Guide for English Language Assistants in France
Part 4: Teaching Tips & Travelling
Part 1: The
Application | Acceptance E-Mail | Waiting
Part 2: Figuring out your Arrêté de Nomination | Obtaining your Visa
Part 3: Packing & Bringing Money | Arriving: The Paperwork Nightmare
Part 4: Teaching Tips & Lesson Plans | Vacations: Travelling
Part 5: Before Leaving France | Staying in France: Renewing, PACSing, Unemployment
The first few days at your school, you will mostly be doing paperwork and taking care of administrative things. You should have a week or two of observation before you actually begin teaching. But I have heard some schools make you start teaching right away, especially at the primary level, so you always need to be prepared. During my first two weeks, I barely worked at all. When I was in class, I just answered the students' questions and told them a little about me. And most of my classes I only saw every two weeks, so the introductions/questions stuff went on for a while and I didn't have any real work to do until after the Toussaint vacation. Hopefully you will have a block schedule so that you'll only be working 2 or 3 days a week. Your schedule might change in the winter too, when the semesters change. You should only be scheduled for 12 hours total (but you will usually work less than that). Thanks to internships at the professional high school (so the students are not actually in class), I usually worked 10 hours a week or less. Plus sometimes there are transportation strikes, which means you can't/don't have to go to school either.
You should get a key for your rooms as soon as possible, as well as a card for eating in the cafeteria (if necessary), a code for the copy machines, and login details to use the computers/printers. The schedule you receive will probably list your assigned rooms, but not the room numbers of the teachers you will be working with. You'll probably have to track down each of the teachers and ask for their assigned room number, in case you have a problem and need to talk to them, or in case the teacher prefers that you stay in the classroom with him/her. You should bring your own dry-erase markers and/or chalk (or ask the accueil/intendant for some) since you never know what's going to be in the room. A watch or cell phone will be necessary since there are rarely clocks in the classroom. You might want to bring some water too in case you're not used to talking in front of a class and you get nervous or your throat gets too dry. I use index cards to remember my students' names - have each one write their first name on a card and give it back to you. Then you can choose a card at random instead of hoping for volunteers to answer questions or speak up.
British English is generally taught throughout France, but you are usually expected to teach your own dialect. You may already be familiar with some British vocabulary, such as jumpers and trainers for sweaters and sneakers, but most people are less familiar with the grammatical differences between British and American English.
My Weekly Schedule
First Year: On Mondays, my first class was seconde and I took half of the students every week. My second class was actually two separate classes that alternated each week (semaine A and B), but both classes were the première level. So for the first class, I could use the same lesson for two weeks, and for the second class, I could use the same lesson for four weeks. On Tuesdays, I didn't have an actual class, but I just help two students who wanted extra English conversation practice. I divided the hour into sections on culture, informal conversation, pronunciation, etc. On Wednesdays, I was in a class with only 6 students and a teacher who was not an English teacher even though the class was a section européenne. I was there to help the students write reports in English about their internships. Then I had another class of 6-8 students who just needed extra conversation practice. On Thursdays, I had two more classes of seconde, but the teacher always gave me lessons so I didn't have to prepare anything, and again, I took only half the class each week. On Fridays, I had one class of 4ème euro, one class of 3ème euro, and four classes of 3ème (but only two per week - they alternated with semaine A and B). At the collège on Fridays, I took half of the class for half of the hour, instead of half of the class for the whole hour like at the high schools. I could generally use the same lesson for the 4ème euro and 3ème euro, but I did need a new lesson every week. For the other two 3ème classes, I could use the same lesson for two weeks thanks to the alternating weeks.
Second Year: Since I lived an hour away from my schools, I only worked 3 days a week. Tuesdays I was at the high school from 8 am until 6 pm, but I only had to work 5 or 6 hours. I mostly had seconde classes, so I used my lessons from my first year. Thursdays, I worked at the middle school for 3 hours, but I didn't have any assigned classes because the teachers just signed up for an hour or two with me whenever they needed me. Fridays, I worked at the high school again and mostly with première and terminale, helping them prepare for their oral bac exams. The high school had trimesters instead of semesters, so my schedule changed every few months.
The English teachers at your school may give you ideas for lesson plans following along in the textbook, or they may let you do whatever you'd like. There is a programme d'enseignement 2002 and the revised 2007 version that you might want to follow if you are teaching primary (and/or review if you are teaching at a collège). There are also other documents available to help you plan your topics so that your students will pass into the next level: Progression in Primary and Passerelle CM2 to 6ème. You could also be teaching an entire class yourself, or just taking 8-16 students at a time for half or the whole class period for additional conversation practice. Either way, you'll probably want to teach everyday English and use authentic materials, like magazines and movies, so that you teach real English and not the stilted grammar book English the students are probably used to learning. It seems that students like lesson plans that compare the US and France most, so you should focus on these differences:
- Holidays - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter; and others like Labor Day, Memorial Day, Mother's day, etc.
