Rejoinders to Increase Student Speaking Ability


Les champs de lavande en Provence

In order to increase students’ speaking ability, they need to have things to say! I’m a big proponent of question cards and while good prompts, they are not good conversations.

I found that I needed to go through the elements of a good conversation with students to help improve their speaking ability and move them up to the next proficiency level.

Step 1: Conversation Starters

While a little unnatural when using conversation cards, it is important to remember that we normally start out talking to someone in a way that ‘breaks the ice.’ For example, “You know what?” “listen,” “look,” “guess what!” “so,” etc.

In French these would be: Alors, eh bien, écoute, devine quoi, etc.

Step 2: Responses

When we ask someone a question or make a statement to someone in a conversation, the ‘partner’ doesn’t look blankly then ask the next question. There is always a response. It is important to highlight this with students and give them examples of responses.

For example:


Ah bon? (really?)

C’est vrai? (really?)

Moi aussi (me too)


These are pieces of information that are related to the answer to the question or statement:

Où est-ce que tu habites? (J’habite à ______________)

J’ai un ami qui habite à ____

Follow-up Questions:

These are follow up questions you can ask based on your partner’s answer:

Où est-ce que tu habites? (J’habite à ___________________)

Est-ce que tu habites dans une maison ou un appartement? C’est une grande maison?

Things to say when you don’t have anything to add:

French people are great at these interjections and learning them will help students sound more French and help the conversation along.

Voilà/Et voilà – there it is

Tout à fait – exactly, completely. Used when you agree with the person but don’t have anything to add.

Ça y est – That’s it. You’re in agreement

C’est exact – That’s right (I agree)

Step 3: Elaboration

Encourage/remind students every time they are speaking French to add details as much of possible. Give them examples and have them practice.

Où est-ce que tu habites? Loin d’ici ou près d’ici?

Je n’habite pas loin de l’école dans une petite maison avec ma famille.

Step 4: Cheat sheet!

Give students something to go by when they are speaking French. Have a separate cheat sheet for when they are playing games so they can say, “Your turn” and “whose turn is it” etc.

Click here for a sheet you can give students to help them stay in French: Les Expressions Utiles




Performance-Based Grading Part 1

sunflowers (2)

Sunflowers in Provence

Performance-based grading reflects how well students can speak, read, write and understand spoken and written language. Vocab quizzes and tests are great to get students to study vocabulary and grammar, but they don’t do a good job of assessing how well students can maintain a conversation.

Performance-based grading, Integrated Performance Assessments, thematic units, etc. can be very overwhelming. While the profession is moving away from quizzes and unit tests, text book manufacturers are not. Finding materials, writing our own formative and summative assessments are not easy and it’s time consuming. Nevertheless, you can change up your classroom at any time. Little changes will eventually add up to big changes. Telling students how they will be graded and what to expect is the key. Plan an end-of-unit speaking assessment (Student will have to buy clothes for either a ski weekend, elegant wedding or beach getaway. He will have to name the clothes he is buying, describe some of them and say whether they are expensive or cheap, etc. for example). Students will then record their information either on Google Voice (see below), in the language lab, create a Vine or other technology-based method and you’ve made the first step to having a performance-based classroom!

Students are motivated by grades

One thing that motivates students is their grades. What students are graded on is what they will study and focus on. If you assign grades only for quizzes, unit tests and writing assignments, students will focus their attention on doing well in these three areas. Sure, students will do speaking activities in class, but most of them will not focus on doing well on them because they know they will not be graded on how well they can speak the language.

There are many teachers who have set up their gradebook to only reflect performance assessments. I am not 100% there yet. What I have done in my classroom is to add a category for performance assessments with sub-categories for speaking, writing, reading and listening (basically the three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational).

I still have homework as a category. Homework assignments are worth one point each; students receive a 0 if it is late but receive full credit when it’s turned in. It doesn’t affect their grade that much, but it looks bad when they have a lot of missing assignments. I let them turn assignments late for full credit because I like the idea of the assignment hanging over a student’s head. He can’t get out of doing it just because he was too lazy, had a track meet, went to a birthday party, etc. the day before it was due. This forces him to actually practice the grammar or vocabulary.  I also have some other classroom assignments in the gradebook.

