It's the First Day Teaching Your French Class—Now What?

Warm-up exercises are a good way to start

It's the first day of the semester and you're teaching the first day of your French class. What should you do?

Engaging in some warm-up exercises is a good way to ease students into the new work. Discuss the importance of practice during the semester; let them know that in the next few weeks they will need to practice French outside of school hours because a few hours of weekly classroom instruction is not sufficient to learn a language.

Finally, hand out a list of French resources such as books, audio examples, local French clubs and websites. Search ThoughCo.com for resources such as:

New vs. Returning Students

What you as a teacher emphasize on the first day of your French class has a lot to do with whether you have new students or returning students. Each group has different needs.

Brand-new French students need the basics, so that's where you'll need to start them. Returning French students need to review what they've learned; so with them, start there.

For inspiration, read what French teachers share about their own first days on Profs de français forum. We use several of their ideas here.

New French Students

If you are teaching brand-new French students, you'll want to start with the basics. Plus, the first week is typically a short week. Where should you start and what can you get done?

Some teachers speak to their students completely in French on the first day.

It's a good way to help students understand basic greetings and introductions, starting with: Bonjour, je m'appelle.... Students answer and ask each other the same question, which is a way to introduce them to each other.  You could seat students in a circle and throw a ball around, each throw requiring a verbal response to Bonjour, je m'appelle....

 You could also have students pick a French name for themselves to facilitate conversations during the semester.

Other teachers have learned that the first days are a great time to get students accustomed to the room and acquaint them with lists and maps of French-speaking countries.

One 6th grade teacher talked about having students complete a scavenger hunt where the answers are posted or hidden around the room: "This gets them out of their seats, lets them see what might be useful for them in the room and gets them involved right away." 

Another teacher won't open the textbook at first. "There are lots of things that can be done with visuals and modeling hands-on things like teaching numbers," the teacher said.

The books usually come out during the first full week, and by then, students are usually ready to apply themselves. 

One teacher recommended starting the lesson with cognates, which draw students in. Then students can start building simple sentences with conjugated forms of être, such as Je suis..., Tu es..., Il est..., Elle est.... The students could then create something with their new vocabulary, such as a family tree, describing their family using new vocabulary words. 

Next, try tackling the futur proche (Je vais...), and show them several verbs in the infinitive.

"They walk out with a head full of ways to say 'I'm going to....' They don't need to be confused with verb conjugation at first, just the simple meaning of each verb. They'll feel excited about what they can understand in French after one lesson," one teacher related about her own experience.

A teacher who works with adult students starts with the alphabet on the first day: "I help them find a word for each letter from A to V (and) I give them vocabulary. Afterward, they get to tag everything in the room with the names of the objects. The interaction starts then and there between them."

Returning French Students

Whether you're taking over a class from a former teacher or just returning to your students after the summer hiatus, you need to review what they've learned and figure out what to teach next. Here are some tips.

In the first couple of days, review greetings and add expressions used with ça va. Next, start introducing classroom vocabulary such as écoutez, répétez and sortez une feuille de papier.

Hand out pictures of each command. A recognition quiz could be their first quiz after about a week.

"Take the bull by the horns, get your feet wet and get going," says one French teacher on Profs de français forum. "Give them short vocabulary quizzes, pull out some projects that they can do, oral discussions, etc."

Get started with a lot of reviewing. Instead of starting with a serious dictation from a French text, keep it light by, for instance, using vocabulary flash cards to play a game or two with students. This gets them back into the French mode quickly. You could review lessons from the previous year or semester. 

One teacher reported getting started by rapping French phrases with students to warm them up. "I've had numerous teachers and parents tell me that my class is their students' favorite. Just remember, at the middle school level, creativity and fun is really important. You're teaching introduction and developing interest.

Don't be too serious. This is one class that you can truly teach "across the curriculum," the teacher advised.

Another teacher suggested starting off with classroom rules, expectations and the tone you want to establish in the classroom. "What environment are you comfortable with? This keeps the class working in French as much as possible, and things are positive and fun.

For example, I have found my classroom rules to be very effective: Parlez en français, levez la main, écoutez," the teacher said.

However you approach the first day of your French class, make your first priorities a friendly, relaxed class environment with light lessons that engage students. On that note, ease into more substantial lessons with class involvement. Your students will thank you.