- Politics/Government - Voting, healthcare, environmental policies, death penalty, Republican vs. Democrat, former laws discriminating against Native Americans and African-Americans
- Sales/Shopping - Good to do in January when France has nationwide sales; prevalence of advertising (TV, radio, magazines) in US
- High School - Differences such as same schedule everyday, 4 years instead of 3, lockers in hallways, emphasis on sports, Homecoming & Prom, etc.
At the collège level, the students have textbooks so I based my lessons on topics in their books. However, at the lycée level, the students don't have textbooks so I was free to teach whatever I wanted. I tried to introduce some aspect of American culture in every lesson, and include conversation and pronunciation issues too. It can be a challenge getting every student to say something in English when you have so many students, but it is important for them to speak since they may only have you once a month. If you're interested in buying or reading books about teaching ESL, and specifically teaching pronunciation and vocabulary, I recommend the following: Highway to ESL., Keep Talking, Lessons from Nothing, Pronunciation Games, Games for Language Learning, How to Teach Vocabulary, Teaching ESL/EFL with the Internet, Teaching American English Pronunciation, Teaching Pronunciation: A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Fifty Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners, and Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language.
There are a ton of ESL lesson plan websites available on the internet (I listed my favorites on the Documents & Links page). Remember to focus your search on conversation, vocabulary, and pronunciation though. You shouldn't be teaching grammar or writing. I honestly think it's impossible to determine how long a lesson is going to take, so make sure to have another lesson or something extra to do just in case you have time left at the end of your class. This can be extra crossword puzzles, more pronunciation practice (write words used during the class on the board and have everyone pronounce the list), Hangman (called Le Pendu), editing exercises (write incorrect sentences on the board and have students correct them), etc.
If you want a break from an actual lesson, you can always play Scattergories or Taboo or Jeopardy (though you do need to prepare a little for these games). Another great game for vocabulary is Apples to Apples, but you will most likely need to buy it before you come to France. You can also print some card games, such as this modified version of Le jeu de 7 familles (similar to Go Fish) to review colors and family members, as well as "do you have / have you got?"
If you have to help Terminale students prepare for their oral bac exams (and if you work at a lycee, you most likely will have to do this), all of the "document inconnu" used on the 2007 exam are available as one large PDF file (148 MB). During the actual exam, students will receive a visual document that they have never seen before, have 10 minutes to prepare a speech, and then talk in English for 10 minutes about the document. There is a certain way they are supposed to present this document, which you can teach them using this guide: How to Present a Document for an English Exam.
Lesson Plans to Download
Here is a summary of my lessons (for the classes in which I was allowed to do whatever I wanted) for 3ème through 1ère students. If you're teaching primary, you will find useful information on British Council's site in addition to PrimLangues, and classroom language (if your French is not very good) at the Mallette Pédagogique.
You can refer to the Lesson Plans page if you're looking for the complete list of materials to download, sorted by language skill (conversation, pronunciation, etc.) instead of chronologically. I've also uploaded some of my private lesson materials (mostly grammar-based) to the lesson plans page.
First day. Each student must tell their name, age, where they live, how many brothers and sisters, etc. so that I can attempt to remember their names. I do the Two Truths and One Lie lesson just to get the students talking and so I can determine their English ability. I also like to keep their papers so I can correct their grammar. To continue with asking questions, we do a short exercise on basic US info and forming questions with answers that are provided. Then I continue with British vs. American English because the students have been learning British words that I don't use. Last, I quiz them on general American culture, such as the population, the president, the number of states, most popular TV series, etc.
Elections / Veteran's Day. I used a regular news article about the recent elections (Democrats win) and simplified the language a little. I numbered the sentences and made sure each student read out loud. Then I explained the branches of the government and why this election was important. You could also give the students a short quiz to determine if they are more Republican or Democrat, as well as set up a mock election and assign "voter" and "representative" to certain students to show how the electoral college works (or doesn't work...) If you want them to learn about the presidents, you could use the Animaniacs Presidents song (you can find the cartoon online). For Veteran's Day, I gave a short history of the holiday and then had the students read In Flanders Fields and then I explained some of the vocabulary used in the poem.
