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Christmas Tag!

Happy Holidays everyone!! 🎄🎄 I was nominated by Bola and Kenny for the Christmas Tag, a fun survey of holiday related questions and answers. It’s been fun to read about everyone’s different traditions 🙂 I’m currently on a bus to Nice to catch a flight to Prague, a nice alternative to distract myself from the fact that I won’t be seeing my family for the second Christmas in a row.

What Is Your Favourite Christmas Film?

It would have to be a toss up between White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life. It wouldn’t be Christmas without the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby and the gorgeous Vera Ellen dance numbers. And I have been such a huge Jimmy Stewart fan ever since my mom and I marathoned all the Alfred Hitchcock films back when Hollywood Video still existed. I introduced It’s a Wonderful Life to my French roommate a few weeks ago, and gosh darn if the ending doesn’t make me cry every single time! She was also very touched by the film and said she wants to show it to her parents, so successful cultural exchange!! Next, she’s promised to make me watch classic French Christmas movies like Le Père Noel est un Ordure and Les Bronzés Font du Ski.

Is Your Christmas Tree Real Or Fake?

Real! When I was younger, we used to go every year to the Christmas tree farm out of town, and spend all day running around in the fresh air looking for the best tree. Now we tend to go to the Boy Scout parking lot sale or the local garden store, but if we spend Christmas at my parents’ house then we almost always have a live tree to decorate. Even if we wait until December 24 to decorate it!

Last year, my roommate and I created a crafty paper tree to give our little apartment some Christmas cheer. All the ornaments are cut out from magazines and brochures we’ve collected over the year. And here is our cheerful alternative tree this year 🙂

What Is Your Favourite Christmas Song?

One of my all time favorites is Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys. It’s funny, because I’m not a mega Christmas music lover (I try to avoid it for as long as possible, until I really feel in the Christmas spirit!), but there are so many songs that trigger massive nostalgia that I’m hard pressed to choose just one that I love. The Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas album, Pink Martini’s recent Christmas album Joy to the World, the classic Bing Crosby/Nat King Cole/Frank Sinatra/Doris Day/etc versions of the classic carols, and especially the fun motown takes by The Drifters/Ronettes/Jackson Five/etc.etc.etc.etc…. OH! And I recently discovered a Christmas album by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings that will knock your funky socks off!!

If you prefer Michael Bublé then you are dead to me.

What Is Your Favourite Christmas Scent?

Fresh pine needles and a wood fire in the fireplace!

Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?

For years, we would go to my paternal grandmother’s house each Christmas Eve. Her family was part Hungarian and Polish and she was very attached to that heritage, although she never lived there. We had a Christmas Eve dinner composed of stuffed cabbage rolls, kielbasa sausage, and ham, with palatschinke (Hungarian crêpes with jam) for dessert! After she died, the tradition faded out, but I am primarily a creature of habit and usually manage to convince my mom that we NEED to have cabbage rolls or it simply won’t be Christmas.

Do You Open Any Presents On Christmas Eve?

Yes, we would open presents from my dad’s family on Christmas Eve while we were all gathered. On Christmas morning we opened presents from “Santa” and from the rest of the family 🙂

What Tops Your Christmas Tree?

A beautiful angel figurine (that I think my parents got in Italy?)

What Is The Best Thing About Christmas For You?

I think traditions are really important and love doing the same things, eating the same meal, having designated family time, and everything that comes with the holiday season each year like clockwork. That being said, I recognize that our lives change, and with them our traditions. It’s been three Christmases that I haven’t spent at home, and two without my family. As long as I can spend the day with people I appreciate, doing something culturally enriching, then I think it’s a holiday well-spent !

What Is Your Favourite Festive Food Or Treat?

Anything with peppermint!!

What Is On The Top Of Your Christmas Wish List This Year?

This year I treated myself to a bit of retail therapy, but more importantly, I’m headed to Prague to spend the holiday with some great friends I made in DC before returning to Marseille over the summer. Haven’t seen them since we all arrived in France about 3 months ago, so I’m looking foreword to some friends, vin chaud, markets, castles, bridges, and all Prague has to offer!!!

Thanks for reading!! I’ll specifically tag Erin, and Shaun, but anyone is welcome to join in!

Remember me??

Helloooo again! Me voilà! I’ve been back in Marseille for exactly 2 months (as of yesterday), and have like 6 blog posts on my back burner, but can’t seem to get any of them finished. So I’m putting out this little snapshot update, in the hopes that it will jumpstart my blogging again!

Lots has happened in the past 2 months, but also not much has happened at all… I found a new (French!) roommate, I met new assistants, I caught up with old friends and colleagues, I started back at school and then immediately went on two weeks of vacation, I went to a concert, I bought theatre tickets, I went hiking, I rode a city bike, I went to the beach – a lot, I started two puzzles, I drank tea and pastis and wine and lemonade, I finished one of the puzzles, I bought seven plants…. The list goes on. So here are some highlights and lowlights:

Highs & Lows

I’d say on the whole, these two months have been full of many more highs than lows, from casual evenings with friends on the beach, to quiet afternoons drinking tea and doing a puzzle with my roommate, to singing head, shoulders, knees and toes with my students, I’m constantly reminded how much I like living here! Getting back into the swing of teaching with my colleagues has also been wonderful. They are about 80% of the reason I wanted to return for a third year, and they are still as supportive and fun as ever!

I do have a couple of lows…I don’t want to make a big deal about them because I truly believe that things can always be worse, and it’s a big part of my nature to roll with the punches and move on from things I can’t change. But last month I was the victim of a scam…!! Woohoo yep, that thing everyone tells you to protect yourself from and that you think could never possibly happen to you because you’re too smart, too vigilant, too wary — yeah, it happened to me. 👍👍

Basically, a guy contacted me via one of the handful of internet ads I have online advertising my services as an English tutor/translator asking me to translate some documents for him. I sent him an estimate and we agreed on a price. He sent me the first document, I got to work, he sent me a check for a second document. He told me, actually the second document isn’t ready yet, can you reimburse me for that second document? Seemed logical, so I did. The check he’d sent me bounced. I lost 500€ and a little faith in humanity, and a little dignity. It sucked. I went to the police and filed a report — in French. It was stressful. My friends were the best and woke up at 8am on a Saturday of vacation to go with me. Most importantly I am fine, it’s only money, and life continues to go on, much more positively !!

