Teaching the passé composé is one of my favorite French units. There is so much to cover, but suddenly, students are not stuck in the present tense. It really opens up what we can talk about with our students. As they learn the passé composé, I sense a certain relief when they find more freedom to talk about what they did last night, over the weekend, or over the last school break.
It isn’t always the easiest concept to teach, but with the right mindset and some good activities, it can be a lot of fun! Here are some tips for teaching the passé composé.
1. Use prior language knowledge.
If you aren’t teaching immersion, it’s a good idea to make sure students understand what the past tense is in English. It is great if they can memorize which verbs go with avoir and which with être. However, if they don’t really understand what they are saying, all the memorization in the world won’t make it make sense to them. Don’t assume they understand English grammar!
If you are teaching immersion, they will have heard the passé composé and the imparfait together as you and other teachers have spoken to them. Use this knowledge as you present the verbs. You can provide a text with both tenses and together you can highlight the passé composé before you provide direct instruction. Seeing that it is already familiar will make students more comfortable with the grammatical aspect of it.
2. Provide a lot of types of practice.
Use speaking activities, games, task cards, and Boom Cards™ to provide students with a variety of activities. Students will not learn it and retain it if they are only doing worksheets.
3. Use mnemonics.
There is a reason so many kids learn Mrs. Dr. Vandertramp. I also like to simplify it for students by having them ask, “Do I go somewhere when I do this?” This helps them identify verbs of motion that will take être, and it works with a lot of verbs (except things like voyager or rendre visite à which of course mean going somewhere😳) . I do tell them there are always exceptions but it is a simple thing for them to remember.
4. Use music.
I love using music in class to help students retain information. Songs just stick in their heads, making recall so much easier. Plus, it is just fun, and kids love music! To use music, find a song that is written using the passé composé, get the lyrics and remove some of the auxiliary verbs or past participles. Have students fill in the missing words as you listen. I like this song a lot for teaching passé composé.
Love using music in class? Find fun songs here!
5. Don’t feel like you have to do it ALL right away.
Yes, students need to learn avoir and être verbs. They have to memorize irregular past participles. Then, they’ve got reflexive verbs to deal with. Top that with direct object pronouns, and it can be a LOT. It’s okay to take a break, work on some new things, and come back to the reflexive verbs or the direct objects when it makes more sense. Teach too much and they won’t remember it all anyways, so take the time you need to make sure they learn it correctly.
Here are some of my favorite resources for teaching the passé composé.
These are so popular for a reason : They work! Students learn their native language first through speaking, and they need to learn their second, third, or fourth languages this way, too!
These digital task cards from Boom Learning℠ are just fun! They provide immediate feedback, work on a variety of devices connected to the internet, and feel more like a game than they do verb conjugation practice. That’s a big win in my book!
Grab this free set here to try them out!
This is one of my favorite activities in class, because kids need to move! This one lets them move around the room a LOT, but they are still writing and practicing verbs. Just like the Boom Cards and the speaking cards, it is grammar work that just doesn’t feel like work.
Click here to find these Scoot cards at TpT.
And of course, there is a handy grammar packet to tie it all together. Worksheets are not the only way to learn, but the kids still have to get some writing practice in!