Top 10 Tips for the FSL Classroom | Toronto Teacher Mom

Top 10 Tips for the FSL Classroom

Monday, August 13, 2018

Top 10 Tips for the FSL Classroom #AIMlang

Last month when my summer break first began, I attended the AIM International Summer Institute in Niagara Falls and had an amazing time connecting with French teachers from across Canada and the U.S.A., and even as far the Netherlands and Australia. It was an invaluable professional development opportunity and I thoroughly enjoyed learning from other language teachers, both new and experienced, as well as listening to our keynotes and presenters. During the plenary session on our second day, we listened to a presentation on AIM and the CEFR with Jennifer Moodie, an FSL teacher on special assignment with the TVDSB. She clearly outlined how the Accelerative Integrated Methodology integrates so seamlessly within the Common European Framework of Reference and shared many humorous insights into her French teaching practice to which I could so easily relate. At the end, she shared a number of tips for the FSL classroom that I felt were so fabulous, I was compelled to create a sketchnote sharing my favourites. Plus, it was the perfect excuse to put my new iPad and Apple Pencil to the test. 

Though these were shared with AIM teachers in mind, I feel that they could benefit any FSL or foreign language teacher. Here are my top 10 favourite tips for the FSL classroom from Jennifer Moodie's list, along with some insights into my personal experience as a second-year AIM teacher that I hope you will find helpful:
  1. Always speak French. This one is obvious but so often overlooked. Students won't learn French if the teacher speaks English all the time. But if they are immersed in it, they will have very little choice in learning it in order to express their needs. My mistake? Speaking at a level that was way beyond what they could comprehend. This is why I love AIM so much, since students quickly learn basic pared down language full of high frequency words with which they can express themselves and understand others. I also make a point of communicating with other staff members and visitors en français in front of the students, even outside of class and during recess.
  2. Exaggerate facial expressions and tone of voice. This helps students to understand what you are saying, especially when introducing new words or to differentiate between questions, exclamatory and declarative statements. I tend to liken it to miming, where a mime relies heavily on facial expressions to convey meaning. 
  3. Ask questions containing the answer. When students are given possible choices within a question totale, they feel more confident to answer because they know one of the options will be correct and they will have less of a chance of getting it wrong. Vicky Mercier, a wonderful FSL teacher here in Toronto who uses the AIM methodology, shared an additional tip with me: If you ask a total question such as, "Est-ce que le ciel est jaune ou bleu?" where the correct answer is the last option, students will have a greater chance at getting it right because they tend to select the last option they hear. For beginning learners who worry about making a mistake, this is a great way to boost their confidence and thereby encourages them to take risks later on.
  4. Model and scaffold in abundance. I am fairly confident that many FSL teachers do this already and do it well. But what I would like to emphasize is that, when scaffolding, we need to meet the needs of the individual student where they are and provide the necessary supports regardless of ability. So often I would expect students to, more or else, keep up the pace and do each activity as assigned. For students who struggled to do so, I would adjust the activity to lessen the complexity or difficulty. But what about the students who finish early because they find it too easy? In the past, I couldn't possibly fathom having students move ahead to the next lesson without my teaching the whole class how to do it first. With AIM, the activities are structured in such a way that scaffolding is almost effortless and I feel confident that students who need more of a challenge can continue at their own pace. 
  5. Give plenty of time to practice. The way AIM lessons are structured, students are given time during each class to work with a partner or within their group to complete an activity and practice their oral French skills. This is great way for students to consolidate their learning based on the lesson(s) of the day since they love talking with their friends.
  6. Emphasize verbs and teach them horizontally. We all know that a sentence is not a sentence if it doesn't have a verb and yet, when I used to teach using a more thematic approach, I would give students vocabulary lists full of nouns. When students have a repertoire of verbs and know how to use them in context, they can pretty much talk their way around any nouns they may not yet have learned. (See tip #9.) For example, if they forget the word for "pen", students can say, "Je cherche une chose qu'on utilise pour écrire." The teacher can then reply with, "Est-ce que tu veux un crayon ou un stylo?" What is meant by teaching 'horizontally?" Well, before I would teach verbs vertically ie. Je parle, tu parles, il parle. Teaching them horizontally is like teaching them within context, within a passage. You can then work on changing perspectives (ie 3rd person to 1st person) to teach/practice conjugations.
  7. Use choral response as often as possible. With AIM, the teacher often gestures while the whole class speaks in unison. While it tends to get loud, the benefit is that it greatly maximizes the amount of time students are speaking the target language and gives them plenty of modelling before they are sent off to practice with their peers. Even if one student asks a question during the lesson, the expectation is that the whole class responds while the teacher supports with gestures, giving the beginning sound or using visual aids. Another benefit is that students who are worried about mispronouncing words or who don't know a certain word won't feel isolated or embarrassed since the whole class is engaged and too busy to notice.
  8. Teach students how to ask questions. My youngest students are among the most inquisitive of all so it only makes sense to empower them to be able to ask questions. Very early on, they learn how to use "est-ce que" in front of a statement to turn it into a question. But asking questions quickly becomes a part of the daily routine, from "Comment ça va?" and "Est-ce je peux aller aux toilettes?" to asking "Où est (student's name)?" when student volunteers hand out French folders and "Combien de cartes est-ce que tu as?" when counting how many cards they earned in French class at the end of each month.
  9. Teach and practice circumlocution. When students have a repertoire of essential vocabulary and high frequency words, they can rely on circumlocution strategies to "talk around" vocabulary that they have either forgotten or have not yet learned. While using a dictionary could work, it isn't always practical. Instead, students can keep the conversation flowing by using words they already know to find a different way to express themselves, describe the object in more general terms or, my favourite, using opposite words. It's kind of like what they do on The $25,000 $100,000 Pyramid game show!
  10. Use gestures and visual aids. I can't even begin to tell you how much using gestures in my classes has improved my students' comprehension levels. While gestures are not the be all and end all of the AIM methodology, it plays a huge role in ensuring that students are focussed and engaged, and are acquiring the target language. How many times do we wave to a baby and say "hi" repeatedly? It is within our nature to communicate with gestures and a baby who is first learning to talk relies heavily on gestures and other aids such as picture books to help understand the meaning of new words. Interestingly enough, there is even talk about how gestures could be used in Math class, too. At any rate, I have drastically cut down on the amount of flash cards I need. My hands are my flash cards now!

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  1. Certainly lots of information and what a wonderful opportunity for you to attend!

    1. I'm so glad I went! I honestly cannot wait to start back up in September.

  2. Useful tips! Yes, visual aids are key for some learners.

    1. For sure! I know I'm more of a visual learner myself. :)

  3. My oldest daughter will be learning French this year. Excited to see how she picks up the language

  4. These are such great tips for learning a new language!

    1. It's true! These could apply for learning any language, not just French. :)

  5. Great tips! One of my friend's is a FSL teacher at an immersion school and she does this all the time; sometimes when she is not teaching which is quite funny.


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