Teach It Tuesday: French-English Dictionaries

If you have taught French (or another second language) I’m sure you have heard one of the following questions on a daily basis:

– Can’t we just use Google translate?

– What does ______ mean in French?

– What does ______ mean in English?

– How am I supposed to look that up?

– Is _____ masculine or feminine?

And the list goes on! Most of these answers can be found in a little invention called… The French-English Dictionary! french_pb

And as easy as these seem to be for us to use, most kids actually need to learn how to use them and they need some practice using them too. I created a little activity to help me teach how to use some of the important aspects of the dictionary.

Also, and honestly maybe most importantly, it helped me to answer the “Can’t we just use Google translate?” question in a way that the students actually seemed to understand! (My answer – Google translate can have its place but when we look in a dictionary we can see synonyms, masculine/feminine, verb/noun/adj/adv, etc. and sometimes we need that information just as much as we need the word itself. And based on the sheer amount of times I hear the questions above, I think the students really understood that we DO need to know these things!)

To teach proper use of the French-English Dictionaries, I had the students working in partners on a “Dictionary Hunt” (available from our Teachers Pay Teachers store here). The hunt took most students the whole block and some needed a little extra time. It also kept them engaged enough that I was actually able to walk around and help partners with mini-lessons on using the dictionaries.

The directions in the hunt had simple things like “Find the meaning of this French word” to more complicated ones, such as “What are two French words that can be used to show the meaning of _____?” I also had students look up whether or not words were masculine/feminine or nouns/verbs/adjectives.

If you are making your own hunt here are some suggestions for things to include (the more practice with the tricky steps the less questions later on!)

  1. Choose words near the split between English/French sides of the dictionary to make sure students understand it’s divided into two parts
  2. Ask for the feminine form of certain words because they are often listed in the form: avocat (m), -cate (f) and students need to learn that the dash means to leave the root of the word the same
  3. Flip your questions back and forth between using the French and English side of the dictionary to give more practice searching for the right word

After we did the Dictionary Hunt we moved on to searching for vocabulary for our first unit in French. I had the students look up the words for the topic, write the English word, the French word, the part of speech, and masculine or feminine. It worked out well as a way to put their new dictionary knowledge to the test!

As always, please let us know if you use the lesson ideas here! We love to know how things work or don’t work for our readers.


Teach it Tuesday: Back to School Version

We are finally back on our regular blogging routine after an extremely extended “break” because of the teachers’ strike here in BC.  Instead of going back to school on September 2nd, we went back on September 22nd, just in time for a Back to School Teach it Tuesday post!  Today we have some start of year ideas that can (hopefully) be easily adapted to suit various grade levels.  We love feedback, so let us know in the comments what works/what doesn’t work, and if you have any other start up ideas of your own that you’re willing to share.

Advisory: Advisory tends to be a very “middle school” term, but it can be practiced at any grade level.  Essentially, advisory is the first portion of the day where students are settling into the classroom for the day.  Some students come in late and always miss advisory, whereas others are always the first people at school and never miss this time.  Advisory is a nice transition time from gathering with friends in the hallway to setting the tone for the day at school.  As teachers we both

Our Gratitude Advent Calendar from last Christmas.

Our Gratitude Advent Calendar from last Christmas.

personally adore advisory because we find we make the best connections with students during these crucial 20 (ish) minutes.  Last year I (Karley) set up a gratitude advent calendar at my house during the Christmas season.  We didn’t take this calendar down until May (I know).  This autumn I plan to do something similar in our house, but I plan to use cut outs of leaves, twine and mini clothespins instead.  We are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for friends this year, so I think we might start our “Vine of Gratitude” then.  This idea can definitely be extended into the classroom and added to on a daily basis.

Language Arts: I (Meaghan) absolutely love language arts at the start of the year because there are so many different directions you can take with it! This year I’m starting a class off a few days a week with a read aloud novel and some different activities to go along with it. The first activity is going to be a simple reflection of the plot through a drawing and then we will move into writing questions about the book. The idea of this is to model some of the reading strategies we use, as well as literature circle roles. For the questioning part I always give students stems from Bloom’s Taxonomy and have them create questions about the plot for each type. Some great read aloud books include: James and the Giant Peach (gr. 5), Elijah of Buxton (gr. 6), Flipped (gr. 7)

Math: Math is sometimes a tricky one to start off with because there is often a list of things you need to do in terms of assessment and review to start off the year. I always like to try to make sure we are making math fun and engaging though, especially right at the beginning. Some of the best ways I find to do this are by using really good problem solving questions and having students address the questions in a group, paying attention to the different routes to solve a problem. Another way to start off is with basic facts review, making sure to go over strategies beforehand, and then adding a game component where students need to answer questions correctly in order to move up a game board or to gain “stamps” on a passport around the world. Some of these take a little bit more prep but they are a lot of fun for students and can often be worked into your math class throughout the year as well.

