The Internet can add an immediacy and contemporary flavor to French classes, introducing students not only to the vibrant culture of France but to an international realm of discourse where multi-linguistic skills are taken for granted.
Have students work in pairs to produce an English-language guide to the resources linked with the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) website. This will involve browsing the site itself and following the links it offers through several levels in order to assess and fully describe what is available. The exercise offers significant practice in reading French and opportunities to encounter the language in a wide range of applications, from the world of finance to that of popular music. Student guides can take the form of a "top ten" catalog, with full translations from the sites they find most fascinating, an indication of the level of French language proficiency needed to enjoy each site, and some suggestions for how students might use each one. To produce a more comprehensive student guide to French-related resources on the Internet, assign each pair of students a specific subject area -- literature, politics, cuisine, film, etc. -- so that their reports can become chapters in a collaborative project.
Have students work in small groups to plan a three-day tour of Paris, using the Pariscope, Paris Metro, Louvre, Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie, and Galeries Lafayette websites listed under "Discovering French Culture on the World Wide Web" in the "Les Bonnes Adresses de l'AATF " section of the AATF website. Students will find information at these websites on accommodations, transportation, attractions, entertainment, special events -- even the weather. Have each group prepare a detailed itinerary for its tour, including maps showing the route they propose to follow each day, descriptions of the sights they plan to see, and menus for their meals.
Use these itineraries to have students role play in French some typical encounters and experiences on their imaginary tour: asking for the location of a particular work of art in a museum; buying and mailing a postcard home to friends; attending a sports event; etc. Students can also use their knowledge of Paris to play a quiz game: assign each group a category (e.g., metro stops, famous French artists, monuments, getting from here to there, great restaurants, etc.) and have them make up five challenging questions (in French), then mix-up all the questions and go from group to group, with the group able to answer the most questions declared winner. Conclude the lesson by having students write a journal page about one day of their imaginary Paris tour.
To give students firsthand experience with French culture and society, have them compare French and American journalism. Begin with a discussion of American newspapers: What kinds of stories appear on the front page? What kinds of issues are addressed on the editorial page? What topics often have their own section in a newspaper (business, sports, etc.)? What are some regular features in the paper (comics, horoscope, obituaries, etc.)? You might have students bring newspapers to class as part of this discussion, and follow up by having them outline the characteristics of American newspapers identified in your discussion, so they will have a checklist to use in their research on French journalism.
Students can find two French newspapers -- Le Monde and Liberation -- online at the AATF website. Have students work in pairs to compare one of the French newspapers point-for-point against their checklist for American newspapers. Do the same kinds of events "make news" in France as in the United States? Are daily events divided into the same kinds of categories? Do French newspaper readers look for the same kinds of regular features? Have students read their French newspaper in some depth, taking note, for example, of the different sports covered, the different countries from which stories appear, and the kinds of issues addressed by editorials. Students might also note whether stories about the United States appear in the French news as often as stories about France appear in the news here.
In a class discussion, have students report on the differences and similarities they noticed between the two countries' newspapers. Lay the groundwork for this discussion by observing that, to some extent, a nation's newspapers reflect its view of itself and of its place in the world. The kinds of stories covered, the priority given to certain stories by placing them on the front page, the special coverage given to topics like sports and business, all reflect some usually unspoken consensus about what matters in everyday life -- what makes news. Encourage students to draw on their research for some insight into the distinctively French and American ways of looking at the world. Where do their world views intersect? Where do they seem most "foreign" to one another? What other sorts of evidence might students search out to confirm their deductions?
As a follow-up to this lesson, have students compare French and American coverage of the same story (e.g., a gathering of international leaders, a United Nations report, the Olympics, etc.). Do reporters in both cultures follow the familiar journalistic formula for a news story, the "Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why" of an event? Do they answer these questions in the same way? Do they observe similar standards of objectivity? How are the perspectives of their separate cultures reflected in their writing? Conclude by having students write a commentary on American journalism from the French point of view, or rewrite an American news story as it might be reported in France.
Your students can use the Internet to experience a personal involvement in French culture and society by establishing a pen-pal relationship with students in France. The AATF website provides access to Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections (IECC) mailing lists, provided by St. Olaf College as a free service to help teachers link their students with partners in other countries and cultures.
3-4 class periods