This Fall, I made the switch to teaching for proficiency using comprehensible input in my high school French classroom. It worked so well that I’m never looking back! Since my school runs on block schedule, I had the opportunity to do a trial run with my first semester implementing a few strategies at a time. With a fresh set of classes coming to my room, I’m fully diving in from Day 1!
Update 2 years later: I’ve learned a lot from my ups and downs in the transition to CI. Through all the lessons (all worth it!) I started to wonder…are other teachers struggling to sort through all the info the same way I did at first? And if you’re starting in the midst of the era of distance learning, have you ever thought that maybe it wasn’t worth the risk? I made this just for you.
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input – without all the overwhelm – and prepare for the challenges ahead.
If you’re looking for strategies on how to implement proficiency-based teaching in your French class using comprehensible input, knowing where to start can help ease your first-day jitters.
Show Them You Like Them
How you greet students and make them feel welcome is your kids’ first impression. Be outside your door and greet each student warmly on their way in. My students are high schoolers, so I like to shake their hands or do hi-fives depending on the vibe they give off.
*Note about first day nerves–are you worried about whether your kids will like you? That used to matter to me alot, because I teach with love and a big part of my classroom management philosophy is based on mutual like and respect.
STOP worrying about whether your kids like you, and show your kids that YOU like THEM.
Compliment their clothes, congratulate their bravery if they volunteer the first day, ask about their other classes, tell them you like their name and want to pronounce it correctly. Make it clear that YOU are interested in THEM and they will receive the message loud and clear that you love them and respect them. They will follow suit.
This mindset switch was brought to you by my hero, Angela Watson-I heard it on her amazing podcast Truth for Teachers. Her graceful conviction shapes the way I teach and her ideas apply to all subjects and grade levels.* You should definitely read her book Fewer Things Better. She echoes some truth that will make your teaching practice full of joy! Who doesn’t want that?
Introduce Comprehensible Input from the Beginning
Ask each student their name in French.
This is your 1st opportunity to use some comprehensible input strategies and get them used to the idea that this class is a language class.
I point at myself with “Je m’appelle Prof. Gunning”-smile, point to student- “Comment tu t’appelles?” Don’t resort to English if they’re confused-instead give them suggestions. Tu t’appelles Eric? Marie? Devon? Jacob? Kardi B? Ke$ha?
Then, try again, starting with your name and asking for theirs. They’ll get the message.
Use a Seating Chart
We’re trying to avoid the Mean Girls jungle cafeteria breakdown, not cause it.
The most important thing you can do is make sure your students have a seating chart. For some, this seems rigid, but I promise, it’s a MUST on the 1st day. When students enter a new place and don’t have a seating chart, they have to declare their status in front of a bunch of strangers. Are they a know-it-all who sits in the front, a trouble-make who sits in the corner, an it-girl who sits with her friends, or the invisible one who just doesn’t want to be noticed in the middle?
Teens have enough drama with self-definition as it is, and they already feel like the whole room is watching their every move. Let them find their place in the class after y’all get to know each other. A seating chart eliminates that stress and keeps their focus in the right place.
Have Work Waiting for Them
Have work waiting for them when they sit down. This is crucial. Rather than wasting time explaining what the productive work-environment expectations are, show them. This is more powerful than any explanation could be. By having work ready for them, they get the message immediately that you as the teacher are well-prepared and value your time together, and they need to do the same to be successful. Have the instructions on the board prominently displayed next to your name and class in large type so kids can also check their schedule and make sure they’re in the right place.
This is one of my favorite welcome tips from Harry & Rosemary Wong’s classic book “The First Days of School”. Must-read for all new teachers.
1. Interest Survey
Yes, this survey is in English-but this allows me to get to know my students & take care of all the housekeeping that’s necessary on the 1st day. I’ve used this free one from the Daring English Teacher on Teachers Pay Teachers for two years now, and I love it.
Kids know what to do with it, and it allows you to wander and get to know your kids & check their schedules.
