French Learning Scenario:
Sous l'influence de mes connaissances

Author: Cynthia Capps
Level: Intermediate/Advanced

In this unit, students explore the different influences in their lives that have made them who they are and affect who they would like to be. Students reflect on their childhood, their friends, their personal heroes and role models, and “universal” heroes. They contemplate how these figures have influenced their interests and their future career goals.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Childhood
In this activity set, learners reflect on early memories—people and events from their childhood that have had a lasting influence on them. To introduce the topic, they read targeted excerpts from two well-loved French works: Le petit prince and Le petit Nicolas. Both books are narrated in the first person by a young boy and provide a child’s perspective on adult behavior. How children and adults differ in outlook is the source of much of the humor. For instance, in Le petit prince, the narrator juxtaposes a child’s vivid imagination to an adult’s lack thereof when he describes a sketch he had done. All the adults could see was a hat; in reality, it was a boa constrictor who had eaten an elephant—as any child could see! Likewise, Nicolas is puzzled because his mother insists he behave like a “gentleman” with Louisette—who can kick a ball better than most boys! Students work in jigsaw groups to read and understand different excerpts from one of the two texts. Each group then shares a brief summary of its excerpt with the class. As a follow-up, the whole class compares the mindsets of the two protagonists, and students are asked to reflect on their own childhood. Was it as “simple” as we sometimes think?

Once students have had an occasion to remember their younger days, they think of a particular, personal memory from childhood that they believe has influenced who they are today. Their task is to create an artifact to represent that memory: a journal entry, a cartoon or drawing (with French captions), a memento from childhood on a poster, a monologue (or dialogue, if they want to work with another student), and so forth. Those who want to share artifacts do so, either by performing or by posting their drawings for others to see. The class then looks for common threads: Are the memories emotional? funny, etc? What makes them so? What evidence is there of the memories’ influence on the student?

ACTIVITY SET 2: Friendship
Friends often have a great influence on students, and the topic of friendship is of great importance to them. Begin this activity set by posting around the room a list of French adjectives used to describe people. If students wish, they write other adjectives on note cards and add them to those that are there. Next, students list the three qualities (from among the adjectives posted) that they feel are most important in a friend. Answers are tallied to see which are the most common answers; students make statements to explain or justify their choices.

Following the introductory activity, students read another excerpt from Le petit prince in which a fox teaches the boy about friendship. The class works together to read and mindmap this relatively long segment. Students summarize how the fox will remember the little prince when he leaves (because the wheat is the color of the boy’s hair) and then they reminisce quietly about a friend who moved away and how they remember that friend. Once they’ve had time to reflect, students line up and share memories about their friend with the person on either side of them. Students make simple sentences such as, Nous aimions chanter, Mon amie avait les yeux bleus comme moi, or Joseph avait un chien noir qui s’appelait Rex. Afterwards, students engage in a class discussion: How many students, like the fox, remembered what their friend looked like? How many remembered something they did together? Ask students to state one way they and their friends were alike and one way they were different. Finally, students create a tribute in French to a friend (a song, a poem, a poster, a postcard, or a letter) that illustrates how that person and relationship influenced them.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Personal Heroes
Students move from the realm of childhood friendships to the arena of personal heroes in this activity set. They begin by listing well-known heroes from literature or film, such as Jean Valjean in Les misérables. (Teachers may confer with English language arts teachers to discover which novels the students have read.) Then they discuss why these characters are heroes and what common attributes they have. (This list can be compared to contemporary “heroes” who tend to be celebrities such as actors, athletes, and musicians.) Students next list their personal heroes (grandparents, neighbors, pastors, etc.) and identify the positive characteristics these people exhibit. Characteristics of personal heroes and those of film and literature heroes are compared. Then, students select five characteristics that are most important in a hero. Finally, students choose personal heroes that exhibit these characteristics and create a class storybook highlighting their heroes by writing paragraphs in French describing how they have influenced their lives. If any of the students’ personal heroes are available, they may be invited to class to be honored with certificates and readings from the storybook. Alternatively, native French speakers are invited to class to talk about their personal heroes and/or childhood friends.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Those Who Changed the World
Now students think globally and brainstorm a list of special people from different fields who have impacted society. With encouragement and suggestions from the teacher, they include notable French-speaking personalities such as the Curies, Louis Pasteur, Léopold Senghor, etc. Names are written on note cards (color-coded by occupation, if desired) and posted on the board. Working with a partner, students choose three of the names and write sentences saying how their lives have ultimately been influenced or affected by that person. (The Curies’ work with radioactivity, for example, led to a treatment for cancer and thus affects countless people.)