In the kitchen

My new roommate, Pauline and I have discovered a shared passion for hummus. #Blessed with Pauline’s food processor we have become homemade hummus maniacs. Her friends won’t let her come to a party if she doesn’t bring hummus. So far, we have made plain hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, beet hummus, and curry hummus. Next, we want to try carrot or sweet potato hummus or roasted garlic hummus! What hummus combinations do you recommend?!IMG_0249

In related news, I learned that in French, the word houmous does NOT form a liaison in the way that hôpital does. In fact, I’ve been learning that A LOT of words beginning with H that I assumed made liaisons, actually DON’T 😱

L’hôpital and leshommes. But le houmous or des haricots. Also, it’s not enhaut, but en haut, which I have been saying incorrectly for about 6 years now. I guess that’s what I get for never taking French phonetics classes…

What I’m reading

For the past few weeks, I’ve been rereading The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time since initially reading it in high school, and since watching the first season of the (excellent) Hulu series. I’m really enjoying how poetic yet accessible the language is. It is, of course, a devastating story, but one I think everyone should read. I also have a greater appreciation for how well the series reflects the book, in both content and tone, and it’s making me very curious to see how the series will continue!

There’s a long queue on my kindle, but up next I’ll probably attack either Hidden Figures or If We Were Villains.

What I’m listening to

In October, I went to la Fiesta des Suds an annual three day music festival in Marseille. There were maybe a dozen artists playing on a handful of different stages at a really cool indoor/outdoor venue near the docks of Marseille, but the big draw for us was Bigflo & Oli, a really young (they’re 24 and 21 respectively) brother rap duo from Toulouse. I’ve appreciated their music for a while, having randomly discovered them on a Spotify playlist. Their lyrics are really excellent, the tracks have a great musical quality to them, and they rap about subjects from their lives: school, friends, family, becoming an adult, following your dreams. Have a listen:

Probably their most well-known song Dommage, was co-written with Stromae and tells the stories of people who should have followed through on their ideas, but didn’t have the courage.

Also this song from their first album never hesitates to make me laugh (sorry people who don’t speak French)

The Rough Translation podcast by NPR had a fantastic first season which I just finished listening to. The premise is to cover international stories that are in conversation with American current events. My favorite episodes were “The Refugee’s Dating Coach” “American Surrogate” and “Om Alone in India”

What I’m watching

I’ve been using my vacation to power through FX’s series The Americans on Netflix. Took one look at the description and thought it’d be right up my alley: Russian spies  + the Cold War + FBI drama…. I’m hooked!

New words


Last year, my Costa Rican roommate and I started a post-it note wall with words and expressions in English, Spanish and French. Usually they’re random things that came up in conversations and we didn’t know how to translate. So we wrote them down and looked up equivalents in several other languages. Since my French roommate moved it, the wall has been quickly growing. Here are some recent additions:

To be on a roll – être en veine – être sur sa lancée

être à coté de ses pompes/ses baskets/de la plaque – to be out to lunch – to not be with it

tergiverser – prevaricate

Twist my arm! – si tu insistes – pour te faire plaisir

Rouge sur blanc, tout fout le camp. Blanc sur rouge, rien ne bouge – Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear

There you have it! Hopefully I’ll be back soon with a less whirlwind post… In the meantime, never forget the immortal words of Barty Crouch Jr: CONSTANT VIGILANCE! ❂

What to Expect as a Primary English Assistant : 8 Questions and Answers

After my first TAPIF placement in Chambéry, I noticed that much of the TAPIF blogging community focuses on assistants in secondary schools. This is completely normal, as there are far more people placed at the secondary level! There are many commonalities between the expectations and experiences of primary and secondary assistants; there are also many specifics that are quite different. So, I wanted to create a resource specifically for primary teaching assistants, since teaching in elementary schools comes with its own challenges and circumstances that aren’t talked about as often.

I’m about to start my third year teaching primary level English, and in that time I’ve experienced many different types of classrooms, colleagues, and schools. I thought now would be a great time to update my initial Primary Assistant FAQ post to include some of the new insights and tips I’ve gained in my two years as a teaching assistant in the académies of Grenoble (Chambéry) and Aix-Marseille (Marseille), as well as anecdotes from the many primary assistants I know and have worked with.

This was originally posted as a two-part guest post by Alex @ So you Think You Can France. Her blog is a phenomenal resource for anyone coming to France as an assistant! I was especially impressed by her numerous crowd-sourced city guides. I was so glad to collaborate with her and really look forward to seeing how she continues to expand the site! Be sure to check it out 🙂


Now that I have my assignments, who are the people I should know?

Sometimes it can seem like finally getting your arrêté de nomination (work contract) creates more questions than it answers! Some assistants are assigned only to a local school district (DSDEN, IEN, or IA) and will learn their specific school placements on arrival. Others will be assigned directly to 1, 2, 3 and sometimes even 4 primary schools (pro tip: anything starting listed as E.E. PU (école élémentaire publique) is a school!). Here’s a list of the various people you may work with over the course of the year and whom you’ll want to get in contact with. In secondary schools, all of your contacts are usually people who work at one of your schools, whereas at the primary level, many of the administrative aspects are handled outside of the schools. It’s good to be aware of the various roles and how each person can help you!!

