How I used Alice Ayel’s French Videos in Class (Otherwise Known as the Ongoing Saga of Martine and her Dog-Zebra)

Last year I discovered Alice Ayel’s YouTube channel. She creates videos in which she tells simple stories in French that are designed to help French students acquire language naturally. The first video I saw was called Marie L’artiste. In this video, an artiste named Marie wants a giraffe, but since she can’t have one she ends up painting her dog Médor to look like a giraffe. Alice also recorded a follow-up video called Marie Veut un Vrai Girafe. In this video, Marie, who was previously happy with her dog painted to look like a giraffe, grows tired of not having a real giraffe. When she can’t find one at the nearby pet store, she steals one from the nearby zoo and ends up in prison.

I showed both of these videos last year to my high school students and wrote stories to go along with them. They were fairly well received. This year I decided to use these videos in class once again (this time with Grade 6 students), but I turned these two videos into a mini unit. I’d like to say that I carefully planned everything, but the truth is that this unit took on a life of its own because my students kept asking for more! Here is what I did:

Day 1: The Story of Martine, the artist who wanted a zebra.  On the very first day of this unit, I told my students the story of a woman named Martine, who was an artist with a dog (inspired by Alice’s first video). She wanted a zebra, but since she couldn’t have one she ended up painting her dog to look like a zebra. I told the story in French and included drawings and French-to-English translations to make the story comprehensible. Then I asked my students to do a story re-tell in English to make sure they understood the story.

Day 2: The Story of Marie L’artiste. After a review of the story about Martine, I showed them Alice Ayel’s first video, Marie L’artiste (see above for the link). Then I asked them to create a list of similarities and differences found in my story and Alice’s video.

Day 3: Storyboard. I created a comic strip with a story about Martine. In this story she goes to a pet store in search of a zebra but when she can’t find one she buys a tiger instead. My students and I read the comic strip together and then they illustrated it.

Day 4: PowerPoint. I created a PowerPoint in which Martine wants to find a friend for her tiger, so she tries to steal a zebra from the zoo but is arrested and sent to prison (By the way, you can actually find images of dogs that are painted look like zebras on the Internet. Who knew?) My students and I read this together in French and then they did a story re-tell as a comprehension check.

Day 5: Marie Veut un Vrai Girafe. After reviewing the PowerPoint from the previous day, I showed Alice Ayel’s second video, Marie Veut Un Vrai Girafe (see above for link). Once again, I asked them to create a list of similarities and differences found in my story and Alice’s video.

(Friends, this was where the unit was supposed to end. My students, however, had other ideas. They begged me for a Part Three to the story of Martine in which she would break out of prison. There was no way I could say no. This led me to add the following  three days of Martine activities.)

Day 6: Storyasking. The class and I created an Act Three to our Martine story using Storyasking techniques. I had two classes creating stories, and although they both had their differences, both involved Martine escaping from prison and a love story between Médor the dog-zebra and the real zebra at the zoo. Once we finished our stories, students did a story re-tell as a comprehension check.

Day 7: Student Actors. My students and I acted out a story about Martine escaping from prison and Médor’s love story.

Day 8: Storyboard. I created a comic strip about Martine escaping from prison and ending up in Africa with Médor and the zebra from the zoo. My students and I read the comic strip together and then they illustrated it.

It is important for me to mention that this is not the only thing I did in class on those days. The above activities took up roughly 25 minutes. The rest of the time we were doing our daily review of the day, date, and weather and doing some Total Physical Response (TPR) activities. But a combination of all three activities made for very enjoyable classes so far this year. Now I have to find some more videos that I can use to create a second unit!

So Far, So Good

Hi everyone. Since it is the end of September, everyone is now back at school and getting into a new classroom routine. I am at a new teaching job this September and am having a blast! I am teaching 5th grade Spanish and 6th, 7th, and 8th grade French. In this post I’m going to explain how I started off the year in my 8th grade French class.

First, here is a little essential background on my class. I have a class who started French 1 last year with a traditional teacher in 7th grade. They had French last year for a total of 135 minutes a week (give or take). They came to me their first week of 8th grade knowing a little bit of French, but not really much past the basics.

I always start my class at the beginning of the year the same way, which is by having students create name tags. I have them write their names on one side and draw a picture of something they like to play on the other side. Then I can use them for Personalized Question and Answer sessions in class. This activity I stole from Ben Slavic. It used to be called “Circling with Balls” but is now called “Card Talk.” So I might start by saying something like this (Imagine that this is all happening in French):

(Teacher picks up a name tag that says Rose.) Class, this is Rose. Rose is a girl. Class, is her name Rose? (Class answers “Yes.”) Yes class, her name is Rose. Is she a girl? (Class answers “Yes.”) Yes class, she is a girl. Her name is Rose and she is a girl.