Thanksgiving. I had the students read a general article about the history and culture of Thanksgiving in North America (or a shorter article with a recipe for pumpkin pie), and then we did an exercise on changing present tense verbs to past using the story of Thanksgiving. Then we did a pronunciation exercise on the past tense ending (-ed) and plural noun ending (-s) and the three ways to pronounce them. Last, I passed out pictures of Thanksgiving dinner that my mom had taken and had the students list typical Thanksgiving food on the board. In some classes, I also wrote the recipe for pumpkin pie on the board and the regular teacher had the students actually bake a pumpkin pie so we could all taste it. You could also choose among 10 seasons of "Friends" because each season had a Thanksgiving episode, and show a few clips and have students answer questions about what happened or have them act out a certain dialog from the episode (The Friends French fan club has scripts in English and French). For younger classes (such as 6ème), you can give them Thanksgiving photos/clipart and have them fill in the blanks with vocabulary you write on the board. You can also use the song Cherokee Nation if you want to go more in depth about Native Americans (November is Native American month).
Pearl Harbor. I explained the attack on Pearl Harbor using maps of the Pacific Ocean, and then the students read an article about what happened. We compared the attack on December 7 with the attack on September 11 on the board, using linking words such as whereas, however, unlike, similar to, etc. Then I gave them an exercise to do on the passive voice which retold the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Christmas. I used a lot of worksheets from Boggle's World to teach winter and Christmas vocabulary to my collège students. It's also easy to teach them famous Christmas carols and sing along with them. Another exercise I did was read Little Tree by ee cummings and have the students fill in the blanks of words I had removed. You can also do this with the carols, if you have some way of playing the carols in class (sometimes you might not have access to a cassette or CD player.) For older students, you can have them read a shortened version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and then split the class into three groups: The Ghost of Christmas Present, Past and Future. Each group will have to write a sentence on the board in their verb tense and the other groups must change the tenses to match their own groups too. If you'd rather just sing carols or show Christmas movies, I'm sure your school (and students) wouldn't mind. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and Frosty the Snowman (1969) are the best classic Christmas movies suitable for young ESL students.
New Year's Resolutions. Using worksheets from Boggle's World, I had the students write resolutions with certain verbal expressions (I'm planning on V+ing, I intend to V, etc.) and then practice more with expressing the future tense without using will or going to. We did an editing exercise where students had to read through two paragraphs on resolutions and correct the grammatical mistakes (I'm plan to, I intend traveling, etc.) You could also play a game with these verbal expressions (some are followed by infinitives, others are followed by gerunds) by dividing the class into teams and having them write sentences for certain verbs. The teams write their sentences on the board and the team with the most grammatically correct sentences wins (you could also give a prize to the team with the most interesting sentences).
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday / Civil Rights. Students read article on MLK and answered comprehension questions. I played the last 5 minutes of "I have a Dream" and explained the historical and geographical significance. I also gave students the words to the last part of the speech so they could read along. Then I wrote some examples of rights and the legal ages for them, like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, etc. and we compared the ages in the US and France. Last, students used conversational phrases to give their opinions on the rights and to agree or disagree with these legal ages. At the end of class, I show the ACLU ad of MLK and Charles Manson and explain the reason behind it (i.e. race relations in the US). You could also include more African-American figures of the Civil Rights movement, such as Rosa Parks, or talk more about segregation, racism, etc. for more advanced students. Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is a good song to illustrate the severity of racism and lynching in the South.
Describing People. In my collège class, I handed out the Describing People phrases and gave each student a character card with several characteristics listed. Each student had to describe their person, first with the help of the phrases paper, and a second time without the paper and with a different character. Then we moved on to the Expressing Likes, Indifferences, and Dislikes phrases and reviewed verbs that are followed by to + infinitive and verbs that are followed by gerunds. To review body part vocabulary, we play bingo using picture sheets that I created from ESL HQ; and to review clothing, students must describe what their partner is wearing, as well as describe models using ads that I brought from the US. This sample PDF from New Interchanges includes clothing vocabulary and review of the present progressive.
Describing Pictures. Again in my collège class, I did a picture dictation exercise where I read a dozen sentences describing a picture and the students had to draw it. Then I had 2 students draw their pictures on the board to see if they followed the description. Then I wrote some prepositions of location on the board, such as above, below, next to, on top of, top right-hand corner, in the middle, etc. and had the students draw a room in their house so that they could describe it to their partner, who had to draw it correctly. For more advanced classes, you can use paintings and sculptures (you can find pictures online) and have them describe them using guidelines from How to Present a Document for an English Exam. (If you have Terminale classes, this is what you will have to do with them to help prepare for the oral bac.)
