Le Scaphandre et le papillon – lesson plan ideas!

If you haven’t already read Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, I highly recommend both the book and the movie (I got my book from thriftbooks.com and the movie is still available to watch on netflix). Both forms are the first person narrative of a “locked-in syndrome” patient: Jean-Dominique Bauby who was the head editor of Elle magazine before his accident. Surviving his medical event and subsequent coma, he relearned how to communicate with the outside world and was thereby able to share his story by blinking his left eyelid

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While I consider myself bilingual English-French there are many words in the French language that are not yet familiar to me. There are repeated examples of this in Le Scaphandre, but I found looking up new words to be inspiring (just or or two a page) and not a horrible chore (as sometimes happen when I try to read more challenging books). This level of difficulty puts the text out of reach of first year students and accessible to second year practitioners only with considerable help and carefully guided expertise. I would feel comfortable introducing a passage or two to third year students, but since I’ll be teaching just French 4, 5, and AP, this book will work well in my 2015-2016 curriculum.

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The book is a collection of vignettes that translate well into higher-level classroom work. There is no need to read the entire text in order to benefit from the French prose and I would choose the following chapters to read and discuss with my AP students: L’ange guardian, La photographie, and Une autre coïncidence. Each of these chapters addresses, in my opinion, a theme of the AP exam that I use as a framework to prepare students for the test in May.

So listen up AP French teachers! I think that “L’ange guardian” works well with La Science et la technologie. In this chapter the author talks about Sandrine, his orthophonist. She is the person responsible for teaching Jean-Dominique how to speak again and creates the alphabet/blinking system that permits him to communicate with the outside world. The chapter is just two pages and I would introduce the book with first reading the introduction to help the students contextualize the story.

“La photographie” ties into La famille et la communauté, because he tells us the story of his last encounter with his father. He describes his 92 year-old father and his apartment with affection and tenderness as he shaves his days old beard on their last morning together. I would start the discussion with questions about my students grandparents: what do they know, what do they remember, how do they think about that generation. And I would like to discuss how the generations can work together, help each other, and teach each other.

To discuss the theme of L’esthétique I would use the chapter “Une autre coïncidence”. Here, Jean-Dominique talks about the Count of Monte-Cristo (we read the abridged version in French 5 Histoire d’une revanche) and the character Noirtier de Villefort – the first “locked-in syndrome” patient in literature. To discuss this chapter, I would talk about other literature that my students are familiar with and which characters they prefer to read about and who they might choose to incarnate given the opportunity.

I hope this helps add some new reading to your students AP French lists!

Bonne lecture! Et n’oubliez pas le film!!


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