2. Introduce Culture from the Jump
French-Speaking Country Labels
- Geography with a map & picture
- Popular dishes
- Famous people
With the info, I ask students to make a postcard that includes drawing and coloring the country flag. For my French classes, I have 29 labels with the countries that officially speak French and are members of the OIF. Students see from Day 1 how prevalent French is around the world, and that we do not just study France in this course.
I set out the postcard handouts and the country labels on their desk, and they turn them in for their first classwork assignment- a great setup for work collection routines and procedures.
Show an Authentic Music Video
Ditch the dusty “repeat after me & ask a partner” strategy and use cultural, authentic language to teach basic phrases.
Showing a music video on the first day is an ideal way to demonstrate how indispensable songs are when learning a language. I explain to them that we’ll be playing a name game tomorrow where they need this phrase.
There are two great music videos to introduce the phrase “Je m’appelle” in French. Here are my two favorites:
This song uses “Je m’appelle” in every chorus and also has a lyric video version. The video also has incredible shots of Paris and a strong message about immigration and human rights.
Grab the FREE Mercy 5-day Unit (the exact one I used in my class for years) sponsored by the Teachers Pay Teachers Teach for Justice Grant Program so you can get started teaching for social justice – even in the target language – from Day 1. This is a Distance-Learning Lesson and completely digital resource for whatever model you’re using.
I also show this gem. In one word, it’s nothing short of hilarious.
We watch the video a few times, pause and talk about the images/language, and then they have to try it out for themselves, introducing themselves in French to the people around them.
Want more French songs?
Check out my favorites in the post 10 Easy French Songs for Beginners. I use them throughout the year to teach different grammar concepts in context instead of traditional instruction.
End with a Game!
If you’re like me, you have a goal to get your kids out of their seats at least once every class. I strongly believe that school needs to better serve all types of learners including the can’t-sit-still type. This game is great for your hyper-competitive athletes as well. Also, ending with a game leaves a strong impression that your class is FUN-but don’t be fooled, there’s a ton of rigorous language packed into this game. Here’s my department’s favorite game-your kids will love it too.
Before you start:
- Put on the board a poster or display of all the colors in French and practice pronouncing them- start with just a few.
- Explain that they need to know these for the game.
- In the target language using pictures, explain the instructions.
- Simplify your language and use a movement with each word-this is the essence of CI.
How to Play:
- Display colors on board, teach colors
- Have students stand up around the room
- When students hear the color, they must touch that color in the room
- Any time they hear BLANC they have to touch the floor.
- The last person to touch has to sit out, but they become referees.
- Last person standing wins a prize!
The best part about this game is that it’s completely in the target language from beginning to end. Students will get the terms “Sit down,” “You win” “Lose”, “Sorry” and a few phrases along the way as well. Students often get lost in it and don’t remember they’re in class until the bell rings–after all, what’s the point if it’s not fun?
Now for the Organization & Management
This part is just as important- but unlike most teachers, I don’t start off the first day with the syllabus. I hand them out because most students like to go home with papers on the first day, but I don’t talk about it until Day 2.
This is up to you, but if you’re stressin’ about how on Earth to explain CI to your students, I have a solution for you. Check out the video below to find out how I use my syllabus to help explain proficiency without eating up precious class time.
If you’re overwhelmed and looking for a complete starter kit to help you ease your back to school stress, check out the bundle.
This is my lesson plan for my new semester in my comprehensible input French classroom-check back soon to see how it went!
See you in the trenches,
Devon @ La Libre Language Learning
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UPDATE as of 5/20/20: I’ve now used this First Day plan with nine different classes to great success but I plan to add even more tweaks as I’ve been able to create more resources and learn more about comprehensible input. I’m excited to share how it goes with you! Follow me on instagram @lalibrelanguagelearning for realtime updates 🙂
P.S. Want to see how I switched to Comprehensible Input? Grab the FREE toolkit here or below to learn the framework of how to modernize your classroom for this year’s biggest challenges.