French Learning Scenario:
20th Century Collage

Author: Dorothy Cox
Level: Advanced

In this scenario, student groups research various topics of 20th century French civilization, literature, and culture by decades. Areas of study include music, art, architecture, literature, theater, film, politics, religion, science, medicine, technology, and daily life. Each group is responsible for presenting information and leading the class in activities showing how the various subject areas are interrelated (e.g., how the first flight of the Concorde in 1969 affected daily life and what were the political implications of the invention) as well as sharing research and personal ideas in writing, discussions, and presentations. All work is done in French.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Group Presentations
Working in groups, students choose a decade of the 20th century. Each group is responsible for researching the following topics from their decade: music, art, architecture, literature/theater/film, politics/religion, science/medicine/technology, and daily life. The groups make class presentations and provide handouts for the rest of the class. The handout includes new vocabulary words and is in outline format for the class to take notes. The presentation format can be lecture, interactive discussion, video, PowerPoint, etc. The presentations include information about how the different subject areas affect one another. After the decade presentations, groups are responsible for leading reinforcement activities in the classroom. For example, while the class is studying a decade, the group leaders for that decade will lead follow up activities from the suggestions in Activity Sets 2–8. Different group members will be the leaders for different activities.

Presentations are made one decade at a time with follow-up activities. Some of the follow-up activities can be done after all the presentations are completed as indicated in the explanations.

Groups play music that represents their decade and provide classmates with a copy of the song lyrics (can be found on the Internet or in music stores). The group explains why they chose the music and how it is representative of the decade, relating it to another area such as politics or art. (For example, Edith Piaf used her status as a famous singer to stage singing engagements and have her picture taken with WWII prisoners. The pictures were given to the French underground for the purpose of creating false documents and helping the prisoners escape). The words are provided to classmates with blanks to be filled in as students listen to the song. Students choose a favorite song to practice daily and learn by heart from among those presented. The teacher follows up with a “lyrics quiz” or asks students to pick the “Song of the Century” and make a lip-sync video version or give a live presentation for the class after all the decades have been presented.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Art History
After describing and showing examples of art from its decade, the group leads the class in creating an art project depicting a style from that decade such as cubism, pointillism, impressionism, surrealism, etc. (Styles may overlap decades.) The group explains the influences on the art of its decade and how it reflects cultural aspects of the decade. All finished projects are used to create a classroom display of “Art of the Century.” Afterwards, representatives from each group meet to create a matching game of art/artists or other review games. The teacher follows up with a factual quiz or asks students to write a short paper describing their favorite artist of the 20th century.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Architecture
Groups ask classmates to look in magazines such as “Architectural Digest” and to describe a room, building, or structure that depicts the 20th century styles they have presented to the class. (Architectural styles rarely change by decade, so there will be overlap in presentations.) Students then have an opportunity to design their own building/structure to add to the “sites to see in Paris.” They discuss where they would build it and if they think it would be accepted. They mention current issues that may be responsible for the acceptance or non-acceptance of their building/structure. The teacher follows up with a class discussion of the pros/cons of building the Pyramid at the Louvre.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Literature/Theater/Film
From their decade presentation, the group provides a literary piece for the class to memorize. It could be a poem, a prose excerpt, or an excerpt from a play. They provide classmates with the words. The group explains why they chose that particular literary piece and how it depicts French culture in the 20th century. They may also connect a particular literary movement to a related trend in another art form. After all groups have presented all the decades, each student chooses one of the presented literary works to memorize for an oral presentation. (An excerpt from a play would be presented in a small group.) As an alternative, students work in small groups to make up short skits in the style of the “theater of the absurd” and present them to class. If desired, an after-school “Ciné Club” is formed to view films representing the 20th century.

ACTIVITY SET 6: Politics/Religion
Group representatives lead the class in creating a visual comparison (chart, lists, etc.) of U.S. and French politics and major political figures in each decade of the 20th century. For ease of comparison, the teacher provides guidance by suggesting a form of visual presentation or the class decides ahead of time on the categories to be used. Next, students work together to create newspaper headings and stories. Using a computer publishing program or cut-and-paste method, students develop a newspaper page for each decade of the century. The newspaper pages are displayed in a prominent place such as the front hall of the school or the library. As a culminating activity, students write an essay on how politics influenced music, art and literature in 20th century France.

ACTIVITY SET 7: Science/Medicine/Technology
Each group contributes a given number of question/answer cards for a game of 20th century inventions and advances in science/medicine/technology. Next, group representatives or the teacher chooses a “hot” topic for a class debate. Students write a short essay answering the question: Have modern advances improved the quality of life?

ACTIVITY SET 8: Daily Life
Students assume the role of someone who has lived in France for the entire century and write a diary entry about what life was like in each decade. In groups, students make predictions for the 21st century including: How will life in France change? Will it be for the better or for worse? Students watch a French news broadcast from TV5 and discuss the current daily issues. (They can also look at French newspapers and magazines on the Internet—in the library or at home—to find information for discussion.)

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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, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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  • Internet access for research
  • Supplies for creating visual aids
  • Supplies for individual reinforcement activities listed
  • CD/tape player
  • Book on art history
  • Architectural magazines
  • Computer and desktop publishing software

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met


Communication: The interpersonal mode is used in group work and as groups lead the class in follow-up reinforcement activities. The interpretive mode is used in research and in listening to group presentations. The presentational mode is used as students present researched information to the class and as students make class presentations in the reinforcement activities.

: This is a culturally based unit involving research, comparison by decade, and presentations of French practices and perspectives and products and perspectives in the areas of French music, art, architecture, literature/theater/film, politics/religion, science/medicine/technology, and daily life.

: Students use the French language to discover, interpret, create, present, and discuss information and activities on a variety of subjects reflected in French civilization. They learn how the different subject areas are interrelated and affect one another.

: Students compare French and American culture in the areas of religion and politics.

: Students link to the target language community by interacting with guest speakers (see Expansion Ideas) and in conducting interactive research on the Internet.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Check with the Alliance Française, French-based businesses, local museums, local French restaurants, Air France, local universities, or other resources that may have French personnel, and invite a French-speaking community member to talk to the class on one of the topics studied.
  • Invite community members who are experts in their field to talk about what kinds of things influence their personal expressions (a local artist, an architect, someone from the local symphony, or a "DJ" from a local radio station.)
  • Invite a native French speaker to talk to the class about how life in France has changed through the decades of his or her life.
  • Choose another century and follow a similar plan of activities.
  • Instead of having groups work together, alter the unit to accommodate individual study by a single student who is at the advanced level in a class of intermediate-level learners. The advanced-level student may still lead the rest of the class in some of the reinforcing activities as enrichment tasks.
  • Choose an artist and a writer from 20th century France and compare their themes, philosophy and styles, indicating how their works interrelate and reflect 20th century French civilization and culture in an essay.

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  • Grun, B. (1991). The timetables of history: A horizontal linkage of people and events. NY: Simon and Schuster.


  • Champs Elysées (audiomagazine).
    Available on line at: (note: link no longer available 4/2010)
  • FRANCE Magazine. Community Media Ltd.
    Available on line at:
  • Le Journal Français d'Amérique. France Press, Inc.
    Available on line at:


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


French Search Engines


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