One of the intriguing facets of teaching is the search for a new way to introduce a particular concept. Learning to read and comprehend a foreign language, namely French, is difficult for advanced students because they tend to see sentences as isolated items and not as parts of a whole. An added complication is the tendency of foreign language teachers to introduce “classical” literature at the same time they are teaching the students how to read. A way of simplifying the problem is to use mystery or adventure stories written on an intermediate level. These stories will pique the students’ interest in reading French and will provide the teacher with a means and a format for teaching the necessary techniques for successful reading.
Several mystery or adventure stories will be used in this unit. Some have been written expressly for use in the classroom. Others were written for the general public by authors such as Georges Simenon, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Sébastian Japrisot, as well as some authors whose works have been translated into French like Agatha Christie and Ed McBain.
The classroom activities for this unit will alternate between large group (whole class), small group (3-4 students), and individual types. Students will practice finding clues, unraveling puzzles, noticing details, following directions, etc. through a series of activities and games in French. These will foster a pleasant atmosphere within which the students will begin the task of learning how to read in French.
This unit is designed to be covered in two marking periods of eight weeks each. A major part of the first marking period should be devoted to preparatory activities such as those mentioned above. Then the students should be introduced to a mystery like
L’affaire du cadavre vivant
by Claude Dubois, one of the Monsieur Maurice Mysteries published by the National Textbook Company. After several of these stories have been read, the students could be introduced to a novel written by Simenon, or a Christie or McBain translated into French. Since some fluency in French is necessary to attain the skills being taught in this unit, I recommend that it be initiated no earlier than the second half of French II and continued into French III.