Site: A Level French
Course: A Level French
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Date: Thursday, 22 August 2019, 11:33 PM

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Emile Zola

Emile Zola

Having read several of the Rougon-Macquart novels by Zola in my thirties and enjoyed them I began to revisit them and other works by him recently to see whether they might appeal to today's younger reader (at A level and above).

I dipped into La bête humaine which takes the railway system as its background and read up on the impact of the work at the time. Its lively plot is more than reminiscent of present day social-realism. Apparently the subject matter was so controversial that it disbarred Zola entry to the Académie Française.

Spurred on by the realisation that "The Paradise" BBC drama was based on Au Bonheur des Dames I revisited that too and was enlightened as to the origins of department store (and latterly supermarket) sales and marketing practice.

It is very appealing to read Zola whose use of language is crystal clear, very little different to current French usage. Seeing into the 19th century world through Zola's encyclopaedic brain is an experience indeed and one to be savoured-and there is so much to go at!

On casting around a little I found that all of the Zola content is available in e-book format. Most titles are also available on the audio-littérature site which also includes many smaller, lesser known works.

I decided to create a Pinterest board to demonstrate what was available. Find the link in the right hand column.

For teachers wanting to give their students something different to research for Oxbridge interviews, they could do worse than get students to dip into Zola whose work is still so fresh in its appeal today.


Click to visit Pinterest board on Emile Zola

L'étranger-images to jog the memory

Visual stimuli to jog the memory

I always wondered about those people who keep a card index of the books they have read so that they remember what happens. I can't remember with any certainty what's happened in a book a month after finishing it, particularly if it's not an altogether visual narrative.

Having completed summaries, sets of questions and contextualised grammar for 13 books you'd think my memory would be improved with practice, but no. The nicer points of say L'étranger were still eluding me so I sat down to use my drawing skills to summarise the novel. I then thought it might be a good idea to give sentence starters using predominantly participles (present and past) to get students using a range of structures.

As an extra, to fill in the chapter heading slides, I added a word count of particular fields of vocabulary in graphical format which could help some students formulate their thoughts.

I was showing a similar idea to teachers last week, one using screen shots and the other drawn images and they preferred the latter although they are a bit dodgy in places. Maybe because its easy to put a bit more "first person" detail into drawings than in screen shots.

Certainly actually producing drawings to summarize the book helped me remember better the content-I would be interested to hear back from people whether they think it's an approach worth taking further- do some students remember content better with visual prompts?

I guess we could do a similar thing for people who prefer listening aurally with short read extracts?

Download sample vocabulary page
Download sample gapped summary page
Download sample question page
Download sample of visual stimulus PowerPoint.

L'étranger sample essay-edexcel-getting most out of pdfs

L'étranger sample essay-using hover-overs in pdf format

Until relatively recently it was fairly difficult to do hover overs to make documents more interactive. This has suddenly become much easier with the advent of highlighting and notes in Adobe Reader. No need to have Adobe Writer, just one of the latest versions of the Reader.

If you download the pdf version of this sample essay on L'étranger you will see I've used a range of tools to give added information to the student to help in the teaching of how to write an essay.

Download L'étranger essay on Le milieu social

Scroll down the document to see the essay.

How to do it?

1. Create document in Word 2007 or 10. Make sure it is proof read before you choose Save As and select pdf.

2. Open the pdf and decide what you want to emphasize in your document.


3. To make colour highlights, select relevant text, eg a particular tense and select the Highlight option on the Adobe Reader tool bar.

4. If you then right click over the highlighted area you can change transparency as if you wish to print you will find it difficult to see the word if it is at full opacity (30% ish is best)-you can apply this to all subsequent highlighting.

5. Add a relevant comment eg translation or question to the highlighting by clicking on it and filling in the box.

Adding a note

1. To add a sticky note, click the sticky note symbol on the tool bar and click where you want it to be. It looks like a speech bubble.

2. Click on the sticky note and add your comment, note, question or translation.

3. When finished, right click over the note and select Properties. You can now select a range of different symbols such as a tick or a circle.

You will now have a document with hover-overs which you can use for getting students to examine text or text and pictures in more detail. You could add notes to an image applying the sticky notes over particular objects.

Give Molière a go! L'avare


I've been intending to cover L'Avare by Molière for some time now and a chance comment by a Lancashire teacher decided me to get stuck in and have a go.

Written in prose unlike many other of Molière's plays, L'Avare has all the elements that make him such fun to watch; the ridiculous, obsessed archetype, the beatings of servants, talking at cross purposes and that opportunity for inventiveness.

On the teacher's recommendation I bought the Louis de Funès' version of the play on DVD and what a treat it is. Whilst there are a few additions to the play for visual effect, the play is word for word the Molière play. De Funès' over the top performance is exactly what the role needs, contrasting with the earnest young lovers whose futures he is compromising. If you haven't witnessed De Funès decked out in large spectacles and a peacock feather costume you are in for a treat.