Science: Science is a tough one to start off with because it tends to be a curriculum dense subject.  Last year I had multiple conversations with my grade 8s about what they wanted to learn in science (ie. more specific aspects of the curriculum) and

Last year's interactive science notebooks.

Last year’s interactive science notebooks.

how they wanted to learn in science (ie. not from a textbook).   We have drafts of a new science curriculum in BC, so I spent some time discussing the new curriculum with my class and we decided which pieces of it we wanted to play around with in our learning.  I was also really keen to use interactive notebooks last year in science, so we started out our year of science by actually creating the notebooks.

Social Studies: A fun activity to get students minds rolling in social studies is this group mapping activity (this is an activity I adapted from somebody at some point and can’t remember who – if you know please remind me so I can give credit). Basically in groups of 3-4 students are given a large sheet of paper and without looking at any maps or electronic devices they are supposed to make the best map of the world that they can from memory. This includes countries, oceans, continents, etc. – anything they can remember! At the end you project a map of the world and see how accurate they were. For an adaptation you can hang onto the maps and redo the activity at the end of the year to see how students visions have changed.

French: At any grade level where French is part of the curriculum, I think it’s a good idea to start from the basics because most FSL students don’t spend their summers speaking French or thinking about French.  Last year I used an idea from a seasoned and brilliant French teacher friend of mine and tweaked it a little bit to fit the needs of the grade 7 students I was working with.  We reviewed numbers by simply counting out loud, adding and subtracting, and learning/reviewing our phone numbers in French.  I had the students write down their phone numbers and their names on a slip of paper and then I collected all the papers and we played a weird version of “telephone”.  I would pull out a student’s number (and I knew whose number it was because their name was on the paper) and called out the number in French.  The student whose phone number I was calling had to get up and run to the phone in our classroom and pretend to have a conversation with me.  At first we just worked on the numbers piece of this game, but eventually we got far enough in our review to start having a mini conversation on the phone.  I started every French class this way for about two weeks and the students really seemed to launch into French review in a positive manner.

Physical Education: Instead of writing a new lesson plan here we are just going to direct you to a couple of the PE posts we have done in the past that still remain good PE lessons: here and here.

Check our our Teach it Tuesday section above for more lesson ideas – Have a great start to the year everyone!


Teach it Tuesday: Read Aloud Time

We are starting a new unit in English right now that involves a read aloud novel that WILL be really good and intriguing but there is some getting used to with the style of language first. This means that although I wish the class was hooked from my first words, there was a lot of uninterested faces today…


How can we make sure read aloud time is engaging for students?

1. Choose the right book. (I know this book will work for the class once we get a few chapters in) I think it’s important to choose a book that is either at or higher than grade level so that they are engaged and maybe it is something that they wouldn’t be able to read on there own.

2. Discuss expectations. I find that in middle school this is very important (elementary kids seem to grab this read aloud time easier). Middle school students sometimes – most times – will choose any opportunity possible to turn class time into chat about the weekend time and read aloud can seem like an opportunity for this if you don’t discuss the reasons and expectations with them.

3. Allow for differences in listening style. Some students need to keep their hands busy, some need to put their head down, some just sit and listen, and some nod along. All of these ways CAN show that a student is listening as long as you have discussed expectations first and they know things like putting your head down does not mean nap time!

4. Give an easy activity for students to complete. Some things you can try are vocabulary hunts, key idea organizers, question developing, short summaries, AB Partner talk, doodle responses, etc. There are many ways to give students a small assignment that keeps them on task without it taking away from the reading experience.

5. Don’t be afraid to pause and ask questions. “What do you think they mean by that?” or another simple question can go a long way in engagement. Students will quickly understand that there is an expectation to be paying attention but they are also gaining a deeper understanding of the text this way.

What do you do to keep read aloud time engaging for your students?

Any suggestions for getting through those (sometimes boring) introduction chapters?



Teach it Tuesday: Revising and Editing

Sometimes we have to do things in our classrooms that aren’t exactly “exciting” for our students… or for us teachers really. For me one of these is revising and editing. This is not something I particularly like to do for myself to begin with so sometimes it feels almost impossible to hook kids into this as a good practice.


