French Learning Scenario:
Le carrefour culturel

Author: Andrea Henderson
Level: Advanced

What is American? What is French? The attempt to find a simple definition of either culture is impossible. The United States is made of numerous cultures. Similarly, the lives of inhabitants of former French colonies have been influenced by several cultures. In this scenario, students develop an understanding of the effects of French colonialism on Africa and/or the Caribbean as well as the concept of Négritude, an expression of the cultural crossroads (carrefour culturel) experienced by those of the former French colonies. Students also take a look at the cultural crossroads in their own history and present-day lives.

Franco-African music is played for the class intermittently throughout the unit (at the beginning of class as a warm-up, while students are working on projects/writing in their journals, etc.) They react to the music as part of their reflective journal entries.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Reflecting on “Identity”
As a prelude to the unit, students bring into class a collage of pictures and/or illustrations that reflect their cultural identities. The collages should illustrate both their traditionally “American” selves and the ethnicities/cultures of their ancestry. In small groups, the students examine these collages and attempt to identify the ethnicities/cultures represented in the collages. The class then brainstorms lists of traits and symbols that they consider to be typically American and typically French; these lists are recorded on a chart to be reevaluated after the unit. The students react to the activity by making an initial entry in a reflective journal to be submitted as part of the scenario’s final product.

ACTIVITY SET 2: French Colonialism
Students often wonder why French is spoken so widely in Africa and the Caribbean. Students examine maps of colonized Africa and the Caribbean. They also read articles on colonialism and decolonization (see Resources). They create a timeline of the decolonization of these areas (in French). In their journals, students write their reactions to the concept of colonization.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Comparison of French and African Literature
Much of African literature is an oral literature, passed down from one generation to the next. In keeping with this oral tradition, the teacher reads fables and tales from African literature to the students, using props and/or pantomime to facilitate understanding (examples of tales that could be used include Banji Coto and Le secret de la main) and select fables of La Fontaine and/or French fairy tales (e.g., fables such as Le loup et la cigogne, La cigale et la fourmi, Le corbeau et le renard, Le loup et l’agneau and fairy tales such as La belle et la bête or Le petit poucet). Students identify the characteristics of traditional African tales and compare them to those of the French fables. The students make Venn-Diagram posters listing the similarities, differences, and commonalities of the two types of literature to share with the class. They also include a personal reaction to the pieces.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Introduction to La Négritude
The students familiarize themselves with the movement known as la Négritude. Le mouvement de la Négritude began in the 1930’s by a group of African-American students in Paris. This movement, which can be compared to the pro-black movements of the 1960’s in the United States, celebrated the cultural heritage of Franco-Africans. The literature that was an integral part of the movement demonstrated the authors’ pride in being African, their dismay at not being treated as equals, and the rebellion against colonial powers and influence. Students read and discuss some French-language definitions of la Négritude. They use their journals to write their reactions to these definitions.

In pairs, students research an author/founder of the Négritude movement and prepare a short biographical presentation to be shared with the other members of the class. The presentation takes the form of an interview, with one student assuming the persona of the author/founder researched and the other acting as the interviewer (à la Barbara Walters, without provoking the tears). Students come in costume (e.g., author/founder dresses appropriately for his/her African background and interviewer dresses in suit). The teacher provides a rubric or list of information that should be included in the interview ahead of time, e.g., the basic autobiographical information, but also issues such as the author’s reaction/attitudes with regard to the Négritude movement.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Periods of the Négritude Movement
Students read the poem “L’homme qui te ressemble“ by René Philombe. This poem points out the physical differences of people of many races but also reminds the reader that, in spite of our differences, all people share a common humanity. Students read this poem as a simple introduction to the literature of the Négritude movement. They discuss the poem and write their reactions to it in their reflective journals.

Next, students become familiar with the timeline of the Négritude movement, which can be divided into five periods: Période de Léthargie (up until 1900), Période de Prise de Conscience des Intellectuels Noirs (1900-1947), Période du Mouvement de la Négritude (1932-1947), Période de la Négritude Militante (1947-1960), Période de la Négritude en Marche (1960-present). In groups, students work to find literary examples of each period of the movement, picking two or three favorite pieces or excerpts per period to put into a class book. Students have the opportunity to look through all of the materials in the class book and pick one to reflect on in their journal.