  1. Conseiller pédagogique – This is your primary contact, who works for the local school district and will be responsible for helping you settle into your new town and schools. (In secondary schools this role is usually held by a language teacher at one of your schools, but in primary it is someone who works in the local admin office.) The CP can also help you with ideas and resources for your lessons over the course of the year, and especially if you are having any trouble with your schools. They are initially a liaison between you and your schools when you arrive, and will probably be somewhat involved with organizing your timetable, especially if you are assigned to more than one school. For example, my CPs met me either before the contract started or during the first week and drove me to each of my schools to meet the staff.
    1. (1.5) Gestionnaire – if you teach in a large city with lots of primary assistants, you may also have a separate administrative “gestionnaire” to help you with the more logistical aspects of enrolling in health care, getting your salary, etc.
  2. Directeurs/ices – I’d definitely recommend sending a quick introduction to the directeur/directrice of each of your assigned schools! You may not get a reply until after the summer vacation, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate hearing from you, and may even be able to give you advice on logistical things like searching for housing or figuring out public transport! In France, the directeur of the school also teaches a certain amount of hours during the week, so you may teach English lessons in their classroom, or you may not… Regardless, they will be responsible for organizing your time within the school – deciding which classes you’ll intervene in and for how many hours. If your arrêté doesn’t mention how to contact your schools, you can search this directory to contact them directly!
  3. Colleagues – These are the teachers in whose classes you will be intervening!! Each will have a different style of interacting with their assistant: There are the Teachers who leave it all up to you, Teachers who send you with half the class, Teachers who prepare everything for you, Teachers who co-teach with you. Some will be really strong in English. Some will barely speak more English than their students… You’ll turn to them for advice on what to do day-to-day, what subjects to teach. Technically, they are responsible for planning the subjects their class will work on, so be sure to ask them if they already have any routines or a program established.
  4. Students – TAPIF officially states that primary assistants will be dealing with children ages 8-11. Well, I am here to tell you that is not necessarily true at all. The grade levels you may be intervening in will depend on your school. I have worked with every class starting with the youngest 3-year-olds in preschool to the 10 and 11-year-old CM2s. A friend of mine only had classes of CP (age 6), while others worked exclusively with the oldest two classes (the advertised 8-11), and still another worked almost exclusively in preschool and kindergarten classes.

Here’s a quick breakdown of acronyms and grade-level equivalents:

École maternelle:
PS: petite section, 3-year-olds
MS: moyenne section, pre-K
*GS: grande section, Kindergarten

École élémentaire:
*CP: cours préparatoire, 1st grade
*CE1: cours élémentaire 1e année, 2nd grade
*CE2: cours élémentaire 2e année, 3rd grade
+CM1: cours moyen 1e année, 4th grade
+CM2: cours moyen 2e année, 5th grade

*These classes are considered part of “Cycle 2: cycle des apprentissages fondamentaux
+These classes are considered part of “Cycle 3: cycle des approfondissements/consolidation


So, what’s it like in the schools?! What is my role?

My first time as an assistant, I had a fairly unique experience in an English immersion school, with three designated English teachers, where students have several hours per day of English instruction. As a result, I planned less than half of my own lessons, and the levels for said lessons always skewed a few grade levels ahead of the norm. I had very competent colleagues, almost all of whom spoke nearly fluent English, and who gave their students a lot of English instruction outside of my time in their classrooms.

During my second placement in Marseille, this kind of support was definitely not the case. Split among three different schools, I was treated more like the English teacher and given a lot of autonomy with my lessons. In some classes, I was pretty sure the teachers weren’t doing much English outside of the time I was there, even though they’re supposed to do 90 mins of foreign language per week. And while all of my colleagues had minimal command of English basics, some were not very confident in speaking or teaching it at all.

Your role will depend on your colleagues. Most of mine gave me a calendar of topics they wanted me to cover (la progression – see these examples), but then pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. A few were true co-teachers with me, which meant I would just show up and we would lead games or other activities together. Some of my first colleagues were so confident in their English skills that my role was basically to circulate throughout the room and help out any students who needed it.

Cara is a former primary assistant in Auch (académie de Toulouse) with a very classic assistant experience, and she writes about her various roles here. Beccy was a primary assistant when I lived in Chambéry, who worked in neighboring Aix-les-Bains. Read her retrospective list of things she wishes she’d known about the assistantship here.

What will my schedule be like?

In my experience, the majority of primary assistants are assigned to at least 2 schools, often more. This means you’ll be teaching around 4-6 hours at each establishment. I would, however, plan to spend closer to 7 hours at school each day to account for lunch and recess breaks. In Chambéry, I lived close enough to my school that I usually went home during the lunch break. In Marseille, this wouldn’t have been possible, so I packed my lunch and ate it at school. I really enjoyed the time spent with my colleagues in the teacher’s lounge, and know that it helped me improve my French and gain some insight on French school culture. In both cases, I never went to school more than 4 days per week, and my colleagues made a concerted effort to condense my hours as much as possible — this won’t be the case for everyone, but since primary teachers have more autonomy in organizing their daily timetables, they can often be more accommodating than secondary teachers who are dealing with a fixed timetable. Check out my two timetables below.

2016-17 Marseille Timetable (3 schools) –

marseille edt

2014-15 Chambéry timetable (1 school) –

chambe edt

What topics might I be asked to cover?

Here is a list of topics I taught last year. The grouped topics worked very well for me when taught together or in sequence, but you certainly could mix them up!

  • Feelings, Date, Weather
  • Colors, School Supplies, Basic Directions (sit down, stand up, etc)
  • Family, Animals (pets)
  • Body Parts, Clothes, Physical descriptions,
  • Numbers, Letters
  • I like/I can…, sports, food, hobbies
  • Holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, St Patrick’s


Do you have any general tips for lesson planning?

Establish a routine. Start every one of your classes off with a certain game, a series of questions, or a song to get everyone warmed up and using English. Hang up an American or British flag on the board, so the kids have a visual cue that English class has begun. See if you can eventually get to a point where the kids are able to lead the routines themselves!

