Joyeuses familles a Acton
Teaching French can be hard work unless you find a way to fire and maintain the enthusiasm of your class. The key is to excite their curiosity about learning a language, and to do this I bring in any items I have collected during visits to France, as well as postcards and photographs of French-speaking children. Breaking down barriers is the aim, and the more pictures of children you can find the better.
My "absolute certainty" lesson is based on the card game Happy Families. The lesson centres on an exchange of questions and answers which are, I'm sure, on every French syllabus: Comment t'appelles-tu? Je m'appelle . . . Quel age as-tu? J'ai . . . ans. O habites-tu? J'habite a . . .
I start by introducing new language material with the help of Georges, Nicole, Brigitte and Jean-Paul, four French-speaking children. I use photographs, but I have also updated some cardboard figures found gathering dust in the French cupboard. With some deft artwork I have changed fashions and taken 1960s hairstyles into the 1990s. We then practise asking and answering questions by throwing a ball around the class until all the children are confident in both answering and asking questions. I then write these sentences on the board and we practise a little more by substituting different names, ages and places.
We then play Happy Families. I explain to the class that they are going to be one of these four children and that they need to find the other three to complete the set of four. If the numbers in your class don't add up you can join in yourself or give keen children two identities. I give each child a slip of paper face down on which the details of one of the four children are written. They then move around the class and try to find the other three. Some children may simply exchange names, others will ask and answer all the questions. Once found, some of the families introduce themselves to the rest of the class. The children then use their own ideas to create new characters which we use in subsequent lessons to introduce brothers and sisters, pets, likes and dislikes.
My aim is to develop an atmosphere in which all children are encouraged to participate. I use the range of languages present in my multicultural classes, for example, to find out how ca va would be said in other languages. The relationship between me and the class is crucial. You can easily lose them if you keep talking in French; some children might struggle while others become bored and give up. If they ask in English you need to respond in kind; you are there to clarify not to confuse. Flexibility and encouragement are key to creating and maintaining enthusiasm. When I meet children in the school canteen they will greet me with a "Bonjour monsieur, ca va?" And our school is not, I hasten to add, an upmarket establishment but on a high-rise estate in Acton, west London. Still interested? Bon courage!
Terry Barker is a Year 3 class teacher at Berrymede Junior School, Acton, in the London Borough of Ealing. He takes Year 6 classes for French