Students also share the literature they’ve researched in a class presentation. They have a choice in how to present the material creatively and dramatically. They may, for example, choose to do independent readings, work with two or three other students and do a choral reading, work with a partner, reciting alternate lines of a poem, etc. (For those who participate in the Texas French Symposium, this activity provides good practice in areas such as fluency, pronunciation, and memorization.)

ACTIVITY SET 6: Le carrefour culturel
In this activity set, students are introduced to the notion of “cultural crossroads” (le carrefour culturel). At a cultural crossroad, cultures are interlaced and each influences the other. For example, the art of Matisse, Modigliani, and Picasso was influenced by the cultures of Africa. Students examine the work of these artists and compare it to traditional African sculpture (see Resources). They then work in teams to create “living art” using the artwork they’ve studied. Students “become” the art by physically placing themselves exactly as items in the paintings or sculpture. Finally, they create conversations between items/characters in a single piece of artwork or between two pieces of artwork. (For example, an African statue notices and remarks upon his likeness in a painting by Picasso.)

ACTIVITY SET 7: The Immigrant Experience
Because America is mostly a country of immigrants, Americans constantly experience cultural crossroads. To develop an understanding of these crossroads from the “newcomer’s” perspective, students create interview questions for native French speakers who have immigrated to the United States. The questions address immigration issues such as culture shock, differences in the work place, acclimating to weather/traffic patterns/living space, etc. The interview subjects may be students at their school, local community members, or French-speaking “e-pals” who reside in the United States (whatever is feasible in the particular community). If few French speaking immigrants are available in the community, one appropriate individual is invited to be a guest speaker. Students then take turns asking interview questions of the speaker.

ACTIVITY SET 8: Le carrefour culturel intime
Students review the chart created at the beginning of the scenario and revise/add to their lists of what they consider to be American and French characteristics. As a final product, students create an autobiography of five to six paragraphs, including specific references to the cultural crossroads that have shaped their lives, that are influencing them presently, or that they predict will affect them in the future. They refer to and include the collage they created at the beginning of the scenario to serve as a visual representation of who they are. Students also submit their journals at the conclusion of the scenario.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Concept of Culture, Influence of Language & Culture
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting

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  • Maps of colonized Africa and the Caribbean
  • African folk tales
  • Fables of La Fontaine
  • French fairy tales
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Reproductions of artwork of Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, and others influenced by African cultures
  • Literature of Aimé Césaire, Léopold Senghor, René Philombe, Patrick Camoiseau, etc.
  • Franco-African music

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met


Communication: The interpersonal mode is used as students discuss literature and art. The interpretive mode is used as students read literature, view art, and listen to music. The presentational mode is used in the showing of collages, biographical “interviews” of Négritude authors, and the final autobiography.

Cultures: Students learn about the cultural products of art, literature, and music and how the perspectives of different cultures influence and shape one another.

: Students use French to access information by researching on the Internet and reading literature in the target language. They also use French as a tool to make connections in the areas of social studies (colonialism), the fine arts, and language arts.

: Students compare their culture with target language cultures; they examine how important culture is to self-identity as well the impact it has on society.

: Students use the language to communicate with French-speaking immigrants to the United States.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Students do research on African-American expatriates to France, such as Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Sidney Bechet, Lois Mailou Jones, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, etc.
  • Students research traditional African music and discuss its influence on contemporary francophone musicians such as Les Nubians.
  • Students watch films such as Sugar Cane Alley and Chocolat and discuss the themes of cultural identity.
  • Students research the effects of French colonialism in Asia and view the film Indochine. (Since the film is rated PG-13, teachers may want to review it before showing.)
  • Students prepare posters that summarize the biographical information about leaders of the Négritude movement to be shared with the lower level French classes.
  • Students share Négritude literature in a French-language magazine written for the school. They may simply print the literature, include some background information on the author, or write a “review” of the piece included.

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Valette, J. & Valette R. (1998). Discovering French, Rouge. Boston: McDougal Littell.
This text contains examples of traditional African sculpture.


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.



La Négritude


African Tales

    This site addresses the similarities between African folktales and French folktales.
    This site includes “realia” French links for Senegal, Morocco, Haiti, Vietnam, Canada, and France.
    This site includes a downloadable PDF unit on presenting folktales.






    This site includes teaching guide (in English) for the movie Rue cases nègres (Sugar Cane Alley).

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