Consider using songs! Children, on average, have very high musical intelligence and songs are a fun and easy way for them to internalize vocabulary and pronunciation. Start with the preschool classics like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, The Hokey Pokey, or Today is Monday, but don’t be afraid to try some popular classics as well, like What a Wonderful World, Hello Goodbye, or even the latest Justin Bieber hit! Many assistants I know also had a lot of fun with American line dances like the Cha Cha Slide!

Stockpile your arsenal of flashcard and vocabulary games! Check out my previous post of some of my favorites here. These games often formed the backbone of many of my lessons, so knowing a variety of them will only help you, especially on those days where you are asked to teach something new with no time to prepare. In general, hold off on having students write the words (or see them written) until they’ve mastered them orally!

Encourage your students to use full sentences when appropriate. This will obviously be much more challenging with cycle 2 classes who are in their first  or second year of study, but really challenge your older kids to go beyond vocabulary memorization. It needn’t be complicated; a simple “It’s a pencil” or “Yes, I have a sister” will suffice. I like to encourage this during games by awarding one point for a correct answer, but 2 points for a correct answer in full sentence!

Be aware of “les Traces Ecrites. This is essentially a paper trail of what you’ve been working on with your students for them to glue into their English cahiers (sidenote: read former assistant Cara’s very touching tribute to the French obsession with le cahier). If you teach them a song, print out the lyrics. If you practice vocabulary with flashcards, make a document that includes all the vocabulary that they can color or otherwise label, or have them write a few sentences or draw pictures using the vocab. These don’t have to be complicated worksheets or anything like that, but it’s important that there is some record of what you do in class, because these cahiers will likely travel with them to the next year or even to a different school if the child moves, and the teachers often use them to see what material the child has already covered. While you should definitely spend the majority of your time working orally, your colleagues are sure to appreciate any written work you engage their students in as well. These can also be lifesavers for that one particularly rowdy group that always gets restless right before recess… A little cutting and glueing will bring some calm to the room before you go crazy.

Got any good web resources?

First, I highly encourage you to join the English Primary Assistants Group on Facebook! Fellow English assistants ask questions, share lesson ideas, and generally support one another. It’s been a great space over the past year and hopefully will continue to be a good resource.

There are tons and tons of websites out there. Here are a few I found most useful:

  • Activity Village: Coloring pages, flashcards, and other activities for literally any category you can imagine. Print a coloring page and label the drawing with some vocabulary words and you have an instant lesson!
  • Super Simple Learning: This website is full of simple versions of songs for a large variety of subjects. I used their simplified version of the Hokey Pokey in many of my classes each week, and lots of assistants swear by Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream! A majority of the songs also have fabulously fun videos that I downloaded to show my kids, which they loved. The site also has related flashcards / worksheets / coloring pages / etc for some of their songs, which really came in handy!
  • Lanternfish/BogglesWorld: Plenty of games, flashcards, activities, etc mostly geared towards older kids.
  • British Council: BC is the UK version of TAPIF. Their website has some interesting lesson ideas and tips for assistants.
  • PrimLangues: This is the official Education Nationale site for teaching languages in the premier degré. It has some interesting articles and resources, but is rather difficult to navigate. Worth a gander though. I have used or modified a few of their lessons in my CM1/CM2 classes.

And just generally Googling a topic leads to a wealth of creative blogs with great ideas, both on anglophone and French sites! Here are a couple examples of search terms that will help you find the resources you’re looking for:

  • ESL animals lessons 3rd grade
  • TEFL lessons body parts elementary school
  • anglais primaire séquence sur la famille
  • cycle 3 anglais sports et loisirs
  • anglais cycle 2 séquence couleurs
  • Very Hungry Caterpillar preschool games

Small children stress me out… how should I go about classroom discipline?!

There are many ways to approach classroom management, but the fact is that it’s almost impossible to have a completely effective system when you only spend 45 minutes or less per week with each group. I was very rarely left completely alone with students (and never with the entire class), so I usually left matters of serious discipline to my colleagues.

Be aware that French teachers are largely more strict than their American counterparts and often their strategy is to shame or shout students into submission. It was honestly shocking to see the way some of my colleagues treated their students… So, I took the opposite tack and often would simply stop speaking if a class got too loud, or would say things like, “we won’t get to play if I can’t explain the rules.” It’s honestly not the strongest strategy, but I refused to yell the way my colleagues often do… If anything ever got out my control, my colleagues would step in and restore order. And a few times, with a particularly difficult group, my colleague and I decided to cancel the following week’s class because of bad behavior. It is important to follow through on consequences, or else they’ll stop taking you seriously.

The few times I was sent with small groups to a different room were not without challenges, but the great thing is that being with the assistant is a privilege, and sometimes making an example of one person by sending him back to the teacher is your best tool for earning the respect you need.

The best way to avoid these situations entirely is by pacing your lessons, noticing when students are bored of an activity or when something is too hard — these are moments they will tune out and start acting up. Follow an active, exciting game with something calm and vice versa. Consider using the last 10 or so minutes of your lesson for a warm-down activity like coloring or spending a few moments to glue a worksheet into their notebooks. Always have a few extra plans in your back pocket in case you need to skip ahead on what you’ve originally planned, and try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes on any one thing.

Read 2-time assistant Alexandra’s approach to classroom management here!

What sorts of things should I bring with me to France?

Start with the basics: some photos of you doing fun American things (Halloween, Thanksgiving, your house, your family, etc), a map of the United States or your hometown, postcards from where you live, some American money, anything you may want to share that you won’t be able to find in France.

School supplies: expect to spend at least some of your down time coloring flashcards, game boards, or other materials. One of the first things I bought in France was a solid set of markers and colored pencils. I also recommend a decent USB drive you can attach to your keys or keep in your school bag in order to print any pictures, flashcards, or worksheets you might need — this was absolutely essential at the majority of my schools, where projectors (or computers capable of running Google Drive) were basically non-existent.

