Critical thinking, Cross-curricular, Culture, Lesson ideas, literacy, Resources

In depth: How I’m planning to use one book in my Core French classes

I recently wrote a blog post about the new books I was able to take home after participating in a resource review. New books have always been exciting to me, but once they hit my bookshelf, my main goal is to not let them gather dust.

My biggest wish after each of the reviews I’ve participated in was that there was a way to share the experience with other teachers, and I’m so excited that this year, there is! I will be one of 5 teachers sharing teaching ideas based on books we selected at a workshop in our district next month. Each of the participants will be leaving with a copy of ALL of the books we present ideas for, and my goal is to give them as much as possible to use so that their copies gather no dust either.

The book I’m presenting at the upcoming workshop is “Où vais-je vivre?” by Rosemary McCarney. Rosemary McCarney is President and CEO of Plan Canada, one of the largest international development agencies in Canada. After working with organizations like the World Bank, Canadian International Development Agency, the UN, and Street Kids International, she moved to Plan Canada, where she led the initiative for the International Day of the Girl and spearheads the Because I am a Girl campaign. (Source)

I live and work in Surrey School District, which is the largest district in BC. It’s also incredibly diverse, both from a cultural and a demographic standpoint. As soon as I held this book in my hands, I knew this was a book that is needed in our district. I’m certain that many of our students will look at these photos and see themselves, their family members, their birthplace, and also the value in their stories.

First published in English under the title “Where will I live?” this book is composed of pages showing a line or two of text under full page photos of refugees in many countries, all furnished by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Although the English version of this book is intended for younger children, the French version can easily be used with Core French students in grades 8-10, and the photos provide many opportunities for discussion and inquiry. The text invites readers to think about being a refugee from a child’s perspective, and asks questions about parts of life that many take for granted, like “Where will I live?”, “Where will I sleep?”, “Will I make new friends?” before finally ending on a hopeful note which looks forward to those who will welcome them in their new home.

Page sample from Scholastic Canada

Getting started: the curriculum

Before introducing any new resource, I check my curriculum document. Checking this information helps me visualize where a given resource should fit, what skills it can target, and reminds me of other possible connections I might not have thought of initially. These are good to have in mind because they help me shape my lessons and instructions to students. and think through how or why I might assess work that is done.

For example, here are the big ideas from the Core French 8 curriculum:

  • Listening and viewing with intent supports our acquisition and understanding of French.
  • We can express ourselves and talk about the world around us in French.
  • With increasing fluency in French, we can participate more actively in reciprocal interactions.
  • We can share our experiences and perspective through stories.
  • We can experience authentic Francophone cultures through creative works.
  • Our understanding of culture is influenced by the languages we speak and the communities with which we engage.

Using this list, I know my focus needs to be on stories, culture, and the value of experience and perspective. The big ideas at the grade 9 and 10 levels are similar, and so I can adapt what I do at each level to incorporate more sophisticated ideas or ways of expressing oneself.

Next steps: Where does this fit in my program?

No matter what program (or textbook) is used in a given school in BC, the curriculum is the same. The content of the units may vary, and the order in which it is covered is not the same. My next step is to look at the units I teach and see where the best fit is.

I’m using resources from Éditions CEC, and the units for French 8 are Mon Canada, Que c’est bon!, and La belle province. Mon Canada focuses on symbols of Canada and can be extended to introduce ideas around immigration, refugees, and humanitarian aid. As the first unit in French 8, this might be too big a challenge depending on the level of the students in a given year, so it might be a better fit with the last unit, La belle province. This unit takes an in-depth look at communities and the people who live in them, and provides an opening to talk about where our neighbours are from. This gives me two options for using this book in French 8, depending on the level of my classes.

I could use this book as an introduction in French 9 if my students have completed La belle province as their last unit the year before, and it could serve as a refresher of what they learned previously. Alternatively, I could incorporate it into the unit Je veux, je peux!, the first unit in French 9 which focuses on what one can accomplish if one is determined to work, and can provide an opening for stories like this.

If I want to use this with slightly older students, I have two good options in my French 10 program. C’est ma vie is an open-ended unit which invites students to talk about their families, places of origin, etc., and Trouve ta cause encourages students to build awareness of and identify personal connections with organizations like Médecins sans frontières and can easily incorporate stories like this.

