Monday morning, 8.30, Agen was slowly heating up. A big group of around 20 students turned up for French class. Sabrina seemed completely relaxed by finding out the varying levels in her “class” – from complete beginners to students that could already speak some French. She made every student feel welcome and valued by honouring their answers at their own level with an English word, a French word or sentence. ‘Excellents!’ and ‘tap cinqs’ (high fives) flew across the room to lighten every ones spirit. It was amazing to see how Sabrina builds relationships with the students by what seems like merely ‘talking’ to them, finding out their interests and making jokes. Now don’t be fooled– to teach a class in such a manner takes a skill set that Sabrina has worked very hard on for years.
The students were asked to introduce themselves and share what their favourite drink was. Sabrina pronounces new vocabulary very slowly and repeats them a few times using different intonations. The students got even more time to process cognates (“pro-ble-ma-tique”) and were always checked on their comprehension.
It was mind blowing to see how many personal details of students Sabrina actually remembered and constantly quizzed the class on in a fun way. High frequency vocabulary or target structures were recycled throughout the session in a very natural manner, reinforced by some ‘light’ circling questions. “Student A aime la biere Allemand! Il aime le Earl Grey Te?” What made the most impact for me, was how she managed to show such authentic amazement to their responses.
Comprehension and expectations
Comprehension checks (in this case: translating to English) were done throughout, especially for super 7 verbs. Allison Litten did some great co-teaching where she explored and compared birthday days and zodiac signs, linked to personality traits.
At the same time, Sabrina was setting the expectation for the class to do the same after certain gestures. She explained this briefly in English: “After seeing this gesture you will express your interest by saying ‘aaaaaah’! There’s a lot of pretend in this class, so new details are always super interesting!”
Maintaining the energy level
Sabrina also used TPR for specific verbs like ‘sit’, ‘stand up’, ‘say’, ‘look at’. Since she varied between whole class and commands to individual students, students heard the verbs in different forms as well. She used fun commands like “sit down shyly! Say bonjour slowly!” There was a clear build-up from single commands to faster paced and combined commands.
Besides TPR to get students up and moving, Sabrina read the energy level of the group flawlessly and throws in fun and comprehensible brain breaks whenever the group needed it. Brain breaks help foster community and lower the affective filter.
Pacing and establishing meaning
Towards the end of the session, Sabrina asked the students to draw three personal things. Another great example of the ‘pace’ in this class - students got a break from the intensive listening just when they probably needed it. Some new words in order to understand this task were translated. Sabrina consistently establishes the meaning of new vocabulary by writing on the board or pointing to visuals. After that, the new words are reinforced with consistent gesturing.
Some connectives and question words are also ‘highlighted’ by the students in class. For instance, one student had the hilarious job to jump up and translate the question word ‘who’. The poor guy did not get a chance to wander off even a split second!
One of Sabrina’s strengths is making every one accountable. She makes every student follow her classroom routines – if it wasn’t perfect, they are kindly instructed to do it again. But always with a smile or a laugh. And if there is one way of building community, it is through sharing laughter. Sabrina understands that like no one else. I sat in the back as an observer, but could not stop myself from joining in. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in this classroom forever!
Marianne de Best