Using ChatGPT to efficiently write French reading activities – and 9 practical ways to use them

using ChatGPT to write French reading activities

I’ve written about the use of AI in world language class recently, but I wanted to share some ideas about using ChatGPT to write French reading activities. If you’re not familiar with AI, it can be an amazing tool for differentiation and repetition, something that is very useful in the comprehensible input class! It can cut your planning time down to just a few minutes, as you won’t have to come up with creative ideas for stories OR look for reading passages that fit your needs. Instead, you are going to come up with a variety of stories that use exactly the level and vocabulary/structures that you want.

Using ChatGPT to write the stories

First, you will need to log in to ChatGPT – if you don’t already have an account, you’ll want to sign up for one. It’s entirely free at this point. (Update: using ChatGPT is still free, but if you want the most recent version it’s $20/month. You don’t need to pay if you’re just using ChatGPT to write text prompts, but for other features you may need to upgrade).

Next, you’ll need to supply your prompt so the AI knows what to produce. I’m wanting to get a selection of 1-paragaph short stories that are at the A1 (novice-mid to novice-high level) using the words vache, ne veut pas, belle and vite. I will need to tell ChatGPT to do exactly that. Here’s the prompt I will type in:

“Write a short story of 1 paragraph in CEFR level A1 French that uses the words vache, ne veut pas, belle, and vite.”

Here is the first resulting paragraph:

Il y a une vache qui est très belle. Elle ne veut pas manger vite, elle préfère prendre son temps.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite long enough. So I’m going to change my prompt a little bit and let ChatGPT try again. Instead of 1 paragraph, I will tell it 150 words. Here are my results from this second prompt:

Il y a une belle vache dans le champ. Elle ne veut pas venir à moi. Je marche vite vers elle mais elle court loin. Je suis triste parce que je veux la toucher. Je reviens le lendemain et la vache est toujours là. Cette fois-ci, elle ne court pas loin. Elle me regarde et je lui parle doucement. Elle vient à moi et je peux la toucher. Je suis heureux. La vache est belle et gentille.

That’s much better! Once I have that first story, I’m going to try using ChatGPT to write another story. I typed in:

Thank you! Could you write a second story with the same parameters?

Yes, I’m talking to a computer. So no real need to say thank you, but I want to make sure chatGPT feels appreciated. Here is my second story:

Il y a une vache dans le jardin. Elle ne veut pas manger. Je suis inquiet parce qu’elle a l’air malade. Je vais vite chercher le vétérinaire. Il arrive et examine la vache. Il dit qu’elle n’est pas malade, juste un peu triste. Il lui donne un médicament pour la rendre heureuse. La vache se sent mieux et commence à manger. Elle est de nouveau belle et en bonne santé. Je suis content. La vache est importante pour moi et je veux qu’elle soit heureuse.

You’ll notice that this paragraph is a little more difficult – there are some direct and indirect object pronouns in there, as well as a subjunctive. But that’s OK, it will work for our purposes. It’s also a VERY different story, plotwise. Now I’m going to try using ChatGPT to write a third paragraph. Here’s my prompt:

Great! Could you write a third story with the same parameters, but no subjunctive?

My results:

Il y a une vache dans le pré. Elle ne veut pas me suivre. Je cours vite vers elle, mais elle reste à sa place. Je suis détonné car d’habitude elle est toujours à mes côtés. Je découte attentivement et je réalise qu’elle meugle tristement. Je m’approche d’elle et je découte son histoire. Elle me raconte que sa petite vache est malade et qu’elle s’inquiète pour elle. Je comprends alors pourquoi elle ne veut pas me suivre. Je lui promets de l’aider à soigner sa petite vache. Elle me sourit et me suit. Nous allons tous les deux vite vers la petite vache malade. Nous la soignons et elle se remet vite. La vache est de nouveau heureuse et belle.

This one isn’t bad, but it’s got quite a few new vocabulary words. I can easily change those to edit something easier in place of those words. Or I can leave it the way it is.