Books! I have an obsession with picture books and kid lit, so I definitely brought more books than necessary. But, I’m not sorry about it because I used a fair amount of them in my lessons. Here are the ones my students loved the most:

  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin. Comes with a free song and tons of related materials! Great for practicing colors, fruits, and clothing.
  • From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. Good for animals, body parts, and basic commands, I was able to milk almost an entire month of lessons out of this phenomenal book! Many other Eric Carle books have become classics in France as well. Several of my colleagues had copies (in English or French) of Brown Bear, Brown Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The repetitive structure of books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear is great to reinforce vocabulary, and can easily be adapted for different occasions. For example, I used a version I found called Orange Pumpkin, Orange Pumpkin for Halloween lessons (many thanks to Kathy for making that available for use) !!!
  • Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberely was the basis for many of my lessons on colors and body parts. Students, especially younger ones, LOVE shouting GO AWAY! and drawing and coloring their own monsters!
  • Count to Sleep: Washington, D.C. by Adam Gamble and Larry Gets Lost in Washington, DC by Andrew Fox. There is a whole series of these books for different cities and states, which are great and simple introductions to major landmarks. I used them as the basis for culture/art lessons in nearly all of my classes!
  • Ketchup on your Cornflakes by Nick Sharratt is a great accompaniment for learning about foods and “I like…/I don’t like…” Kids love the crazy propositions this flip book creates, and much of the vocabulary are cognates for simple understanding at all levels.
  • Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are a great level for older classes, and so much fun!!
  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson I was initially concerned when one of my colleagues asked me to prepare a few lessons using this book. The story itself is adorable, but has some complex/obscure vocabulary and sentences that I thought could go over the heads of the students. Luckily, the book is well known in France, so there was always at least one or two students who already knew the story and could help explain. Comprehension issues aside, there are many possibilities to exploiting this book in your classes, especially in practicing animals, colors, and body parts through creating your own scary monsters!

Stickers! I brought tons, and definitely didn’t use even half of them, but I still regret nothing. I especially brought holiday-related stickers, American flag stickers, and stickers that said things in English like Great Job! Amazing! Good Work! Kids loved getting these stickers, which I only awarded to those who participated in the activity, or followed directions well.

A stuffed animal or puppet: This can be a fun way to capture the attention of your younger students and there are many online resources about using puppets in a language classroom. I did bring one small stuffed animal, but didn’t use him much. Other primary assistants I know used theirs to great success in GS or CP classes, and one of my teachers suggested it to me at the beginning of the year, so it’s just a matter of personal preference.


That does it for now. I hope this very long article is helpful to all future primary assistants! Please check out my Best of TAPIF page for more tips and stories about my two years as an assistant, and don’t hesitate to contact me or comment with more questions!! ❂

**Click here for fun and simple lessons to do using vocabulary flashcards!**

**Click here for art projects you can do with your classes!**

**Click here for ideas on how to start a pen pal exchange!**

Get off our Lawn

Charlottesville, Virginia is one of my favorite places in the world. It was my home for four years while I attended the University of Virginia, and there’s still a part of me would be willing to move back in a heartbeat. Lots of people are emotionally attached to their university towns, but Charlottesville is truly special. A little blue dot in a sea of rural right-wingers, this little town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains is progressive, artistic, quirky, and utterly charming.

Today, and for the past few months, Charlottesville has become the epicenter for a kind of bigotry and hatred that the country hasn’t seen in decades, and I’m pretty conflicted about it.

My home state of Virginia is home to a violent and oppressive history. Thomas Jefferson’s university was built by slaves. There is a confederate graveyard in the middle of its grounds. Construction of a new academic building halted when they uncovered a slave cemetery. “Tradition” is honored above all, often to the detriment of progressive change. In short, UVA is full of rich white frat bros who would probably be hard to distinguish from some of the Nazis protesting today. Some of them ARE the Nazis protesting today: Richard Spencer is an alumnus of the university.

But people in the Charlottesville and the University communities have worked very hard to shine a light and tell stories of the oppression of people of color. To tell the truth about the city’s historic relationship with race. That slave cemetery that was uncovered while digging the foundation for the new building? The building was moved to a different plot of land and the site is now part of the Virginia Landmarks Register.

The white supremacy rally that was held yesterday was partly in response to the removal of a statue of confederate general Robert E Lee from a public park. My friend Adam explains perfectly:

Charlottesville is just at the beginning of a journey reconciling her history of racism.

Lee Park and Jackson Park were built in the 1920s on the edges of black neighborhoods. They remind us that white residents of Charlottesville refused to see black residents as their neighbors. They tell our children that these men deserve our respect because they were “good men” even though they fought in service of a crime against humanity.

Today they are called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, and the statues are coming down.

Charlottesville has just started to do what every city in the south needs to do: examine her monuments to a racist ideology, and reject that ideology resoundingly. And today she is under attack by neo-Nazis.

The people of Charlottesville were made targets not because they accept or support white supremacy, but exactly because they have been progressively working hard to expose its symbols and influence.

This week, I read March, a series of graphic novels by congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis. They were extraordinarily moving accounts of his experiences participating in lunch counter sit-ins, getting arrested countless times as one of the first Freedom Riders, making a keynote speech at the March on Washington, and getting brutally injured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

I learned a lot about the philosophy and organization of the civil rights movement that I wasn’t fully aware of from what I’d learned in school. I hadn’t realized how insistent the movement’s organizers were on the idea of peaceful protesting and meeting hatred and violence with love and peace. I didn’t know that “nonviolence” is not just a description but a philosophy that requires training and heroic amounts of discipline and restraint. They needed to practice looking their aggressors in the eye, connecting with their humanity, and loving them. Always protesting out of love.

