At the start of the curriculum unit, students will be asked a series of questions about how stories are told – through words alone, written on a page or in a book, recited, or told through illustrations? They will discuss and give examples of various ways of telling a story, including those using new technologies, such as digital stories and applications like Talk'n Photos, Storybird, and Book Creator. Students may be greeted at the start of class with related cartoons, projected on the board, from websites such as Cartoonstock.com to generate motivation and engagement. Several images on this site are directly connected to the cave paintings and the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Lascaux Cave Paintings
I plan to introduce this curriculum unit to my sixth-grade students early in September, not long after the start of school. This coincides with the anniversary of the discovery of the Lascaux cave paintings, September 12, 1940, and starts students off relating French words to illustrations instead of English translations.
Using illustrations in text, video, and internet resources, students will learn the words for various animals and colors and begin their "pictogram" note-taking (French vocabulary accompanied by sketches).
The Lascaux Cave is located in the Dordogne region in southwestern France, an area known for its rich prehistoric cave art. What set Lascaux apart was the state of preservation of the cave paintings when, in September, 1940, four teenage boys explored a previously sealed passage and discovered the immense underground galleries covered with colorful animals, birds, and hunters. Although word spread quickly of the boys' amazing find, world events intervened and Lascaux was closed due to World War II. In 1948, the cave was opened to the public. Despite having maintained their color and brilliance for over 17,000 years, the cave paintings began showing damage from exposure to heat and humidity. In 1963, after only fifteen years, the cave was closed. Twenty years later, a replica of the Lascaux cave was created to allow the public to view this magnificent example of our prehistory.
Various theories exist about why prehistoric artists painted Lascaux. The paintings may have been a historical record of the animals and their behavior; they may have been illustrations of legends and stories important to these unknown artists and their society, or given inspiration for a successful hunt. A recent article even suggests that the cave paintings were ancient cartoon illustrations.
Whatever the reason for their creation, the Lascaux paintings provide a well-preserved glimpse into the lives of our ancestors.
Suggested Classroom Activities
I will introduce my students to Lascaux and the cave paintings through a picture-walk, using Emily Arnold McCully's picture book,
The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux.
Instead of the printed, English text, we will "read" the pictures accompanied by my simple, condensed French adaptation of the story. (See Appendix 1.) Students will begin to make connections to French vocabulary for animals and action verbs as we describe the discovery of the long-sealed cave. Using images from the official Lascaux website, student drawings, and other sources, we will create flashcards and, later, a mural of the animals and figures depicted at Lascaux, with students writing descriptive labels in French. Resources, such as
How to Draw France's Sights and Symbols
, will help students to create replications of the Lascaux cave paintings.
Students will experiment with a powder-blowing technique used by the cave painters to "sign" their work on the mural.
Further exploration of the official website of the Lascaux cave
will allow students to go on a virtual tour of discovery of the cave paintings, using French vocabulary to describe what they see.
Students will learn simple action verbs to describe the pictures, e.g.
la vache rouge court
– the red cow runs. They will imitate the motions depicted as they are learning the words, using total physical response (TPR), a tool for teaching language through actions.
Students will assemble several images from the cave into a sequence that they can narrate in simple sentences. To construct sentences, they will use basic expressions such as:
il y a
(here is/there is), and
(it is). They will be introduced to sequencing expressions to help them narrate their stories in the proper order:
(at the beginning),
à la fin
(at the end), and
Students will take a virtual tour of the Lascaux Cave and locate specific animals pictured on a worksheet. They will locate Lascaux and the Dordogne region on a map of France. Working with a partner, students will use flashcards of animals from the cave paintings to play a matching and slapping game, (e.g.: call out an animal, touch/slap correct picture). They will use adjectives of size and color to describe various animals. Students will assemble and label sequenced images to tell a story. Students will work in pairs, asking and answering questions to describe images from the cave paintings. Together, the class will describe scenes – from single words, progressing to nouns with adjectives, short phrases, and simple sentences. (See Appendix 3, Figure 1.)
