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Grammar Boring? Not in French 311

January 14, 2009 by Lisa Jansen

Photo #1: Students and instructor engaged in debateWhen Janet Caulkins selected Jacqueline Ollivier and Martin Beaudoin’s Grammaire Française (4th ed.) for French 311: Advanced Composition and Conversation, she knew it would be an excellent text for an intensive grammar review. She wanted her students not only to apply themselves to Grammaire Française from cover to cover, but also to go beyond the text.

Professor Caulkins sought to engage her students through an extensive use of multimedia and interactive computer strategies. The LSS computer lab in 274 Van Hise was just the place where she could use these strategies to encourage students to reduce grammatical mistakes in both written and spoken French, and develop their communication and cultural skills.

At the beginning of each class, students searched the web for an article of interest from that day’s French press. They worked first on their own, then with a partner to outline the main argument of their articles. They also examined the grammar points they were reviewing that week in Grammaire Française and tried to find those points in their articles.

The goal was to prove that they had completed their grammar assignments for that day, had understood the grammar points, and could apply them correctly when they presented their articles, in French, to the whole class, using the instructor’s computer to display their articles to the class. Where students had not understood a grammatical point, or needed further clarification, Professor Caulkins referred to the chapters and exercises in Grammaire Française, and provided additional explanations.

Photos taken during the last class of the semester showcase the effectiveness of using a computer lab for such a course. Students are engaged and there is a sense of drama in the lab. Students discuss a variety of issues that they have selected and researched with their partners for a final debate of the semester, using the resources of the multi-media lab.

Subjects for debate include French and American views on links between fast food restaurants and obesity in children:

Photo #1: Students Engaged in Debate

and whether it is not too late to prevent further climate warming, or whether preparations should be made to live on a planet without glaciers:

Photo #2: Evaluating the Evidence

Students are taking notes:

Photo #3: Student notebook

They are comfortable in their own worlds. They are able to move with ease beyond their own space, present their arguments persuasively, in French, to the class of 22 students:

Photo #4: Presenting Persuasively

and ask questions of speakers and the instructor, in French, while paying close attention to their grammar and le mot juste:

Photo #5: Student answering question

French in a multimedia lab is obviously fun; students put much work into reviewing grammar, researching interesting topics, and rehearsing debates with their partners:

Photo #6: French is Fun

The computer lab, used strategically and appropriately, brings out the best in students and was given a thumbs-up by one of the French 311 class members who will be studying in France during spring semester 2009!

Photo #7: Student gives thumbs up

LSS would like to thank Professor Janet Caulkins for contributing this article. For more information about teaching in LSS computer labs, please contact Doug Worsham at or 262-4965.

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