Connecting High Schoolers and Third Graders Through Language

July 7, 2021 | By Holly Connelly

One dreary spring day in 2017 I found myself with a few spare minutes to read a weekly informational email from the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages. It was the March 2017 ACTFL SmartBrief, and it highlighted a Tampa Bay Times article about a program where high school French students went to local 1st graders and taught them French. 

I was immediately inspired by this idea, and I got in touch with the French teacher from the article. It turned out this was the very first year she’d done it. She gave me lots of useful information and ideas, and I ran with them, contacting Aline Brown, one of the 3rd grade teachers at Bryn Athyn Church School (BACS).

Aline enthusiastically welcomed my students and me to her classroom for this pilot program. My French 3 students had a great time learning how best to introduce a new language to 3rd graders. They found it was a helpful reinforcement of their own knowledge of some of the basics of the French language. They also learned a lot about the art of teaching, discovering that it’s not always easy!

students in class

Spring, 2017, French 3 students recording “tête, epaules, genoux et pieds (head, shoulders, knees and toes)” for the 3rd graders

The following year Cynthia Conaron, who also teaches 3rd grade at BACS, reached out to me to see if we could teach to both halves of the 3rd grade. I was really excited that it worked well enough that she wanted her students to join in the fun!

June, 2018, French 3 students making crêpes for their final lesson with the 3rd graders

student teaching

May, 2019, a French 3 student supports 3rd graders in a rousing game of Quizlet LIVE

twins smiling and holding plates of food

June, 2019, the “Trauts” ready to give out crêpes on their last day with the 3rd graders

Each year my students decide to focus on something slightly different. The first group loved teaching through music. The second group targeted colors, shapes, and food (crêpes for the win!). The third group focused on conversation and digital games for reinforcement. The fourth group even managed a couple of storytelling lessons last year before the pandemic, which was really nice for them to get at least a taste of the experience. Now this year’s group has had to wrangle with how to teach via Zoom for the first few classes (a feeling many teachers are all too familiar with!). And wow, they did it so well! Then they quickly learned how different, and better, teaching in person is when we were able to start meeting outside for classes. 

students learning in classroom

April, 2021, BACS 3rd graders helping to create a story in French via Zoom

students outside

May, 2021, French 3 students and 3rd graders don’t let a little spring shower get in the way!

students outside in grass

May, 2021, outside in the sun doing some French action words

cartoon pineapple and cat

Characters created (in French and ”Franglais”) by the 3rd graders and drawn by Lucy B. and Jocelyn R. respectively using Stepping Stones methods

The 3rd grade teachers periodically offer nuggets of wisdom that are very helpful to the French 3 students (for example, instead of asking the students if they want to do something and leaving room for them to say “no,” just tell them what the activity is––I’ve discovered this is useful with my own students!). 

It’s a joy to see the French 3 students interacting with the 3rd graders through their chosen teaching method, and seeing them shine in this leadership role is really a terrific way to end the year. 

The program has been going strong for five years now, with tremendous support from my BACS colleagues, Aline Brown and Cynthia Conaron, and all-around excitement from both the high school and elementary students. This year, in particular, Aline, Cynthia and BACS’s principal, Greg Henderson, have been very helpful and flexible with creative ways to keep the program going safely. I truly appreciate their commitment to this wonderful connection between the two schools!