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

Start with warmup exercises, simple grammar

Apple on top of stacked books
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It's the start of the semester and you're teaching your first French class. If you're wondering where to start, try engaging in warmup exercises, looking at French-English cognates, and explaining simple French grammar to provide a way to ease students into learning a new language. 

What Is Your Name?

Start by speaking to your students completely in French on the first day. It's a good way to help them understand basic greetings and introductions, starting with Bonjour, je m'appelle ..., which means, "Hello, my name is ..." Let students mingle and answer and ask each other the same question, which allows them to get to know each other in French.

Alternatively, seat students in a circle and throw a ball around. When a student catches a ball, she must say Bonjour, je m'appelle ... and throw the ball to someone else. You could also have students pick a French name for themselves to facilitate conversations during the semester. Other French-language warmup activities include:

  • Help students become accustomed to the room and acquaint them with lists and maps of French-speaking countries.
  • Have students complete a scavenger hunt where the answers are posted—in French of course—or hidden around the room: This gets students out of their seats, lets them see what might be useful for them in learning French in the room, and gets them involved right away.
  • Use visuals and model hands-on items like the numbers in French.

Cognates and Family Trees

After a warmup activity or two, ease into easy French-language concepts such as cognates, words that look and/or are pronounced alike in French and English. Using cognates is a good way to draw students in.

They can also start building simple sentences with conjugated forms of être (meaning "to be"), such as Je suis..., Tu es..., Il est..., Elle est.  ("I am," "you are," "he is," and "they are.")  Students can then create something with their new vocabulary, such as a family tree, describing their family using their new French vocabulary words.

Simple French Grammar

Next, try tackling the futur proche, the "near future," as in Je vais, meaning "I go." Show students several verbs in the infinitive. Students don't need to be confused with verb conjugations at first; just explain the simple meaning of several French verbs in the infinitive form, which is the form in which students will initially see most verbs. They'll feel excited about what they can understand in French after just one lesson.

Tips and Ideas

Instead of starting with student names, begin by teaching the French alphabet. Help students find a word for each letter of the French alphabet. Afterward, let students tag everything in the room with the names of the objects. Student interaction will start right away at this point. When they've finished tagging the room, have students move into one of the previously discussed name games.

While you're planning for your first day of teaching French class, take the time to peruse French lessons as well as a guide for helping students improve their French reading, writing, and comprehension.