ESL Lesson Planning for France: Pre-departure Edition

As my departure date to leave the U.S. and go live in France for seven months grows nearer, I’ve entered into a serious photocopying, planning, and packing frenzy. Having never packed my entire life into one suitcase and a carry-on before, I find it tricky to decide which items are critical to my survival and sanity, and which ones will just weigh me down as I run to catch my next train. The one aspect of all this preparation that I genuinely enjoy, however, is lesson planning.

How does one lesson-plan when one has never met one’s students and is unsure of their level of English comprehension? By grabbing a variety of materials that are versatile enough to be used with learners of different levels, and then thinking about how to differentiate instruction using those same materials. (I realize this is easier said than done.)

Another aspect of this teaching job that is uncertain at the moment is how much freedom I’ll be given to plan my own lessons. I’ve heard from previous TAPIF assistants in various regions of France that some teachers tell their assistants to “teach whatever you want as long as it’s in English,” whereas others give their assistants prepared lesson plans. In the event that I’m expected to create my own lesson plans, I’ve compiled a list of materials that I’m bringing to France. In a few cases, I’ve written how I plan to use those materials to teach English conversation.

Note: These materials do not necessarily constitute full lesson plans in and of themselves. Most of them are general ideas that are best used to support your regular lesson plan theme (i.e., “Thanksgiving”).


1) Newspaper clippings and magazines.

Specifically, I plan to use clippings of sports sections, non-obscure political cartoons, advice columns, horoscopes, community events specific to my town, hot-button issue articles, and political opinion columns. Classifieds, fashion ads, and comics can also be useful for generating student discussion as well as for use in comparison/contrast exercises with the French versions of those publications. Regarding my town’s local newspaper, I’m staying away from articles on obscure topics that involve a lot of jargon, while still gathering articles that reflect the flavor of the town.

2) Movies.

If the teachers with whom I work are fine with me screening movie clips in class, I plan to introduce an element of pop culture with clips from movies like The Pink Panther (the 1963 version that is made excellent by Peter Sellers’ outrageously fake French accent), Star Trek (2009), Ocean’s Eleven, and Madagascar. I think movies chronicling typical high school antics would also be popular among older students, although you would have to be careful since French teachers may have a different idea than teachers of your nationality regarding what material is appropriate to show in school.

3) Music.

Nearly any song can be turned into a conversation exercise, in my opinion. However, some songs are definitely more useful than others! I will definitely try to use classic songs with easily understandable lyrics, such as “Yesterday” by the Beatles, in order to discuss grammatical tense. I also want to use songs like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel to springboard a more political discussion. Students will most likely have heard current Top 50 songs, but those can be a good way to get conversation going by starting on familiar ground. Since I was at Bonnaroo (a music and arts festival in Tennessee) this summer, I can’t resist using music I heard there that has a distinctly American flavor, such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ song “Home” and The Lumineers’ song “Big Parade.”

4) Books.

There are so many from which to choose, most of which will not fit in my luggage. Consequently, I’m selecting just a few. My top choices are:

Cajun Night Before Christmas by Trosclair. This story must be read with your best imitation of a Cajun accent, of course. Books like this are just one way to introduce students to various regional accents and dialects from your country.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I plan to select passages from this popular teen novel and ask students comprehension questions. I may also ask them to create alternative endings for the selection.

-Barron’s A Dictionary of American Idioms by Adam Makkai. Students want to learn how speakers of [insert your nationality] really talk.

5) Money.

As I found with teaching American elementary school students about French culture, kids love money. Just as the American students were all over the euros I brought into class and let them handle, French students will be interested in your country’s currency. I plan to do role-play exercises, where students have to buy something at a “clothing store” and give exact change in USD.

6) Other ideas…

I plan to introduce random aspects of American culture throughout my lessons, ranging from presentations on American roadside attractions (Beer Can house, anyone?), to vanity license plates, to geography activities using road maps so students can learn how to give directions in English.

As I teach, I will blog about more lesson plans I’ve created and which ones are the most successful with my particular group of high school and young college-age students.

I hope you find this list helpful. Please feel free to post additional lesson plan ideas in the comments!


What should you know about getting your French long-stay visa?

Though some people cringe at the thought of going through the French visa application process, the experience need not be stressful. With some basic internet searches and a little common-sense preparation, you will be ready to do business with the folks at your “local” French Embassy, whatever your purpose for traveling to France may be.

I recently visited the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. to apply for my long-stay work visa. I had never gone through the visa application process before. My one-month study abroad in Montpellier, France during the summer of 2011 was through my home institution, the College of William and Mary, and I didn’t require a student visa. Here is a list of a few useful things to have in mind before leaving for your visa appointment:

  1. Don’t bother arriving at the consulate more than a half-hour early.

I arrived on foot more than an hour early for my 9:45 a.m. appointment and was instructed to wait just inside the gate until 9:15, at which point the guard checked my driver’s license and allowed me to pass through. I suppose the consulate’s rationale for this procedure is so that the waiting room doesn’t fill up too quickly. When I got to the waiting room, there were only a few people there; however, by 9:45 the room was packed and there were still people waiting who had arrived for their 9:00 a.m. appointment. I had expected to wait awhile for my appointment, so I was slightly surprised to leave as early as 11:15. If I had to do it again, I would book my appointment for 8:45 or 9:00– the earlier in the day, the quicker your application will be processed.

  1. Bring the OFII form.

Even if your consulate’s website doesn’t mention that you need to bring this form, the visa officer WILL ask you for it during your visa appointment. Make sure you fill out the top portion only, since the bottom portion is for you to mail in to the Office français de l’immigration et l’intégration during the first three months of your stay in France. Once in France, the office will request that you appear for an interview and medical exam. Also, print ALL the pages of the document, even though the last two don’t have any blanks for you to fill in. The visa officer will ask you for those as well.

  1. Make 2-3 copies of every document before you come to your appointment.

You need copies. However, if you forget them or need more once you’ve arrived at the consulate, there is a photocopier in the waiting room (at least this is the case at the D.C. consulate). Also, if you forget a document, the visa officers may be lenient about letting you have documents emailed or faxed to them that day. This was the case for one person in the waiting room with me, who was applying for a student visa. She called her institution abroad and asked them to email documents directly to the consulate so that she wouldn’t have to reschedule her appointment.

  1. Follow all directions on your consulate’s website.

This is the easiest way to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Double-check instructions before you go to your appointment. The consulate has different procedures for each visa type. The teaching assistant visa seems to be the least complicated type, in terms of the number of documents required for the application.

For more information on how to schedule your visa appointment and what documents to bring, visit the French Consulate’s website:

If you are a teaching assistant, you’ll find the 2013-2014 Assistant’s Handbook helpful, as well as the TAPIF Facebook page.

After you successfully complete your visa appointment, sit back and wait for your visa to be mailed back to you! This is the consulate’s preferred option; it’s less of a hassle than going to pick up your passport and attached visa in person. The consulate’s website says the visa processing time is normally 2-3 weeks, but my visa arrived in the mail six days after I applied for it at the consulate. Time for me to buy that plane ticket . . .