(Teacher picks up a name tag that says Paul.). Class, this is Paul. Class, is Paul a girl? (Class answers “No.”) No, Paul is not a girl. He is a boy. Class, is Rose a boy? (Class answers “No.”)  No, Rose is not a boy. Rose is a girl.

I would continue this with all students’ names. After that, I move on to some simple questions using adjectives. That would go something like this.

(Teacher points to a boy named Joe.) Class, is his name Joe? (Class answers “Yes.”) Yes class, his name is Joe. He is tall and blonde. Class, is Joe blond? (Class answers “Yes.”) Yes, he is blond. Is he tall?  (Class answers “Yes.”)  Yes class, Joe is tall and blonde.

(Teacher points to a tall, dark haired boy named Kyle.) Class, is his name Kyle or Joe? (Class answers “Kyle.”) Yes class, his name is Kyle. Is he tall and blond? (Class answers “No.”) No, he is not tall and blond. Is he tall? (Class answers “Yes.”) Yes, he is tall. Is he blond? (Class answers “No.”) No, he is not blond. He is tall but he is not blond. He is dark haired.

After continuing this for a while, I move on to their drawings. I would say something like this.

(Teacher picks up a name tag with a drawing of a soccer ball.) Class, Agnes likes to play soccer. Class, is Agnes a boy or a girl? (Class answers “girl.”) Class, does Agnes like to play soccer? (Class answers “Yes.”) Yes, Agnes likes to play soccer.

(Teacher picks up a name tag with a drawing of a piano.) Class, does Rodney like to play soccer? (Class answers “No.”) No, he does not like to play soccer. He likes to play piano. Who likes to play soccer? (Class answers “Agnes.”) Yes, Agnes likes to play soccer. Who likes to play piano? (Class says, “Rodney.”) Yes, Rodney likes to play piano.

I should mention that for this activity I have a selected student who is a Question Keeper. This person’s job is to yell out “Who” in English whenever I use the French question word for “who” to help students understand the question. I am not the person to originate this practice, but whoever did was a genius! It works really well with my students and has for as long as I’ve been teaching with CI (about ten years now). I also write French words with English translations on the board when needed. I make sure to use a different color marker for each language à la Jason Fritze so everything really stands out. As time goes by, I choose other students for other question words until my students have a pretty good handle on them.

After a few days of PQA, I then take the information and create a PowerPoint where each student in class gets a slide. On the slide I give a summary in French of the information I learned from the PQA and I include a picture to illustrate each slide. I ALWAYS choose a picture of a famous person instead of the actual student, which my students LOVE.

This has been working well with my students so far. For assessments, from time to time I give them a quick 5 minute True/False quiz on information about the class or a quiz where I describe a person from class and the students have to say which classmate is being described. Then I will finish up the activity by having students write about the class to see how much French they can produce.

So far September has been pretty successful for my class and me! I hope your beginning of school is equally productive!

Don’t Knock What You Don’t Understand

I took a new job this year. I left a high school position as a French and Spanish teacher after fourteen years and am now working in a different school district doing ESL in the elementary school and both French and Spanish in a middle school.

This weekend I talked to a student at my former high school. He told me that his Spanish teacher, who is both traditional and textbook-driven, told the student’s class that she did not like Señor Wooly (BTW if you teach Spanish and have not visited his website, you are missing out). She told them that she thought his music videos were stupid and a waste of class time.

Guys, this made me really, REALLY angry. First of all, she broke what I think is the cardinal rule of teaching, which is that you absolutely DO NOT badmouth other teachers or their methods to students. Not ever. Although I never approved of this teacher’s methods or the ridiculous amount of busywork she made the students do outside of class, I NEVER shared those feelings with my students. Whenever students tried to complain about her to me I would say, “Mrs. So-and-so is an excellent teacher and you will learn a lot in her class (Of course, if you are familiar with the idea of learning a language as opposed to acquiring a language, you understand what I really mean by “You will learn a lot.” My students did not understand this distinction, so I could be truthful and it sounded as if I was complementing the teacher even though I wasn’t really.).” When they complained that she gave a lot of homework I would say, “I’m sorry she gives so much homework. We have different teaching philosophies and she believes that homework is an essential part of her class.” I tried to be as diplomatic as possible, because criticizing another teacher is unbelievably unprofessional, not to mention petty and disrespectful.

But the main reason why I am so angry is because this teacher talked so negatively about Señor Wooly and the amazing work he does. It’s like saying that Adele can’t sing or Usain Bolt is a lousy runner. Using this site has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career for both me and my students, and here are some of the many reasons why:

1. His videos are compelling. According to Dr. Krashen’s Comprehension Hypothesis, people acquire language when exposed to compelling, comprehensible input. Furthermore, acquiring a second language should be a subconscious process. When my students are so caught up in the story of whether Billy la Bufanda would ever be reunited with his Botas Queridas or were trying to guess who trapped the “Ganga” shopkeeper in an unending, hellish time loop, students got so caught up in the compelling story that they didn’t even realize they are acquiring language. That was exactly what I wanted.