I am afraid, because I don’t think this philosophy of nonviolent action is as significant or rigorous a part of what is going on right now in Charlottesville and all around the country. It’s easy to say “let’s have a peaceful protest” but not as easy to practice. John Lewis taught me how directly non-violence was responsible for the success of the civil rights movement. I’m afraid because it seems like there is just as much hate on the left as there is on the right. And as valid as the anger may be, hatred will never be a productive solution. Hatred is violence.

I don’t have any answers. I understand that Charlottesville is not a miracle safe-haven. It has flaws like any other place. But I am proud to have called it my home. It is a city that considers its history one of its biggest strengths, and is doing the hard work of confronting and undoing its darkest past. It’s a city that won’t be intimidated by tiki torches and bigoted chants. And it’s a place I know to be full of extreme beauty and love.

Visit Charlottesville! Eat the best bagels outside of New York. Walk the serpentine paths constructed by Jefferson at one of the country’s best and most beautiful public universities. Visit the locally owned bookstores, coffee shops, markets, and ice cream parlors. Hike the Monticello trail, or swim at Blue Hole or climb Old Rag mountain. Fall in love.❂


Anne’s Essential Marseille : 5 walks

Over the past few months, I’ve had the great fortune of hosting friends and family in Marseille! During these visits, I developed a route that would take us through all of the “essentials” of the city: tourism sites, local culture, boats, beaches, etc. I decided to put all my favorites on a Google map, so you too can experience my personal Marseille tour in five walks. If you want to see everything on the map, you’ll need two or three days — unless you wake up at the crack of dawn and power walk your way through everything. But I don’t really recommend that…

Walk I: Le Cours Julien to the Vieux Port

This is always the first walk I take my guests on because I live near the very cool, bohemian neighborhood of Cours Julien, hence it’s always our de facto starting point. Here, the alleys are filled with local boutiques, restaurants and bars, and the walls are covered with ever-changing street art. I also love to take my guests through the Marché de Noailles, a daily food market in a busy and colorful North African quarter in the heart of central Marseille.

Click for full walking directions

Head up rue des Trois Mages towards Place Jean Jaurès. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, spend some time wandering the huge Marché de la Plaine open air market that sells all manner of things from produce to trinkets to clothes, mattresses, cookware and more. Turn right onto rue Andre Piogglioli and then take a right at rue des Trois Rois. While ogling the street art, take a left on any one of the perpendicular streets; my favorite is rue Pastoret because of its colorful decorations and whimsical boutiques. This will lead you to the main square of Cours Julien. Stop for a coffee or ice cream at Ego, or head across the square to the Cours Julien Staircase. After a photo or two, head down the stairs and across the footpath, and take a right onto rue d’Aubagne. Turn right on rue Rudolph Pollack to walk through the main produce section of the Marché de Noailles. Once you’ve wandered through the stalls, turn left on rue Longue des Capucins. Notice all the small butchers, bakers, and grocers selling inexpensive food. Take a peek inside Saladin’s — a gem of Noailles, this spice market sells just about every kind of spice imaginable and smells heavenly! Take a right back onto rue d’Aubagne and then turn left at the St Louis Hotel. Cross the street and continue straight ahead to the Vieux Port!

Walk II: The Vieux Port to Vallon des Auffes

From the Vieux Port, there are many options depending on how much time you have, and what you’re interested in visiting. I love showing my guests the very beginning of the area of coastline known as La Corniche. This 40 (or so) minute walk takes you along Marseille’s coast, up to a Le Pharo park perched high above the port, and past one of its sand beaches to a picturesque little fishing port. I love bringing a picnic and some beers to the beach and taking in the colors and sounds of the Mediterranean. Bus 82 departing from the Vieux Port takes roughly the same route, if you need a break from walking.

Click for full walking directions

From the center of the Vieux Port, walk along the left side, Quai de Rive Neuve. You’ll pass a bunch of bustling bars and pubs which are great for a pastis or other apéro in the afternoon sun. You might recognize the interior of Bar de la Marine from the scene in Love Actually where Colin Firth awkwardly proposes in Portuguese. Continue past Fort Saint Nicolas on your left and up the hill. You’ll eventually arrive at the entrance to Parc Émile Duclaux on the right-hand side of the street, and I highly recommend taking a quick detour inside the park to get an incredible view over the harbor—but beware, this hill is often very windy! The park is also known as Le Pharo because of the Palais du Pharo planted in the center. Built in 1858 by the Emperor Napoleon III for his wife Eugénie, this grand palace is now a convention hall and also houses some offices of the Aix-Marseile University. After exiting the park, continue to the right on Boulevard Charles Livon. You’ll basically stay straight on this road for the rest of the walk. After the road curves to the left, you’ll come across Plage des Catalans. This beach is admittedly not Marseille’s very best, but its accessibility makes it a really popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Take a slight right onto Corniche President John F. Kennedy (no joke- there’s also a Cours Franklin Roosevelt elsewhere in the city!) and soak in the gorgeous glittering blues of the Mediterranean. You’ll eventually reach the stately Monument aux Armées d’Afrique, a memorial to soldiers who fought in the Algerian war. Cross the street from the monument and head down the stairs, Escalier du Vallon des Auffes to arrive in the small fishing port.

Walk III: The Vieux Port to Le Panier/MuCEM

This walk takes you to the opposite side of the Vieux Port into Marseille’s oldest neighborhood, Le Panier. I love spending hours wandering all of the tiny winding streets, and then usually head over to one of my favorite sites in Marseille: MuCEM and the Fort Saint-Jean. The Fort is another great place to bring a picnic to enjoy Marseille’s history and famous sunshine.

