I love to teach writing in French class, but that doesn’t mean all kids love to write. Some kids write very quickly and fluently while others struggle to write anything. There are students who can write a lot, but every other word is wrong, and then there are those who write less but make few to no mistakes. How do you even begin to assess them when their skills are so different? After trying different ideas for a few years to come up with something that worked for me, I came up with this method to help all kids improve from where they were when they came to my class. Teaching writing to French students became so much easier!
This article is about teaching writing to intermediate and advanced French students. If you teach beginners, check out this post to find some free resources that can help you get beginners more comfortable with writing.
Here’s the method I used to teach writing in French:
1.Use a dedicated writing journal for writing in class.
I have found that it is so much easier to keep track of student writing when they have a dedicated writing journal. A simple spiral or composition notebook used only for writing is the easiest way to do this. Every few weeks, you can pick up the journals from one class at a time for grading. An easy grading idea is explained below!
2. Write frequently.
For years, we wrote twice a week in class. While there were times where we used graphic organizers to plan out our content, I prefer informal journal writing to help increase overall fluency. Here’s what I did:
At the beginning of the year, we started out with a goal to write for five minutes, and the only requirement I had was that they were not to stop writing for the entire time. I usually started with simple prompts where they could tell a short story or write a description of someone or something. A few easy starters are “Qu’est-ce que tu as fait pendant le week-end?” or “Décris ton/ta meilleur(e) ami(e).”
For most students, these questions will not be difficult, and they will be able to easily write for five minutes. However, some students would always tell me they had nothing else to say. For basic story-writing, it can be helpful to write a few hints on the board to prompt them.
Here are some story-writing questions that can help students who get stuck.
Quand se passe l’histoire ? Pourquoi est-ce que tu la racontes ?
Où se passe l’histoire?
Quel temps fait-il ?
Qui sont les personnages principaux ? Décris-les. Comment est-ce qu’ils se sentent ? Pourquoi ?
After a few weeks of writing for a solid five minutes, I increased the time to ten minutes. We stayed there for rest of the year for this type of writing. Before you start, it’s a good idea to let students know that they shouldn’t ask you how to say something as they are writing. This may sound mean, but you’ll find that if you let them ask you questions, then every thirty seconds, someone will have a question and it will interrupt the entire class. In addition, they’ll revert to English so much, and you want them to start thinking in French (as much as they can for the level they are at). It helps to put a few French-English dictionaries on their tables if they need to look up a word. You can also create a word list together on the board before starting.
Need writing prompts? Find these 124 questions plus grading rubrics here.
3. Set a fluency goal.
Once you have reached the ten minute goal time, gather data so you know how much each student is writing. The goal here is to write more in less time, so encourage students not to stress over mistakes. You can think of these as a series of (very) rough drafts. To start, have students do several writings at the beginning of the year. Just tell them that you want them to do their best so that you can get an idea of what their writing looks like right then.
After students have done a few writing samples, have them count the total words written during each writing session. Next, you’ll want to have them add up all the words written and find their average. You’ll want the average, because some questions will be much harder or easier for a student, and you don’t want a really low or high score to the the sole indicator of his or her ability.
Here’s an example :
Session 1 : Sophie writes 75 words in 10 minutes.
Session 2 : She writes 135 in 10 minutes.
Session 3 : She writes 110 words in 10 minutes.
She wrote 320 words in all during 30 minutes of writing. Divide that by 3, and her writing average is about 107 words in 10 minutes. On the inside cover of their notebooks, have them note their average.
Now here’s the goal part:
Take the student’s average at the beginning of the year, and set a goal of 20% more (or whatever percentage you like) by the end of the grading period. For a 20% increase, a student that writes 50 words in 10 minutes needs to get to 60 words. A student who writes 200 should move to 240. Make sure they know that overuse of words like et or très does not count!
If they make their goal, they get full points for the fluency grade. If not, they get a percentage that represents their growth. My students would usually meet or exceed their goals as they got used to writing more often.
Following the example above, Sophie started the year at an average of 107 words. To grow by 20%, she should reach an average of 128 by the end of the grading period. I typically take the last 3 writing samples to find the average. If she reaches or surpasses it, she gets 100% in this area. If she does not reach it, she’ll get a grade based on her growth. I typically gave a student a grade of 85% for a 15% growth and 75% for a 10% growth.
In eight years of teaching writing like this in my French class, I had only a few students show less growth than this, and in those situations, I provided remediation and exempted that part of the grade. By the following grading period, they were able to meet their goals.
Why it’s great:
The kids love it, because they are attainable goals that don’t compare them to one another. I love it, because they count the words and basically do most of the grading, saving me time! This is a great way to help students gain speed, but it’s also an easy way to goal-set and differentiate.
4. Grade for accuracy.
Of course we want students writing more, but we also want them writing correctly! Sometimes, that student who can write 250 words in ten minutes will make a LOT of mistakes. For that reason, it’s important to work on quantity AND quality.
If you follow this model, students will be writing two days a week. This can mean a ton of grading for you, but it doesn’t have to! One day a week (or every two weeks if that’s better for you), take another five to ten minutes and have them peer edit something they’ve written. I usually let students pick the writing they want to have checked.
I’ve used fancy revision systems that just got confusing, so in the end, I had students simply highlight mistakes. I found that around 75% of mistakes were things they knew (like est instead of et or mixing up x, s, or t on verbs). It was crushing me to have to grade these, because they made the same careless mistakes over and over! It got better once they started correcting their own mistakes with the help of a peer revision. (Disclaimer: I did still get papers with J’ai tombé on them sometimes, but it happened much less often!)
For the accuracy grade, they revise and turn in a formal writing of their choice from the trimester (with peer edit help). Of course there are students who don’t get grammar at all, so they don’t find mistakes or correct their own! Each time, they have to swap with someone different, so they will have some well-corrected items. You can take one class period to work on these if you want to offer them time to work with you. You can also allow them to ask a second peer of their choice if they aren’t comfortable with the editing done by the first classmate.
5. Make it fun.
It can get boring to sit in silence twenty minutes a week and write. I wanted them to love writing, not get bored and frustrated with it! You can mix it up by doing fun writing activities that you aren’t going to grade. And yes, someone will ask if it’s for a grade, because there’s always that one, right? Just explain that since one of their goals is to write more, this is important practice in reaching their goal. If they don’t practice, they won’t make their goal, so in the end, yes, it’s for a grade. 😉
One of my favorites is the snowball activity. Because the goal is to have fun and be silly, they don’t feel like they are really working. This is always my favorite type of activity!
Here’s what you do:
1. Start with a writing prompt. You can ask a question of the day, give them a silly story starter, or have them tell a funny story with a picture you find online. If you want to mix it up, assign a different question to each table.
2. Give students a few minutes to write. I usually do 3 minutes, but that’s just the time that seemed to work the best for us. You can adjust it based on your students.
3. After they’ve written for the chosen time limit, have them ball up their papers and toss them up in the air. Then each student jumps up, grabs a “snowball” and reads what was written.
4. Give the class another 3 minutes or so to continue the story, then ball them back up and toss them again. We do this two or three times . When you are ready to end the story, have the final person write an ending.
Usually students are so excited to read their stories, so be sure to save some time for sharing!
It doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming to teach writing in French class! The most important thing to do is get started and encourage students to write more often. Once you’re going, it’s easy to modify things to make them work for you.