I think the hardest performance assessment to grade is students’ ability to speak the language because it takes up a lot of class time. This is what I have done to help improve students’ speaking ability and be able to assign grades for it so students will know this is important and will actually put in effort practicing speaking the language:

Practice often in class

I try to have students speak the language as much as possible, but unlike better teachers, I don’t enforce only French among the students. However, I have students speak French for five minutes at the beginning of class (after the mindset which I call La Sonnerie) three times per week on average. Students need a lot of practice on anything they will be tested on. By being consistent with making students speak the language, student will show a lot of improvement.

I have always had students write two sentences every day on the back of their mindset paper that I collect at the end of the week. However, students’ writing has really improved once I started having them write substantial paragraphs (minimum 50 words) often. I give them a writing prompt (what did you do yesterday, what are you going to do this weekend, what is your dog like, etc.) two or three times a week. The key is consistency and also highlighting errors and have students fix them the next day. Students have to correct and re-write. These are practice for the performance assessment students.

“Don’t Speak English” Cards

While students are speaking the target language, I circulate and if I hear someone speaking English, he or she receives a “Ne parle pas anglais” card.  I made half-sheet cards using card stock that say, “Ne Parle Pas Anglais!” The student can give away the card to another student who he or she hears speaking English. I have about five or six cards handy.

At the end of the five-minute period, any student with a Ne Parle Pas Anglais card must come to the front of the room and speak the target language for 30 seconds. They can talk about any subject. I tell the rest of the class to be ready with questions for the speaker. This is a good way to get students to speak the target language and to get students to ask questions. Every time students speak they improve and consistency definitely helps improve students’ language skills.

Presentational Speaking

Presentational speaking is easier to grade than interpersonal speaking. My school uses Canvas and students can use the recording feature on discussion posts. I have students leave record themselves once every two weeks. My school also has a language lab, which we go to once a week. I also have students record themselves at the end of the lab period. If you don’t have either of these methods, you can use Google Voice. Click on the Google Apps icon (the checkerboard in the upper right-hand corner of your Google screen), click More, then click Even More. Scroll down to Voice. It allows you to choose a new phone number that you can give out to students to leave messages on. I have students make their recordings in class from their cell phones or from the classroom phone, or call for homework. The students leave messages with what every topic you are grading them on (I also make them ask a question at the end). If for some reason you are not allowed to choose a new number in your area, you can use your own phone number and set it so that the students go directly to Google Voice.

Interpersonal Speaking

This mode of communication is a little difficult for me to grade because you basically have to grade either student role plays or skits in front of the class or grade a few groups at a time over several days. I hate spending class time on a few students doing something and everyone else watching. Having a language lab, I record partners maintaining a conversation for 2 minutes, which works out great. If I don’t use the language lab, I walk around the room grading three or four groups each day during the week I am grading this performance assessment.

Presentational Writing

For presentational writing, since I have students write often, I will assign one of the paragraphs as their assessment. I like giving students a minimum number of words to write because it forces them to make longer, more interesting sentences, as well as use adjectives and adverbs. On Canvas, I have students make discussion posts once every two weeks and will sometimes use them as a performance assessment.

I love Padlet! It is free to use and it is so easy to use. Students post a picture related to the topic and then write a paragraph or whatever you assign. Students love it because they can post a picture and everyone in class can see their picture. I like to spend a couple minutes clicking on their pictures so everyone can see them on the big screen.


To me, grading students on their performance makes them focus on speaking, writing, reading and listening. I do not have time to re-write the textbook, find tons of authentic materials, nor create interesting thematic units. However, I can incorporate speaking and writing in to my lessons on a weekly basis. These are things that improve student performance immensely. Over the summer I will try to find more authentic reading and listening materials. For now if I can get them to speak more and write more, the students will be better off.

Also, I have made quizzes and unit tests less “high-stake” because they take valuable class time away from using the language. I still have them take quizzes, but I don’t spend as much time doing everything to help ensure that they get the best grade possible. Students need to study and I need to give them a lot of review, but now that their whole grade isn’t relying solely on quizzes and tests, I can put less emphasis on them in class. cafe montmartre3




Effective Tools and Strategies to Boost Students’ Speaking Proficiency

Thank you for attending my presentation at the AZLA Fall Conference!

