Teaching in France: Preparing Lessons

Bonjour! 😉

It was a while ago that I wrote about my experiences teaching abroad in France. In the last post, I had contemplated about making a mini-series out of it, and so with this one, I will continue it!

If you haven’t already read the previous posts on the differences between French and American school systems and on my personal experiences teaching at both lycée (high school) and a collège (middle school), you can go check them out!

…on to today’s topic!

Now, one can say that I am a teacher, as I am teaching English to French students. But more specifically, in my contract, it says that I am an assistante de langue (“language assistant”), and so I am not a hard-earned, certified teacher, in that respect. And what my job entails is not actually to teach English language and grammar, but rather the culture (mine being American). That said, I am to prepare lessons that one can’t usually find in textbooks (especially things like pop culture and trends, which change so quickly) and instruct them to my pupils.

You might be wondering: with a topic as broad as “culture,” how is one expected to create lessons when one doesn’t know where to start?! Even I admit that that topic is incredibly vague, and also very varied, as we have English assistants not only from the United States, but also from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Canada, even Jamaica and India! Even within the United States itself, there are so many different states and regions that one cannot represent American culture in one, certain way.

Then again, this program isn’t meant to teach French students a cookie-cutter way about American culture, but rather the diversity of it all. At least, that’s what I believe. 😛

…but back to the question:

Yes, teaching one about “culture” is very broad, with a million different possibilities. Personally, I do not find them daunting (as some other assistants might feel), but rather an excellent way to never run out of ideas to talk about in my classes. Also, I naturally tend to be on the creative side, and so I have found ways to make my lessons engaging with the students. While we assistants had some training days to help with figuring out lesson ideas, personally I didn’t find them very helpful (simply put, the ideas seemed to work better for lycées générals, and I am teaching at a lycée professionnel, which is very different). It has also worked to my advantage that my schedule has me alternating between the two schools every other week, and so I don’t constantly need to be making new lessons every week, as it is in some cases with other assistants who have a weekly schedule.

That said, I haven’t had a problem with finding ideas to teach students about. I think the only few things that I have been more concerned about is the timing of when to present the lessons to my classes (this week? Next week? In April?), as well as whether the professors already have something that they want me to do instead (which has rarely happened, but nevertheless has). But those in themselves are very minor, and haven’t posed a huge problem.

…so what are some things that I have taught my students so far? What are some things that have worked/not worked?

Here are some anecdotes to help you out:

1. In the beginning of the year with my two schools, I made a presentation on introductions (in other words, how Americans greet each other that is different from the French’s mannerisms, as well as what sort of small talk they make with each other). I admit, it was quite lecture-based, as the activity that I had the students do in the end (to practice American greetings and small talk) basically failed. It is also due to the fact that kids can be little shits sometimes, but in any case, they didn’t really partake in the activity, even though I tried to get them going. Even though the concept was simple and interesting (in my opinion), motivating students was another thing. I told myself that I wasn’t going to do this lesson again, if I decide to teach again.

2. I would say that my Thanksgiving and Christmas lessons in November and December, respectively, were a hit-and-a-miss. Depended on the classes, and seeing which ones were receptive to them or not. I played a “What Am I?” activity for Thanksgiving, giving the students cards with images of a specific dish (e.g. turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie) to tape to their backs, and from there the students would ask “Is it turkey?, Is it cranberry sauce?, etc.” to the rest of the class, who would answer “yes” or “no.” A guessing game, in a way. Some classes liked it, some didn’t give a shit- oh well.

The Christmas one(s) were a bit better received, as I believe that it was due to the students getting used to me (and myself to them). Any case, I had two lessons for it, in case one didn’t work out, and/or wouldn’t be compatible for certain classes. The first lesson was musical chairs, to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” lyrics. Didn’t have the students sing, but rather recite them, and with each round, one student would be eliminated and would have to read the ever-accumulating lyrics, up until the twelfth day of Christmas. Generally speaking, the students enjoyed moving around, instead of sitting all day.

The other lesson was a matching-card game, in which the students had to match the item (e.g. ornament, candy cane, Santa Claus) with the respective vocabulary. Went well in some classes, while in others it got kind of crazy, especially when it started getting too competitive (damn…). Still, rewarding them with candy (purchased with my own salary money!) was a gesture that the students appreciated (free candy, whut!).

3. “Never Have I Ever” was a hit the first time that I did it with my lycée students. Loosely tying in with the lesson on the American high school system, it is traditionally a drinking game that I modified (of course) into a chair-swapping exercise. One would start out by saying, “Never have I ever…been to Paris.” If any of the students have been to Paris, they would have to swap chairs with another person who has also been there, too; if not, then they stay in their seats. The students would be forced to speak at least a sentence of English, as well as learn a bit about each other’s lives in the process, the good and the bad (I admit, I made it a bit raunchy by adding phrases like “…gotten drunk,” “…farted in public,” etc). As I had said, it was a hit the first time for most classes, but after doing a Part 2, then a Part 3, in later lessons, I think I’ve exhausted the activity, unfortunately.

…and so those were a few examples of lesson activities that I have done with students. I have done many more over this school year, but for the sake of going on and on for too long, I will stop here. I have found that, with this job, it has made me more creative, as well as, literally, lighter on my feet for physical activities. Sure beats lecturing for the whole period!

For teachers and assistants out there: what are some lesson plans that you’ve made that have/haven’t worked? Let me know! I would like this post to be a place to share our experiences- the good and bad! 🙂

— The Finicky Cynic

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3 thoughts on “Teaching in France: Preparing Lessons

  1. Interesting thoughts about teaching. I present lessons to kids as part of my volunteering, but I adhere very closely to and rarely stray too far away from the manual provided to instructors. Perhaps this will make me think about spicing things up in future lesson presentations.

    1. Yes, definitely! If you’re allowed to diverge a bit from the usual plan from the instructors, it might be more enjoyable for you, as well as for the kids! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Teaching in France: Dealing with Students – The Finicky Cynic

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