A Simple Brain Break

I’m not a super user of the brain breaks, but today at my after school expanded learning director’s meeting, Sandy Slade from Skillastics had us do a super simple brain break that I thought would work great for any language level.

She had us put our hands on our temples and said, “When I say one, touch your right hand to your left knee. Let’s practice.  One. One. One.  When I say two, touch your left hand to your right knee. Let’s practice…” And then she led us through a series where we were touching our knees on her command at an increasingly fast pace.  We also did a more complicated one where we clapped our hands and touched our knees.   I have zero capacity to follow directions like this in any language because I have negative coordination ability, so I was way behind with all of the commands, but it was fun and got everyone moving and I can’t wait to try it with my students.

Tackling Pronunciation with Technology

At the end of last semester I was wrestling with how to work on pronunciation.  Alas, I was tired of hearing “Il essssssssssssst anglaissssss” and so I started to brainstorm ways students might be able to work on this problem without me.  This particular pronunciation issue is, in my opinion, an input and reading issue.  Students haven’t had enough input and then they are reading the words wrong.  Nobody ever makes this mistake before they see the word est. So how could I have them get more input, while working on their reading at the same time?  Or how could I get them to focus on the fact that when they hear “il est anglais” and they say “Il esssssst anglaisssss” that that’s essentially a reading error and how could they do this without me?

Here’s what I did.

  1.  I wrote/got/copied three short paragraphs in a Google Doc.  I wanted them to have typical reading/pronunciation errors that Novices make.  I chose one that I wrote, one that I barely “edited” of Cyprien’s Twitter page and one Tweet that had words we had not necessarily practiced with.
  2. I had students install the Read &Write Extension from Text Help.  This is an amazing extension that will read whatever is on the page in multiple languages.  (Well, it’ll read whatever’s on the webpage and you tell it the language.  So if you want to listen to bad pronunciation put up a French webpage and then don’t change the language to French.  Icky, blech!)  Read&Write Extension does a ton of other things that Eric Curts has explained on his blog Control Alt Achieve.
  3. Students used the extension to listen to the paragraphs.  I asked them to listen times.  Once just listening.  Once by silently mouthing the words as they were read to them and once speaking aloud as they were read to them and then to practice the paragraph themselves and listen again.
  4. Students used the Voice Typing Tool in Google Docs to record themselves reading.  This is where it got interesting.  I practiced using bad pronunciation and it typed out my bad pronunciation.  It was my hope that the students would realize that when they saw “Il a 25 ans” but they said “il est 25 anse” that they would realize that there was an issue that they could work on or re-do.
  5. Students filled out a feedback form so I could see if they thought it would be useful.  Overwhelmingly students said that they thought that this type of practice would be useful.  Some students reported that the Voice Typing “didn’t work right,” but when I checked what Voice Typing had written, it clearly wrote out their pronunciation issues.  The students just didn’t realize that they were saying it wrong.  I think that is an issue I can deal with and is just a matter of familiarity with what they are doing and why.

What’s not clear is whether the Voice Typing tool will adjust to their bad pronunciation and write out the correct words even if the student says it wrong.  What also isn’t clear is whether this type of work will be effective.  I know pointing out pronunciation errors of this type rarely has a positive long term effect, but I also know that if a student feels like s/he is making progress and has something “tangible” to hold onto they will make progress.

What I’m thinking I will do is for each lesson build a document with three or four short, comprehensible paragraphs that students can use for optional practice as part of their goal setting and homework choices work.  Even if the pronunciation work is less than optimally successful, they will certainly benefit from listening and reading more.

I’d be interested to hear how you have used Voice Typing tools to work on pronunciation.

Is it…Guessing Game

This last summer I spent some time with my six year old cousin. He has some speech issues and sees a speech therapist weekly and is not, in general, a great talker…yet.  However he loves playing the Guess Who game.  Do you know this game?  You have cards with images on them that you slide into a game apparatus and then you choose one of the images and then you ask your opponent yes or no questions to try to figure out which one they selected.

I was in love with the language that this little guy was producing and hearing.   “Does it have sprinkles on top?”  “Is it cold?”  And less anyone think this game is just about language, there is also a clear strategy, as I learned after I lost the fourth straight game in a row.  Carson is a Guess Who game master ninja.

My students can do that.  I can make that.

So I did.