Below is a link to the power point presentation as well as all of the handouts. There will be more handouts added today, as well as additional posts in the next week. Please sign up to receive an email whenever new content is added.

AZLA Presentation

Here is a simple performance assessment based on students talking about themselves plus all the lead-up activities you can do in class to prepare students to excel in their assessment. This is a presentational assessment in which students make a video of themselves (description below). This would also be used as an interpersonal assessment in which students would be talking together, trying to see who is the most interesting person.

There is a new TV show in France about the lives of American teenagers. A talent scout has asked you to do an autobiographical recording about yourself. He will listen to it to see if you would make an interesting character on the show. You really want this gig, but you think your real life is too boring. Make an outlandish recording about yourself to help you get the job.

Performance Assessment with lead-up activities

Adjective List

Category Game

Les Expressions Utiles pour une Conversation

The following grading rubric for speaking activities has two parts: page one lets you quickly grade students. An A (90%) is 13.5 (middle score in every category). A student can receive an A+ (100%) or between 90% and 100% by achieving a 5 in any or all of the three categories.

Grading rubric spkg activity

The following rubric is intended to be used for a formative assessment. Students need a lot of practice before their summative assessment. This gives them either an A or a B and is for an initial assessment. You would grade more ‘harshly’ with subsequent assessments.

Speaking activity rubric

Start out the new school year speaking only French!

016Now is the best time to switch to all French, only French, all the time (of course using comprehensible input, slightly above their level but with words they know, cognates and gestures). Getting the students to speak French is another topic!

7 Reasons you should speak only French from day one

  • Language immersion from day 1
  • Students are only in class 50-55 minutes per day – how much less French can you give them? If you’re not speaking French for the entire time, students are only hearing French for what, 20 minutes? 30 minutes? How does that help them?
  • Students will learn to use context cues and cognates for understanding – skills they will need to understand people other than their teacher.
  • Students will gain confidence that they are learning the language and are making progress. They’ll sure be proud when you say something to them in the hall in front of their friends and they can understand you – and their friends can’t.
  • Students start expecting you to only speak French. They’re tuned in to the language and their brain is used to it. It is so much easier for the brain to understand one language at a time instead of switching back and forth. Speaking half French, half English will have students’ brains only listening for the English. When I’ve ever said something in English (usually towards the end of the school year) my students just give me blank stares because their brains are not recognizing the English!
  • Great selling point for your classes – parents will be impressed when you explain how you conduct your class during “Meet the Teacher Night” assuring them that you will give students enough support by writing important information on the board in English, using gestures, etc.
  • ACTFL requires 90% target language use.

How is it possible to speak only French?

I’ve conducted my French classes in French for several years – and it works! What students miss out on are my interesting and witty anecdotes because somethings can’t be understood in the target language due to students’ language level. Oh well!

The projector is your friend

Prepare complicated instructions in English on a power point. You give the instructions in French, pointing to the English. If you don’t have a projector, use an overhead or Elmo or similar device. You would be surprised, however, how it is possible to give instructions in French using only visuals and gestures.

Use the white board or chalk board

Write down important information on the board in English. I like writing on the board because it is not pre-prepared (as long as not too much information). Students feel like you are giving them the information at their pace. Make sure to post dates for tests and quiz, rubrics, etc. on the board or on-line.

Write key words on the board or post them on colored paper around the room

Words I use a lot are written on the board or posted so I can point to them when I say them. Examples are:

Dépêche-toi! (when they ask to go to the bathroom – in French, of course)

Quand _______ revient (for bathroom requests)

C’est à dire

C’est la même chose

C’est pareil

Use gestures

It’s amazing how much students can understand with gestures alone. How would you indicate, “Are you done?” with only your hands? Pair easily-understood gestures with French and students believe they are understanding French when they’re actually just understanding the gesture. But does that matter? Before long, you can ask, “Tu as terminé?” without a gesture and students will understand (cognates definitely help).

Use cognates

The first day of French I students have no problem understanding, “Tournez à votre partenaire et dites, “Bonjour, je m’appelle . . .” ” especially when you turn your body and extend your hand.