Click for full walking directions

Head to the right side of the Vieux Port, Quai du Port. Turn right at the fancy Hotel de Ville onto rue de la Mairie. Go through the big plaza towards the impressive Intercontinental Hotel, housed in a former hospital, and turn left on rue Caisserie. Continue around rue Caisserie and take a slight right onto Place de Lenche, a square with a killer view surrounded by cafés and often buzzing with activity. You’ll pass by a biscuiterie, Les Navettes des Accoules, which has been making traditional navette cookies for years. I am super obsessed with these slightly chewy cookies lightly flavored with orange blossom, and always pick up a bag when I’m in the neighborhood. From Place de Lenche, I highly recommend wandering through the winding alleyways of Le Panier; you are sure to stumble across something interesting, be it a wacky boutique or some surprising street art. To continue on the itinerary on the map, head straight onto rue de l’Évêché and then right toward rue Sainte-Françoise. Take a minute to pop into the Undartground boutique where local street artists sell some of their work, or stop in Bar des 13 Coins for a café in a very local atmosphere. Turning left on rue du Panier, you’ll pass several quaint shops and narrow streets. Continue until you find the staircase on rue des Moulins. This will lead you to Place des Moulins, where three windmills that used to power the city once stood. Continue down the hill on rue des Moulins and take a right on Montée des Accoules. If you continue straight ahead, you’ll end up back at the top of Place de Lenche!

From there, let’s head toward the impressive Cathédrale La Major. Make your way back to rue de l’Évêché and turn left this time at rue Four du Chapitre. Continuing onto Place de la Major, you can’t miss the massive cathedral on your right, nor will you be able to resist the beautiful blue of the sea beyond it. From the parvis of the cathedral, head down the stairs towards Esplanade J4 and Marseille’s newest museum, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization or MuCEM opening in 2013. This museum has an eclectic interdisciplinary permanent collection, and regularly hosts really interesting temporary exhibitions on all manner of subjects that reflect the cultural melting pot of Marseille and Mediterranean cultures. Once inside the museum, feel free to pay for entry into the exhibits, or follow signs to the top floor terrace (entry here is free) where you will be able to cross the pedestrian footpath into Fort Saint Jean. Explore the many levels and lookouts from the fort which has been recently renovated and now has tons of seating areas for a picnic or just a little rest. This fort was built in 1660 by King Louis XIV. With its position at the mouth of the city’s port, one would naturally assume that it was an important protection against invading forces. In fact, the fort was built in response to a rebel uprising “in order to subdue the spirit of independence of the city of Marseille” as Wikipedia puts it – the canons pointed toward the town, not out to sea. When you’ve finished exploring the different levels, take one of the exits out of the fort back to Le Panier or the Vieux Port.

Walk IV: The Vieux Port to La Bonne Mère

All visitors to Marseille should make a point to visit Notre Dame de la Garde, or La Bonne Mère as it is known by the marseillais. Besides being an iconic symbol of Marseille and offering an unbeatable vantage point over the city, the church itself is quite remarkable and one of the reasons I originally fell in love with Marseille, to be honest. There are many ways up, some probably more scenic than the route I usually take, but I like to be direct, especially since it’s a pretty steep climb. If you’re not feeling like a 30 minute walk straight up the hill, I highly recommend the Tourist Train which departs from Quai du Port, loops around La Corniche and then climbs up to La Bonne Mère. Otherwise, bus 60 departing from the Vieux Port will take you there for around 2 euro a ride.

Click for full walking directions

From the top of the Vieux Port, head to the left towards Quai de Rive Neuve. Walk about halfway down and turn left on rue Fort Notre Dame and continue straight until the roundabout. Take the second exit to the right, turning onto rue des Brusques. Continue straight ahead and you will see the leafy Parc Pierre Puget. You could continue the climb through this hidden gem of a park, or turn right and then left to stay on Cours Pierre Puget. Turn right onto Boulevard André Aune and walk up the giant hill…… don’t forget to turn around and see the view of the Vieux Port as you ascend! Take the stairs at the top of the hill and turn right onto Montée de la Bonne Mère. Follow the stairs (yes, more stairs) until you arrive at the church. Enjoy the spectacular 360° views!

Walk V: Les Réformés to Palais Longchamp

This final part of the tour isn’t as essential, but if you’ve got the time, Palais Longchamp is worth a wander! This “palais d’eau” was erected in the late 19th century to celebrate the arrival of water in Marseille! Aside from the monumental fountain and sprawling park, it now also houses the Museum of Natural History and Museum of Fine Arts.

Click for full walking directions

From our original starting point (my apartment!) near Cours Julien, cross the street towards rue de la Bibliothèque. Turn left and descend rue Curiol. This street is always interesting because of all the prostitutes that hang out in the doorways! They probably won’t bother you, but if you’d prefer to avoid them, you can take one of the parallel streets instead 🙂 Once you reach the bottom of rue Curiol, you will have arrived at La Canebière, Marseille’s famous artery, often called the Champs-Elysées of Marseille, so well-known there’s even a song about it! The Square Léon Blum in this upper part of the Canebière is quite nice; I especially like the two huge giraffe statues that house little free libraries. Turn right on the Canebière, towards the Réformés church and follow the tram tracks through Square Stalingrad to Boulevard de la Libération. Feel free to hop on the tram (you’ll need to buy a ticket for 1,60 euro), or take the 20 minute walk up the pleasant boulevard all the way to the monument.

 Which area of Marseille would you most like to explore?!

When in Provence…

In April, one of my best friends came to visit me in Marseille all the way from Chicago! Laura and I spent a couple of days chilling at the beach in Marseille, and then departed on a 3-day road trip through the beautiful villages of Provence along with two other friends. We were a little early for one of the main attractions – the famous lavender fields were not quite in bloom – but we completely enjoyed ourselves and the Provençal landscapes all the same!

I will admit that, for some reason, the prospect of planning a road trip thoroughly intimidated me! Maybe it’s because I had no idea what would be do-able in a given day, because I don’t actually even know how to drive, or because we had no particular destination and there is SO MUCH to see in the region. Luckily, our fellow travelers were super low-maintenance, so coming up with an itinerary, though intimidating, boiled down to choosing a few “Must-Sees” and then filling in the gaps.