The Bayeux Tapestry
Students will move from prehistoric France to a pivotal time in French history – the Norman Conquest – as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. This sequence is logical as it relates to the school calendar, as the tapestry story ends on October 14, 1066 with the Battle of Hastings. It also transports students from southwestern France to the northern coast, continuing their discovery of the diversity of the country's geography and culture. Students will locate France and England on the map, as well as the English Channel/
and Normandy (Bayeux) and Sussex (Hastings).
The Bayeux Tapestry more closely resembles a long cartoon strip than an actual tapestry. Stretching nearly two hundred thirty feet in length and only twenty inches high, it is an embroidered linen record of the invasion of Great Britain by Guillaume de Normandie – William the Conqueror. Named for the town in Normandy on the northwestern coast of France where the epic tale begins, the Bayeux Tapestry follows the far-from-smooth transfer of power from the dying English king Edward to his Norman cousin William. King Edward sends his brother-in-law, Harold, to tell William that he will be the next king. While in France, Harold swears allegiance to William, but once back in England, he is crowned king when Edward dies. William gathers his army and sails to England to claim his throne from Harold.
The tapestry was made in about 1070, only four years after William was crowned king of England on December 25, 1066, possibly commissioned by William's half-brother, Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux.
Researchers debate whether the tapestry was made in England or France. Whether the tapestry is propaganda – depicting William's victory from the French perspective – or historically accurate is, again, a subject for debate, dependent, perhaps, on which side of the Channel (or
) one is. It does, however, give a contemporary insight into life in the eleventh century.
Suggested Classroom Activities
The tapestry is filled with action – soldiers and kings, scenes of battles, animals and ships – that will encourage description and classroom discussion. The images of pitched battle between William's and Harold's forces should have enough action to appeal to my video-game loving students. Embroidered in wool on nine linen panels stitched together, over six hundred people, fifty dogs, two hundred horses, and forty ships populate and animate the fifty-eight scenes that recount the victory of William over the traitorous Harold during the three years culminating at the battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066.
Students will follow a simple "story walk" through the major scenes of the tapestry and will be asked to make predictions – what will happen next? They will explore the tapestry in depth using museum websites, reference books, and even an animated YouTube video of the historical "cartoon."
Building on vocabulary and expressions practiced with the cave paintings, students will describe the animals, colors, and actions that they see. When creating their own tapestry stories, students may decide to change the outcome of the battle and discuss what changes that might make to history.
Discussion of the tapestry's historical setting will include connections to language arts and cognates as students explore the linguistic result of Norman-French influence in England for nearly three hundred years. The success of William's quest for the throne helps explain the vast number of words English has borrowed from French. French became the language of power relegating English to secondary status. It is estimated that over a third of English words come from French,
essentially giving our students a "head-start" as they begin their language learning.
Students will continue the individual, paired, and group activities used with the Lascaux cave paintings – naming, describing, and developing French sentences. (See Appendix 3, Figure 2.) They will use technology to sequence and create their own re-telling of the Norman Conquest. Several excellent websites provide thumbnails and paneled segments of the tapestry that can be manipulated by students to create a new version of the Bayeux epic.
Students will use interactive tools and images from the website of Britain's Bayeux Tapestry at the Reading Museum to create a "Bayeux comic strip" using French vocabulary – an individual tapestry Bayeux Tapestry slideshow.
Students will read or listen to descriptions of scenes from the tapestry and match the pictures to its description (class and paired activity). Scenes from the aforementioned Reading Museum website will be matched with mixed-up French captions. (See Appendix 2 for sample French sentences.) Students will discuss storytelling through sequential pictures and rearrange a series of tapestry scenes based on chronological clues given in French. They will draw and label an ending for the Bayeux Tapestry, which ends abruptly with Harold's death. Students will share their ending with the class, describing the scene in simple French.
Students will mark the length and width of the tapestry in a hallway. Perforated computer paper or a blank paper roll can be used to create a student-drawn condensed version of the Bayeux Tapestry with simple French captions.