I’ve made a slide deck with three different games.  I had a fourth of people, but I realized that all of the people were, uh, well, all the same, uh, color.  And while it represented me, it didn’t represent my students, so I deleted that one.  I’ll try to make a better one.

It’s simple, share with students and then they drag the circle onto the image they select and the x’s onto the ones that are eliminated from the questions they ask. Repeat. Repeat.  Repeat.

Click on the image to go to the slide deck to make your own copy.

Adding Video in Google Slides

Google announced a new feature and I am ecstatic.  You now can add videos directly from your Google Drive!  They don’t have to be on YouTube!!! (If you’re on a school Google account, this feature may not be available just yet depending on how your administrator has set up for rolling out new features.  Just give it a week or two.  You’ll know because when you click on Insert>Video there will be a choice that says Google Drive.)

This means we can add listening or speaking activities to our Google Slides via videos!!

  1.  Create a video using a device.  This might be easiest on a phone, but you can use any device. (I did the example on my phone.  I covered up the camera, but you can also just point to a nice picture.)
  2. Upload this to your Google Drive.  (You’ll need the Google Drive app on your phone.)  Make sure you set the permissions to anyone with the link can view – not sure if this will automatically fix itself if you share in Google Classroom, but why take a chance.
  3. Create your slide and insert it.


Why would we want to do this?  Endless awesome reasons.

  1.  Differentiation- Give students different slightly different directions or a slightly different task.  Give a baseline version and a challenge version.  Example for clothes- have a #authres of some clothes choices.  In different videos ask them what they would wear to a party, to the beach, for a wedding.  Or describe what someone has chosen to wear to one of those places and ask the students if it was an appropriate choice and to explain.  Or give them a different amount to spend and have them say what they would buy.  They can write their answers or discuss.
  2. Choice- Students love choices for tasks.
  3. Working with a story?  Put some images and then tell different stories and have students move the images around to match what you’re saying.  Or change the story slightly and have them react.
  4. I can’t stop thinking of ways this can be used!

In this example I added a video to a third slide of my prepositions Interactive Slides.

Video and Slides



18 Mix and Match Activities to Talk about the Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I had a short exchange on Twitter about what to do the first day after vacation. I was thought “Ooh, I know this one!” For me there’s only one activity to do after a vacation or weekend and that’s to talk about what you did.  Think about it- what do you say to your colleagues and friends before the weekend?  You ask them what they’re gonna do.  In any one Friday how many times do you have that same conversation? And Monday?  You ask your colleagues “What did you do?” “How was your weekend?”  This is when we find out all of the juicy information about our friends.  To me this is a high frequency, completely legitimate conversation that allowed me to build relationships with students. And we practiced the Friday conversation as soon as students learned the futur proche and it was a glorious day when we finally did the passé composé, so we could have a Monday conversation as well.  So when @mmefarab asked me if I had some suggestions for talking about vacation, I thought, “Boy do I,” but none of them would fit in a Tweet.

So first off my students did a daily bell ringer and that was the start for all of these activities.  They would write five sentences about what they were going to do or what they did.  Each of the ideas below is a variation on that theme.  I’m using the past tense as the example here, but you could do the same thing with the future.  These activities are almost all no prep.

Switching up how students talk to each other.

  1. Super simple.  Students write.  Then they ask their partners what they did. You ask for volunteers.  It’s ok if it’s not perfect.  When they say je regardé, take a deep breath and remember the experts assure us that with enough comprehensible input eventually this will get better.  Eventually.
  2. When one student says what they did another student volunteers to ask them a question.  Student 1 says: I went to the movies.  Student 2:  What did you see? You have to model the questions first if they’re not used to asking questions.  This is a great activity for finding out information because students ask the best questions.
  3. Students ask their partners about their weekend, then you give the students a number and they find a new partner and switch partners and ask again.  Switch as many times as you have time for.
  4. Give partners a time limit 30 seconds, 1 minute, etc.  Say “Partner A will have X minutes.  If you finish talking before I say stop then read the posters off of the wall until I say stop.  Do not stop talking until I say stop.  Give as much detail as you can.”  This techniques reduces the temptation to just say one thing.  After x minutes switch so the other partner talks.
  5. Students do a survey and find out who did the same thing as they did.  They can walk around or do it digitally.  “Did you go to the movies this weekend?”  Then they can talk about who did the same thing.  “We saw x movie.” Or switch it around and find someone who…and give them crazy stuff with the normal stuff.  Someone who say (you) at the store. Someone who sent (you) an email.
  6. After students know their partner a bit, switch it up and have them write what they think their partner did or even what you did.
  7. Students fill out an interview sheet.  Here’s an example and I filled it in to give an example.  By forcing students to fill in as much information as they can, they are prepared for all of the possible questions.  Have them walk around and talk to 5, 7, 10 people.  Then ask what student 1 did and someone else can answer.  Be sure to participate in this yourself.  A benefit of doing it this way is that while students may be tempted to just write a short sentence “I went to the movies” they’re forced to write what turns out to be a pretty long sentence.  And they can ask pointed questions to their partner.
  8. If you know enough about your students create a bingo card.  I created one here using the French infinitives so you could use it for the future or past.  Or do it on paper. StWeekend Bingoudents find someone who did this and then you play bingo.  Students write the name of the person they found in the Bingo box. So for example if you use “went to the movies” one student might write Cindy and another one Sally.