Usually when I have to teach a skill I think about what works best for me first – so I can share a personal story alongside my introduction sometimes – and then I talk to other people or use that wonderful Google tool to find other ways that can help as well. My most clear examples of revising and editing recently have been through blogging so when I went to introduce today’s activity with my class I told them how sometimes when I write a blog post I re-read it aloud to myself or someone else and that is when I notice things like word choice, sentences starters, etc. After my introduction (and the explanation of “why do we have to do this?”) we jumped right into a four part activity for editing:

We used our AB Partner list for these activities so that it was easy to switch partners after each round.

1. First Partner: With your first partner, take turns reading your stories aloud to one another. When you are listening think about the general flow of your partners story and if there are any parts that don’t make sense, are choppy, or sound a bit awkward. At the end of your turn listening give your partner some specific feedback. 12 minutes

2. Second Partner: After you switch partners, exchange your story with your new partner. Read through their story and use a highlighter to highlight parts or sentences that could use further description. If you have an idea write an example on the margin for them to look at later. 6 minutes

3. Third Partner: With your next partner, exchange your stories again. This time you are reading through for word choice. Underline any words that you think could benefit from being changed to a synonym or by adding another descriptive word. 4 minutes

4. Fourth Partner: Exchange your stories with your final partner and this time you are editing their work for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. 10 minutes. In my class we were looking at paragraph structure in particular and I also gave them an editing symbols key so that we would all be on the same page with the changes to be made.

Overall I was happy with the amount of discussion that was going on between partners. I think that talking about the words and sentences they chose really helped my students to think about the intention behind their words.

How do you do revising and editing in your class?

What lessons do you find the hardest to make interesting?



Teach it Tuesday: Thought Block

In our district, middle schools have a schedule that includes “Advisory” (which is similar to homeroom, I think?). The time allotted for advisory varies depending on the school, but most school’s have it first thing in the morning. I really love advisory time and having it first thing in the morning allows for a nice buffer time between greeting students and jumping into a subject. I have seen teachers use this time for a variety of activities such as class meetings, health/career education, current events, etc. Lately, I have been trying out a few different strategies with my current class first thing in the morning and this is what our schedule looks like now:

  • Monday – Goal setting
  • Tuesday – YouTube (funny, interesting or inspirational)
  • Wednesday – Brain Teasers (logic puzzles, sudoku, etc)
  • Thursday – Thought Block
  • Friday – Feel Good Fridays

So far Thought Block has been my favourite because I have been planning activities for this one since my last contract ended and through some inspiration from a blog friend over at Olive to Run. Last Thursday my Thought Block activity was based on this blog post I saw floating around the Facebook world back in the fall. We only have about ten minutes for advisory once we get throught the basics of attendance, announcements, and form collection so I tried to make sure that this activity was as organized as possible.

  1. I wrote this on the board: “You have just been handed a microphone. When you speak into it everyone in the world can hear and understand you at the same time. You are allowed to make three statements. What would you say?”
  2. Every student received a piece of paper to write down their ideas and I gave them some time to discuss with their neighbours if they wished.
  3. At the end I collected their papers and compiled a list of the main ideas to post in our classroom.


(Yes, these are the “good ones” and I didn’t write down the comments like “please give me all of the jelly beans.” But most of the students were very thoughtful and there were a lot of overlapping ideas that I was able to combine into one or two phrases).

I posted this in the classroom yesterday and it was so great to see the students’ excitement as they searched to find their phrases and guess who wrote what. I loved seeing how thoughtful they were about what they thought was most important for the world. Some of my favourites: donate to kids in need, use your money to benefit everyone, have fun, be happy, stop the wars and raise the bar.

What’s up this week in Thought Block?

I’m going to be using this picture to see what kind of thoughts we can generate around what the world could be like.


Source: Alan Weisman

Do you have anything similar to a “thought block” in your schedule?

Any suggestions for thought provoking ideas?


Teach it Tuesday: Handwriting


Teach it Tuesday is taking a bit of a different spin today.  Usually for Teach it Tuesday we share a lesson that either Meaghan or I have created and taught.  Today we are wanting to ask your opinion on a topic that has been a hot debate for quite some time now.


In case you can’t read my scratch, that sticky note says: “Today’s Teach it Tuesday is about the smokin’ hot topic of handwriting.  To teach it…or not to teach it?

Meaghan and I discussed this topic before we decided to post about it.  Meaghan thinks that the time used to teach handwriting could be put to different use in the classroom.  I agree with Meaghan, but a small part of me is selfishly nostalgic for the beautifully scripted, loopy letters.  I remember learning and practicing handwriting in early elementary school and having to write in cursive all the way through grade 7 (and this was only 13 years ago!) Personally, I adored learning to write in cursive because I felt very distinguished and grown up; however, I can imagine that many of my classmates struggled with and loathed this practice.