I have found that it is not that hard to think of cognates as you are explaining or describing. We’re lucky with 40% of the French language an English cognate!

Have routines

When students know they need to start the class period with the bell work (I call it La Sonnerie), etc. and every day you reinforce that routine, students will learn the vocabulary and know what is expected of them. Sonnerie, parler français (question cards) prendre les notes, ecrivez au tableau (I call on students to write their answers on the board), parlez français avec votre partenaire, jouer un jeu, ecrivez sur ce papier . . .(exit ticket). While you do not do the exact same thing every day, you will start out and end the same way and do a variety of the same activities several times a week.

How to handle the code of conduct and other beginning-of-school requirements

Usually the administration requires teachers to go over at least part of the student handbook and code of conduct.

  • Call on students to read sections of it from their own books.
  • Put it on the projector and call on students to read
  • Prepare a Voki ( where two avatars are taking turns reading the student handbook or have one ask questions and the other answer. (How long does my skirt have to be?) This is actually a great idea.

What about things that have to be in English?

The only time I speak English is if a student needs individual help and it doesn’t make sense to explain in French, I will quickly explain in English. The student usually gets it right away and that’s the end of it.

Some teachers will have a sign that has “Je parle anglais” on one side and “Je parle français” on the other. She turns it to the Je parle anglais side when she needs to make an announcement in English.

Other teachers will stand under the American flag when they need to speak English.

In my experience, I would rather write on the board in English than switch to speaking English. It is so much easier to keep in French because once you allow yourself to switch, it’s easy to find reasons to speak in English. If you never switch to English, it gets harder and harder to justify speaking in English. After a while students forget you even speak English. Why shock them?

What about administrators who are uncomfortable with target-language only?

I have had administrators who have had no trouble with only French and those who think students are too lost with only French and have praised other teachers who use “the right balance of target language and English.”

Explaining the premise behind French-only won’t help because the administrator feels the students are lost. My solution is make sure that during an observation I have planned a lot of student-student interaction, some teacher-student question/answers, make sure to speak slower (even if the students don’t need it) and more gestures. I’m definitely not going to start speaking English for the administrator.

I’ll never forget once when an administrator quietly slipped in. The students were acting a tiny bit crazy and someone had a forbidden snack on his desk. I was able to tell the students in French that we had a visiteur, to put away the food and to be on their best behavior and they immediately became model students without the administrator thinking the students were anything but model students.

Another time an administrator sneaked in and I was off subject (but still in French!) talking about my diet and how a peanut butter sandwich was 440 calories. The administrator was impressed with the topic, the French and how interested all the students were.

What about outside of class?

There is not really a reason to switch to English outside of class. It’s a great opportunity to give students another chance to practice French. When you see them in the hall, ask, “Tu vas à quelle classe maintenant?” “Comment s’appelle ton professeur?” “Il est gentil?”

When students tell you about their day, their boyfriend, their job, etc. you can always find a response:

  • C’est bien!
  • C’est amusant!
  • Les garçons sont stupides!

Your students will understand!

 Bottom line – NO EXCUSES!

Now that you know the why and the how – just do it! There is really no reason to not speak 100% French with students. It will help them and you. Just think – no more feeling bad for not speaking French. You know that’s what you have to do!

Extended French Speaking Activity

To achieve my goal of increasing French usage among my students, I implemented “Ne parlez pas anglais” cards in my French II class today.

Students are just finishing up reflexive verbs. I gave them an information-gap activity, and gave every student three question cards to ask their partner when they were done with the information-gap activity. Students were told that they could talk about any activity and the question cards could be used if they ran out of things to say.

I explained the information-gap activity in French, but I had a power-point explanation in English. I handed out the information-gap sheets to each partner (A and B). Students were told that they were to speak French for an entire 15 minutes. If anyone was caught speaking English, he or she would be given a “Ne parlez pas anglais” card. They could get rid of the card if they caught someone else speaking English. Any students who still had the card at the end of the activity would have to go in front of the class and speak French for one minute.

We practiced pronunciation of some of the answers they would be giving. On the information-gap sheet, the infinitive forms were listed. I emphasized that they need to drop the ending of these words when used in a sentence and I practiced the pronunciation of this several times. (We speak in the present and past tenses daily but students still want to say “Je me lever.”

