13 French Conversation Practice Exercises Based on French News Articles
Some students aspire to learn to speak fluent French; others just want to know how to improve their French speaking to a specific level. An effective French language programme must provide opportunities to practice speaking French, but getting students to feel comfortable conversing in the language can be a real challenge for teachers. Many textbook courses do not place enough emphasis on French conversation practice, or if they do, the topics and vocabulary may be somewhat limited and uninspiring. Why not create French speaking exercises based on more engaging, diverse and topical material?
In this article, we will present 13 fun and adaptable speaking activities that are based on French news articles. French news can expose students to thought-provoking questions, global issues, grammar in a meaningful context, and new vocabulary that you won’t find in textbooks.
To encourage French speaking practice, news articles can be used as a basis for:
- formulating questions
- exchanging ideas
- expressing opinions
- identifying facts vs. opinions
With Newsdle graded reading material, news-based French speaking exercises can be developed to suit learners of all levels. The teacher only has to select appropriate material and then provide the necessary motivation and support to get students speaking French.
How to practice French speaking with Newsdle
Newsdle offers graded French news stories for six different levels, from Beginner through to Advanced Higher. Newsdle users can read news stories on the website or app, and teachers can also download printable PDF reading material to distribute to students.
When planning French speaking activities based on Newsdle articles, teachers should decide on the best way to structure the activity: should the speaking practice take place before, during, or after reading the text? And be sure to prepare all the necessary materials (student handouts, etc.) in advance.
A beginner-level news article on Newsdle. Even beginners can engage in French speaking practice.
Every Newsdle article comes with a list of keywords and grammar points – these are useful not only in assisting students’ comprehension, but also provide a basis for French speaking exercises, for example if the teacher wants students to practise using specific vocabulary or grammatical structures in their speaking.
Grammar points accompanying a beginner-level Newsdle article. Beginner students should be encouraged to use these structures in their speaking.
(Further reading: The Value of Using Authentic Materials in Foreign Language Teaching)
French conversation practice exercises for lower-level students
How to improve French speaking for lower-level learners? Let’s start with some basic activities to teach speaking skills. With beginner groups, admittedly it may be unrealistic to expect students to practise speaking French independently, so the teacher should be prepared to do a lot of supervision and modelling. Any meaningful attempts to speak French by the students should be met with enthusiasm and encouragement.
#1: Discuss the picture
In this activity, the teacher shows students the picture from the news story without revealing the text (yet). Students are given several minutes to discuss or describe the picture prior to reading the article.
A picture from a Newsdle article. Pictures can be used as a basis for French conversation practice.
#2: Question starters
The teacher elicits some basic question words/question starters and writes a list on the whiteboard. Students use the prompts to ask and answer questions about the article.
Example question starters:
- Qui est…?
- Quel(le) est…?
- À ton avis, …?
- Qu’est-ce que … veut dire?
- De quoi s'agit-il?
#3: Write a question
For this French speaking exercise, every student thinks of one good question about the article and writes their question on a piece of paper. Working in pairs, students discuss their questions for a minute or two. Then the teacher mixes up the pairs and everyone gets to speak to a new classmate. Switching pairs at regular intervals keeps this activity fast-paced.
#4: Listen and repeat
For beginner students who are still in the parroting phase of language learning, the teacher can try reading a word, phrase or entire sentence from a Newsdle article (or play the audio line by line) and have students repeat one by one – like an “echo” around the classroom. This is best done without any reference to the written material, so that students have to focus entirely on sound and pronunciation.
French conversation practice exercises for higher-level students
How to practice French at higher levels and achieve greater fluency? Try the following activities. More advanced learners can be given increasingly ambitious tasks involving in-depth discussions, role-plays and debates. These kinds of activities can help students to think more quickly in the target language and, with sufficient practice, learn to speak fluent French.
#5: Role-play argument
In this activity, the teacher writes an opinion on the whiteboard that is related to the article. (See an example below.) In pairs, Student A has to argue in support of that opinion, while Student B has to argue against it.
Optional extra: the teacher prompts students to swap roles part-way through.
Example prompt for a role-play debate in French based on the above news story: «Les militants écologistes deviennent trop extrêmes».
#6: Interview role-play
The teacher puts students in pairs and assigns each person a role: for example, one person role-plays someone connected to the news story in some way, and the other person plays the role of an “interviewer” asking them questions.
#7: Press conference
For this whole-class French speaking activity, the teacher can select a few confident students to attend a “press conference” based on the news story. The other students in the class have to act as journalists and ask questions.
