Using TV Shows to Provide Input

Using television shows in language classes is not a new topic, as Spanish teachers such as Kara Kane Jacobs, Mike Peto, and Dustin Williamson have frequently blogged about using Spanish-language TV in their classes as a source of rich comprehensible input. I’ve been very envious of them, because the right show can be incredibly compelling to students, and because up until recently, it has been very difficult to find a compelling, school-appropriate show in French on a streaming service that could be easily adapted for Novice language students.

I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case. Disney Plus has recently added two shows filmed in French in France onto their platform. I discovered this after reading Sarah Moghtader’s blog, where she wrote about using the new Disney Plus show Weekend Family in class. Weekend Family is a show about a thrice-divorced father living in Paris whose three daughters spend the weekends with him. Things get a bit complicated in Episode 1, because he has fallen in love with a French-Canadian woman named Emma and wants to introduce her to his children. If you are interested in exploring her fabulous ideas and resources for the show, you can find her blog post here.

While searching for Weekend Family on my own Disney+ account, I was pleasantly surprised to discover another French show filmed in France called Parallels. Online reviews of the show describe it as being in the same genre as the wildly popular Netflix show Stranger Things. Once I read that, I knew that I had found a show that my students could get excited about. This is a science fiction show about four teenagers in middle school who, after a strange course of events, end up in different, parallel universes (hence the title). Once they realize this, they then try to return to and restore their original timeline.

One of the things I like about this show is that a good portion of the plot and character development is represented visually. Facial expressions, actions, and silence are used as much as dialogue to drive the story. When characters do speak, the dialogue is spoken relatively slowly and with very little slang. This makes it very comprehensible for students. In addition, the action switches between parallel universes very cleanly, which provides a natural stopping point if teachers want to use Movie Talk techniques for only one scene

As I started to prepare resources for the show, I had four main goals:

  • to acquaint students with the characters in the show
  • to scaffold language so that students could understand the main idea of the episode
  • to help students feel comfortable with listening to French but not understanding all of it.
  • to use discussions about the show as a chance to use high-frequency vocabulary

To introduce the series, I plan to show the first thirteen minutes of Episode 1 in French with French subtitles. Students will fill out this handout as we watch and discuss. I anticipate that this will take about three class periods (Many of the techniques presented here are ones that I read about in Sarah Moghtader’s blog post).

  1. Introduction and Hook. In this introductory presentation, I set up the very first scene of the show and lead a map activity where students try to figure out in what region of France the story takes place. Then I’ll show the first scene clip (times are in the presentation’s Speaker Notes), in which a young boy and his dog disappear, and I will invite students to guess what happened to them. With any luck, this will ignite student curiosity and get them invested in the story.
  2. Character Identification. After the opening credits, all characters except one are introduced in about ten minutes. Students will watch the first ten minutes with the understanding that their only goal is to identify who each character is. Here is the presentation to review characters (Times are once again in the presentation’s Speaker Notes).
  3. Movie Talk #1. Once students can identify all the characters, I will give them this handout with lines from the show to review and translate. Then I will play the same first ten minutes after the opening credits narrating with Movie Talk techniques while students try to identify who says each line as we watch, which we will then review and discuss.
  4. Write and Discuss. I’ll use this technique to write short descriptions of the main characters (Bilal, Sam, Victor and Romane). This will give me a chance to add some important vocabulary that will pop up later on in the episode.
  5. Movie Talk #2. I’ll give students this handout with lines from the second part of the first episode for students to review and translate. Then I will play and narrate the rest of the episode using Movie Talk techniques while students try to identify who says each line as we watch, which we will then review and discuss.

I’ve only created resources for Episode 1. As I create resources for future episodes, I’ll place them in this folder. If you are a French teacher, you are welcome to use or alter these materials to better serve your students.

Teaching Those Obligatory Topics Through a Cultural Lens

Today I went to observe the student teacher I have been supervising. As he practices and hones his skills, he has been feeling a bit frustrated because he does not enjoy certain topics in the school curriculum. This week, the curriculum calls for a comprehensive review of the alphabet and numbers. My student teacher needed some ideas on how to make this topic engaging to students, which he found especially daunting since these topics are a review for the class and because it’s the week before Spring Break.

Anyone who has ever been obligated to teach according to a traditional curriculum knows that it can be difficult to make certain topics interesting. My suggestion to my student teacher was to approach these topics from a cultural perspective, which might make lessons more engaging. Below I have created a list of topics you might be obligated to teach that I believe can be made more interesting by leading with culture. I’ve done my best to make these as low prep as possible and have tried to include comprehensible input components to each lesson.

Teaching the Alphabet

If you teach a language that uses an alphabet as opposed to characters, an activity where you combine spelling with an exploration of notable people or places from your target culture(s) could make this topic a lot more engaging.

To prepare:

  • Create a list of notable people and/or places (Spanish teachers, think about all those long words like Popocat├ępetl that come from indigenous languages that you can use here! French teachers, geographical terms like names of cities and regions would be good choices here)
  • Create a slideshow with the correct spelling of the person/place on one slide followed by a picture of said person/place on the next slide.
  • Spell out each word in the target language and have students write down the word letter by letter.
  • Show the slide with the correct spelling so student can check their spelling.
  • Show the picture of the person/place and describe it using Picture Talk techniques.

Teaching Numbers

There are lots of ways to reinforce numbers. Here are a few low prep possibilities:

  • Calendar Talk is a great way to reinforce numbers as you discuss the day, the weather, student birthdays, and holidays in the target language (asking students to predict the temperature is a good way to reinforce those larger numbers)
  • Prepare a slide with a table of the size or population of cities/countries where your target language is spoken and lead a conversation where you talk about which area is the biggest/smallest or the best way to travel between areas based on distance between two places. Calculate distance in both miles and kilometers.
  • Show an advertisement with prices in foreign currency and use the target language to convert the amount into US dollars (or the currency of the country you live in).
  • Vote on pretty much anything (What is your favorite sport/type of music/leisure activity) in class and discuss how many students or what percentage of students liked what.

Teaching Time

  • Find a movie schedule in your target culture and talk about which movies from the US are the most popular and times those movies are being shown.
  • Compare and contrast a typical class schedule at your school with a typical class schedule at a school in your target culture(s).
  • Compare time differences in different areas where your target language is spoken.

ln closing, let me end by saying that these ideas mainly touch on what is referred to as “surface culture,” as presented in the image below. Think of surface culture as products and practices of the speakers of your target language.

Touching on topics that are referred to as “deep culture,” or perspectives about the target culture’s product and practices, require a different and more deliberate approach. Teachers who are interested in exploring how to teach “deep culture” should check out Michael Byram‘s book, Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence.