How to build up to a story in French?

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

My online learners are acquiring French at a fast and steady pace and it is amazing to watch them progress naturally. Unlike last school year when I was trying to use TPRS along with my other resources, I have decided to give it a full go following each of the three steps… And it all makes sense! It is obvious that learners need loads of input first, that they need to listen and to comprehend and that they will speak when they are ready to do so! I mean being the mother of a four years old made me realize that I do it unconsciously. For instance, my son has some trouble with the colors, he is still confused with green and blue. So what do I do ? I show him the leaves on a tree and I ask him: what color are they? He takes time to answer, so I ask him a closed question: are they green or red (because I know he knows the color red)? and then he can answer and he is actually happy because he got the answer right.

So what about my French learners? Well, they first started to acquire many high frequency, structurally important words (like the most commonly used verbs and phrases), especially verbs through Total Physical Response so that we could start creating stories.

The main challenge for me is to think of the structures I want my learners to acquire and to have a story script ready so that I can stay “in bounds” with my objectives. Luckily I purchased Putting it together – TPRS for English Language Learners, Teacher’s guide by Elizabeth Skelton and Denise Milligan. The book is aimed at English teachers who use TPRS but it has really helped me putting French together for my learners! The book also starts with TPR to then move on to scenarios and stories. Each chapter contains mini-stories and one main story based on a general topic. The main story recycles all the vocabulary from the mini-stories. It is therefore much easier for me to plan a logical sequence of sessions which build up to a main story and which include high interest vocabulary.

Diane Neubauer, a high school Chinese teacher who has taught five-year-olds through adults, explains very clearly how TPRS works in an article for FluentU. So here are the three steps I follow with my learners:

  1. First we establish meaning and we use the target vocabulary in the imperative mode through commands. I show the learner a gesture via the webcam and I then ask him or her to do it. For example the gesture for ” mange ” is to pretend to eat and I would ask the learner ” mange une pizza !”.
  2. I then ask personalized questions in order to provide comprehensible input of the target vocabulary. I don’t expect my students to reply with full sentences but I expect them to answer by ” Oui ou Non ” or just a word. Some questions are: ” Tu aimes la cuisine américaine ? Tu aimes la cuisine italienne ou espagnole ?…” These questions lead to an interesting discussion and without noticing the learner “is experiencing new language deeply in the context of language s/he already knows.”
  3. Finally, we can use that limited amount of new language in a story-like format. I ask, not tell, the story, and “I use at least 90% French to do so. The learner contributes ideas to further the story, including who the characters are, where they are and some of the key aspects of what happens in the story. It is a collaborative process which is very engaging and fun. By hearing and responding to an awful lot of French, the learner gets real language in his/her head and start to speak naturally, at his/her own pace.

Here is a mini story co-created with a learner and which I adapted from Putting it together. It targets the structures:

  • il ou elle aime -s/he likes

  • la cuisine – food

  • tous les jours / les matins / les midis / les soirs – everyday/morning/noon/evening

C’est Suzanne. Suzanne aime la cuisine mexicaine. Elle adore la cuisine mexicaine. Elle veut manger mexicain tous les jours. Tous les matins, elle mange des tortillas avec du guacamole. Elle mange aussi mexicain à midi. Tous les midis, elle va à son restaurant mexicain préféré et elle mange des burritos. Elle mange aussi mexicain tous les soirs pour le dîner. Elle prépare des nachos et des soupes mexicaines et elle les mange tous les soirs. Elle mange beaucoup mexicain. Elle mange trop mexicain. Maintenant, elle n’aime plus la cuisine mexicaine, elle aime la cuisine italienne !

 

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