#8: Discuss the headline
The teacher shows students the article title and/or picture without introducing the full text (yet). Students have several minutes to discuss the picture/headline and make predictions prior to reading the article. Encourage them to share their pre-existing knowledge and opinions on the topic before they read.
A sample Newsdle article title and image. A headline can be used as a basis for discussion in French, with or without the accompanying image.
French conversation practice exercises for all levels
These French speaking exercises can be adapted to suit various levels. The primary goal should be to make students think and speak freely in French as much as possible.
#9: Best questions
After reading the news article, students have a few minutes to write as many questions as they can, based on the article content. The teacher elicits the best question from each student and writes all the best questions on the board. Then, students take turns asking and answering those questions in pairs or small groups.
#10: Question mix-up
The same as #9, but in this instance the teacher collects all pieces of paper with questions and mixes them up. The teacher gives each pair of students a random set of questions to ask each other. (It’s recommended to glance at the questions before handing them out, to check that they’re appropriate and make good sense!)
#11: Discuss keywords
Each student picks their favourite key word, phrase or proper noun from the article. The teacher elicits the selected key words and writes them on the whiteboard. Students then have 1 minute to discuss a word or phrase in their pairs/groups. After the time is up, they move on to a different word and discuss that.
A sample keyword list from a lower-intermediate Newsdle article. In pairs, students can practice speaking French by discussing what each word means to them.
#12: Target language
Newsdle articles can be used to make students practise using specific French vocabulary and grammatical structures in speaking. After reading an article to get a feel for the context, the teacher can give students a copy of the list of keywords, grammar points, proper nouns, or idioms that comes with the article. In pairs or small groups, students are challenged to use as much of the target vocabulary as possible in their conversation.
Using idioms in French conversation practice is an interesting exercise – especially for advanced French learners who need an extra challenge.
#13: Read and discuss
For this activity, the teacher prints copies of 2 different Newsdle articles (these should be the same length/level). Half of the students read Article A, while the other half read Article B. Students who have read Article A are placed in pairs with students who have read Article B. Then they have to ask each other questions to find out about what their partner has just read.
How teachers can guide French conversation practice effectively
As well as using quality material and developing effective activities to teach speaking skills, French teachers can use the following methods to help students get maximum educational value out of speaking activities.
Speaking French can be daunting if students are hesitant or inexperienced in using the language. The teacher can support students by scaffolding, which may include providing keywords or phrases, to ease students into speaking French. Writing key words, phrases and/or questions on the whiteboard is a helpful visual aid to students who would not be able to remember or produce the target language on their own.
Before, during and even after a speaking activity, teachers can model the correct form and use of the language as a demonstration for students. Modelling can come from the teacher themselves, or a confident and competent group of students. If a student does something especially well, the teacher can acknowledge this with positive and specific feedback, and highlight it to the whole class as an example to follow.
An important part of a teacher’s role in the language classroom is, of course, observing and listening attentively while students practice speaking French. As the teacher moves around the classroom (or between breakout rooms if the lesson is taking place online), the teacher can listen in on students and offer French speaking tips to keep them on the right track. During observation, be sure to listen out for common errors (see below), and also any examples of excellence which can be used for modelling purposes (above).
Making mistakes and being corrected is a necessary part of learning to speak French. However, it would not be desirable or practical to correct every single mistake that occurs during French speaking exercises. A better way is for the teacher to identify common mistakes made by the students, take note of them, and then spend some time discussing the mistakes as a whole-class activity later. That way, individual students needn’t be singled out for their errors, nor interrupted in the moment of speaking, and mistakes can serve as a learning opportunity for everyone.
To help students learn to speak fluent French, teachers need to prepare effective activities to teach speaking skills. These activities should be varied, engaging, and targeted to the students’ level.
Although there is nothing wrong with talking about one’s daily routine, family members, or favourite food, it is even better if students have opportunities to go beyond the mundane topics and discuss more interesting material from time to time. As described in this article, graded news stories can be used in multiple ways to get students speaking French, exchanging ideas and expressing their opinions. Why not try it with your students? We encourage you to choose some of your favourite activities from the above list and adapt them to suit your own purposes.
Daisy Ward is an experienced online English teacher, writer and content creator with a passion for foreign languages and cultures. Her expertise in effective language-learning strategies is derived from many years in language classrooms, both as a teacher and as a student. Fluent in French and competent in Mandarin Chinese, she attributes much of her success in learning languages to the use of apps and other online tools.