Histoires in Action!

November 28, 2017 at 11:43 AM

‘La classe commence en Français.
Ouvre la tête, enleve l’anglais.
Je mets l’anglais dans la poche, c’est vrai!
Et je parle seulement en Français.’ 

French lessons for the Junior School boys in Years 0-3 start outside the classroom with the boys all reciting this rhyme. If you’re not familiar with the French language, then watching their accompanying actions soon gives you a clear idea as to the meaning as they ‘open their heads, take out the English and put it in their pocket’ for later! The premise being, that as they enter the French classroom, they leave their English behind and only French is spoken. The use of gestures plays a big part of this programme. 

Those who attended this year’s Junior School concert could not help but be impressed by the Year 2 boys’ recital of ‘La Poule Maboule,’ a long story retold with passion and humour entirely in French, complete with actions. The children concentrate on this one story throughout the learning unit. Adapted from the English version, ‘Chicken Little,’ the familiarity, predictability and high level of repetition in the story (‘histoire’) helps the children to build vocabulary in context quickly. Songs, dances and plays are used to engage the boys (‘en action’ – in action). Even at this young age, the boys also memorise grammar raps to learn and use the grammar rules effectively. 

The AIM (Accelerated Integrated Methodology) Language Learning Programme is a verb based, oral language programme. This means that rather than reliance on word lists of nouns, the children are given a story context for their learning. Through storytelling, the children are quickly drawn into the activity, making sense of what is happening, building their own versions, listening, telling, retelling, talking about, reflecting upon and ultimately responding. During the programme, nothing is taught in isolation, with gestures from the teacher, students are spoken to in full sentences and a response is encouraged in the context of a full sentence. All the learning is oral and there is no written component at this stage. 

Young children are very receptive to learning a second – or for some of the children – third language. For the boys entering from our Preschool, they arrive with a good grounding in French; there it is taught across the age range from age 3. Full of confidence and willing to give anything a go, the Year 0 students at school are already questioning and answering in full sentences. 

One of the important tenets is the ‘French only’ rule in the classroom so that it becomes a true immersion experience. The approach is a multisensory one that applies gestures to high frequency vocabulary. The gestures are used in a fashion similar to sign language rather than ‘acting out’ the words. The importance of second language learning has long been recognised and the combination of language and action makes for an inherently ‘playful’ approach that soon engages the boys. 

The Junior School French classroom is a noisy, active place as the boys go about their new language acquisition – there is no question that this is an enjoyable, engaging experience!


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