Teacher's Guide

Teachers: Below is a teacher's guide written by Kathie Dior. This guide is also posted on Laura K. Lawless' French Web site. Please feel free to print it out. If you would like to add your thoughts on your own successful teaching practices on this, or any other subject, please E-mail us at info at We will post them on our new Teacher to Teacher Web page.


Here is a brief rundown of my personal teaching method using Les portes tordues at Purdue University's Gifted Education Resource Institute. While the book is perfectly adapted to self-learners for independent study, it is also a wonderful teaching tool in the classroom. (It is also a valuable homework tool -- students love immersing themselves in the mystery -- we love the fact that they are simultaneously learning French!) Therefore, and with regard to the classroom, I will outline my own methods of teaching that have been characterized as eclectic and fast-paced with generous doses of humor and understanding. Please note that I conduct the class in French as much as possible and use gestures to avoid having to speak in English. Lessons are taught so that the students hear, see, say, act out (whenever possible), and write the new material.

1. Since my students have never been exposed to French, I first make sure that they understand the concept of translating by having them compare the French and English texts word by word in chapter 1. Then, in subsequent chapters, the students pair up with a partner and actively figure out the chapters themselves with the help of the English translation. My role is reduced to helping them only when needed.

2. Now that they are somewhat familiar with the French text, I have the students brainstorm the cognates. "How can we remember that maison means house?" Wait for a student to find the word mansion and then commend her/him for this find! We then discuss the etymology of the other new words or expressions and at this time I may add extraneous material. For instance, if jour comes up in the text, I might teach them the days of the week to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." In this way, I sometimes use the book as a springboard and find myself teaching something in French that I had not planned. Often, the students themselves ask me to teach extraneous material. This makes for a spontaneous and student-driven classroom setting.

3. This is the fun part: Les portes tordues is a mystery, so now that the students are somewhat familiar with the new text from steps 1 and 2, I recite each line in a dramatic fashion while using plenty of gestures. I actually role-play each character using different voices and add movements as needed to facilitate their comprehension of the French text. In addition, the classroom is my prop, and I will make use of anything in it to help the students comprehend the spoken word. For instance, while speaking in a low and mysterious tone of voice, I may approach the classroom door and open it slowly as I recite the following text, "La porte s'ouvre, lentement." Thus, students find themselves immersed in a theatre of French. I then have individual students repeat after me in a mysterious tone of voice while they slowly open the classroom door. They are therefore learning how to speak French, associate it to an act, and have fun in the process.

4. I may put in the audio CD at this point and have them follow the text as the native speaker narrates the story. They will probably understand the CD quite well because step 3 acted as a sort of bridge to understanding a real native speaker (which is not obvious as we all know!). Using psychology, I ask the students if they want to listen to the new chapter again and to the previously learned chapters too (book open and/or closed). They always respond in the affirmative. They seem to enjoy listening to the different characters of the mystery story. But there is something else: they enjoy their newfound ability to understand spoken French.

5. Following the English text, there is a list of new words and expressions that have been "pulled" from the French text. Because the students are already familiar with these words from the above steps, I ask them to close their books. I recite each new word for them and ask volunteers to translate. Invariably, there will be French words or expressions that the students do not recognize orally. I therefore write the word on the board and discuss its spelling and phonetics. They can now begin associating the sound of a word with its written form. I will then orally repeat the difficult words and expressions until the students can give me the English translation without hesitation.

6. I have each student read from the text and I correct his or her pronunciation while explaining that certain spellings correspond to particular sounds. This reinforces step 5.

7. The book now proceeds to the grammar sections. For this, I use index cards. If the grammar section consists of learning to conjugate a verb, I have the students write on one side of the card je parle and I speak on the back. After they have finished writing all the conjugations, I have them couple up with their partner and take turns flashing both sides of the cards. When the students have finished learning the new material on these index cards, I have them take out their cards from previous lessons. Therefore, they are constantly learning new material while reviewing the old. With regard to the conjugations of verbs, I like adding little fun tricks such as the following: a lot of people say that the vous ending is the hardest to learn, but to me it is the -EZiest of all. Or do you know that if you learn how to say I look at, you automatically know how to say you look at (singular, familiar), he looks at, she looks at, and it looks at? Only vous, nous, and ils will have different pronunciations." (Actually ils may have the same pronunciation too, especially if it is an -ER verb!) "Class, the point is this: while the spelling will change with each conjugation, the pronunciation will NOT except for vous, nous, and sometimes ils." Now, I prance up and down the aisle and point to each student individually: "Comment dit-on he looks at, I look at, they look at," etc. I expect a rapid answer from each student since the answer will usually be the same except for the pronoun (assuming I do not ask the nous, vous, and sometimes ils forms and obviously I will avoid verbs like ętre, LOL). The clear advantage to this is that the student will not have to mentally process conjugations that are orally identical.

8. After the grammar section, the test follows. I rapidly give this test orally and try to involve every student.

9. I then assign this test as homework. At the next class session, I administer a written test. (They should have learned how to spell everything, including conjugations.) I send several students to the board who write their answers on the board. I ask the class if the answers are correct or not. They tell me what is correct or incorrect and why. Papers are then graded and recorded.

10. The students may now proceed to the next chapter. One note: I always encourage students to take the book home and proceed to new chapters on their own. This way, motivated students can work at their own pace. However, they must not give away the secrets of the mystery to their fellow students. :)

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LES PORTES TORDUES (The Twisted Doors):
The Scariest Way in the World to Learn French! ISBN 9780971022713

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THE TWISTED DOORS: The Scariest Way in the World to Learn English!
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