American Lesson Plans for the French Classroom

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CP, classe primaire, is an exciting and scary experience for anyone. In France, it marks the transition to big school, and it’s the year kids learn to read. It may be even more scary for an expat parent who is new to the French education system and is trying to raise bilingual kids. To be honest, I’ve always had a slight feeling of dread when thinking about my children’s education in France after la maternelle. When kids enter CP, anything warm and fuzzy and fun about school seems to dwindle rapidly, or so I’ve been told.

So I was very happy when I found out that my daughter’s class had “English time” every Friday. I offered to go into their class to do some English language activities such as read books or teach them songs.  And I was even happier when her teacher called me to ask if I wanted to do some lessons in her class. After getting permission from the rectorat (the superintendant), my daughter’s teacher and I confirmed the dates for my intervention. Her idea of what I should present : American culture and civilization, differences and similarities, things they would not learn otherwise.

With such a broad outline, I racked my brain to come up with ideas to communicate in a simple way about the United States, building on what the kids may (or may not) already know. I came up with the following subjects and lessons that I prepared in this order :

1) Native Americans :

  • I talked about Yakari, a favorite in my daughter’s class.
  • I used the list of native American words in English and picked out the words that exist in French to teach the kids.
  • I used the pictures of the animals here to tell the story of “How the Bear Lost His Tail”. Since I didn’t have an actual book, I used this example from storyteller Mike Lockett, using a lot of repetition and hand gestures.
  • We ended with a CD of Native American music

2) Thanksgiving :

  • We looked at pictures of holidays they know like Easter and Christmas and then some they don’t like MLK Day, President’s Day and thanksgiving.
  • They learned the names of Thanksgiving foods.
  • I explained a  little bit of the Thanksgiving story in French (with pictures of the Wampanoag and Pilgrims from the Plymouth Plantation website).
  • The foods we eat (using pictures).
  • Then I read them a simplified version of Thanksgiving Day. The text is a bit much, but the pictures are self explanatory.
  • We finished with a tasting of corn bread and dried cranberries.

3) Winter :

When looking for ideas for the winter lesson, I couldn’t resist testing out The Mitten by Jan Brett even though it’s a Ukranian tale.

  • I started by teaching the kids the names of the animals in the story. I then told a simplified version of the story, using these illustrations from the author’s website.  As I told the story, my daughter put the animals in the mitten, one by one. I made sure to repeat all of the animal names each time I added a new one. By the end, the kids were saying them with me !

4) Food :

Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar ? A teacher friend of mine told me this works well in her class so I thought I’d try it.

  • I began by teaching the kids “I’m hungry”. I then showed them pictures of common American foods. they told me “I like” or “I don’t like”. I used thumbs up or thumbs down to get them to understand.
  • I taught them Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar using a rythmic clapping like in this video.
  • Once the kids had the first song down, I told the kids to close their eyes and a let a few kids take cookies from the jar. We then tried to find the cookies in the class.  We of course tasted cookies when the lesson was over.

There are so many great resources available such as Super Simple Learning or Enchanted Learning. For simple videos geared toward small children, you can try ABCKidsInc. The main thing to keep in mind when going into your kid’s classroom is that kids get bored easily so it needs to be as energetic as possible and you need to be ready to adapt because it never goes quite how you plan…

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