I know that in some parts of Germany (and likely many other countries) a person’s personal writing style, when it comes to literally scripting letters and words, is very much a part of the culture.  When I went to school in Germany nearly all my classmates wrote with inkwell pens.  I learned that being gifted with one’s first inkwell pen was somewhat of a cultural rite of passage and I remember thinking, “Isn’t that beautiful?”

*Fun fact: On my recent trip to California I was lucky enough to wander into a stationary shop (I’ve been known to do such things) where I stumbled upon the world’s only retractable inkwell pen.  Naturally, a very kind German man owned the shop.  I even got to write with the pen, and no, I did not ask how much it cost.

Anyhow, there are many articles, videos and opinions surrounding this topic available on the internet for your perusal, such as this one, which offers two principals’ views on the idea of cursive writing in the classroom.  We’re curious about what our readers’ opinions are on the topic of cursive writing. Those of you who are teachers, do you teach handwriting in your classrooms?  Maybe you once taught handwriting, but have since ceased that practice?  We hope to generate some conversation on this topic in a respectful and intellectual manner in the comments section of this post.  Please share!

Post-edit: We recently received an email from James at Pen Heaven.  James shared a post with us, written by his colleague, about handwriting and he suggested the linking of our two posts might be beneficial to readers.  So here it is!



Teach it Tuesday: The Great Plastic Round Up

I received this book to read and review from my dad back in the early fall and ended up using it with my class at the time in our science unit.


It is published locally on Vancouver island and the group that put it together does school visits and local events as well. The idea behind it is to use drama and fun to address the issue of the garbage patch and the need to clean up our shoreline.

Although the book itself is probably more suited for grades 4-6, my grade 8’s enjoyed “story time” and we used the book as a starting point to brainstorm ideas. If I had more time in that class I think it could have turned into a neat buddy project with younger students.

Here is the lesson I did, but again, if I had more time this would have been turned into something bigger and more in depth.

1. Introduce the book:

I gave the students some background about the organization and got them to tell me what they already knew about ocean pollution- many of them were already familiar with the garbage patch.

2. Read the book:

I read the story out loud, stopping at a few points for questions and discussion to keep them engaged.

3. Discussion:

We talked about the meaning of the book and similarities/differences with other books on the topic of pollution and environment. It was great to hear their perspectives about the book and what age group they think it would be best for.

4. Project Planning:

In small groups they came up with a plan as to how they would use the book to create a project for a grade 4 class. This was the best part because every group pulled information from the book in such a unique way – and the groups of students who I thought might not engage had the best ideas too! The ideas ranged from doing a garbage clean up at the beach to creating boats to race out of recycling/garbage and then sorting it into proper receptacles after. I really wish I had been able to stick around and help them put a plan into action because their ideas really were awesome!

We covered this in a 45 minute block so it worked pretty well as a lesson in general and I highly recommend the book.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post. I was given this book and asked to do a review and, as always, all opinions expressed our my own.



Teach it Tuesday: Lost Generation

This is another lesson that has changed and evolved over the past two years but it is all based on the poem “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed. I was first introduced to this poem by one of my youth leaders in training a few years ago who shared it in a public speaking activity. In case you aren’t familiar with the poem (you should go read it quickly!) I will just tell you that it is a poem that is read forwards and then backwards and has a totally different meaning in each way.

Here is my lesson plan to go with the poem:

Materials – plain paper, pencil, coloured pencils (optional)

20140304-181821.jpgPart 1 – Have students fold their paper in half – hamburger style. On half the paper students will write and/or draw their response to the poem being read through the first time. I usually read it through 2-3 times and give them a few minutes to work on their responses. After we do a popcorn style discussion (or one-word contribution) about their perceptions of the poem (this is my favourite part!)


Part 2 – Now I explain that the poem is to be reversed (reading the last line of the poem that I skipped out first) and the students do a new reflection on the other half of the paper. Same as last time I read it a couple times, give them a few minutes, and then have a discussion about the two versions of the poems.

Part 3 – We discuss some of the phrases that helps the format to work forwards and backwards and then I have students write their own poems. Usually I ask for 4-5 lines and let them work in partners because it is a little bit tricky.

As always, if you use the lesson please let us know how it went! We love to hear about ways to improve or how these lessons go over with your students.