The only quibble I would have with the film is the way it incorporates some self-conscious theatre effects whilst most of the time sticking with looking relatively "in period". Having said that, the way the film incorporates illustrative effects which explain some of the more unusual vocabulary is well done-for instance the garbage Harpagon tries to foist onto the person to whom he is lending money at one point.

In terms of themes, the play has much to offer in terms of social structure, the parental role, love and marriage, attitude to money and lending as well as of course to stage craft and humour.

The materials are designed to make covering this play very approachable and with the film to help it is a very doable text I would say.

Careers Information and Advice

Career education in target language

Since September 2012 schools themselves have been responsible for procuring careers advice for their students. Many have done this well incorporating a wide range of work related activities into the densely packed curriculum; for others it may be more of an afterthought.

As language teachers, the World of Work has long been within the syllabus and we have dutifully taught the names of jobs and used (often no longer taking place) work experience as a welcome opportunity for a decent bit of conversation, it being one activity we could assume everyone had done, unlike holidays which in this part of the world are not a regular feature of young people's lives.

I have always found young people very open to discussing their potential careers and certainly the latest addition to the already excellent armoury available to French young people is one of the best pieces of multimedia I've ever seen.

Cité orientée provides a beautiful scrolling townscape interface peopled with young people carefully chosen for gender and ethnicity who talk about their dream jobs. On the interface you can also view what their parents and advisers think of their choices. The language of those I've listened to is challenging for lower grade GCSE but great for A level but so well presented a young person would want to listen to it.

The good thing about this is it that it gives the message that you do need to take other people's opinions into account when choosing your next step-but that ultimately you've got to be the final arbiter.

The excellent has also a wealth of video covering a few hundred different careers, also accessible through a graphical interface.

Planet-Berufe is the German equivalent with a snazzy Flash interface available for investigating career choices

I would emphasize here that giving information and advice is important for teachers of all subjects. Particularly younger teachers who have a big network and have ex uni colleagues with whom they are still in touch will have a good idea of what the labour market is doing;partners and spouses may be in a relevant job or career, parents with just graduated offspring will also be reasonably aware of what's going on. So we all form part of the possible information sources for the people we teach. Do find out who the careers co-ordinator or advisor is-not always that obvious! Refer on students who have confided what they would like to do and aren't sure how to go about it.

The main rule would be not to be dogmatic; the number of kids I spoke to who had been told "You'll never be a vet!" with no further conversation is frightening. The more appropriate response is "Oh so you're interested in working with animals are you. I know a good site where you can investigate that job family" eg Jobs4u (now dating but still useful) or

Ultimately talking about jobs with appropriate resources is the most authentic task you will carry out with students in the target language, especially if you manage to inspire them enough to continue studying it!

Cité orientée-interface for a specific job-clic on person to bring up video

Planet Beruf Flash interactivity for careers

Infographies in MS Word

Infographies using MS Word

I've been ogling over really nice examples of infographies for quite a while now including on the Information is beautiful site (Link). I even contemplated buying the book which comes in at about £50 and is sitting in Waterstone's waiting for me when I finally give in. There are some particularly nice infographies on the L'express website (Link)

I initially thought it would be necessary to use a drawing package to try doing one myself but decided to have a go in MS Word in which it is much easier to manipulate boxes etc than it was. The incentive was that at least I wouldn't be putting together the spreadsheet of all the schools in London which I was supposed to be doing (and have now finished, thankfully).

I decided to see whether it would be possible to do one on a literary text and as usual chose L'étranger! I came up with the example you'll find linked to on the right. I'm breaking it down here to show you where the elements came from; it could work in all sorts of similar ways.

I chose to change the size of the page to A3 in page layout and to make the orientation landscape. The resulting document can be printed at A3 or A4.

All the blocks are simply text boxes (Insert>text box) with other text boxes added over the top. If you look at the template you can see how the basic shape and blocks were created. It's then a question of selecting the outline and removing the line around the box or adding a fill colour. Easy.

Graph-The graph is simply text boxes set far enough apart to be able to fit the relevant words at the bottom. The numbers relate to the number of times a particular word is used in the text (using ereader).

The adjectives are again text boxes with a solid line and text effects (shadow). I also did a "change shape" in the format menu on the boxes-you can do them all in one go if you select all the boxes at once.

The L'intrigue/l'action box is simply an Add Shape arrow. The squares with arrows are also produced like that with shadows.

Pedagogical use

It might be interesting to do an infographie for each part of a film or each chapter of a book. Students could produce their own infographie giving their favourite quotations and words which they consider important. The resulting work could serve as the starting point of some spontaneous information gap conversation. They would also look good on an open day smile

Do have a go with the template and feel free to adapt as much as you like.

I think sometimes the creativity that can be developed with freely available programs is underestimated and MS Word has come a long way in the last few years. No need to be lusting after ipad apps necessarily and the focus is definitely on the content here.

