A short lesson plan based on a French artist

Van Gogh - Self Portrait copy  I tried something new last week.  I needed a stand-alone activity that would last about 3 days.  Many TPRS (teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling) practitioners have written about using a piece of art or a photograph as the basis of a story.

So I thought of the most interesting French painter I knew and Vincent Van Gogh came to mind because he cut off his ear.

After finding 2 self-portraits and doing a bit of research on French Wikipedia for kids to secure the simplest language possible, I was ready. Here’s what I did each of the 3 days:

Day 1 – project a drawing and ask some basic questions in French

  • who is this?
  • what do you know about him?

I wrote all new words both in French and in English on the board and later added them to a big yellow post-it sheet of paper for future days.

I introduced Van Gogh’s friend, Paul Gauguin, and explained how HE was recognized during his lifetime as a legitimate painter, unlike Vincent.

Day 2 – we reviewed the data in French out loud through questioning and repetition of the facts.  Again, the yellow sheet of paper from yesterday was front and center and I added to it any new phrases that came up.

Then I informed the class that the two artists, friends though they were, got into a fight and as a result, Van Gogh cut off his own ear and eventually committed suicide.  We worked with the new phrases, “they argued, he cut off his own ear, he committed suicide”. The way I ‘work’ with the language is to personalize it by asking the students questions like:

  • do you fight?
  • with whom?
  • what do you fight/argue about?
  • who has cut a leg or a finger?  who has ever broken an arm or a hand?

Research shows that we need to hear a phrase and understand it about 70 times before it is solidly lodged IN us so we can easily recall it.

The final activity of Day 2 was to break the class into pairs and trios and have them invent, in French, what they thought Gauguin and Van Gogh might have argued about.  I gave them about 7 minutes to collaborate and collected their notes.

I then started to read out loud, correcting the French as I went,  the first 2 scenarios, one at a time.  I verified with the originators to clarify.  I asked the class questions in French ABOUT the scenario. After doing that with the 2 different stories, I had pairs/trios retell one of the two scenarios, alternating between each person.

Later on that day, I typed up the ‘cleaned up’ version of the 2 stories.

Day 3:

The first activity was to project the 2 stories and have the class translate out loud the French.  Then I spent a few minutes asking the class both chorally and individually certain questions on the content to verify that all students understood not only the content but the language.  Again the big yellow sheet was hanging on the white board in full view.

We then addressed the other 4 scenarios yet to be discussed.  In doing so, I made sure to go back over Van Gogh’s factual background that had already been established.

This filled the period nicely PLUS I had 4 other stories as treasure!

Once the class left, I once more cleaned up the remaining scenarios and added them to yesterday’s document.

These story endings will be a future homework for students to make a written translation into English of THEIR own snippet plus 2 others.

I love it when my students can be creative FOR me.

Plus those who had never heard of Vincent Van Gogh or Paul Gauguin learned something about French art and might remember the story AND one day recognize Van Gogh’s artwork.

Van Gogh with ear bandage







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