French teachers give students real-world speaking experience


Katie Ercolani

Ms. Frédérique Toft aims to teach her French classes through immersion and speaking experiences.

French teachers Madame Amy Jo Hyde and Madame Frédérique Salmon Toft have brought new hands-on activities to class, including writing to pen pals and having a Skype conference with native speakers. Interactive assignments like these provide students with the chance to practice their language skills with a native speaker without traveling abroad. “The idea is that having an audience will bring language in context and motivate the kids more than just doing homework for me to look at,” Toft said.  

French levels one and two teacher Hyde set up a pen pal program between her students and students in an English class at a middle school in France. The students will write letters back and forth to each other in both French and English as a way for both students to practice their language skills. Currently, the students have exchanged one letter each where they wrote about themselves and stereotypes they have heard about each other’s countries. “It helps the kids have an authentic purpose when they  are writing to each other; they are not just learning the language in a vacuum but they understand it has an application,” Hyde said.

Toft teaches French levels three, four, and advanced placement (AP) and for each class she created a different activity. Toft’s French level three classes were given the chance to Skype with a class of preschoolers at the French Academy in Paris. “We did that because we are going to write books for each child. My students will write individually or with someone else for a specific kid using the information we got,” Toft said. This activity relates to the current lesson the students are learning which is past tense verbs and fairy tales in French.

The level four class will be writing to a class in the South of France about their culture and what it is like growing up in Minnesota. “My level four will have a partnership with a school in the south of France and they will make newsletters about the culture in Minnesota and our lifestyle and society,” Toft said.

The idea is that having an audience will bring language in context and motivate the kids, more than just doing homework.”

— French teacher Madame Frédérique Toft said.

The reason for this activity is for the students to learn about another culture that they normally wouldn’t hear about. “The idea is to understand what life is like to live outside of Paris,” Toft said.

For Toft’s AP students, a native French speaker will come in every quarter to eat breakfast with the students and give them the opportunity to practice speaking only in French. “We will have people from different parts around the world to illustrate that French is spoken all around,” Toft said.  

The students will be able to ask questions and learn more about the culture that surrounds the French language.“It is about being with someone in person because it matters when you are having a conversation,” Toft said.

These assignments have all been very beneficial to the students because they are learning how to use what they learned in class in real life situations. These assignments have helped the students with their pronunciation and grammar. “They are motivated to use [French] correctly, and their motivation goes up when they know a real person will read it. [Motivation] goes up more when they do this than when they take a test or quiz,” Hyde said.