The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry
Qui est-elle? Quelle est l'histoire? C'est un mystère. Who is she? What is the story? It is a mystery, or rather, several mysteries. The six tapestries, collectively named
La Dame à la Licorne
(The Lady and the Unicorn), are considered by many to be the greatest works of medieval art. Yet the artist responsible for creating these fifteenth century masterpieces remains unknown. One piece of this puzzle has been solved. Based on clues in the tapestries, art historians have concluded they were commissioned by the Le Viste family: the flags in each tapestry bear the family coat of arms;
the lion represents the family's town of origin – Lyon; and the unicorn, as the symbol for speed, refers to "
] meaning "fast" in Old French.
Where the tapestries were made is uncertain – most likely they were woven in the workshops of northern France, the Netherlands, or in northern Belgium
based on "cartoons" (full-sized drawings) by an unknown Parisian artist.
The biggest mysteries remain unsolved: Were the tapestries meant as a gift? If so, to whom were they given? What did they commemorate? And most of all, what do they mean? Art historians agree that the first five panels of the tapestries represent the five senses: in
, the lady holds a mirror; in
, she plays a musical instrument; in
, she weaves a garland of flowers; in
, the lady takes a sweet from a dish; in
, her one hand holds the flag, the other touches the unicorn. It is the sixth panel of the tapestry series that is most mysterious. The tapestry bears the inscription "
&AGRAVE; Mon Seul Désir
" ([To] My Only Desire). The motto is ambiguous. Is it as a declaration of love or does
signify regret as in the Latin desiderium? Is the lady, seen putting away her necklace, giving up pleasure, maybe for a simple charitable or religious life?
Or, could this panel represent an idea, common in French writings of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, of the heart or the intellect (mind/spirit) as our sixth sense?
That there is no definitive explanation of this sixth panel will allow students to form, discuss, and defend their own meanings for the final tapestry of the series. At their elementary level of French language development, a discussion of the meaning of this panel would be conducted in English. However, the interest such a discussion would generate could serve as motivation for further inquiry and engagement in their studies of French.
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are in the permanent collection of the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Unlike the narrow embroidered Bayeux Tapestry, the tapestries are large wall hangings woven of silk and wool. The six panels range in size from over ten feet to twelve feet high by over nine feet to fifteen feet wide.
is the smallest, while
My One Desire
is the largest. In each panel, a medieval lady is depicted in the center of the tapestry. She stands on a deep blue oval against a red backdrop, both of which are populated with animals and strewn with flowers and plants. Flanking her in the tapestries are fruit trees and a lion and a unicorn bearing red standards with three crescent moons against a blue diagonal stripe. In four of the tapestries, the lady is accompanied by her young handmaiden.
The tapestries have recently undergone a major two-year restoration and have been installed in a newly-designed room of the Cluny Museum, their home for over a century.
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries owe their preservation primarily to two prominent French writers of the nineteenth century. In the mid-1800s, both Prosper Mérimée and George Sand separately learned of a collection of spectacular, but deteriorating tapestries at the château of Boussac in central France.
Recognizing their beauty and their historical significance, despite their disrepair, Mérimée and Sand entreated the French government to remove the neglected tapestries from the château. (Mérimée heard that there were other tapestries once, but the former owner had "cut them up to cover carts and make rugs out of them.")
Thanks to these writers, the Commission des Monuments Historiques of the French government intervened to preserve these medieval masterpieces and purchased the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in 1882.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Students will be introduced to the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries using the series of questions at the beginning of this section. The students will be divided into five groups, each being assigned a tapestry depicting one of the senses. (The sixth, most enigmatic tapestry would be saved for a whole class discussion at a later time.) Students would be asked to make observations about their tapestry. They would work together, negotiating in French to notice, name, and describe everything they can, using expressions that they have learned during this unit. In English, students would next discuss what they think is going on and try to determine what the tapestry is about. Students could even suggest a title for their tapestry. Each group would share their observations and interpretations, so that students realize on their own that the tapestries depict the five senses. Once students have described what they can in French, new vocabulary will be introduced using images from the tapestries to illustrate the unicorn, lion, servant, lady, etc. This technique of closely observing artworks before interpreting them is described by Friedlaender and Friedlaender of the Yale University School of Medicine and the Yale Center for British Art in their article, "Art in Science: Enhancing Observational Skills."