Using ChatGPT - a screenshot

Now I want a super easy story, one that even my students who are struggling can get. Here are the parameters for story #4:

Perfect! Finally, please write a 100 word story in French using the words vache, belle and vite somewhere in the story. Please only use the verbs aller, dire, être, avoir, aimer, vouloir, faire and il y a.

And here is the resulting output:

Il y a une belle vache dans le champ. Elle aime faire des courses avec moi. Je lui dis qu’on va faire une course vite aujourd’hui. Elle est tout excitée et elle veut y aller tout de suite. Nous courons vite et elle est en tête tout le temps. Elle est fière d’être la plus rapide. Nous arrivons en premier et nous sommes tous les deux heureux. Je lui dis qu’elle est la meilleure vache de course que j’ai jamais vue. Elle me sourit et nous découtons les oiseaux chanter.

As you can see, ChatGPT didn’t quite stick with the super 7 verbs, so I will need to do a bit of editing on my end. Since this is for my weaker students, I probably will make a few other changes as well. But in just a few minutes, I have four different stories using exactly the vocabulary that I wanted to use, at a variety of different levels. Now I can go through each paragraph and make any changes that I want – adding vocabulary terms, changing things, adding details that I might want to use.

Now that I have my ChatGPT paragraphs, what do I do with them?

I’ve got 4 paragraphs generated by using ChatGPT, all using my target vocabulary and structures. Now I can decide what to do with them! One thing you might want to do is determine the level of difficulty for each paragraph. Then you can use this level to differentiate for your students.

You can differentiate the ChatGPT paragraphs in two different ways – either by the level of difficulty of the passage, or the level of difficulty of the text. You probably won’t want to put the most difficult task with the most difficult paragraph, or maybe you want your stronger students to work with paragraphs 3 and 4, while the weaker students might work with paragraphs 1 and 2. You can use the paragraphs as types of task cards or centers, or just assign one paragraph to each student and allow them to choose the task.

Draw the story: This is a simple task, but it requires the student to understand the story. Tell them to read the paragraph and illustrate the story. You can choose how many images they need to draw, or how detailed they need to be. I generally tell my students that any information mentioned in the story MUST be shown somewhere in the illustration.

Analysis: Have students find all of the verbs, or the nouns, or the adjectives, or whatever you want to focus on! They don’t necessarily need to understand the ChatGPT story to do this one, but it can be useful as a pop-up grammar sort of story.

Rewrite with details: Have students take the story and extend it by adding details. This could be specific (add more adjectives, or adverbs, or sequencing words) or open (add 2 more sentences to make the story more interesting).

Retell the story: Tell the story from the point of view of the main character.

Comprehension questions: One of the more basic tasks, just ask some simple questions about what happened in the story.

Change the tense: If you teach multiple levels, this can be useful. Have students turn the ChatGPT text that was written in the present to the past tense, or the future. You can get more use out of the same batch of stories by doing this!

Dictée: Once students have read the ChatGPT stories, you can turn them into a dictée. Practice listening skills as well as reading with the same passages.

Scrambled sentences: After the students have read the paragraphs, scramble the sentences and have them put them back in the correct order.

Act out the story: Have your students work in groups to act out the story for the class.

Conclusion

As you can see, using ChatGPT is easy, but it isn’t perfect. But it is a useful tool when trying to come up with creative ideas and differentiation. While teachers may have the time to come up with a reading passage on their own, coming up with multiple versions is very time-consuming. And while authentic resources are preferable in many cases, it’s going to be near impossible to find the exact thing you need if you have specific requirements.

If you do decide to try using ChatGPT, the most important thing is to learn how to give the program the parameters for what you want it to do. I have had more success using the CEFR levels than the ACTFL levels, so you may want to try that. I’ve also found that non-fiction passages tend to be questionable, with incorrect information popping up frequently. For this reason, I suggest using it for short stories and conversations rather than non-fiction topics.

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