Authentic Communication in French Immersion Kindergarten Through Math Games

Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten, Grade 1

Focus on mathematical understanding should not exclude French Immersion students simply due to lack of expressive vocabulary. Students can learn, and do strive, in authentic communication situations, such as playing math games in the early years.

Inquiry-based learning is an important part of the Ministry’s vision for education in the early years. How that works in French Immersion continues to be a challenge, due to the lack of second language understanding, missing vocabulary and an inability to express thinking. Our goal has been to decrease the cognitive load on students in their second language to allow for deeper understandings in math. Our premise is that learning language via cross-curricular means leads to a more authentic understanding of the language itself, and thus more proficient speakers. Through inquiry-based projects, and hands-on learning and play, students will begin to converse amongst one another in their second language, as well as acquiring the necessary educational vocabulary and language structures for formal math communication.

Team Members

  • Jordan Sloan

    Renfrew County District School Board

  • Samantha Lalonde

    Renfrew County District School Board

  • Melissa Johnston

    Renfrew County District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

Our initial professional learning goal was to explore best practices around second language acquisition at the SK/Grade 1 level, more specifically, by using authentic experiences with math games. We wanted to research the best means for students to reach those deeper levels of understanding and critical thinking, all the while developing the language skills of an immersion program. As teachers, we wanted to determine how best to take our students to that level – finding a way to ask the probing questions that would facilitate deeper thinking.

Math has become an important focus in our classrooms as we upgrade our teaching to meet our students at their level. It is our belief that the focus on mathematical understanding should not exclude French Immersion students simply due to a lack of expressive vocabulary. We believed that students would learn, and strive, through authentic communication, for example in playing math games in the early years. We came across this idea quite organically as one of our teachers integrated more math play in her kindergarten class. She began noticing that the students were not only using the learned formal vocabulary, but that they were interacting with one another in their second language. This prompted the desire to dig deeper.

In doing this project, we learned to create math learning environments for our students that allowed them to play, inquire, discuss, think and dig deeper. Our own reading and discussions provided us with ideas to explore in our classrooms and gave us the confidence to trust in the process, and to believe that our students would get there and beyond, if we gave them the time and resources to think things through. We moved away from explicit and whole group teaching and experimented with play-based and small groups in Grade 1. We made gains in our own mathematical understandings, improved our pedagogical practices and, as a result, saw growth in our students’ thinking, as well as their second language skills.

Activities and Resources

Our school-based PLC project this year began with a focus on Alex Lawson’s number sense continuum from the book What to Look For. By the time we began this project, we had interviewed and plotted our marker students along that continuum. We used a counting interview early in the Grade 1 year and with our Kinders to determine understanding of quantity, cardinality, magnitude and counting behaviours. With our Grade 1 students we also completed an addition word problem to begin working on strategies for combining and decomposing numbers. Although we did not require our students to speak French in these interviews, we took videos and noted the language used.

Based on our findings from these initial interviews, we prepared inquiry-based projects, play invitations and games specifically chosen to have our students work through number sense strategies. It was at about this time that we received notice about this project. We determined that we would continue with our math planning, but focus our learning on how to increase the language component with our Immersion students.

With our Kinder students, the flow in both the math and language learning was more organic. Teachers planned the environment to facilitate our learning goals and students were given the freedom to explore. With our students plotted on the continuum, we knew how to best meet the needs of each student. We also noted their language development as they played and interacted with teachers and amongst themselves. Students began first by using learned vocabulary (triangle vert, carré orange, etc.) and then added conversational language (ton tour, bravo, dommage, etc.) as they were exposed simply in playing with a French speaker.

We tracked student language and math development through observation (notes, video and audio recordings) and repeated our math interviews with the same questions from October again in February and May. Our Grade 1 students tracked their own learning and thinking with the Brightspace e-portfolio. Our professional learning community came together several times to discuss our observations, work through challenges and prepare for our next steps.

The physical resources that we used are listed as follows:

Professional Resources

  • What to Look For, Alex Lawson. Pearson Canada, 2015.
  • Fluency through Flexibility: How to Build Number Sense, Numbers 0-20, Christina Tondevold – also her website, PD in Your PJs, videos, courses, FB community and Building Math Minds online forum
  • Taking Shape: Activities to Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking, Bev Caswell, Catherine D. Bruce, Joan Moss, Tara Flynn and Zachary Hawes. Pearson Canada, 2016.
  • Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions, Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz
  • Twitter and Facebook – online professional learning communities

Read-Alouds and Student Books


  • Coding: Kodable, Move the Box, Hopscotch, Scratch Jr., Piko’s Blocks
  • Manipulatives: Number Line, Number Rack, Number Frames, Pattern Shapes, Pieces Basic, Geoboard, Dice, Money by mathies, Mathies, 10 Frame Fill, Thinking Blocks, Virtual Manipulatives
  • Number Sense: Prodigy, Make 10+, 100 Blocks, Touch Counts, Sudoku, Flow Free
  • French: Fun French
  • Book Creator
  • Brightspace Portfolios

Songs (created a YouTube playlist to be used as needed)

  • Les chiffres et les nombres 1-20, 20-50, 50-70, 70-100, Alain Le Lait
  • Où est le chat, Alain Le Lait


  • Idéllo – search criteria to find anything, including specific language levels
  • TFO: Peg + Chat – Peg and her cat encounter unexpected challenges that require them to use math and problem-solving skills to solve

Coding Resources

  • Osmo – Coding Awbie and number pack
  • Ozobots
  • Scratch Jr.