Sports. For collège classes, match names of sports to their picture, and then put them in correct category: to go V+ing vs. to play N (to go skiing vs. to play soccer). Review short answers to yes/no questions, and have students interview each other (eliciting short answers). Students write paragraph about their partner and tell class about him/her. If time permits, review vocabulary by dividing class into teams and playing charades.
Stereotypes. I began by giving definitions of stereotype, prejudice, discrimination, ethnocentrism, etc. and moved on to the North/Liberal/Democratic/blue states vs. South/Conversative/Republican/red states divide in the US and how each half views foreign countries differently... Then I had my students brainstorm stereotypes that Americans have of the French, and that the French have of Americans. I wrote all of them on the board, and helped them a little on the American stereotypes of the French. Then we read The American's Guide to France and discussed why it made fun of Americans as much as the French. Lastly, I showed them pictures of stereotypical French people as well as the covers of two books, "Let's Make Fun of the French" and "60 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France But Hate the French."
US School System. Read short article explaining differences between American and French schools (lockers, 4 years long, absolutely no smoking, prevalence of sports, fewer foreign languages offered, etc.) and show pictures of typical American school. Write grades (kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, etc. as well as A, B, C, etc.) on the board with the French equivalents. Write a sample American schedule on the board and ask for a volunteer to write his or her French schedule on the board too. Sometimes I hand out a sheet of sample schedules and grades, comparing France to US. Do a short exercise in translating the names of school subjects. Do High school Obligations & Interdictions together as a class to review modals. Show pictures from Homecoming/Prom and pass around yearbook. Students express preferences of whether they would rather go to school in the US or France. A good song to use when you're talking about American schools is "Girl Next Door" by Saving Jane. You could also teach specific vocabulary to describe stereotypical students - preppy, jock, nerd, band geek, goth, emo, slacker, etc. and use photos of characters from popular American movies/TV shows to show what they look like. For more advanced classes, you can also split the students into groups and give each one an article on a certain problem in US schools (athletics more important than academics, students work too much at after-school jobs, focus on "teaching to the test" such as AP, ACT, or SAT, etc.) and have each group give a summary to the rest of the class.
US Geography. Write four regions of US on board: New England, Midwest, South and West. Hand out cards with the name of one state to each student. Have students come to the board and write their state in the correct region. Then go around the room and ask each student to give one fact about their state. (They will probably have to guess the locations and information, unless they get the famous states like California or New York.) Talk about lack of public transportation in the US and how everyone must use a car (plus the cost - you can compare price of gas in each country too; but remember to change gallons to liters). Show maps to give students an idea of how large the US really is by comparing its size to Europe. Give students a map of US and have them write in major cities. Give them a list of distances (in kilometers, if you're feeling nice) and have them guess which two cities are that far apart. Then use those same distances to show how far apart certain cities in Europe are. Using another map of the US, have students tell you where a certain state is located by using directional words. If you want the students to learn the capitals of each state, you could use the Animaniacs Capitals & States song (you can find the cartoon online). There are other 50 state songs too, such as The 50 States that Rhyme or the Nifty Fifty United States.
St. Patrick's Day. Students read through an article on the history of the holiday and how it's celebrated in Ireland and in the US. Students write in locations of Dublin and Belfast on a map of Ireland/Northern Ireland and answer the following vocabulary questions. For more advanced classes, you can lead into the current immigration debate in the US and the government's policies on illegal immigrants. Students give the pros and cons of immigration and compare the American situation to France's policies on immigration. Students debate the two sides or give their opinions (for or against) immigration and why.
Telephone Conversations. Give students list of telephone phrases, half in French and half in English, and have them match the translations. Divide class into groups and give each a scrambled dialog to put in the correct order. Then choose two people to model a dialog, first reading the dialog and then creating their own, either writing it first or creating it on the spot.
Slang / Reduced Forms in American English. Go over the most common slang words and read plenty of examples. Introduce common reduced forms and have students practice pronouncing them alone and in sentences. (Students may also be interested in learning text message language.) Give sample situations and students should supply the appropriate saying. Last, I point out problems with direct translations between French and English (that I've noticed the students make a lot) and give literal translations into English as well as the real English counterparts.
And a few other lessons that I thought about doing, but didn't have time to:
Advertising / Sales. I talk a little about how prevalent advertising is in the US, and the major differences I've noticed (commercials every few minutes on TV, sales every week in the US). I hand out a lot of American and French ads, and have the students compare them. Working with partners or groups, they describe the people, clothing, objects, etc. and give an oral summary to the rest of the class. (This can be combined with the Describing People lesson above.)
