A LEARNING PROJECT FOR FRENCH II STUDENTS STUDYING POETRY
Reprinted from AATF National Bulletin 24, No. 4 (April 1999)
Several years ago I found an idea for teaching French poetry via an AOL Bulletin Board. Basically, the teacher advocated using Paul Verlaine’s "Chanson d’automne," chosen for its simplicity. Students memorize the poem and answer critical questions at the end. Over the years I have both added to and subtracted from the original idea with this year’s student projects being the most rewarding ones yet. I would like to share what we have done with my fellow colleagues in the profession. IT WORKS!
Putting the textbook aside for two weeks is always a welcome change. I present the poem to the students, and after reading, repeating, analyzing meaning, rhyme scheme, structure, and literary devices, the students are asked to memorize the poem by a certain date.
After testing on memorization, students are assigned to groups of three or four and given a topic to research. Topics include: enlightenment, romanticism, realism/naturalism, impressionism, Verlaine/Monet/Debussy/Rodin. To reduce time spent in research, I present each group with folders replete with multiple copies of information downloaded from the Web on the topic in question. Each student in the group is responsible for reading all material in the folder, as well as for writing note cards on what he/she has read. The group appoints a secretary who is then responsible, with the group’s assistance, for putting together the best presentation on the topic assigned. On presentation day, students will hear, in chronological order, presentations on the various literary and artistic movements in French history. They will always point out names and works of outstanding artists from the era as well show how the characteristics of one era often led naturally to the beginning of another. I will often augment presentations with appropriate art prints or tapes of music representative of a particular movement.
The final stage of the project is the writing of an original poem by each student, loosely following the structure of Verlaine’s "Chanson."
1. Student must pick a season of the year to write about.
2. Poem must contain three stanzas (no given length).
3. First stanza must use a musical metaphor which is descriptive of a characteristic of the season chosen.
4. Second stanza must mention an unrelated activity which brings the author back in time. Author must mention how that activity affects him.
5. Third stanza, author must define the metaphor mentioned in the first stanza and tell how it affects his life (if it does).
6. There is no specific rhyme scheme to be followed.
After I allay fears about their
ability to write poetry, students begin in earnest to write their own
Pedagogical benefits of this project are numerous. Most especially, students learn to write simply, but creatively in a foreign language using writing process techniques. Their vocabulary is necessarily increased. They learn to use a dictionary correctly. They anticipate in their poem many points of grammar which have not yet been covered in the text but for which they receive one-on-one instruction (placement of object pronouns, use of causative faire + infinitive, to mention only a few items). They realize that they can manipulate not only their native language but a foreign language as well.
This year’s poems were outstanding. Copies will be run off and placed in a three-ring folder for each student to keep.
West Ouachita High School
West Monroe, LA
Created: November 17, 2002
Last update: November 17, 2002