L'etnranger, infographie
Download the L'étranger Infographie example docx (unproofed)

Download infographie template for MS Word docx

L'étranger Infographie (w97-03)

Template (w97-03)

L'occupation-ALF resources and 2 page cartoon summary

The German occupation of France is a topic dear to my heart and one which can be exploited on many different levels by language teachers. I have just returned from a visit to old friends in a village near Orléans and Ginette our exchange partner's mother whom I've known for 40+ years was telling me of her experiences as a 5 year old. Her mother was running the farm south of the Loire by herself and as the Germans approached, she loaded up a cart and set off on the "exode". They only got 20 or so kilometres into the Sologne area and then came back, presumably after the armistice. Her father was a prisoner in Germany working on the Uboat works by the river Weser near Bremen. She clearly remembers German soldiers coming into the farmyard and machine gunning their chickens and a cow, presumably in order to obtain fresh produce. I never knew to ask about this 43 years ago-but I know now!

My first creative work based on the topic was this cartoon summary which I wrote in 1991 for the Stanley Thorne's Escalade 1 reader-it was for Key Stage 3 if the term existed then! Allo allo was still a popular TV comedy into its 7th series.

I wrote the summary including as much transactional language as possible:- shopping, transport, finding the way and it was surprising just how well the topic fitted. When I went for interview for a head of dept job, the incumbent showed us her materials for the occupation and, guess what, she had my summary as the ultimate condensation of the if you need it, use it.

l'occupation, un sac de billes, le silence de la mer, aubrac

Download the cartoon summary of the occupation (Stanley Thorne's Escalade 1)

For an introduction to the fall of France which illustrates why the country was in such a traumatised state by June 1940, the Channel 4 World at War, part 2 is essential viewing.

The Vercors novella Le silence de la mer fits neatly into the period following the defeat demonstrating how an old man and his niece resist passively against the German officer billeted with them. Although less than 40 pages in length I found that the poetic nature of von Ebrennac's characterisation of the relationship between the victor and the vanquished alongside the developing romantic attachment of the officer and the silent woman made for a classic of understatement-fertile ground for conjecture and therefore discussion. See summary of ALF resources for book

Written early in the 50's Au Bon Beurre by Jean Dutourd caused a good deal of soul-searching when it was published, dispelling many of the more up-beat, post war appraisals of private behaviour during the occupation. A crémier uses every opportunity to enrich himself and his family against a backdrop of Vichy propaganda. With a sub-plot of an attempted assassination attempt on Pétain this humorous novel feels authentic-even down to the crémier manning the barricades as a member of the résistance de dernière heure. An essential read for teachers wishing to get into the period.

The first film I saw based on the occupation period was in 1975; it was the first film I saw at university. Lacombe Lucien, directed by Louis Malle, was a shocking, morally ambiguous introduction to the topic. I enjoyed covering this title within the film section on ALF and commend it to teachers who may have had enough of Au revoir les enfants or Un sac de billes.

See cinema resources

The release of Au Revoir les Enfants, also of course by Malle, was an attempt by the director to deal with a disturbing experience from his past. I took a group of A level students to see the film at the Cornerhouse in Manchester and have re-watched the film ever since. I shall be releasing a sequence of materials on Malle shortly covering the director's career and examination preparation materials.

Lucie Aubrac's Ils partiront dans l'ivresse which I thoroughly enjoyed researching describes the effect of the German occupation on society and the internal workings of resistance networks in Lyon as this brave woman leads operations to release captive prisoners. The account came out when Klaus Barbie the German officer responsible for torturing prisoners was on trial in Lyon and the book raised many questions about the role of personal reminiscences in the recounting of history. Does Lucie come across as overly self-important and too enthusiastic a name-dropper?-if everything in the story is true, then I'm sure these characteristics are well-deserved. See summary of ALF resources on this book

Un sac de billes by Joseph Joffo traces the perilous adventures of the young Jo and his brother Maurice as they try to stay one jump ahead of both the collaborationist French and the Germans. Many aspects of life during the occupation are illuminated as the war progresses; the humorous tone of the book where the adult Jo looks over the shoulder of his younger self, contrasts with the ever present fear of the boys. Other works such as the film La rafle, home in on the single largest round-up in Paris but the sheer humanity of Un sac de billes gives a more life-affirming message. See summary of ALF resources for this book

In order to gain an overview of the opinions of a wide range of people during WW2 in France the classic Marcel Ophuls documentary "Le chagrin et la pitié" is essential viewing. The interviews all involve people living in and around Clermont Ferrand and include collaborators as well as people who worked with the resistance.

I have enjoyed watching the multi-series "Un village français" over the last few years. Set in a fictious village/town on the ligne de démarcation, the programmes, with a set cast of characters traces the fate of these people through the war years, starting from the exode and going right through to after the war. Available on DVD or through pluzz, the series is useful for teachers to get a feel for the period although it is probably too long winded to show to classes. This is a link to the FR3 homepage for the series.