I started a timer and I told students to start speaking French. Of course one student “didn’t know the activity had started!” and I promptly gave the student a “Ne parlez pas anglais” card. The other students really tried to not speak English. I sort of felt as if the students were a little too afraid of getting punished and I don’t really want them to be coerced into speaking French, but then again, maybe I do want them forced to speak it.

Towards the end of the activity there were two students who started speaking English for some reason and both got two cards. I think I gave out a fourth card, but I don’t remember who I gave it to and I only have three cards now instead of four.

After most students were done with the information-gap activity, they picked up the question cards and used them to ask each other questions. They were new cards I had made for French I after they learned aller so the students were unfamiliar with them. Even so, they did pretty well.

I called time and then called up the first student to speak French in front of the class. She wasn’t too nervous but wasn’t sure what to talk about. I asked her how old she is, how big her family is, if she has a dog, etc. She did fine. I had two other students come up and they did fine. I don’t think any of them thought this was a big embarrassment for them. At my previous school the German teacher had students do this often and it really improved their ability to speak French.

I’m hoping to continue to use this method of keeping students in French and even if they have to come up to the front, that experience should help them speak French.

Book Recommendation

The book I used for the information-gap activity is called Deux à Deux by Michael Dreke and Wolfgang Lind from 1992. I use it quite a bit, but it is best suited for French III and above, but some activities are suited for French II. There are a variety of activities and I do not use them all. In the information-gap activities, they have missing information for several people, not just the people on partner A’s paper. For example, in the activity I used today, it was practicing asking what time people did certain things (M. Pache or Yvonne). Sometimes the information for M. Pache was on partner A’s paper, sometimes it was missing and the same for Yvonne. There are also two columns for Vous-même and Votre partenaire to complete. The other aspect of these activities I like is that they are a little edgy. For example in a different activity, the student asks, why doesn’t Jean-Marc want to drive? The answer is, “because he has a little too much to drink.”

By the end of this activity, my students were definitely experts at asking “A quelle heure est-ce que . . .”

deux a deux

Fun Music to Start French Class

I usually try to have a music video playing during the passing period to greet the students when they come in to class (there are some tired weeks, however, that I just don’t get it set up). Playing music at the beginning of class is the minimum you can do to bring some French culture into the classroom. There is a lot of good French music but I prefer up beat music to slow love songs for the passing period.

How to find Music

The best way to find songs on your own is on On the top banner are “NRJ Music Awards” giving you a list of hit songs. For the current hits, click on “Vos Hits NRJ du Moment” in the lower right-hand corner of the page. It will give you a 15-second play list of current hit songs. I will listen to them on the playlist and if they are upbeat, I will look up the music video on YouTube or Daily Motion. After I find the music video, I save the link in my Diigo account. You can tag your book marks and put them in categories so it is easy to find things you have saved. The educator account is free. You can also share your bookmarks with the public and you can find other people’s categories and bookmarks making it easier to find good things on the web. (

Here are a few of my favorite beginning-of-class songs:

tu es fou

My absolute favorite is Tu es fou by Magic System. I have overheard students walking past my classroom saying, “I wish I was in that class!”


sur ma route




Sur ma route by Black M


quand la musique est bonne


Quand la Musique est Bonne by Amel Bent et Soprano Generation Goldman (I recommend all of the updated Jean-Jacques Goldman songs)


envole moi



Envole-Moi by Tal and MPokora Generation Goldman


je te donne



Je Te Donne by Leslie et Ivyrise Generation Goldman

louise attaqueLes Soirées Parisiennes by Louise Attaque Video produced by ParisStayApartments – Great video of Paris

Les Limites by Julien Doré – I like to play this song for a few days without showing the video, then one day show the video. Students, of coursjulien doree, think this is hysterical! Make sure you show the one with ‘ Julien chante, l’homme barbu danse.’


