A group leader shows elementary school students Monet paintings at the Sixth Annual International Children's Expo

At the sight of 80 energetic fifth-graders entering the auditorium, my palms began to sweat.

Students from nearby C.B. Jennings Elementary School had arrived to Connecticut College for the Sixth Annual International Children’s Expo on Feb. 19. At the event, Conn students teach various languages to groups of ten- and eleven-year-olds. In turn, the visiting children expose the Conn students to a fresher worldview than normally found on campus full of old, college-aged farts. 

As a French major and Francophile (see A Francophile’s Friday), I naturally decided to participate on the team teaching French. Although I love speaking French, I was less sure of my ability to convince a horde of “kooler than Kool-Aid” kids to love it as well. 

Fortunately, I teamed up with three other seniors who have studied French, as well as a first-year from Haiti who speaks French fluently, to teach the lesson. Twenty students meandered over to us with folders and winter jackets dangling from their arms. They plopped down in a half-circle before a large, three-panel poster of French phrases and cultural icons that we had set up.

“Bonjour!” I yelled. “Bonjour!” they replied, smiling. I launched into teaching a few basic phrases in French. The elementary students who had studied French before enthusiastically raised their hands to model pronunciation and add other French words to the conversation. Yet, even those who had never before studied French practiced their mouths on “S’il vous plaît” (please), “Je m’appelle,” (my name is) and “J’ai dix ans” (I am ten). By the end of the vocabulary section, they were able to break into pairs and engage in short conversations amongst themselves.

In order to contextualize the language, we also showed them a map of the Francophone world and asked them to identify such countries as Haiti, Vietnam and Nigeria. The map appropriately portrayed France as a tiny dot in comparison to the rest of the large Francophone world.

“Why did French spread to all these other areas of the world?” we asked the students. “Because French people travelled?” one student guessed. “Close,” we confirmed and briefly explained colonialism. To sweeten the bitter topic, we passed out Madeleines, a French dessert, that two group members had baked. As the students munched on the crispy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside lemon cakes, one group leader showed them contrasting paintings by Monet. She explained that the difference in the two paintings of lilies stemmed from Monet’s degenerated vision. 

Banking on the students’ sharp eyes, we also displayed famous monuments in France such as l’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, the sight of which provoked one girl to exclaim: “Paris is the most romantic city in the world!” To please the romantics in the crowd, we played a music video by pop artist Louane, who sings about love in her song “Jour 1” meaning “Day 1”. 

After two lessons, we took a break for lunch at Harris Refectory. Sitting and chatting with the students made my day. “This is the best day of my life!” one boy exclaimed in between bites of cheesy pepperoni pizza. In addition to sharing positive feedback, the students dropped details about fifth-grade life, such as their early wake-up call and afterschool activities. Hopefully when they think back to the fifth grade, they will also remember the Expo. I certainly will.