Vocabulary’s CODE

When my students first learn they will be reading a novel written all in French, they at first feel very overwhelmed.  Luckily, I’ve been talking this book up since they very first day of school in August, so even though they’re nervous, they are excited to read Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.

Each year I teach this novel, I know I’ve done a better job than the year before.  This year, my focus is to improve the way I teach the vocabulary.  As a guide, I’m using the strategy proposed by my school’s Literacies team called Vocabulary’s CODE which comes from the book Core Six.  CODE stands for: C- Connect, O-Organize, D-Deep Process, E-Exercise

CONNECT– For the first chapter, I chose 30 words from the text.  The students defined the words on their own or with a partner.  Then we discussed them as a class, looking at each word individually.  Were there any we had already learned from other units? What are the cognates?  False cognates?  What part of speech are the words?  Is there an image that represents the word? We practiced saying each aloud and in French.

ORGANIZE– This is an important step that in the past I have skipped.  I wanted to make sure my students really knew these words before we started reading.  It can be Students agree on which categories to put vocabulary words in.overwhelming to dive into a book, but if you have the stability in the words, it’s much more manageable.  I divided the class into groups of 3 and gave them each 30 note cards.  I gave my directions in French, and they were to divide the 30 words and cards among the three group members- thus each member would have 10 words to copy from the list.  When they had all the words copied, they would spread them all out and determine at least 4 categories to group the words  into.  They could refer to their list on their iPads to check the definition of each word.  Then, they named the categories and attached them to a poster.  This way the students had to think about each word and how it might relate to the others while discussing and agreeing with their groups.


Deep Process: As we read, we discuss how we see the words in context.  We talk about how the words may change based on tense or gender,  how it is being used to drive the plot, or what symbolism the word carries for the story.  With some words like feuilleter, we imagine it in our minds or I demonstrate it for the class.  We also use it in new contexts at the end of the book when the students create pages for an alphabet book.  They illustrate the words and create an original sentence that Gaston Leroux may use in an edit of the book.

Exercise: As we continue the book, the words from earlier chapters are often used again and again.  I have made quizlet sets online for some of the word lists, and sometimes we play games as a class, or the students practice on their own.  We also play Tuez la Tortue with the words.

As evidenced by the first vocabulary quiz, this strategy seems to be working.  They all did well on the assessment (matching words to pictures, matching words to English definitions, determining which word doesn’t belong based on meaning), and have been understanding the words in the context of the story.  I have high expectations for the level of comprehension my students will have this year with Fantôme!

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Matisse Cut-Outs!

Each year during National French Week, I like to do a big art project with my students. Last year we studied Impressionism, and each student created a painting in that style.  This year, I decided to teach a unit about one of my favorite French artists, Henri Matisse.


My inspiration for this project comes from my study abroad in France in 2008.  I spent the first few weeks in Cannes before going to Paris for most of my semester.  While in Cannes, a few friends and I took a train to Nice and visited the Matisse Museum.  (It’s totally worth the hike up many hills from the train station).  While I was there, I saw many of his paintings, but I was most struck by something new I learned about him- that late in his life he started making paper collages.  Since I started teaching, I’ve been trying to think of a meaningful way to share my love for Matisse with my students.  I think I found a way!

I’ll share my unit here.  I spent a whole week on it!  (I teach French 3 and 4, so most of the instruction, discussion, and presentation can be done all in French, but I think it’s very easy to adapt to levels 1 and 2).  Here’s the general breakdown:

lundi: I showed this Google Slides presentation.  It’s in French and tells about Matisse’s life (very brief).  I also found some wonderful videos of Matisse working.  Mostly, the presentation explains the different elements of Matisse’s cut-outs.  This vocabulary is really the heart of the project as students had to use it at the end to discuss their collages.  There are a few examples of Matisse’s collages I used to reinforce the vocabulary and to really show the different elements of his work.

