I would say that after more than 20 years in the classroom that one of the most important lessons I've learned is this: If you can get your students interested in what you want to teach them, it will make you instantly more effective as a teacher! My mentor would agree. When I was a new teacher, he encouraged me to find out what students wanted, and then repackage my lessons accordingly. I have found this to be very wise advice.
My students are immediately interested in anything that has to do with my classroom mannequins. And why wouldn't they be? Wouldn't it be SO MUCH more interesting to sit in a lesson where a teacher was telling & acting out a story about a life-size department store mannequin than to read a boring dialog in a textbook about Pierre & Anne who went to the grocery store? I took that textbook dialog meant to teach students how to use the passé composé and threw it out, replacing it with a story I wrote about Jacques & his girlfriend Suzette (my classroom mannequins, which you are aware of if you've been reading this blog) and their picnic date. Because we were learning vocabulary about how to describe the countryside, I chose to have the story take place in the countryside. I acted out the story for students with props. Here's a photo.
I had already taught students how to form the passé composé (the past tense). In this lesson, I wanted students to practice using it in the context of a story. The story about the picnic date ended thusly: Jacques was waiting for Suzette to show up, having spread out the picnic (see above), and he was starting to get upset and wondering where she was. Students were instructed to write a few lines about what they thought happened next, using the passé composé. Then they acted out their lines for the class, and they always come up with some very creative endings, so this turns out to be quite enjoyable and engaging.
A few days later, I piqued their interest again by letting them know that I was going to tell them what REALLY happened to Suzette at the end of that story. I had the same picnic scene set up when they arrived to class, and Suzette was also there, but covered up with a sheet so that they couldn't see her. This really causes them to be interested. I unveiled Suzette after the bell rang, and this is what they saw:
Above is Jacques' shirt, which I was wearing over my clothes. When I took the shirt off and acted out "ripping it", I didn't want to actually rip the shirt, so I improvised by ripping a sheet of paper for the sound effect. I thought my students would think this was dumb, but one of them stayed after class to tell me that was her favorite part of the story :). Then I picked Suzette up over my shoulder and RAN across the classroom with her to the doctor's office, where I also played the part of the doctor (see the props below).
The doctor examined Suzette and told her she would be ok. Then Jacques hugged Suzette and told her he loved her.
There was gasping, laughing and spontaneous applause at the end of this scene. Students were genuinely interested in what was happening. Afterwards, I gave them a typed copy of the scene, and asked them to change the verbs to the passé composé. As a result of these lessons, students heard, spoke, read and wrote the passé composé. They also enjoyed themselves, and so did I. Immensely. I love that teaching a language affords me the opportunity to be creative.
Happy teaching, everyone!