Using Descriptions of Words Instead of Just the Word

I attended a BER (Bureau of Education Research) by Alice Kosnick who stressed the importance of chunking vocabulary and using descriptions. Well, I tried it today with French II using reflexive vocabulary flash cards. I used descriptions (on utilise ce produit pour se laver les cheveux) for most of the vocabulary, but a couple times I just said the word (in French) – une épaule, un cou. It took about five seconds for the students to get used to processing the descriptions and they found the activity much more interesting and engaging. I am convinced of the necessity of incorporating circumlocution from my end as well as the students as much as possible.

Vocabulary Review Flash Card Activity

This is an idea I got from a BER (Bureau of Education Research) seminar by Alice Krosnik. The hand out pertains to Reflexive Verb Vocabulary but can be used for any set of vocabulary in which a picture would represent the word.

Set up

Students can prepare at home for homework the day before. Hand out the attached grid with 25 pictures of articles de toilette and body parts. On the blank grid, student write the French word corresponding to each picture. Students should color the backs or put a symbol so if the cards get mixed up with their partner’s card, it will be easy to sort them. Students cut up all cards and bring to school in a snack-size bag.


For each pair of students (of three if necessary), students take one set of picture cards and place them face up. The teacher will say a description of one of the cards (C’est utiliser pour se laver les cheveux). Students choose the card corresponding to its description, HOWEVER, students cannot choose the card until the teacher either says, “Allez-y” or rings a bell or gives some other signal. This will allow students to process, especially since the teacher is simply not saying “le shampooing.” The ‘winner’ has the most cards. Also note: if a student grabs a card before the signal, the student must relinquish the card to his partner.

Obviously you can assign students the task of making their own flash cards at home.

Alternative Games

Flash Card Bingo

Students choose nine picture cards from their set of cards. They lay their nine cards down face up. The teacher reads descriptions of the vocabulary on the cards. (On voit avec cette partie du corps.) Students remove the card that corresponds with this description. The winner is the first student to remove all his cards from the game.

The Memory Game

This is why you need two sets of cards. Students take one set of cards (pictures and French). They lay the cards face down. It is easier when the pictures are on one side of the desk and the French words are on the other side.

Students take turns turning over cards to match the picture with the French word.

Quiz your partner

Students take turns quizzing each other. Picture card – say in French; French card – say word in English (or give a description in French better! If the student knows the vocabulary word, put the card at the end of the pile. If he doesn’t know it, the partner tells him and the card gets placed four cards down so the student will see it again soon.

Class Speaking French Day 2

Yesterday French I spoke French at each table of three or four students for five minutes. The students loved it! In order to be consistent, I will have a dedicated time for students to speak French at the beginning of class every day. Students have always had paired speaking activities to do, which the students did well, but it was just another activity in class. With the dedicated French-speaking time, students don’t look at it like another activity, but as a way to really speak French.

Some students can be spontaneous and find things to talk about, but for those students who really don’t know what to say, I hand out question cards which they use to ask each other questions.

At the beginning of class today I followed up on vocabulary they asked about yesterday, which was “how do you say that.”  I went over cela and ça plus ce, cet and cette with examples of how you would each. Then I gave them sample questions they could ask each other using this concept: Qu’est-ce que tu vas faire après l’école aujourd’hui? ce soir? ce weekend? Je vais . . . étudier, aller au ciné, dormir, manger un sandwich . . .

I will review this concept in the warm up (La Sonnerie) sporadically throughout the next three weeks. Now I don’t have to “teach” the concept in the next lesson, saving more class time for using the language!

Today I told them they would have to speak French for six minutes. One student asked if we could do this everyday and asked if we will eventually get to 40 minutes speaking only French!

As I walked around the classroom, I didn’t catch anyone speaking English. At the end, one table of students wanted to tell me what they talked about, which ended up to be as simple as, “donne-moi ton stylo.” “Ce n’est pas un stylo, c’est un crayon!” They were so proud of themselves.

It is much more of an enjoyable class for me, the teacher, when students are engaged, obviously. I feel more like a facilitator than the person standing at the board giving them notes and telling them what workbook page to do.

Fun Paired-Speaking Activity for Possession

Click here to download a paired-student speaking activity to practice possession. Students have piles of items left behind from a retreat and they have to tell their partners to whom everything belongs.

For example, student A asks, “A qui est le stylo?” Student B looks on her paper and determines that, “C’est le stylo de Céline.” Student A writes Céline next to le stylo.