Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Foreign Languages K–12

A Library of Classroom Practices

French: Mapping Planet Earth
Class Context
- Stephanie Appel

I like to do content-based lessons because I think the students enjoy it. It's language that is meaningful to them. They like knowing that they can talk about something that's real in the classroom.

- Stephanie Appel

Year at a Glance
All About Me
  • Personal information: Name, age, feelings
  • My home: House, family, pets
Me and My Community
  • School: Subjects, likes/dislikes, classroom activities/objects, comparison with France
  • Town: People and places in the community, careers
  • Transportation: Going to places near and far
Me and My World
  • Solar system: Nine planets and their positions, using ordinal numbers
  • Continents of Earth: Seven continents, land and sea, animals associated with each continent, French-speaking countries, Canada

School Profile
Stephanie Appel is a traveling teacher in New Jersey's Fair Lawn School District. She teaches grades 1-4 French at several elementary schools each year, including Radburn Elementary. The Radburn community is made up primarily of professionals, with a number of foreign-born families, mostly from Russia and Israel. Many students hear a language other than English at home, so they are familiar with different language structures. Radburn Elementary offers on alternating years either French or Spanish to first-graders. The school's 400 students continue with the same language they started in first grade, all the way through fifth grade.

Lesson Design
Fair Lawn School District's elementary foreign language teachers -- all of whom are traveling teachers -- designed the district's elementary curriculum to address the needs of novice learners. The curriculum uses the Standards and the New Jersey World Languages Curriculum Framework as guidelines (see Resources), particularly the Framework's cumulative progress indicators, which mandate what students should know and be able to do at specific benchmark grades. The team meets weekly to share activity ideas and make sure they are providing a comparable experience for all elementary school students in the district.

When designing lessons, Ms. Appel and her colleagues have four goals:

  • to integrate content with the classroom curriculum;
  • to address the three modes of communication within each unit;
  • to assess during the unit and in a final culminating activity; and
  • to recycle previously taught materials in the new unit.

The Lesson
In the videotaped lesson, students practiced vocabulary for the continents and oceans. In addition to knowing this vocabulary from a previous French lesson, the students were familiar with the geography content from their general classroom curriculum. To reinforce learning, Ms. Appel tries to introduce topics at the same time that they are being covered in the regular classroom, although sometimes she teaches topics before or after they occur in the general curriculum. She often requests copies of materials used in the classroom that she can translate into French at a simplified level. Students are excited to recognize information that they already know, and enjoy putting it into another language. But even if the information is brand new, says Ms. Appel, "there's an equal excitement about it because they don't know so much, and there's a curiosity." Classroom teachers also benefit when a topic is introduced in French class because once students know the content, less regular class time has to be devoted to it.

Key Teaching Strategies
  • Content-Based Instruction: The teacher promotes language acquisition and/or cultural knowledge through subject matter from a range of disciplines.
  • Providing Comprehensible Input: The teacher introduces language that is slightly beyond students' current ability to understand and uses visuals, gestures, rephrasing, and/or props to establish meaning. The goal is for students to comprehend language through context.

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