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Teaching Combined-Level French Classes

How to deal with multi-level language classes


Budget cuts and low interest in language are always bad news for French teachers, and one common solution is to combine different levels of French classes, particularly levels 3 and 4. While this is fine for the school budget, it can be very tricky for French teachers to meet the needs of both levels. There have been numerous discussions about combination classes in the Profs de français forum - here are some ideas to keep your sanity while making the class interesting for your students.

Ideas from teachers

Rather than teaching separate, year-long classes, we offer four semesters of "Advanced French" courses that, together, are comparable to a level 3 and 4. Each course focuses on a specific topic (literature, fine arts, regional studies, conversation) but also includes a healthy dose of grammar (a different grammatical topic during each course). Since my 3's are not exactly where they need to be this year, during the the first semester I'm going to work on grammar and vocabulary with the 3's, and have the 4's do the "regional studies" course, which is very project-based, almost as an independent study. The second semester, once I have the 3's caught up, we will do the literature course together. The 4's will still need to review, and they can always use their experience to help the 3's, as long as the classroom environment is based on collaboration rather than competition.

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Generally I have both levels on the same subject matter, e.g., grammar, history, culture. The major difference is in their reading and writing assignments. The level 4 students must give all reports orally and in writing. I focus more on their sentence structure and pronunciation than with level 3. While I am working with level 3, level 4 reads short stories or writes about what they have read. I have found that by keeping in the same general subject both groups benefit. I also frequently have level 4 tutor level 3.

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I use the 4th year students' knowledge and give them a topic to teach to the French 3 students as well as using the French in Action series. I treat level 4 more like independent study for the first half of the year, until I can get level 3's French good enough to interact with level 4.

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My colleague teaches combined 2, 3, and 4. She uses lots of videos with French subtitles. Each level has its own calibrated responses to the video at hand. The upper levels also read French literature and discuss it in French. My impression is that she separates the levels by project.

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Presuming that you have more 4th levels than 3rd levels, give each 4th level student a group of 3rd levels to tutor. This could be an ongoing system (they lead their section once a week or once a month), or maybe a single 2-week or one-month session with some sort of big project.

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I write up a weekly program for each level. Each weekly program sheet contains the objective, warm-up activity, agenda of classroom activities/assignments and the homework assignments. All quizzes and tests are listed, so nobody has to ask when the quiz/test is. Obviously, things come up which make it impossible to follow the program exactly, but it gives the students a guide as to what we are planning on doing and what is expected of them. It is great for busy students who have to plan to study a night or two before a quiz/test. It also is great for differentiated learning, because those students who finish their work early can see what they need to do for the next day. I distribute these programs to the students and I also post them by level on my teacher website. If a student is absent, he/she can just look at the printed program or on my website This technique makes the student responsible for their own time management and learning!

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For comments from students who have taken combined-level classes, and a way for you to contribute your own suggestions, please continue on to page two.
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