This method serves as a means to enhance communication skills, as students use descriptive language to convey what they see. It also strengthens their observational skills, forcing them to focus on details.
The final tapestry would be introduced separately following this development of vocabulary and meaning. Students would be asked to make detailed observations, in French, of what they see in the tapestry. They would be asked for interpretations and opinions. How does this fit with the other five tapestries? What do you think it is about? What might it mean? Students would have the opportunity to present their opinions, along with their "supporting evidence," i.e. anything they noticed in the tapestry. Students will try to use French for their observations, if not for their opinions. Once the class has shared their ideas, students could be told that this is the final, unsolved mystery of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. The class could discuss some of the theories and vote on which they think is the most likely explanation, whether that of a scholarly art historian or that of one of the students. In his book,
Pictures for Language Learning
, Andrew Wright contends that opportunities for students to express and debate opinions strengthen their language acquisition and development.
Students will participate in the individual, paired, and group activities previously described to increase their ability to use French for descriptions. (See Appendix, Figure 3.) Students will be able to use vocabulary from the cave paintings and Bayeux tapestry to describe the colors, activities, and animals in the unicorn tapestries. They will be introduced, through tapestry images and flashcards, to new vocabulary: lady, unicorn, lion, monkey, flowers, etc. The tapestry panels themselves will be used to introduce students to the vocabulary of the five senses.
Students will compare and contrast the Bayeux and unicorn tapestries (style: embroidered or woven, border or no border, plain background or millefleurs background; purpose: historical record or enigmatic decoration; size: banner or wall mural). Students will also watch a YouTube video about the recent restoration of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
They will mark out the size of the Lady and Unicorn tapestries and compare the dimensions to the Bayeux Tapestry.
Students will make connections to their English vocabulary, building understandings of what words mean in different languages and how they evolve into the words and meanings we use today:
, originally meaning a full-size design for a painting, mural, or tapestry; from
(Italian) referring to the heavy paper stock on which the drawing was made – evolving into our meaning of a comic drawing.
Knowing the French word,
, for rug can help students make a connection to
(a rug for the wall) which conveys the idea that people used tapestries for warmth as well as for decoration – more like a mural that could be moved from one home to another to cover the cold stone walls. They would also notice how the English word, tapestry, relates to
from which it derives.
Students will match descriptions to pictures on the board and will work in pairs using unit vocabulary to describe a tapestry panel as completely as possible. They will use flashcards to match actions to vocabulary on board. Students will categorize images from all three major artworks studied – grouping by color, animal, action, media, etc. They will increase their geographic awareness of France and its European neighbors mapping the cities and regions where the tapestries were woven, discovered, and currently installed.
Les Bandes Dessinées: French Language Comics – Tintin and Astérix
Jumping to the twentieth century and, finally, to artwork that can be attributed to its creators, students will finish this unit learning about two of the best-known French language
. While students may not be familiar with these characters, they will be immediately comfortable with the medium of cartoons and graphic novels. The
, some dating back to before television and movies, let readers explore worlds of excitement, adventure, and mystery.
On January 10, 1929, a young Belgian reporter, named Tintin, and his faithful dog, Milou (Snowy, in the English version) were introduced to the world the Belgian children's magazine,
. Their first "assignment" was titled
Les Aventures de Tintin, reporter du Petit Vingtième au pays des Soviets. Their creator was the Brussels-born cartoonist, Georges Remi, known since the age of seventeen by his pen-name, "Hergé" (the French pronunciation of his inverted initials). Over the next fifty or more years, Tintin and Milou traveled the world, sharing twenty-three adventures. When Hergé died in 1983, at the age of seventy-five, he left a final adventure unfinished. He named no successor as he expressly wished that no other illustrator continue
Les Aventures de Tintin. Hergé, who, at fourteen years old, illustrated a magazine for the Belgian boy scouts, is considered one of Europe's most influential cartoonists. He was known for his precise, clean illustrations, a technique known now as the Ligne Claire (Clear Line). In addition to Tintin, Hergé created and illustrated numerous other cartoon characters.
