The smell of freshly baked cookies and the sound of French music was in the air at Elizabeth Ziegler Public School in Waterloo on April 18, as students were treated to a unique French language learning opportunity. Throughout that week, students from grades one through six had the chance to take part in a cooking class, presented by Chef à l’École, that allowed them to improve their French, along with their baking skills.

Danielle Gauthier, a grade three teacher at Elizabeth Ziegler, spearheaded the effort to bring Chef à l’École to the school. The program is an alternative opportunity for student engagement. Gauthier explained the program was partially funded by a French as a Second Language grant and any further costs were covered by the parent council to ensure that every student at the school would be able to take part.

On this day, students were baking a langue de chat, or cat’s tongue pastry. However, the learning began days before they began mixing ingredients. Gauthier explained students began practicing vocabulary provided by Chef à l’École beforehand, along with a Kahoot quiz, so that they are able to play an active role in the lesson. “The kids come equipped with the French vocabulary to participate and use that opportunity to practice that oral language,” she said.

The session was led by the animated and enthusiastic Susanne Golds, owner of Chef à l’École. The Fergus based company visits schools with all levels of French and have been in more than 300 schools this year alone. To ensure their content is relevant to students from all levels of French, the content and approach are catered to each class.

Susanne Golds checks to see if the peaks of the egg whites are stiff enough.

For the students, the collaborative environment makes speaking French a less intimidating prospect. As Golds explained, having the entire group repeating words and working together allows students to open up. “They’re quite often shy to speak French,” said Golds. “This way they feel less intimidated.”

Baking skills and vocabulary aren’t the only things students learned. Each session with Chef à l’École featured a story connected to French history and culture. Golds explained these stories are different depending on the grade of the students taking part and, importantly, connect directly to the curriculum. “The curriculum is what we base our story on,” said Golds, adding that older students focus on Acadian history and in high school, they focus on career options that French language skills help create. To Golds, it’s important for students to have an understanding of the historical and cultural aspects of the French language, so they may better appreciate the technical language skills they are learning.

The ultimate goal is to build the momentum of curiosity and interest in the French language that teachers can take back to their classrooms. “When I have a chance to sit back and look at everybody I am excited to see the joy on their faces,” said Golds.

Looking at Ben, a grade 3 student at Elizabeth Ziegler, the excitement was clear to see on his face. “It was really fun,” he said. “I learned that French culture is pretty cool.” While he enjoyed the food and baking was a fun experiment, he focused on the challenge that cooking in French presented and the opportunity to hone his language skills.

To Gauthier, that was the goal of Chef à l’École. Her hope for the event was to offer students the chance to use their language skills in an authentic setting, while learning more about the culture behind it. “The main goal is the joy of speaking a second language and being confident enough to try something new,” she said. “I would recommend this to any school if they’re looking for a way to promote French for all students.”

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