures to illustrate the main characters and main ideas, but not simplifying it otherwise (the video below shows the exact text I used);

by assigning homework to create a very short comic strip based on the story;

I wrote the narration in each box in French, figuring that the kids knew the story and had heard the key words repeated often enough; their job was to illustrate each panel
and finally, by reading and acting out the simple play I had written based on the story.  The narrator speaks English, but the action takes place in French: the child playing the old man who wants to eat says "J'ai faim" (I'm hungry), the galette introduces itself politely to each animal, asking "Comment t'appelles-tu?" and "Comment ca va?" (What's your name?  How are you doing today?").  Plus, the galette sings a little song each time, which all of the actors could chime in on.

By organizing the class around the story, that meant that I could really exploit its themes: other songs that take place in the forest ("Dans la foret lointaine" and "Promenons-nous dans les bois," for example), simple description words (grand, petit, chaud, froid, vieux, jeune, beau, delicieux), numbers 1-10, and greetings, introductions, and leave-takings.

Oh, I do like contextualized language learning--who wants to memorize vocabulary lists and flip through flashcards when they can play with puppets that threaten to eat each other when they meet?!  (Each kid held a puppet during the class, since that tends to cut down on feeling self-conscious when speaking another language.)

But then being told--after the camp had started--that the students' performance on the fifth and final day of the camp had to incorporate songs that they were learning to play on their violins during the rest of the camp, well, that made me start pulling my cheveux out!

(And in the meantime, the music teachers were panicking too, because almost all the campers were brand new students as young as four who couldn't play much of anything!)

How did we do it?  I decided that there was a river with a bridge over it in the forest that the galette flees through and taught the kids to sing and dance "Sur le pont d'Avignon."  This classic folk song has a familiar, easy melody, plus verses that are easily adaptable to the characters from the story.  (Instead of "Les belles dames font comme ca," the lovely ladies curtsy like this, for example, we had "Les ours font comme ca," giving the campers the opportunity to get in touch with their inner bears, roaring and striking each other with their paws, and so on.)

The violin teachers then picked an easy-to-play phrase that became the galette's theme.

Putting it all together meant pulling the two very cool older boys to the side to play all the theme music and the dancing song (they were too cool to act in a play with little kids, anyway), keeping the narrator and the characters, and then having the galette cross the bridge in the middle of the woods so that the children could join together to sing and dance while the boys played "Sur le pont d'Avignon."

We could have used several more days of rehearsal.

(And that is an understatement.)

But the class was finally over, I had learned what not to do when organizing (and teaching) a French immersion class for kids (especially on the first day), I had developed a nice little set of lesson plans and materials that I was able to use within a couple of months with some private tutoring clients, and I had the chance to see my children (because they came to class with me) dance and do some very cute wolf impressions.

And that's what I learned when immersion didn't mean immersion.


  1. This is an impressive amount of work Sarah! As you noted, providing the information through so many different contexts certainly makes it more enjoyable and more likely to stick, and similarly, these lesson plans will surely prove useful in future situations. Congrats on getting through it all!

    1. Thanks! Plus, it makes a good story now, and nearly a year later, all of my bitterness has leached away.

  2. Amazing. Both what you pulled off with the class and what the director pulled on you. I see you weren't the only one affected by the last-minute plans - it seems the music teachers were taken by surprise, too.

    Congratulations on handling it with class!

    1. Thanks! I'm just glad this wasn't one of my first teaching experiences. We learn to think on our feet and out of the box!

  3. And that you are the most amazing language teacher ever! Very impressive work.

  4. Thank you! That means a lot coming from a fellow language teacher, Lindsay. And thanks for commenting, which means that I get to discover your blog about teaching around the world. I love your educator interviews!

  5. Hands-on, felxible and totally involved...that's the best kind of teacher. You rock Sarah!

  6. Wow! Very impressive. You really put a lot of work and thought into this. I bet the kids will remember this story for a long time!

    1. Thanks! The best part of creating a multi-day lesson plan around a story is that I can re-use it in other teaching contexts--I've adapted it for several different private tutoring clients, for example.

  7. I love this whole series mainly because it mirrors my experience building a dual immersion school in China. Clueless directors with absolutely no idea how to run anything. We spent 3 months building a 4-5 years curriculum only to have 8 of the first 10 children enrolled to be 2-3 years plus two 4-5s (so hey, let's put them all in the same class together). Fun stuff.