How to find out about your learners interests in a compelling way?

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

I have started teaching French to a group of 3 girls aged 10 years old. They are native German but they have been attending a primary school where they were taught French intensively, it was like an immersion type of school so their level is very good. Last week was a “Schnupperstunde” meaning it was my first try out lesson with them. I must admit I was a bit anxious, I did not know how nor where to start! I was afraid to either teach stuff that would be too easy or too difficult for them. I find it hard to start with a group of learners who have with previous knowledge of the language! However TPRS came to the rescue and asking a story is an activity which adapts itself to any learners! Since they are young girls, I thought of starting with Ben Slavic’s marvelous one word image . The problem was how to start talking about something? What is the “something” you choose? Do you choose an object, an animal, a piece of cloth? How do you let your learners choose from a wide range of anything? It can end up being confusing for a group of learners who have never created stories before.

Best is to get to know your learners first and to get to know what interest them. I therefore decided to start with personalized questions using ” L’étoile du jour. This was the perfect starter to dig for information about my girls.

I then started looking for resources in the FLE world (Français Langue Etrangère) and I found this great activity called ” Portrait Chinois “. Originally a clever word game, the Portrait was in vogue in the salons précieux. In time, it expanded with different variations, the most famous being the Chinese portrait, so named, because of its ingenious complications. It is basically a set of questions based on what you would be if you were… It is not too complicated in terms of structures: ” Si j’étais…, je serais… ” and it allows learners to talk about what they like and their interests. For example, I found out that a girl would be climbing if she was a sport because it is her favorite sport! In terms of vocabulary, even if your learners are beginners, you can help them by giving them examples using cognates or near cognates, for instance: ” Si tu étais une planète, tu serais Mars ou Vénus ? “.

You can find a whole list of different questions here:

Not only was this activity perfect to get tons of repetitions of a complex structure using the conditional tense, it was also great to find out even more about the girls’ interests in a fun way! It led beautifully to then describe one of the things the girls would be and thus to create an image together.

We actually could not start creating an image because we spent a long amount of time talking about ourselves and I showed the girls an example of ” Mon Portrait Chinois “:

We also did a brain break disco party which the girls loved!:

Phew! I think I have successfully passed the “Schnupperstunde“! What I love about facilitating comprehensible input is that it is not restrictive. Even if a structure seems too complex, the fact that we establish meaning first means that you can talk about anything, you can communicate in a real natural way!

What about you? Have you done le ” Portrait Chinois ” with you learners? How do you start a one word image?

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