After the presentation, I divided students into groups of 3-4.  They had just a few minutes at the end of class to look online for more inspiration and to start coming up with a plan. Every group had an idea of what they were going to do- most of them sketched plans on their iPads or in their notebooks.

mardi et mercredi: CREATE!  I gave students two class periods (49 min each) to work with their groups on their collages.  We listened to Yelle while they worked.  Here’s what I provided the students:

  • a full size poster board
  • child sized scissors
  • regular old construction paper
  • glue

I told the groups on Monday to think about what other materials they could bring to accent their work.  Here are some items they brought in to supplement:

  • adult sized scissors
  • glitter
  • scrap-booking paper
  • wrapping paper
  • tissue paper
  • Origami paper
  • other colors/weights of construction paper
  • A group plans the placement of the shapes.  Notice the drawing on the chair that shows the plan.

    A group plans the placement of the shapes. Notice the drawing on the chair that shows the plan.

jeudi: Gallery Walk!  I hung all of the collages from all the classes around the room and numbered them.  I’ve had the vocabulary for the elements of Matisse’s work on the board all week, so using that as a guide, I modeled how to analyze a collage.  I talked about how the collage used (or didn’t use) each element.  Then, the students paired off and started going around the room and analyzing all of the collages.  I walked around and listened to them using the vocabulary and really being interested in the other collages.  As they were analyzing each collage, they had to decide which was their favorite!  Students then returned to their seats to start working on their essays.  While they were writing, I walked around the room and tallied their votes for their favorite collage (the winning group members received a page of Eiffel Tower stickers).

Mariam Sydnee Allison Amy

vendredi: In-Class Writing day.  I gave the students a class period to write an essay about their experience.  Here’s a copy of the directions.  Briefly, they had to give a title to their collage, discuss why they liked or didn’t like this unit, tell which collage was their favorite, then using the vocabulary words, discuss how their collage incorporated (or didn’t incorporate) the elements of a Matisse-style collage. I’ve read what the students have written, and it’s very clear they understand the concepts of this unit!

This photo shows the group's plan, process, and final product.

This photo shows the group’s plan, process, and final product.

Overall, this unit was incredibly engaging for the students and they really did make some beautiful pieces.  I’m hoping that they will never forget Henri Matisse!

The many stages of this group's collage!

The many stages of this group’s collage!

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Day Made :)




That is all.


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September Class Photo Challenge

Septembre en Images

French teachers, if you haven’t requested to join the Facebook group “French Teachers in the US,” you should!  It’s where I got this wonderful idea to do a class photo-a-day challenge.

I’m having my students email their pictures to our class blog (madamecash.blogspot.com).  I have the settings so that these emails post automatically, so it’s a pretty easy way for students to learn some new vocabulary they might not otherwise come across or to reinforce old words.  Either way, they are making new connections!

Here’s the photo challenge….

I’m asking students to email in at least 15/30 photos complete with that day’s hashtag.  At the end of the month, I’ll pull some pictures and have students match hashtags or write captions.  Not sure yet about how I’ll assess this project!

Here’s a snip-it of what the students have posted so far!  Today’s theme is rayures (stripes).


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Tuez la Tortue!

Tuez la tortue 1


It’s a good day when my students look like this during class!  We went super low-tech last week for our review of present tense verb conjugations with the best review game ever: Tuez la Tortue.

I wish I could take credit for this fun review game, but sadly, it’s not mine own idea!  My colleague Alison Burnette at Spain Park High School explained it to me.  She read about it on a blog somewhere.  But it’s still a GREAT game worth sharing!

Name of the Game: Tuez la Tortue (Kill the Turtle)

Object of the Game: Kill the other team’s turtle.

You may have noticed that this game might be just a little morbid… but stay with me. 

How to Play:  I give all the directions en français. 

Separate class into two teams (un, deux, un deux, un, deux…etc)

Explain that each team needs to create a team name (must be something Frenchy) and that each team needs to draw a turtle on the board.  The turtle has to have a head (une tête), a shell (une carapace), a tail (une queue), and 4 feet (4 pieds).  As I am explaining, I draw a model turtle on the board and explain that they can decorate their turtle however they want as long as it has those components.


-One person from each team comes to the board and races to answer the question correctly before the other team.  The student who answers correctly first gets to erase one body part from the other team’s turtle (hense “Tuez”).

-Your turtle has to be fully intact before you can erase any part of the other team’s turtle.  So if on the last turn your team lost, and your turtle lost its head, but you win the next round, you have to draw your turtle’s head back on.  Then the next member has to win the following round in order to be able to start erasing the other team’s turtle.