  • Most of the games we used came from the professional learning resources listed above
  • Splat! math, Steve Wyborney – 50 free PowerPoint slides to explore number sense in a fun and interactive way. Also links to blog (
  • Pinterest
  • Blokus
  • Jenga

Unexpected Challenges

Our greatest challenge in working through this project was that of time. The realities of classroom life, as well as the demands of teaching, including increased professional development in kindergarten, left us not wanting to come out of our classrooms as often as we had initially planned. As a result, we carried out more informal discussions, brainstorming on the go and working through our professional learning on our own time. We used more of our budget on physical resources, which will serve us as we continue to learn and explore our area of interest.

Another challenge was the departure of our board French Consultant. This left us with a lack of guidance, as well as our connection to FSL staff outside of our own school. We made some connections locally, but are looking forward to working with new teachers and our FSL learning community next school year.

We have determined that this project will be ongoing, that we will continue reading and exploring resources as we come to the end of this school year and will continue to implement new learning and strategies in our classrooms. We will also continue sharing and growing new French Immersion math teachers, as many teachers that make the transition from core to FI do not have a math background/interest/knowledge.


Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Our initial hope with this project was that through research, we could find the best means to help our students think critically and explore math at a deeper level, whilst still obtaining the second language skills of an Immersion program. We simultaneously explored two goals: that decreasing the cognitive load on students in their second language would allow for increased understandings in math, and that learning a second language in a cross-curricular manner would lead to more authentic understanding and use of the language, and thus to more proficient speakers.

The FD-ELK program lends itself easily to this style of teaching and learning. Our teachers became more purposeful in their planning for students and provided them with experiences to scaffold and advance their learning. They also developed more trust in the process, allowing for the time to think through, struggle productively and develop personal understandings.

The Grade 1 program required more thinking as we implemented a more play-based style of learning with the teacher working with small groups and the removal of subject-based timetabling. All subjects were interwoven throughout the day – math topics were explored through reading (mathologie books), math and language games were assigned strategically to small groups to incrementally advance learning strategies, and technology was integrated to increase independence.

In all three of our classes, we saw more spontaneous conversation in French than what we had seen previously. More formal assessment saw all of our student progress along the Lawson numeracy continuum and in comparing video interviews, we noticed students using more French as they worked through problems. In Grade 1, students moved up in reading levels at a higher rate than we had seen prior to implementing the more open structure in the classroom. Students did not all progress in the same way, but all of our students moved forward.


We shared our initial idea at the Fall 2017 Ontario Modern Language Teachers’ Association (OMLTA), introducing some of the games that we had used in our classrooms, as well as some of our early observations. At the Spring 2018 OMLTA conference, the project was presented again in a double session format, providing participants with all of the games, links to literacy and means for assessment and evaluation.

The OMLTA presentations led to a partnership with one of our teachers and the Pearson Canada publishing company. As a result, our ideas were shared at the Spring 2018 Ontario Association for Mathematics Education (OAME) and will be shared again at the Fall 2018 Association canadienne des professionels de l’immersion (ACPI) in partnership with Pearson and their mathologie program. Our teacher will continue to work with Pearson in educating French Immersion math teachers across Canada through professional development sessions.

Within our own board, one of our teachers presented a session to the kindergarten teachers about play-based math and the subsequent increase in the development of language. In our school, we shared through our Professional Learning Committee (PLC) meetings and included other teachers (English and French) in our idea that language could be developed with math. We worked with our Core French teacher, who is now using math games in her teaching with students from kindergarten through Grade 8 and seeing greater engagement and more authentic communication.

As we move forward, we hope to continue to work within our school board to decrease the intimidation of teaching math in an immersion program, and to bring forth our findings with regards to language development. We hope to get more involved in online professional learning communities on both Twitter and Facebook. We each have a learning goal to explore further and hope to come together again next year to dig deeper.


Project Evaluation

Our project successfully brought together the French Immersion teachers in a school implementing the program and allowed them to explore best practices around teaching math and developing an authentic use of language. Our students were successful in their language acquisition and were more interested than we have seen previously in math and reading in our classes. We believe that we confirmed our premise that language can be learned both authentically and across curriculum, and that will in turn result in a lessening of the cognitive load on our students as they learn and explore math.

Having the chance to explore these ideas again, we would narrow our scope of exploration, really focussing our research on more measurable outcomes. Our initial ideas led us down various paths and we allowed ourselves to be lead by our students. We would not change this, but would be more precise in our initial planning. We would also find more time together to work and discuss.

Our next step is to take the time to explore critical thinking in a second language. We would like to find the best ways to ask those deeper questions, and to provide students with the background knowledge that they need to be able to express their thinking in their second language. We think our findings from this project have given us a good base to continue exploring and moving forward.

Resources Used

Lawson, Alex. What to Look For. Pearson Canada, 2015.

Insight into students’ mathematical thinking and understanding. A framework of numeracy development to plot students, as well as to determine next steps for progress. Videos, blackline masters and e-text included.

Moss, J., Bruce, C., Caswell, B., Flynn, T., Hawes, Z. Taking Shape: Activities to Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking. Pearson Canada, 2016.

An exploration of spatial thinking in young children through videos, lesson plans, activities, research and more. Delve into symmetry, 2D and 3D shapes, coding and perspective taking.

Christina Tondevold – Build Math Minds

PD in Your PJs – number sense courses, games, assessments, FB community group and free online videos

Book: Mathematically Minded

Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions, Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz

How to structure and lead productive mathematical discussions. Going beyond simply getting to students’ ideas and making their thinking visible, but knowing what to do with those ideas. Provides a framework for planning and facilitating purposeful math discussions at those deeper levels of student learning.