2. His videos are comprehensible. Krashen’s Comprehension Hypothesis states that input must be compelling AND comprehensible in order for acquisition to take place. That is why the Señor Wooly site provides downloadable materials to ensure that students understand, such as lyrics sheets in Spanish and English and worksheets that teachers can use to preteach vocabulary. In addition, students can watch his videos with subtitles in either Spanish or English, which aids in comprehension and subsequently leads to acquisition.

3. The songs in the music video are very repetitive. Anyone who has ever tried to remember something has tried repeating it over and over again, whether it be someone’s phone number or a formula needed for a math test. Acquiring new words or expressions in a second language also requires hearing those words and expressions multiple times (Blaine Ray, who created the comprehensible input-based method TPRS, said in one of his workshops that the average student needed to hear a word anywhere between 50 and 70 times before s/he could acquire it, but I have been unable to find the research from which he got those figures). Repetition is the concept upon which Rosetta Stone, DuoLingo, and other computer-based programs have built their (superboring) curricula. When students hear Justin ask in Spanish multiple times if he can go to the bathroom, figuring out what to say when they need to use the bathroom becomes easy. When Victor removes his wig and confesses in Spanish that he is “bald, completely bald,” students will probably never look at the word “calvo” without knowing what the word means.

4. The nuggets provide meaningful homework and even more repetition. I love that I can give homework using the Señor Wooly site. If you have a PRO subscription, it comes with 160 student accounts. Each video has ten “nuggets,” which are activities that students can complete. The task is different in each nugget, but all involve either reading lyrics, looking at stills from the video, or watching small segments of the video. All activities are designed to give students more repetition, which results in more acquisition.

5. Each video comes with teacher “extras,” which is all any teacher needs to plan lessons around the video. Teachers have so much stuff they can use to supplement videos, such as multiple worksheets for use before, during, and after viewing, embedded readings, the above mentioned “nuggets” that students can complete either in or out of class, a slideshow of stills from the video to use for Movie Talks, games students can play, and more.

6. His videos are silly and fun. My students used to get very excited when I told them we were watching a new Señor Wooly video. While I was happy that they liked the videos, the fact that they are silly and fun is also important in language acquisition. According to Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis, negative emotions and stress raise a person’s Affective Filter, which is the “screen” that can prevent input from getting to the brain and thus impede acquisition. When my students are laughing at the male doctor in “Ya Está Muerto” for wanting to put a dead man’s heart in a backpack, I know their affective filters are low and that their brains are open to receiving input.

7. When the teacher is sick, s/he can use Señor Wooly for substitute plans. I was very sick last October and missed three days of school. Watching the “Puedo ir al baño” video, and doing the accompanying worksheets and nuggets were all part of my substitute plans. Even though the substitute spoke no Spanish, my students were still receiving compelling, comprehensible input as they worked quietly on the classroom computers or their phones to complete their work. And the best part was that it took me all of five minutes to pull the lessons together, which meant I could relax and focus on getting better instead of stressing out about what kind of plans to send in or whether my students were behaving.

I know that eventually I will stop seething in anger when I talk about this former colleague of mine and her unnecessary trash talk. In the meantime, I can console myself in knowing that her comments originated out of ignorance. She has no knowledge of second language acquisition theory and, as a result, cannot see how the design of the entire site is based on that theory. She also did not get to witness the incredible progress my students made in my class last year, which was partially due to watching Señor Wooly videos and doing their accompanying activities. And finally, she never accessed the site itself and saw all the awesome teacher extras available (I gave her a coupon with a free trial one day in the Staff Room and she left it on the table. Grrrr.). I guess some people are too stubborn, shortsighted, set in their ways, and close-minded to explore, adapt, and change. As Señor Wooly would say, “¡Qué asco!”

Why I’m Not Ready For 90%

As many of you know, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) recommends that teachers should use the target language (TL) in their language classroom 90% of the time. As I start a new school year with new students, I have been thinking about this goal quite often. For the next few weeks, I will not be achieving this goal, and I will not be achieving it intentionally.

At the beginning of the school year, creating a sense of community in my classroom is my primary goal. I believe that a supportive, respectful atmosphere is what helps students feel comfortable in the classroom, and it is only then that students will feel brave enough to take risks, create with the language, and learn to trust me as the teacher and feel that I will help them be successful language students. And I can’t do that in the TL, at least not in the first few weeks of class.

So I plan on spending my first month of class getting to know my students and making sure that they are at ease in my classroom. As time goes on, I will speak less and less English and more and more TL, until eventually I reach that 90% goal. And I won’t worry about how long it takes me to get there, because building our community is what is most important for us right now.