– Help is allowed, but only after 10 seconds (I’m the counter).  The person at the board has to actually walk back to his/her team where the team members can share any information.  It is illegal for team members to shout to the person at the board (or whisper, or mouth!).

 -Once a team as fully erased the other team’s turtle, there is a Tour de Résurrection where the losing team has  a chance to win the round and start drawing back its turtle’s body parts.

-The game only ends if the losing team loses the Tour de Résurrection.  I allow the winning team to draw  a skull and crossbones where the losing team’s turtle was and draw a crown on their own triumphant turtle.

I really like this game for lots of reasons.  The students get really into it and take major ownership of their Tortues.  They’re motivated to win a round because they know that winning means getting to erase the other team’s turtle’s head or getting to draw one back that was lost the previous round.

I love reinforcing body parts and classroom vocabulary (effacez, le tableau, etc).  And for students to be able to play the game correctly after having it all explained to them en français.  

Here's what the game looks like all set up.  You can see my model turtle, the team names, and the each team's turtle ready for battle.

Here’s what the game looks like all set up. You can see my model turtle, the team names, and the each team’s turtle ready for battle.

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I love my school district because they agreed that the whole system’s  foreign language department would benefit from finding out what our Clifton Strengths are and discussing how we can use these strengths to better our department and classrooms.

Here are my top 5 strengths:

1. Learner – I totally love school!  I get bored pretty easily and really like to challenge myself by learning something new or digging deeper into my interests. I believe that it’s possible to learn almost anything. Sometimes I like to think I could learn every language if I just tried.

2. Maximizer– This one surprised me! I think this comes out most in my classroom. I teach really really smart kids with different abilities and like to help them get to the next rung. If a kid is right on the cusp of a 5, I really focus on the skills that will be sure to bump them there. It drives me crazy to miss a mark by just one or 2 points.

3.  Strategic– I can sure come up with ideas and a plan to solve a problem. This strength is being put to use this year trying to work out some major problems in the area of CAS in our IB program.

4. Woo– I’m a people person!! I like finding out about others because they have so much to share with me.

5. Achiever– I like to be busy and working on meaningful tasks. I do like lists although most of mine are mental. I love when something gets done and done well.

Almost all of Clifton’s strengths are represented among our faculty.  This is great because there’s always going to be someone who is best fit to handle a problem. For example, I know I can count on Michael’s Belief and Connectedness when I have a sticky problem. He’s rock solid. If he says something is right or wrong, I know it to be the right course of action.

The other positive to our conversation is to talk through the fact that we all have different strengths that are positive in nature. We should remember that when there is conflict or if we seem to not be getting along. If someone is showing a trait that is annoying to me, it is good for me to remember to try to look at that trait as a strength. People are usually trying their best and doing what they think is the right thing. That’s essential to remember when working with others.

Here’s a visualization of our department’s strengths:



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Live a Thousand Lives Before You Die

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen.  “A man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

If you’ve had a conversation with me in the past few years, you probably know that I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin and HBO’s television adaptation A Game of Thrones.  If you haven’t read it or seen it yet, I highly suggest you do so this world Martin has created can be available to you too.

Most educators would agree that reading is where it’s at- it makes us more knowledgeable, increases our vocabularies, and opens doors to Narnia, Diagon Alley, and Westeros.  Just like reading opens up doors to new worlds, so does learning a new language.  With fluency in a second language, you are able to navigate other cultures and other ways of thinking.  You can do business in cities all over the world.  You can connect with people who would otherwise be cut off from you.  You can live in more than one reality, more than one world.

I think Jojen Reed would agree.

Maybe this post just motivates me to teach my students well so that the world is truly available to them, but it should also motivate students who are given the opportunity to learn a new language to give it their very best.

One of my principals, Jennifer Hogan (@Jennifer_Hogan), invited me to write a motivational blog post as part of a Linky Party.  I wasn’t sure what to write about at first until I read Martin’s quote from the fifth book of the series, A Dance with Dragons.  To read more motivational posts from Mrs. Hogan’s Linky Party, click the blue box below. 

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