21 June 2015

Part 1: App-smashing culture, language, and global themes: MVHS French 2's "Photo de classe"

This will be a two-part blog post about a thematic and 
project-based unit I shared with my French 2 students at 
Mount Vernon High School. The first post is about the language and culture side of the unit. The second will describe the app-smashing technology integration that supported the learning.

In looking to extend the traditional “Family” unit into a more thoughtful project-based-unit that incorporated technology at an intermediate level, I discovered a French Web documentary called, “Photo de classe.” Julie Noël, a third grade teacher in Paris, worked with her class for a full year exploring the students’ families and their ethnic heritages. The students created Web pages with video interviews of their families, audio recordings with personal descriptions, family photos, and personal drawings. 

Photo de classe: Julie Noël (teacher) 

What impressed me about the project is that 10-11 year old students discussed migration, family origins, racism, and 
cultural/national identity. These themes fit in perfectly with the AP themes of identity and culture: Who am I? What are my origins? Do I consider myself “American” or the heritage of my immigrant parents? AP themes can be used at any level if the tasks are appropriate for the learners. 

Julie Noël’s class and my classes mirrored each other in terms of ethnic and financial backgrounds, so I decided to use this as our platform. Nearly 80% of my students have parents or grandparents who came to the United States from a different country or whose families moved to Mount Vernon from a different state. Discussing family history in French class has been a subject I haven’t brought up too often. In our family units, students created imaginary families so that we avoided personal (residency) and stressful (divorce, etc) topics. 

However, this year I decided that our students should know more about their classmates and their stories. Too often, our cafeteria is divided between the ethnic and cultural backgrounds. My goal was to unite the students under the idea that we all came to Mount Vernon from somewhere else – whether it was two years or 100 years ago.

The unit encompassed three sub-themes:

  • Family vocabulary
  • Physical / psychological descriptions
  • Interrogatives and questions formation
  • Verbs such as: has/have, am/are/is
  • Adjective agreement
  • Possessive adjectives.

Nationalities, languages, and customs:
  • Verbs such as: Venir de (to come from) habiter au/en (to live in), parler (to speak)
  • Heritage-based vocabulary: Quinceañera, etc.   

Migration and moving: Unit plan 
  • Migration in Europe vs migration in the US
  • Expressions describing why humans migrate or move  
The three themes were tied together through the Web documentary, “Photo de classe.” Each step included 
authentic listening, reading, and speaking activities to build and reinforce the language and cultural objectives. 

Over the course of three months, French 2 students:

1. Explored each French student's “Photo de classe” page. We discussed the people in the pictures to reinforce family vocabulary and ethnic backgrounds. This made for an interesting discussion as students thought they could guess someone’s ethnicity based on skin color. Using French as much as possible and employing a great deal of Comprehensible Input allowed the students to express their ideas at novice-mid levels. Our goal was to progress towards mid-high by the end of the unit. 

2. Listened to the French children’s audio clips as they described themselves, their favorite activities, their family’s background, and their cultural/national identity. Students filled out Google forms that assessed their listening comprehension. Our students used the French students' audio clips and this handout to help them begin composing their 2 minute oral descriptions 

3. Read articles from “Astrapi,” a magazine for 7-11 year olds, about four of the children from the documentary. “Copains de classe. Copains du monde” (No 808. 15 January 2015). These short reading selections discussed how and why the children’s families migrated to France. Students demonstrated their reading comprehension through an IPA-style assessment. Listened to Faudel’s song, “Mon pays” that discusses knowing where you came from and how you fit in with a culture.

4. Tied in outside authentic reading and listening resources on the recent migration crisis from 1Jour1Actu and other news resources. (Google file with all documents)

5. Created a paper-based timeline of their lives using basic expressions with past and imperfect tenses: When I was 3 years old, I rode a bike. Documents were scanned and uploaded to the Padlet walls. 

6. Created their own “Photo de classe” Web pages in which they presented their own migration and heritage stories. The pages were modeled on the original Web documentary.

7. Discussed with a partner the reasons why people move and migrate and their family's story of moving to Mount Vernon. 
Directions: Learning objectives and contextual expressions for the IPA interpersonal assessment. 

Conversation tool: Guide for the students during the assessment. 

Each Padlet wall included:

  • A collage with photos of family or friends
  • An audio file with a personal description
  • A video with an interview with a family member or close family friend
  • A uploaded scan of the paper-based life timeline 

In the 2nd part of this post, I will detail the apps, Web tools and steps the students and I followed to create our Padlet walls. 


  1. This is awesome! This is a great PBL aligned unit! After students have created their Padlet walls, who is their audience, who do they share them with, or is it just among themselves?

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  3. Looking forward to Part 2 of this blog. Love it!