Impactful Input & Thoughtful Technology: One Food Unit’s Transformation


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Supporting Student Growth from Novice High to Intermediate Mid Through Impactful Input and Thoughtful Technology:

One Food Unit’s Transformation  

In a recent #langchat discussion, our topic was, “How can we plan for and provide scaffolding for output in Novice Level Classes?” I gleaned from the conversation that there were many questions about how to sequence input so that output would be purposeful and meaningful to the students. In looking over my current French 2 unit on Food and Identity, “Dis-moi ce que tu manges et je te dirai qui tu es / Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” This communicative and culturally connected unit moves away from a traditional food unit of memorized vocabulary lists and fill-in-the blank exercises and moves it towards using personalized language to answer essential questions such as: Why doesn’t everyone eat the same foods I do? How are my meal traditions similar or different from kids in other countries?  What is is like to school lunch in a Francophone country?  Why can’t my school lunch be healthy, balanced, local, and organic? 

 I found that I had created, perhaps subconsciously, an input sequence that supported student output. My goal in this (long) post is to provide insight into this sequence. I have not included every activity (more reading and writing), but I think you will have an idea of how the unit progressed.  The communicative results, which I will share, with three classes have been remarkable. This may be a fluke of the groups or perhaps there is some method to my madness. On verra! Please share your comments or questions. Blogs are great ways to share our thoughts, activities, and troubles, but if there is no conversation, we may think we are perfect teachers. 


Unit Objectives and Unit Plan

  1. Students can express their food preferences with reasons and descriptions.
  2. Students can ask and answer questions about their food habits and preferences.
  3. Students can identify and express opinions on a variety of foods and meals from Francophone cultures as well as their own culture.
  4. Students can evaluate and compare school lunch menus from the Francophone world.
  5. Students can provide suggestions on how to improve their school lunch options.

Impactful Resource #1: Anticipatory activities

Francophone supermarket ads and Web sites. Call me a hoarder, but every time I visit a French-speaking country, I head for the grocery stores and grandes surfaces and find the weekly ads. Yes, they are available online, but I also find that students are fascinated with thumbing through the paper versions. We look at prices and discuss currency conversion as well as product brand names. My Heritage Spanish Speakers puff up with pride when they are able to recognize cognates in Spanish and explain food-related words to the Anglophones. Our class iPod app, Marché Malin, presents foods and their growing seasons. Additionally, we do a comparative shopping list with our local grocery chain and Carrefour Ooshop or Casino. Which foods are more expensive in each country? These are free and easy to use resources that I renew every few years. As this is the anticipatory activity, there is no assessment or comprehension check, but I do ask students to write down a 5-8 new food words in their class notebooks.

Input resources #2 -4 Personal vocabulary exploration

The Washington State Dairy Council provides teachers with $25 credit to their online store. I asked ten teachers at my school to create accounts and purchase these food vocabulary cards. The cards have been updated, so they no longer have the English / Spanish words on the back, but the new ones are attractive. My AP group did some basic food review and wrote the French vocabulary on the back of each card using Red for feminine words and Blue for masculine words. I also included some partitive structures (du / de la = some). The students created their own vocabulary lists of at least 5 foods from each category: fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy. These lists were written in the journals and I checked them for correctness. This is still basic interaction with the vocabulary, but the activity allows for student voice and choice. They will see more vocabulary in other contexts, but their personal list reflected their interests. Health Canada also provides food and nutrition resources to print.

To support our cultural competencies, I created my own vocabulary cards with foods from Francophone countries. The students can use the opinion cards (see below) to express their likes and dislikes about foods.

The Quizlet activity is extra support for fruits for students who finish early or who need extra review. Students also create their own Quizlet set with foods from five different categories. They add my name as a collaborator to the set so I can check spelling and gender agreement.


Input Resource #5 Sentence builder cards

It is time for students to interact with their basic food vocabulary in comprehensible language chunks. I created these sentence builder cards with the goal to reinforce opinion statements, the expression “because they are,” and gender choice for adjectives and “they are.” After the students separate the cards by color, we go over the opinion expressions; and I show two examples using the matched colors. Students create six personal sentences that I can easily check by the color and vocabulary choice. The six sentences are written in their notebooks and will be used for the next writing task.


Input Resources #6-9: Presentational writing and speaking

For the first full writing task, students will be combining chunks of language that they have interacted with plus adding on new chunks to help them “level up.” Our prompt: You will be staying with a Francophone family for a week-long exchange. The family would like to know what your food preferences. Write them a short email and tell them why you like and don’t like certain foods.