Valentine's Day. Typical Valentine's Day phrases (Be mine) and candy. Students read personal ads and write out abbreviations. Practice preferential phrases with "I'd like" or "I'd prefer" or "I'm interested in" describing their ideal partner. Students write their own personal ads (anonymously) and they are mixed together. At random, each student chooses and reads a personal ad and the rest of the class has to guess who wrote it. Last, go over phrases for accepting and refusing politely (or not so politely, if you want.)
Environment / Global Warming. Read through articles on national parks or global warming. You can show clips from An Inconvenient Truth and ask comprehension questions about it. Depending on their level, students can either debate the two sides or give advice to Americans on what they should do to conserve energy and protect the environment. Practice with phrases such as "you should" and "If I were you" and "It would be better to" etc.
In retrospect, I wish I would have spent more time on pronunciation and vocabulary games, even at the lycée level. The students already receive so much grammar and writing work in their regular classes and they look forward to having the assistants each week, so I wish I could have made the lessons more fun for them. Plus many of them just didn't have the level of vocabulary required to practice for the oral bac. Even with my Terminale students, I had to teach the basic vocabulary needed to describe a photo or advertisement.
You will have more than 7 weeks of paid vacation in France. The vacation dates for the académies can be found on the French Education website. Generally, you will have ten days off at the end of October/beginning of November for All Saint's Day, 2 weeks off in December for Christmas, 2 weeks off in February for winter break, and 2 weeks off in April for spring break. (If you have a 9 month contract, you will also have a few days off in May for holidays such as May Day, End of WWII Day, Ascension and Pentecost.)
There are several low-cost airlines throughout Europe that can take you almost anywhere but beware that if there is a problem such as flight cancellation, you might get stranded at an airport in a foreign country because these airlines rarely comply with laws on passenger rights: Ryanair, Easyjet, BMIBaby, German Wings, Baboo, etc. and Eurolines is a great bus company if you'd rather not fly. (Check the Transportation section of the links page for a longer list of airlines and bus companies.) Don't forget to take advantage of your Carte 12-25 on the trains throughout France and Europe. If you need to know if a certain train station in France has luggage lockers available, check the Services section of each station on the Gare en Mouvement site.
This is how the academies are grouped for vacation dates. You will need to check your academie's website for the dates if you are in a DOM-TOM. In addition to these vacations, there are also a few holidays (jours feriés) during the school year, such as Easter Monday, Labor Day (May 1st), End of WWII Day (May 8th), Ascension and Pentecôte, when schools will be closed.
For my first vacation at the end of October, a few other assistants and I rented a car and drove from Annecy to Salzburg, Austria, for a few days. Renting a car and splitting the cost is generally cheaper than other modes of transportation. It did take us 12 hours to get there, but only one of us could legally drive so we had to stop often. Most rental places require that the driver be over 21 and have had their license for at least two years. The credit card used must also match the driver's license (you cannot have one person drive and charge the car to someone else's credit card). Plus, if the driver is under 25, you will be charged extra for young driver's insurance. We got directions using Michelin's website but the highways were a little confusing to figure out. It probably would have been better if we had taken maps of each of the countries too. If you plan on driving through Switzerland, you must buy a vignette sticker in order to drive on any highway. This costs 40 Swiss Francs or 30 € if you wait to buy it at the border, but it is valid for the current year. If you stop at the exchange office right before the border, you can exchange 25 € for 40 francs in order to buy it and save 5 €.
For the second vacation after Christmas, I flew to Dublin. I bought two separate one-way tickets on two different airlines because it was cheaper than a roundtrip. I bought my tickets only two weeks in advance, so I paid 125 € to fly Lyon to Dublin on Aerlingus, and 25 € to fly Dublin to Grenoble on Ryanair. My experience with both airlines was fine, and the only difference was that Aerlingus has assigned seats and Ryanair does not.
For the winter vacation in February, I took the TGV from Annecy to Paris for a total of about 75 € roundtrip (thanks to my Carte 12-25). Then I flew from Geneva to Barcelona on Easyjet for 60 € roundtrip. Easyjet has unrealistic expectations about the turn-around time, so their flights are late a lot and you have to wait in line forever to check in. I arrived at the Barcelona airport two hours in advance of my return flight, and still barely made it through security in time to catch my flight. Only the airports in Geneva, London Luton, and Berlin have the automatic check-in kiosks, so be prepared to wait forever at the other airports or if you need to check in luggage. My advice is to take carry-on only, check in online and print your boarding pass before going to the airport.
If you'd like to go somewhere a little more exotic or further away than Europe, Tunisia is the cheapest country to go to. You can find some good deals through travel agencies for a week-long trip for around 300 €.