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.

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Instruction: W is for Write and Discuss

Write and Discuss is a strategy that I learned at a workshop with Tina Hargaden of CI Liftoff. (If you would like more details about Tina’s workshop, click here and here. As I recall, Tina did not invent the Write and Discuss strategy, but started using it in her classes pretty early on). Simply, put, it is a strategy where the teacher and the students in class write a summary of whatever they have been talking about in class using the TL and then they talk about it. The teacher usually begins the Write and Discuss by starting a sentence in the target language (I often start mine with “There is/There are”) and then stopping to ask students to complete the sentence. For example, if the class just read a story about a boy in school, their writing process may be the following exchange (I have written this in English in case anyone reading this doesn’t speak Spanish or French):

Teacher writes: There is…

Teacher asks: Class, what is there? Is there a girl or a boy?

Class says: A boy.

Teacher finishes the sentence by writing “a boy” and says: There is a boy…What is his name?

Class: Marvin.

Teacher says: There is a boy…class, what else do I need to add before Marvin so this sentence is complete?

Class: Who is called.

Teacher writes “who is called Marvin.” Teacher says: Where is he?

Class: At school

The teacher then continues asking questions and coaxing sentences out of the students until they have a complete paragraph about the subject. Then the teacher reads the entire completed paragraph out loud. The teacher may ask the class to translate either whole sentences or isolated words as the teacher reads. Once the class and the teacher have finished reading and translating, the teacher then may decide to point out writing conventions or words and phrases that illustrate grammar patterns in the text (If you’re a visual learner like me, here is a video of a Write and Discuss activity in a Spanish class to help visualize what this looks like in a regular class). A possible follow-up activity the next day may be a short assessment about the paragraph.

Before the pandemic, Write and Discuss was a strategy I used once every week or two weeks. I wrote out our paragraphs by hand because it was good for my slow processors. I had a special easel, paper, and markers that I used when doing a Write and Discuss, and if my students misbehaved, I could obligate them to write down the paragraph in their notebooks, which usually quieted and calmed them down (It’s an AWESOME bailout move for anyone with a rowdy or hyper class).

When our school buildings closed in the United States due to the pandemic, many world language teachers tried to readjust their teaching approaches for the remote environment. Although Write and Discuss was not an activity that I could do with my students (I was not providing synchronous instruction then), I did get a chance to see Mike Peto demonstrate Write and Discuss in a Spanish class over Zoom. Adapting this activity to the virtual environment was actually pretty simple. All he had to do was set up a white board behind him and conduct a Write and Discuss activity the same way that he would do it with students in front of him. Students could unmute themselves to suggest additions to sentences or write a suggestion in the chat. Mike also allowed students with lower proficiency levels to suggest in English if they wanted to contribute but didn’t know enough words in Spanish. So simple! In the following picture, you can see how he set up his workspace for virtual Write and Discuss.

(If you’re a Spanish teacher and want to purchase transition word magnets like Mike’s, you can find them on his website. Disclosure: I have no affiliations with him or his products. I just like sharing tools that are easy, free, and/or help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students.)

Now that I’m back in the classroom in a hybrid model, I have started using modified Write and Discuss activities in my class. Unfortunately, I have to type on a computer because I can’t use my easel in a way that the students at home can see it without blocking my view of the students in front of me (Hybrid teaching STINKS! It’s like trying to dribble a basketball with your right hand while simultaneously trying to eat a plate of spaghetti with your left). But at some point, I am pretty sure that my school will switch to either full remote or full in person instruction, and either way, I am prepared to incorporate Write and Discuss.