While students leave French immersion at all grade levels and for a variety of reasons, we know that the transition between school levels (elementary to junior high and junior high or middle school to senior high) are peak times for attrition.
Efforts to improve student retention need to start with information and support for parents and ensure that older students have good information about the opportunities that will be open to them after grade 12.
These efforts also need to involve students at a stage when they are old enough to influence decisions about continuing in immersion but young enough that life after high school or postsecondary can seem very far off.
Language and cultural enrichment activities are extremely important to help motivate students to continue learning French. However, another dimension must also be addressed. All too often immersion students are not aware of the unique opportunity they have been given. To teachers and parents immersion is special while to the students it’s often just school! To teachers and parents, learning a second language has intellectual, personal, and financial rewards; to students approaching junior high, it can seem like just a lot of extra work.
Following is a list of suggested activities which could be undertaken in the grade 5 or 6 immersion classroom to get the students:
- reflecting on their second language learning,
- celebrating their accomplishments, and
- thinking about the benefits that come from being in French immersion
and to set the stage for a more in-depth consideration of personal, postsecondary, and career opportunities in late grade 8 or early grade 9.
If you are a grade 5 or 6 immersion teacher, we hope you will print out this page and consider our suggestions. Feel free to choose the one or two activities that best fit your circumstances, and to adapt our ideas to suit your class.
If you know of parents with questions or concerns about continuing immersion, refer them to the CPF Alberta web site at www.cpfalta.ab.ca. Work with your local CPF chapter to help parents understand what the research says and learn about the long-term benefits of bilingualism.
CPF Alberta also offers you a series of handouts suitable for both students and parents as well as public service announcements for use in school newsletters and other publications: see I’m learning French because….
Follow-up: for possibilities at the grade 8/9 and senior high levels, click here
After a regular “buddy reader” activity, the teacher could lead a discussion about the differences in the second language levels between the two groups, emphasizing the progress made by the older “buddies” since they were in kindergarten or grade 1. Then have the students draw a comic strip or write a letter, paragraph, or poem:
- about what it was like to start in French immersion (in kindergarten or grade 1) (note: many of the students won’t remember, but it’s okay for them to communicate what they think it was like)
- explaining to someone who knows nothing about the program what it means to be in French immersion
Prepare a television commercial or create a magazine advertisement or a pamphlet selling French immersion to:
?parents or ?preschoolers or ?their peers
Research and/or interview and write about one of:
- the history of French immersion
- where French immersion is offered within the city, province, country
- immersion programs in other countries
- French around the world
- how French was taught in my parents’ day
- the personal benefits of French immersion (cognitive, leisure, travel, etc.)
- jobs where bilingualism is an asset
- postsecondary opportunities
- an immersion student who did something special with his/her French
- a French immersion graduate
- someone in your community who works in both French and English
Create a class newspaper and include the above articles. Incorporate pictures, maps (original student work or from the internet).
Develop questions and then interview peers, parents, teachers, or administrators (for radio, television, newspaper, or magazine) about French immersion: likes/dislikes, positives/negatives, why the interviewee is in the immersion program, etc.
Break into groups to brainstorm and research various ways to enjoy and practice French outside of school, and then have each group report to the class on one of:
- leisure reading, television, radio
- local entertainment (theater, festivals, etc.)
- summer camps
- the internet: interesting web sites, online games, pen pals, etc.
- summer jobs during high school or postsecondary
Prepare a bilingual skit to present to another class or at a parent information night, such as:
- what is immersion?
- our immersion experience
- how we’re learning French
- what we would like to learn
- what we’ll be able to do with our French when we grow up
- the difference between how our parents learned French and how we are learning it
Have your students read about the differing goals of the various French programs in Alberta – core French (FSL), early immersion, late immersion, and French first language – and then lead a class discussion. Or have the class break into four groups to each investigate one of these programs and then report back to the class on:
- the goals/outcomes of the program
- the students for whom the program is designed
- reasons for selecting a particular program
- whether the program is offered in your community and whether it should be offered
If your class has an opportunity to interact with Francophones (a field trip to a French community center, through an internet chat room, etc.), do a follow-up activity which has them thinking about, writing about, and/or talking about how their language skills have allowed them to meet and interact with people from another culture.
If your class starts a pen pal or video exchange program, have them begin by sending an explanation of French immersion to their Francophone counterparts.
Have the students investigate and analyze immersion statistics. For example:
- do the calculations and prepare a graph that compares hours in instruction in French to students’ “waking hours” in English, kindergarten through grade 12, in your immersion program (see graph on page 48 of Yes, You Can Help!)
- graphing the enrolments over time for your school, district, or province
- computing the percentage of immersion students versus the total enrolment (district or province) and how that has changed over time
- analyzing changes in enrolment as students move through the grades
Some immersion students believe the English program is easier because you don’t lose marks for not speaking French. Help your students look at it the other way: that they can easily get “bonus” marks just for speaking French. The English program students don’t have this opportunity to get 5 or 10% extra!
Some of the above topics could also be tackled through debates, and some would make interesting presentation subjects if your students participate in a public speaking competition.
Before doing one of the activities listed above, have the class develop a “Top Ten” list of reasons to continue in French immersion. After doing the activity(ies), repeat this exercise and compare the two lists. Discuss the reasons for any changes. (If you want, you might also have them compare their final list with CPF Alberta’s Eight Great Reasons.)
Information sources to help with these activities
CPF Alberta receives and distributes news of many resources and products designed to be of interest to students of French, their teachers, and their parents.
Publication does not imply CPF endorsement.
Benefits (personal, intellectual, postsecondary, career) of learning a second language / learning French
“Why learn another language?” in Yes, You Can Help!
Extra-curricular activities, exchanges, summer work opportunities
“The importance of French outside of school” in Yes, You Can Help!
The CPF national web site offers statistical tables
Statistics for your school district will be available from your district office
“A Made-in-Canada Solution” in Yes, You Can Help!
French programs: core, immersion, first language
French in Alberta and around the world
Where French immersion is offered
Articles by Fred Kreiner, Directeur du Bureau de la pratique Faculté Saint-Jean
Click here to preview, download, or order either of these videos.
Proud of Two Languages (revised 2009, English, 12.5 min) showcases young Canadians who are using French a second language. Canada’s new generation of bilingual young people speak for themselves in this video about their hopes and dreams and experiences. They talk about the benefits – professional and personal – of becoming bilingual.
You will meet seven young people who are working, playing, and studying in French as well as English. They have learned their French through Early Immersion, Core French and then Late Immersion, and in bilingual 50-50 programs. Their interests range from business to the arts, from international affairs to the professions. French is part their lives. What do they have to say about their experiences? Was it tough? At times, yes. Was it worth it? Let’s let them speak for themselves…
I Want to Become Bilingual Because… (2009, English, 12.5 min.) honours the many hardworking students studying French as a second language across the country. Students of all ages fill in the blanks to the title statement: “I want to become bilingual because…”
The answers are as varied and engaging as the students themselves, who represent the diverse and multicultural voices of elementary, middle and high school students in every province and territory. These students want to be functionally bilingual for all the obvious reasons and more—not just to have more university choices and career opportunities, but also to make more friends, have more fun, and even gain more knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself.
Both videos are also ideal for use by parents, teachers, administrators in:
- parent information nights
- community outreach programs
- professional development
- inservice training