We decided to base ourselves out of Avignon for the 3 days A) because driving in Marseille seemed like a TERRIBLE idea and B) because it’s about an hour closer to most of the places we wanted to visit. I discovered the website Drivy, which is sort of like Airbnb for cars: individuals who don’t regularly use their cars can rent them out on a day-to-day basis. As long as you conform to a few basic requirements, the site handles insurance for you, and you can avoid the ridiculous fees rental agencies often have for under 25-year-old drivers. The car rental for 3 days and around 500km of mileage cost us just over 100 euro! Split between the 4 of us, it was a downright steal!


Marseille – Pont du Gard – Uzès – Nîmes – Avignon

After picking up the car in the morning, we left Marseille around 9:30am and made our way towards our first destination: the Pont du Gard! The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge, spanning the Gardon river. At 160m tall, it is the highest elevated aqueduct of the Roman World and is today very well-preserved. For an entry fee of €8,50 (€6 reduced rate), we had access to the park surrounding the bridge, the bridge itself, and the very interesting and well designed Pont du Gard museum. In all, we spent almost 4 hours wandering the grounds and checking out the museum. I learned a lot about the importance of water in Roman societies and why the Pont du Gard was such an important achievement for the city of Nîmes, where the water carried on this route was eventually delivered. It was such a beautiful day; I wish we would have thought ahead and packed a picnic to eat along the banks of the river, but the museum food court was an acceptable alternative. People were also swimming and kayaking, which would have been really fun as well, had we known about it before coming!

From the Pont du Gard, we made out way northwest to the village of Uzès. Incidentally, Uzès is the location of the water source that fed the very same aqueduct we had just departed! Quite a charming village, we spent about an hour wandering the small streets and enjoying amazing ice cream sundaes in the central square.

I would have loved to go out to see the spring, which is a big attraction in the town, but we still had two more stops planned for our day, so we hopped back in the car and headed to Nîmes. It was pretty cool to see the whole route from Uzès to Pont du Gard to Nîmes in one day, albeit out-of-order. By the time we got to Nîmes (and knowing that we still had to carry on to Avignon where we’d reserved an Airbnb) we were pretty tired, monuments and shops were closing, and so we didn’t spend much time there. It seemed like a cool place though, with lots to see, so I would totally go back again one day! After a little tour around the famous Arènes de Nîmes and some charming streets, we hopped back in the car to our final destination for the night: Avignon.


Avignon – Gordes – Roussillon – L’Isle sur la Sorgue – Avignon

Day 2 of our trip was, without a doubt, my favorite! We had a lazy morning in Avignon, walked around the Palais des Papes and visited the Rocher des Doms park for some breathtaking views. We could have spent more time in Avignon if we’d wanted to tour the palace, but we decided against it and instead left around noon for the famous “perched villages” of the Luberon park.

The first village, Gordes, came highly recommended to us by a friend and the French government: it’s been officially classed as one of France’s top 5 beautiful villages. Following signs for the town, we noticed cars pulling over at a small lookout point and decided to take a look for ourselves. The view was anything but disappointing!


The city itself was adorable and charming and sunny, but there wasn’t much to do beyond wandering the winding streets. We arrived too late in the day for the traditional Provençal market, unfortunately. So after eating lunch and buying a few souvenirs (a theme of the trip), we moved onto the next item in the itinerary.

Roussillon was probably my favorite stop, due to its main attraction, the Ochre Trail. The village is perched on top of a series of cliffs that have been mined for ochre since the 18th century, and one of the former quarries has been turned into a hiking loop. The trails were hardly rugged, but they offered up landscapes that were completely surreal and beautiful! After taking the hour-long trail, we meandered into the village, which was just as colorful as the ochre cliffs themselves!

When we’d just about had our fill of picture perfect doors and flower boxes, we convened to figure out what to do next. Looking at the map, we were not far from a handful of other villages, and we ultimately decided – completely randomly – on L’Isle sur la Sorgue. 40 minutes later, we’d arrived in this village, famous for its antique stores and water wheels, just in time to grab a map at the tourism office. After getting lost while trying to follow the tourism route, we decided instead to relax on a café terrace with a cold glass of rosé instead. When in Provence… ! The city itself was cute but kind of unremarkable. Around 7pm we headed back to Avignon for dinner.


Avignon – Arles – Saintes Maries sur la Mer – Marseille

The third day, we left our Airbnb and headed towards Arles. We had to have the car back to Marseille by 7pm, so we opted to visit some towns in that direction. I had already been to Arles and found it to be absolutely lovely, if a little touristy. The small city is famous for its collection of Roman ruins and for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh for over a year. Some of his most famous works, including Bedroom in Arles and Café Terrace at Night were painted there. No one was really interested in paying to enter the many Roman sites, but our traveling companions, former art majors, really wanted to visit the Fondation Van Gogh. Not in a museum-y mood, Laura and I left them at the exhibits, while we went in search of some souvenirs and another cold glass of wine, because what better way to spend a sunny day in a classic French village?

At the tourism office, we inquired about our final stop on the way back to Marseille: La Camargue, the marshy wetland to the south known for its salt mines and interesting wildlife including white ponies and pink flamingoes. She suggested driving down to the town of Saintes Maries sur la Mer. Sadly, by the time we got there, we only had about half an hour to explore before hitting the road for Marseille. After taking a stroll along a long, beautiful beach, we headed back to the car. A return trip to this area to hike, rent bikes or just relax on the beach is very high on my list!


Our Provence road trip was not meticulously planned, nor flawlessly executed. But it was three days of perfect weather, good company and stunning views. In retrospect, I personally might do some things differently — stay in Nîmes for longer, maybe go somewhere like Bonnieux or Les Baux de Provence instead of l’Isle sur la Sorgue, skip Arles to spend more time in the Camargue, look into some wine tastings at local vineyards — but ultimately, we had an amazing time on a very small budget! If you plan to come to Provence, definitely look into a driving tour. Many of the places we went are difficult to reach by public transport, but they absolutely shouldn’t be missed! ❂