Do you struggle to teach writing to your French students? Do they write short, choppy first grade level sentences which are extremely painful to grade? Do they continue to make the same mistakes whenever they write?
If so, you’re not alone. Many students struggle to write in English so then when you ask them to write a composition in another language, it gets pretty messy.
In this series of posts, I’ll share my best tips and tricks for teaching writing in your French classes, but before I get started, just a few thoughts on writing in general.
Raising my kids bilingually has dramatically changed my thinking about the importance of writing for language students. Here are a few things to think about . . .
- How often are our students going to need to write paragraphs and compositions in the real world? Writing in another language is a very technical skill that students may need if they take a job that requires French skills or if they will be truly incorporating themselves into another culture (ex. living in another country for an extended period of time).
- When kids learn their native languages, they aren’t expected to write until after they’ve been speaking and listening to the language for 5 years. Part of that is because they don’t have the hand eye coordination to write yet, but also, it just makes sense. Why are we asking students to write when they don’t know how to say what they want to say?
- Writing, editing, and rewriting takes a considerable amount of time. Would that time be better spent learning to communicate effectively before students are expected to produce with written fluency?
For these reasons, I actually recommend limiting large writing tasks in lower level language classes and focusing on the key skills of listening, speaking, and reading until students reach a certain level of mastery.
Now I know that in some schools, this is difficult because they want to see written work from students and you have to do what the other teachers at your level are doing. It might be worth having this type of conversation with your Department Head or with your colleagues to see if you can change the focus more to communication.
When you do have to assess writing at lower levels, give templates and examples to show your students models of what you’re expecting. After all, what is the point of having students struggle to write something and be doing it the wrong way?
If you ask students to write without French writing templates or examples, they:
A. Get frustrated because it’s such a struggle to write and have a negative language experience.
B. Feel even worse when they get a paper back with tons of corrections
C. Are confused as to what they need to correct and how to do it.
Wouldn’t it be better to show them how to write and then have them produce work based on a template that is correct. That way, they’re practicing correct grammar and will feel more successful. In this case, the act of writing will help to reinforce how to form sentences.
Here’s an example of how my thinking has changed:
At the beginning of the year, I used to ask my French 2 students to do presentations about themselves during the first week of school and then to write these up as compositions.
What I got back was pretty much a mess and I spent hours grading these with correction symbols and then having students edit and rewrite them. However, even after all that, they still continued to make similar mistakes throughout the year.
I created a fill-in-the-blank template for this type of composition. Now students have the basis to write a much better composition and while doing so, are learning how to write correctly and what good sentences should look like.
They fill in the blanks and then write out the whole composition on the computer or by hand. I actually prefer having them write by hand because there is just something about that hand-brain connection that helps students remember more effectively.
Get free copies of these ready-made All about Me French Writing Projects in my Free Resource Library (plus tons of other great stuff).
These are the types of writing activities that I choose to do now with my lower level students. Less frustration for them + no more hours of grading for me + better learning experience = everybody wins!
Hope you’ve found this post helpful – would love to hear any tips that you have for teaching writing in the comments section.
Want more? Check out the other posts in this series about writing: 25 French Writing Activities and Using French Transition Words to Improve Student Writing.