Instead of memorizing words they may not want or need, I provide them a buffet from which they may choose. The “Comment décrire les aliments que l’on mange” presentation is a visual dictionary of descriptive words for texture, taste, and shape. The handout gives the chunks “it is / they are” and the masculine, feminine, and plural forms of the adjectives. Students go through the Google presentation and discuss the words with their partners. The English translation is added to their handout.  The Quizlet activity reinforces comprehension and production.

Moving beyond the “I like / don’t like” expressions, students interact with the chunks for “If I see or smell this food, I feel sick” and “I like (food) a lot, but I prefer (food.)” I remind students to use a good variety of these expressions in their writing and show them examples of Novice High versus Intermediate Mid writing so they can visualize their own writing goals. (Quizlet activity) On this writing task, students write about 80-100 words.  To continue our presentational mode, we used the Tellagami and My School Avatar apps to present our preferences. Students searched pictures of the foods that they used in their writing, added the picture to the Tellagami presentation, and recorded the sentence(s) that they wrote about that food. Tellagami allows users to create avatars with different hair/eye color, clothing, and emotions. It is similar to Voki, but it is an iOS app. Our Tellagami videos encourage quieter students to express themselves in French without showing their faces. This was a great way to take a presentational writing task and bring it to life with pictures and audio that was shared on YouTube and Twitter.   


Input Resource #10-12 Infographics – Interpretive Reading

We have explored food from our preference perspectives so now our path leads us to exploring food from other cultures. These infographics (complete folder of food infographics) allow students to read at different levels. In groups, the students looked over the health benefits of fruits. They used cognates in English and Spanish to create meaning, and we discussed words they could not guess from context. I created a brief IPA-light “Key words in context” activity for the meals infographic to reinforce their abilities to read basic authentic resources.

After students have mastered basic reading, we move on to books such as, Le Monde dans ton assiette (The World on Your Plate Book purchase) that provides a Novice High level reading experience and the IPA-light assessment. After this level, students are able to work towards an Intermediate Mid-High book, Comment bien manger (How to eat well – Book purchase) with a higher-level IPA experience.


Input Resource # 13-14 Interpretive Listening

EdPuzzle – À Table, les enfants – Le poivron (Learn about green peppers)

Enhanced Google Form – C’est quoi les fruits et légumes ? (What are fruits and vegetables ?)

In the past, I used enhanced Google forms with videos and questions (Explorons les aliments avec des publicités), but the arrival of EdPuzzle made evaluating and tracking student comprehension much easier. I have not entirely moved away from group listening activities, but I find that if students can listen, pause, and rewind as they need, they are able to demonstrate stronger comprehension. Recognizing that not every student hears and comprehends at the same pace supports their growth and confidence. I use authentic videos to introduce products, traditions, and cultural norms to support global competencies, but it is also a chance for students to feel pride in understanding a wide range of videos. The questions are written for their Novice High+ level, however I include a few Intermediate High questions to challenge the stronger students.   

Input resources 15-17: Interpretive reading and listening, presentational speaking, cultural comparisons, and global competencies!

To further our cultural competencies of food products and practices, I created another set of food vocabulary cards from online Francophone menus. We discussed ingredients, preferences, and comparisons with our school lunch options. The students created their ideal lunch using five cards and wrote about their choices. We used Seesaw to record their opinions. Seesaw is a nearly perfect tool for World Language teachers who would like to create digital portfolios of student work. I created a Seesaw class blog using selected student products to highlight our progress. Our YouTube playlist, “Vie scolaire: Restaurants et cantines scolaires” has a wide variety of authentic videos that show what school lunch looks like in the Francophone world. The exclamations of jealousy and outrage clearly demonstrate students engagement!


To encourage stronger cultural comparisons and global competencies (food traditions and practices and geographic awareness), students explore lunch menus from Francophone schools around the world on a Google Map. They present their findings on a shared Google Slide presentation (2015 sample) and evaluate other students’ presentations. In the past, students have only listed the meals for one day and added pictures. This year, they will choose two dishes and find the ingredients for the dishes.   


Our culminating project is a major event! Last year there were 150 students in French 2 and 3 presenting their projects on our school lunch to other students, invited community Francophones, our school superintendent and one school board member (both speak French!). Students took six pictures of our school lunch that I printed at our local Fred Meyer (nearly 900 pictures!). Their task: What are three positive aspects to our lunch, three negatives aspects, and three suggestions you would make to the school board? We used our opinion statements, descriptive chunks, and conditional statements for giving suggestions. The students presented together in mixed groups (Fr 2-3) and evaluated each other. Each presentation was filmed, but the sound quality was low. This year, I will use lapel microphones to ensure quality production. We will also include a section about how our school could partner with local farms and producers to provide us with more local and organic products, just like we saw in the French school lunch programs.