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French lesson plans using Skype can be an absolutely fantastic way to engender enthusiasm in your students for foreign languages and, of course, improve those vital skills related to grammar and vocabulary. The lesson plan, needless to say, requires your school to have an already existing connection or cultural exchange with a French school – yet fear not if this is not currently the case for your school. Setting up an exchange limited to online or letter-based correspondence in the United States is a lot less complicated than it may seem, and may even lead on to include future field trips between schools. The lesson plan can in fact work without an exchange of this nature, also. The lesson itself, which relies heavily upon the free online messaging program Skype, will allow your students to engage with real-life native speakers and thus lead to a big boost in their French language skills.
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Setting Up the Exchange
First, let’s explore how to set up a cultural program with a French school – feel free to skip on ahead if this is already in place. Check with your head of department or principal to see if the school has had any European partnerships in the past of which you were unaware. This can often be a common situation, as unfortunately cultural partnerships have a habit of flickering out if they are not regularly used.
The benefits of getting involved and setting up an informal exchange of information between your school and a French establishment, however, are exponential. As the commitments are relatively few and not overly time-consuming, it should not be too difficult to track down French teachers who like the idea of taking part in a Skype-based lesson of this nature.
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Next, check with the local education authorities in your state or town in search of a partner or twinning town – this is the ideal place to start in your search for a French school. Once you’ve come across a suitable teaching establishment – preferably a Lycée if you teach high school students – make the first step of contact through email, ideally in French.
We all know that setting up field trip exchanges can be an endeavor surrounded by obstacles, yet don’t worry: organizing a Skype session online is a small commitment for both schools, and one which your fellow French teachers will most likely be enthused to take on. Language assistants are expensive and hard to come by in several areas of France. In your correspondence, ask ideally for a conversation with a particularly advanced group of English students during the lesson who will be unlikely to falter at your own students' more difficult questions.
A suitable alternative to a group of students is a French teacher or, if the exchange is proving to be extremely tough, the Département ambassador should help you to arrange something.
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Preparation and Hot Tips
Now, let’s move onto to the lesson itself: gather your students around an electronic projector or SMART board, which will be used to project the video feed from France. Next, place a webcam facing your students (the ideal group number for this exercise tends to be four or five, and six at the absolute most) creating a mutual visual link between the French students and yourselves. You should help your students to prepare some simple, non-invasive questions that they will pose to the French students during the interview – nothing too contentious, however, as this “student interview" should take on a light-hearted, fun tone. Remind your students to use the “vous" form if they are addressing a teacher, and the “tu" form to students or other classmates. Wait for the Skype call to connect and let the fun begin!
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Mediating the Exchange
It’s important to act as a mediator during the exchange of questions and answers, as students of lower ability groups may at first be rather shy in addressing each other, even though the conversation is taking place through a relatively removed medium. Be sure to jump in with some of your own prompts and easy questions for the teacher or students, should a dreaded silence take over both classrooms. Here are a few starter suggestions you might find helpful:
Vous avez combien d’élèves dans votre classe?
Que pensez-vous de l’accent américain?
Vous êtes jamais voyagés aux États-Unis? Quelle est votre opinion de nos pays?
Quelle est ton matière préférée?
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Vive la France!
Always encourage your students to correct each others’ grammar – and even your own! This will add to the productivity of an already relaxed and enjoyable lesson, thus making it even more worthy of the time and effort it took you to set it up. It’s also essential to write new vocabulary on the board and then, if possible, circulate a handout with these new words for a test later on in the term. Your students might groan initially at the prospect, yet it can be a great way to ensure that the lesson has not been a fruitless effort. Of course, your main aim in this lesson should be to improve, above everything else, your students' confidence when talking to native speakers, in the secure environment of the classroom.
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Consolidation and Conclusion
Thank your French partners profusely for agreeing to take part in this French lesson plan using Skype, as this may well open the way for further connections with the school. These will of course take more time and organization, but it is important to inform local education authorities of what you are doing: There may well be government grants and other funds available to help your school out.
Finally, organize a consolidation task for the next lesson, in the form of short newspaper stories, written in groups, about what the students learned from their exchange with the French students. This should help to solidify all that vital information in their memories.