Next, from the list of names generated, students each choose one person to investigate further using the Internet and other resources, including asking questions of e-pals in France, Québec, or other French-speaking places. They report to the class, highlighting the contributions the person made to society and/or their field. To demonstrate what they have learned, students create a short presentation to share with beginning French classes. Each student finds a unique way to “introduce” the person and share how he or she has influenced modern society, using costumes and props or puppets, for example. The performances are videotaped or performed live using simple French sentences. The novice-level audience may also be provided with a list of key words to help them understand.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Interests and Careers
Students’ interests and the career options they are considering are often influenced by people they know personally (family members, friends, teachers) and/or by famous personalities such as the aforementioned world “heroes.” To begin this activity set, students make two lists: “Careers I’d Consider” and “Favorite Pastimes.” Once the lists are complete, students think about and note who might have influenced them in these interests. For example, a neighbor who speaks several languages might inspire a student to become a French teacher or a travel agent; a biography of Clara Barton might inspire one to become a nurse or a volunteer at the local hospital, etc.

After developing their lists and associating names with the items on them when possible, students complete an interest inventory that addresses questions such as: Do I mind working long hours or do I need lots of time with friends and family? How important is salary to me? Is it critical that my job be personally fulfilling? Interest inventories are available online (see Resources) from school counselors or from the Texas Workforce Commission. Students select two occupations they might like and create a Venn diagram comparing them, putting the traits common to both occupations in the middle.

What are other jobs exhibiting the “common” traits that students might consider? To find out what’s available, they check “help wanted” ads in online French newspapers and in American newspapers and compare job requirements for the similar jobs in the French and English ads. Are there any differences? Also, how many job ads can they find that list knowing a foreign language either as an asset or requirement? In pairs, students take turns reading French ads to one another without revealing the job category. The “listening” student tries to guess what the job is from the text.

ACTIVITY SET 6: Qui suis-je?
As a culminating project for the learning scenario, students choose between one of two options:

  • They summarize and/or visually represent what they have learned about themselves and how they might use this information in the future. This project may be a poster, poem, song, personal reflection journal, newspaper, speech, skit, video, computer slide show, Web page, etc.
  • Given that much of the scenario has focused on the people and events that influenced who they are, students develop a project depicting ways in which they would like to influence others.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Concept of Culture, Influence of Language & Culture
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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Materials

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Art supplies to create various products (poster board, markers, etc.)
  • Le petit prince (Saint-Exupéry)
  • Le petit Nicolas (Sempé and Goscinny)

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met

Communication: Students use the interpersonal mode to complete group readings, to share childhood memories, and in other group activities. They use the interpretive mode as they read stories and Web pages and as they listen to the presentations of their classmates. They use presentational mode when they share artifacts, create a tribute to a friend, make a presentation to first-year classes, etc.

Cultures: Students develop greater understanding of French practices (relationships, friendship) and the perspectives on them as they read literature of the target culture and interview native speakers.

Connections: Students use French to access information on famous French speakers and careers; they expand their knowledge of literature.

Comparisons: Students develop an understanding of the concept of culture as they compare their own culture with French culture.

Communities: Students use French within and beyond the school setting as they make presentations to other classes and connect with French classes through
e-mail or the Internet to find out about those students’ perspectives.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Students investigate how French teens relate to their friends. Do they have the same sorts of relationships as American friends? Students accomplish this either by doing research online, such as reading teen magazines in French, or by chatting with French penpals or foreign exchange students who are visiting the school. Students create a list of questions and answers, noting similarities and differences.
  • Students interview classmates in small groups to find out about what they like to do outside of school. Do they work? Do they volunteer? If so, where? Is helping others important to them? How do they spend their free time? Do they spend time with other people or do they prefer being alone? How might knowing another language help them outside of school?
  • Students read segments from Le petit prince that define the relationship between the little prince and his rose. They list clues that show the friendship between them. Students hypothesize what will happen when the two are reunited (if they believe the two will be). Challenge students to do a sequel (written or performed).
  • Students delve further into possible career choices. Help students to discover that all jobs have pros and cons as they read about the little prince’s journey by having them list the advantages and disadvantages of the careers of the people he meets on his journey from his asteroid to Earth.

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Resources

Books

Saint-Exupéry, A. (1998). Le petit prince. Paris: Gallimard.

Sempé, J. J., & Goscinny, R. (1991). Le petit Nicolas. Cambridge, MA: Schoenhof’s Foreign Books.

Webliography

NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.

Le petit prince

Le petit Nicolas

Friendship

People

Newspapers and Magazines


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