If your French students are writing short, choppy first-grade level sentences, try using French writing templates to dramatically improve and formalize their writing.
If this is happening in your class, you’re not alone. Many students struggle to write in English so when you ask them to write in another language, it gets pretty messy.
In this series of French writing posts, I’ll share my best tips and tricks for teaching writing in your French classes.
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 they’ve been speaking and listening 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 administrators want to see written work and you have to do what 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 assess writing at lower levels, give templates and examples to show your students examples of good essays. After all, what is the point of having students struggle to write something and do 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 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 and then to write these up as compositions.
What I got back was pretty much a mess and I spent hours grading using 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 write much better compositions. While doing so, they 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 writing by hand because the hand-brain connection 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 writing activities that I do now with my lower-level students are so much more effective. 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.
Grab these ready-made helpful writing resources:
101 French Transition Words
French Fairy Tale Project