A few years ago, my daughter was taking violin lessons at a Suzuki music school. I was just getting into CI at the time, and I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the Suzuki method and the cool new teaching paradigm that I was learning about.
The Suzuki method is all about immersing students in music. For the first few years of study, the students learn to play by ear, without ever looking at a sheet of notes. Repetition is an essential part of the process; students listen to each song over and over again, every single day, until they are able to simply feel which note is coming next. They build a subconscious map between the sounds they hear and the movement of their hands on their instruments, creating an intuitive relationship with the music. Because of this deep sense of connection, they are able to learn to play without the usual stress and striving that comes with more traditional approaches. The pace is slow and steady, and students master the basics before they move on to more advanced levels. All along the way, the students are encouraged to reflect on the beauty of the music and the joy they experience in playing it.
After noticing the connections between CI and Suzuki, I walked in to every one of my daughter’s lessons with a notebook and pencil, ready to jot down her teacher’s methods and brainstorm ways to adapt them to my own French classes.
It was at one of my daughter’s group lessons that I learned the game that I want to share with you today. I call it le jeu des yeux, or “the game of the eyes.”
Here’s what I saw in violin group class:
The teacher and her students sit in a circle. She tells the students that they will be playing a game to build their rhythm and music sense, which will help them become better musicians. These are very important skills, she says, and the students should bring their focused attention to the activity. Her voice is hushed and serious, but she has a twinkle in her eyes. The students smile back at her, seeming to know that they should take the game seriously, but that it will be fun too.
She tells the class that she will be clapping out a rhythm, and she wants them to listen very closely. They should keep their eyes on hers the whole time. When she is finished clapping, she wants them to “pass” the rhythm back to her by clapping it just the same way she did.
They do a practice round. She claps the beat, “clap, clap, clap, clap, CLAP, clap.”
The class watches her and listens intently, then “passes” the rhythm back: “clap, clap, clap, clap, CLAP, clap.”
The teacher praises the class. She tells them that she will be clapping out another rhythm, but this time, she will make eye contact with just one student at the end of the rhythm. That student will be the one to pass the rhythm back to her.
They do another practice round. She claps the beat, “clap, CLAP, clap, CLAP, clap, CLAP, CLAP.” She makes eye contact with just one student. That student has his eyes on hers, so he knows it is his turn. He’s been listening closely, so he is able to pass the rhythm back to her: “clap, CLAP, clap, CLAP, clap, CLAP, CLAP.”
She praises the student and the class again. Then they start the game. She claps out a rhythm and makes eye contact with one student. That student watches, listens, and passes the rhythm back. If someone makes a mistake, it’s no big deal. The teacher simply repeats the rhythm and the student tries again. And on and on, until everyone has had a turn and it is time to move on.
Throughout the activity, I notice how relaxed, engaged, and focused the students are. There is a sense of calm and lightness in the room. The game is simple and a little silly, yet there is the feeling that real work is being done. The kids are learning and they know they are learning.
Here’s how I’ve adapted this game for my French classes:
My students and I sit in the classroom, in a circle or simply in our regular seats. I tell them that we will be playing a game to help with their fluency and implicit knowledge of French. These are very important skills, I say, and they should bring their focused attention to the activity. I speak in a hushed, serious tone, but I try to put that twinkle in my eyes, like my daughter’s violin teacher did. I want my students to know that they should take the game seriously, but that it will be fun too.
I tell them that I am going to say a sentence in French, and I want them to listen very closely. They should keep their eyes on mine the whole time. When I finish saying the sentence, I want them to “pass” it back to me by repeating it exactly as I said it.
We do a practice round. I say, « Il y a un garçon » (“There is a boy”). They watch and listen intently, and repeat back to me, « Il y a un garçon. »
I praise the class. I tell them that I am going to say another sentence, but this time, I will make eye contact with just one student. This student will be the one to pass the sentence back to me.
We do another practice round. I say, « Le garçon s’appelle Paul » (“The boy is named Paul”). I make eye contact with just one student. That student has his eyes on mine, so he knows it’s his turn. He’s been watching and listening, so he is able to pass the sentence back to me, « Le garçon s’appelle Paul. »
I praise the student and the class again. Then we start the game. I say another sentence and make eye contact with one student. That student watches, listens, and passes the sentence back to me. If someone makes a mistake, it’s no big deal. I just repeat the sentence and the student tries again. And on and on, until everyone has had a turn and it is time to move on.
Just as I noticed in my daughter’s violin class, I’ve found that this game brings a feeling of calm and focus to even the rowdiest of classrooms. It’s easy, yet there is a feeling that real work is being done. The students are hearing messages in French over and over again, building their intuitive connection to the language.
The beauty of this game is in its simplicity. I typically like to plan out my sentences ahead of time and write down which student I am going to make eye contact with, just so I don’t forget anybody. However, if you are comfortable making up sentences on the spot, then go for it! Sometimes, I take a recent class story and use those sentences for the game. This is a great way to review or extend a story, and can be a good lead-in to a free write. Other times, I make up new sentences based on a topic that we are working on or something that I know my students are interested in. Pretty much anything goes, as long as the sentences are clear and relatively short.
I’m very appreciative of the lessons that I’ve learned from both the CI and Suzuki teaching methods. And I deeply believe in this quote from Shinichi Suzuki, which applies just as well to languages as it does to music: “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”
Merci et à bientôt.