Switching up the task so it’s slightly different.

  1. Two truths and a lie.  To switch it up have students do it with you in mind or their partner.
  2. You write down a list of 5-10 activities that you did.  With a partner, students come up with a list of 5ish activities that they think you did.  Then students can ask you, “Did you go to the movies?”  If you did they earn 100,000 bonus points or whatever your reward system is.  They only earn these points if they wrote down the same thing that you wrote down.
  3. Have students talk only about the things they didn’t want to do.  Or that they didn’t do.  Or that they wanted to do, but didn’t get to do.
  4. Have students focus on a certain aspect per sentence.  For example: in sentence 1- who; sentence 2- where.  When you get to the imperfect switch that up as well.  Sentence 1- the weather; sentence 2- what you were wearing, etc.
  5. Use language ladders to focus on a certain chunk of language.  “Wow, amazing.” “You don’t say!” “Tell me more.”

Switching up the task so it’s slightly more involved.

  1. Flat Stanley (Pierre Plat)- This will require some advanced planning, but it can be worth it.  Students make a Flat Stanley and then take it with them on vacation, take pictures of him and then talk/write about him later.  The Flat Stanley official website has templates you can use or students can create their own.  Before the students go on vacation, tell them to to take Stanley wherever they go and take X number of pictures.  Use those when you get back as a prompt.  You can go fancy on this and use VoiceThread or Screencasting or Adobe Spark or you can go not fancy and just have students share their photos.  I’ve done it both ways and frankly, I like the “just share your photos option.”  Either way, it’s a good idea to give them time to think about what they are going to say by having them write out their Flat Stanley narrative.
  2. #vacation- Use social media to have students curate their vacation photos with a description in the TL of course! If you haven’t used social media with your students be sure to go over norms: only school appropriate photos, only post other people with their permission.
  3. If your students travel a lot or even if they don’t, they can use Google My Maps to plot out their vacation and and write about it.  If I knew I had some students who didn’t travel at all, and some who traveled a lot I would change the assignment so that it was an imaginary vacation.  Or use it for the future.  (Blog post on using My Maps is on the way.)

How to talk about vacation even if your students don’t know the past tense yet.

Just because students don’t know the past tense doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about what they did during vacation- it just means that you have to be more strategic about it.  No matter which of these variations I would start by saying in English “We’re going to talk about our vacation!”  Even if students haven’t learned the past tense they’ll still be able to understand that you’re talking about the

  1. Make a slide show images of your vacation and ask students if they did these things.  (I’m not saying that I’ve done this and photoshopped my photo vacationing with Beyoncé and Jay-Z or at the movies with Ryan Gosling, but…) You can go fancy and have students fill out an online poll saying yes or no.  This has the benefit of quantifying the options.  You can go non-fancy and have students stand up and walk to the yes side of the room or no side of the room.  Or you can have them put up stickies.  Lots of non-fancy options here.  Then you can talk about how many people went to the movies?  The don’t have to be able to say “12 people went to the movies.”  They can answer 12.
  2. Using Google Forms and have students fill out the form.  Use the picture option to add a picture for each sentence.  I’ve made an example of a form here.  I’m actually going to use this form as a hook for the passé composé at the beginning of the semester.  Once the students answer you can go back to the form and look at the answers and say, “Oh look, 15 people went to the movies.  Raise your hands if you went to the movies.  What movies did you see?”  The students don’t need to know the past tense in order to answer or understand those questions.

I bet now you can’t wait for the weekend!