Astérix le Gaulois
(Asterix the Gaul) was introduced on October 29, 1959 by French writer, René Goscinny and his partner, illustrator Albert Uderzo (French-born of Italian parents) in the first issue of their magazine,
Les Aventures d'Astérix
follow a fictional hero of village in Ancient Gaul and his companions as they battle the invading and occupying forces of Ancient Rome. For nearly ten years after this debut, Goscinny and Uderzo collaborated on Astérix while each also worked on other projects. In 1968, however, Uderzo devoted himself entirely to illustrating Astérix albums. The two created twenty-three albums of Astérix adventures until Goscinny's death at age fifty-one during a stress test. Since that tragic event, Albert Uderzo continued alone to write and illustrate the Astérix stories. It was announced in 2012 that the new team of artist, Didier Conrad and writer, Jean-Yves Ferri would take over for a retiring Uderzo. In October of 2013, the thirty-fifth album in the Astérix saga,
Astérix chez les Pictes
, was published.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Students will be introduced to these iconic
through albums in both French and English. They will use observational techniques with the French versions of these adventures: describing what they see and naming the colors, characters, animals, and actions that they have learned in French. Students may work with partners to "read" the pictures together. While the language may be difficult, the illustrations will enable them to make guesses or even to invent their own stories. Students will gain increased geographic awareness mapping the global adventures of
. Discussions of the Roman occupation of Gaul portrayed in the Astérix adventures will strengthen students' connection to their social studies courses while giving them the historical context, even if fictionally based, for the evolution of the French language and civilization from this Latin influence.
are still protected by copyright and their images are not available in the public domain for reproduction here. Images are easily found online for individual use and the books in these series are readily available in libraries and bookstores, in both French and English. The official websites for these
, listed in the Internet Resources of the Bibliography, provide lists and descriptions of the titles. Adventures to share with students might include
Tintin en Amérique
Le Secret de la Licorne
(recently released as a feature film), as well as
Astérix le Gaulois
Astérix chez les Belges
(the last story written by René Goscinny). Titles could also be chosen to use in conjunction with social studies units.
Throughout this curriculum unit, students will be informally assessed on their interpretive understanding and mastery of vocabulary. Students will listen to descriptions of various artworks – cave paintings, tapestries, cartoon albums – and choose the corresponding label or sentences. They will read descriptions of different scenes from the tapestries, and then put the pictures in the correct order of events.
The classroom activities will act as informal interpersonal assessments. As a more structured assessment, students will take turns playing a French guessing game with classmates, describing one out of a series of tapestry panels pictured, while their partner tries to match the description to corresponding picture. Each student would gain points for correct guesses, indicating comprehensible input and output – the speaker used enough language and vocabulary to be understood, and the listener understood enough vocabulary to correctly identify the picture. Students would take turns describing multiple scenes. Classmates would be encouraged to ask for clarification, allowing students to use French expressions and vocabulary to negotiate for meaning. The guessing game would be created using print and online sources and would feature a variety of scenes – differing colors, backgrounds, animals, settings, humans – to enable students to practice vocabulary and expressions from the entire unit.
Students will create, as a final presentational assessment, three panels of a cave painting, tapestry, or cartoon following a narrative of their own devising, in the style of one of the artworks studied. The panels would be sequenced to show a beginning, middle, and end and be captioned in simple French sentences (or as a differentiated assessment – labeled in French). The panels could be original images or manipulated versions (digital or drawn) of artwork studied in this unit. Students should show their understanding of the visual components of the artwork they are replicating, i.e. a tapestry in the Bayeux style would be "embroidered" in basic colors on a plain background with borders of animals or plants, while panels in the style of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries would feature a central figure in a richly-colored background that is vibrantly populated with flowers and animals. They may also use characters from the Franco-Belgian
for their projects. Students may use online comic strip creators or other digital applications to tell their sequenced story. Students would follow a project rubric listing language requirements as well as choices of style, activities, and characteristics of the elements. The project rubric would evaluate how well students were able to replicate the style of their chosen artwork, rather than assessing their artistic ability. If possible, collaboration with the art teacher would be ideal for this unit and assessment. More important than the students' creative ability is their ability to communicate in French. The scoring rubric will focus on language usage and mastery, as well as on the narrative and appropriate style of the story panels.