Let’s talk strategy

Once I figure out what my focus is and where I want to use a resource, my next step is to plan how I will introduce this to my students. Reading in a second language is something that I believe all students can do, and if I build in the right supports for my learners, they will be able to read the text and show their thinking about the big ideas I want them to get to.


Before students engage with the text, I want to give them some tools for expressing their thinking, and set some learning intentions. Here are three possibilities, each for a different level.

  1. French 8 –
  1. Show 3 of the photos from the book and ask students to practice the “See, Think, Wonder” thinking routine, using oral questioning in partners and then share out.
    1. Qu’est-ce que tu vois? (What do you see?) Students will start their answers with Je vois…
    1. Qu’est-ce que tu penses? (What do you think?) Students will start their answers with Je pense…
    1. Qu’est-ce que tu te demandes? (What do you wonder?) Students will start their answers with Je me demande…
  2. Look at the writing below 3 of the images and ask students to think about why there are different people in different places in the same book.
    1. In small groups, students will discuss the question Quelles sont les connections entre le texte et les images? (What are the connections between the text and the impages?)
  3. For older students, introduce or have them choose an inquiry question like the following: Quelle est la différence entre un droit et un besoin? (What’s the difference between a right and a need?) Qui est mon voisin? (Who is my neighbour?) Comment doit-on aider les autres? (How should one help others?) Quand on vient d’un autre pays, quels aspects de la culture sont importants? (When one comes from another country, what aspects of one’s culture are important?) Students can start by brainstorming what they already know or think about the questions before reading, and then add to it and/or show how their thinking has changed after reading.
  1. Read the story aloud.
  2. Students can read with a partner/with the teacher/individually.
  3. Students can identify the mots amis (cognates) and mots connus (words they already know) in the story, and then find aspects of the photos which illustrate the meaning of the nouveaux mots (new words). Depending on the level of the students, a variety of strategies can be used here to record students’ understanding of the new words. They can have copies of pages that they work on in small groups and write the meaning directly on the page if there is a lot of new vocabulary, or they can use a sheet like the one I frequently use (blog post here) to record them.
  4. After reading the text, return to a focus on the photos. Ask students what story is being told by the photos? Can they put it into their own words?
  5. Ask students to identify 6 key words from the text, and explain how those words help them understand the main ideas.
  6. What aspects of culture are important in the story? How are these shown in the photos?

Depending on how this is integrated into a unit, there may be unit materials that are easy to transition to at this point. If not, (or if things are going really well and students are engaged in the ideas) here are a couple of suggestions for ways to extend the classroom activities and conversation.

Elise Gravel is one of my favourite authors, and students find her work very accessible thanks to her illustrations. She has created a page on her blog with resources that teachers can download in full resolution and use in their classes, which you can find here. These resources cover a range of topics that could apply to a classroom discussion coming out of this book, including accepting differences, who are refugees, and an explanation of climate change.

Here’s a short video from the website 1jour1actu, which has an excellent ongoing series that takes questions submitted by kids and responds to them in video form. This series, called 1 jour, 1 question, includes this video on refugees:

Cross-curricular explorations

Lastly, because I work in a school that has a focus on cross-curricular collaboration, I’ve put together a list of some possible explorations that could be done with other teachers, or using skills and knowledge that students already have from those other subject areas.

Connecting what we do in one class to what happens in another is a powerful reminder to students that skills and content knowledge grow through being used in multiple settings in multiple ways. Here are some possible opportunities for extension for this book:

  • Home Economics studies of dietary habits, food and clothing in other cultures.
  • Social Studies exploration of migration, refugees, and ways in which military conflicts affect everyday people.
  • Science exploration of climate change and climate refugees.
  • Math exploration of mapping to track distance, rates of change and scale.
  • English exploration of journalism connected to issues around immigration and refugees.
  • Art exploration of photo essays.
  • Spanish exploration of issues around conflict, migration and refugees.

Cross-curricular collaboration can be as simple or complex as the participants want it to be, and will vary according to the needs and abilities of the students, but connecting to these types of opportunities is a great way to add value to what students learn in the languages classroom.

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