Teach it Tuesday: One-off French Lesson

This lesson is based on an activity I did during my final practicum. The kids loved it and it has since involved. My favourite thing about it is that it focuses on listening and oral French with an aspect of fun thrown in the mix. I think it’s so easy to get caught up with writing when teaching a second language but the most valuable part of learning a language is being able to communicate and understand.

I usually call this lesson “On Dessine” or “Les Indices” depending on what I feel like in the morning… please give me more creative suggestions for names if you have any! I will tell you how I usually do this lesson but keep in mind that I have done it so many different ways! If you go to do it yourself just make it work for your time frame, your students’ levels and your teaching style and I know that it will be a hit!

To start off I explain that the students will need to draw a picture as a group (using colour!) that shows an understanding of the description they will be getting…

1. “Les Indices” – First I give 3-5 clues about the picture. (Here is where you can adapt it to fit your students’ level and your unit vocabulary). Recently I did one of these using Olympic vocab that worked well. A basic one would look like this:

  1. Il y a deux garçons.
  2. Un garçon a les cheveux rouge.
  3. Les garçons sont à l’école.

I always let students write down the key vocabulary at this point but I don’t write it on the board because this is to check for their listening and understanding of spoken French.

2. “Les Questions” – Now I give about two minutes for each group to come up with a question to ask about the scene they are drawing. It must be a yes or no question and I just walk around and help them format their question properly in French. Each group only gets one question but the whole class can listen and use the responses to the other groups questions in their pictures. This is the fun part because sometimes kids come up with really interesting questions that add a lot to the pictures when you say “oui” or “non”… For example today a simple picture of two boys playing soccer turned into two boys who were distantly related playing soccer in the park beside their apartment building they live in.

320140225-191035.jpg. “On Dessine” – And the fun part! I give the students 5-7 minutes to draw their pictures. After they have finished they have to hold up their pictures and share how they met all the clues and questions in their drawing. Sometimes we vote for the one and have a group that is a winner and sometimes that’s just the end of the lesson.

This lesson is a lot of fun and I have found that it really is a good way to check for students’ understanding of vocabulary. Plus I love the creativity side of it too!

As always, if you use a lesson we would LOVE to hear how it went!


Teach it Twednesday: iPads in French Class

Happy Wednesday everyone!  Today’s Teach it Twednesday is all about our current Winter Olympics French unit and how we’ve integrated the use of iPads in order to have tons of fun practicing our oral French.

A while back I mentioned the amazing, free app Tellagami, which uses personalized avatars and self recorded or computerized voices to create 30 second presentations.  My students’ greatest fear in French class is actually speaking French, but Tellagami offers a safe and engaging way to make oral presentations accessible and fun for all learners.  We have been working on creating our Olympic characters for two weeks now (choosing their hair colour, eye colour, specific sport, details of the sport, etc.) and this week all my French students were able to play around with our school’s set of iPads and get a feel for Tellagami.  Here are some of the avatars my students created in about 5 minutes:

This avatar was created to be part of a bobsled team, so the student found a photo online of a bobsled track and set it as the avatar's backdrop.

This avatar was created to be part of a bobsled team, so the student found a photo online of a bobsled track and set it as the avatar’s backdrop.

This avatar is an Olympian proudly speaking about his sport in front of the Olympic rings.  Yes, you can adjust the head size of the avatars.  Yes, some of my students' avatars have giant heads.

This avatar is an Olympian proudly speaking about his sport in front of the Olympic rings. Yes, you can adjust the head size of the avatars. Yes, some of my students’ avatars have giant heads.

A few issues we’ve discovered with this app is that because students don’t have to create an account to use Tellagami, we can’t store our projects/data on the app itself and come back to edit the work later.  We could save the Tellagami projects on the camera/video of the iPads, but these iPads are shared with 500+ students and will very likely be deleted once the iPads leave our classroom.

To solve this problem I allowed my students an entire block to play and experiment with the program – we had so much fun! My favourite Tellagami “tester project” was a female avatar (created with a deep, British man’s accent) who was programed to say, “I came in like a wrecking ball”.  I laughed so hard – thank you, Miley, for inspiring my student to be hilarious.  After the one block of Tellagami iPad playtime my students are now confident using this app and they have their French Olympic character scripts ready to go, so that the next time we use iPads (next week) we can quickly whip up our avatars again and spend the majority of the time recording our scripts.  Once my students finish recording their voices into their avatar they can “share” the project with me via email.  I will be able to open their projects in my email and watch/mark them.  We will definitely project the Tellagami projects onto the wall for presentation’s  sake (and entertainment!)

Has anyone else out there used Tellagami? What have you used this awesome (free) app for?