Topic:  19th Century France and Bias


Meredith Birmingham

French III

Grade 11


Unit Rationale

Students will read a poem by Victor Hugo, Souvenir de la nuit du 4, and then explore themes and issues that are brought out in the poem.  Revolutionary and 19th century history will be a main focus because this information is important in order to fully understand the historic and political references of the poem.  Students will then investigate other areas, such as social class differences and music in order to gain a larger appreciation for the events of an extremely formative time period in French history.  Students will also examine issues surrounding bias in Hugo and music.


Essential Questions:

·         How does bias affect how we think about people or events?  How can we evaluate perspectives to determine bias?

·         How do countries shape how they are perceived by their citizens?


Students will be able to...

·         read sources of information in French

·         analyze sources for signs of bias

·         communicate knowledge to a wider audience

·         apply their understanding of bias, class, and national perception in French culture to current American culture

·         identify bias in the news media, comparing French and American news websites


Students will know...

·         present participles

·         the history of late 18th and 19th century France

·         the feelings of people toward Napoléon III (Victor Hugo, a modern historical summary)

·         the signs of class difference in 19th century France

·         the ways in which national identity were formed via national anthems


Students will already need to know...

·         grammar:  tenses and moods (present, imperfect, past perfect, future; indicative, imperative)

·         vocabulary acquisition skills:  able to efficiently look up words in an online or book dictionary


ACTFL Standards

·         Communication

o       Standard 1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.

o       Standard 1.2: Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.

o       Standard 1.3: Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.

·         Cultures

o       Standard 2.2: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied.

·         Connections

o       Standard 3.1: Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language.

o       Standard 3.2: Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures.

·         Comparisons

o       Standard 4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.

·         Communities

o       Standard 5.1: Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting.



·         Grammar

o       Identify and translate the present participle

·         History

o       Describe historical and political events in the late 18th and 19th century in France

o       Apply historical knowledge to the reading of Victor Hugo’s poem “Souvenir de la nuit du 4”

·         Bias

o       Identify biases about Napoléon III from various sources.

o       Describe the affect of bias on the way in which history is written, as evidenced by the way in which a country’s image is formed via national anthems.



·         Have students listen to the poem “Souvenir de la nuit du 4” and follow along in the text as a class (you can download it from the website linked to under the title “Audio:  Souvenir de la nuit du 4.”  Download the .zip file, then click on the .zip file to open a list of audio files, from which you can select Souvenir de la nuit du 4.mp3).  Then, divide students into three groups.  Students will reread the poem, then each group will focus on a different aspect (the scene, the characters, and the events) using handouts to guide their examination of the poem.

·         In the poem, note the underlined words (present participles).  Ask students what they notice about these words (they all end in –ant).  How do they think these words translate?  Teach present participle directly.  Have students complete group activity in which they talk to a partner, using prompts to form sentences that use the present participle.

·         As an opener, ask students what they know about the French Revolution.  Divide students into three groups.  Each will take a period of history (French Revolution, Napoléonic era, the 19th century revolutions).  Each group will research their time period online, note 5-10 important events, and then together, the class will create a timeline (which, if allowed, could be placed in the hallway).  Each group will give a short presentation to the rest of the class about their time period and its important people.

·         In groups, have students reread Hugo’s poem, with the goal of determining what Hugo thinks about Napoléon III.  Have students extract quotations from the poem to support their answers.

·         Students will read a short modern account of Napoléon III’s life.  As a class, make a Venn diagram comparing Hugo’s account of Napoléon to the modern account.  Have students write a reaction paper to the following prompts:  How do we decide which account is true?  How do we identify bias?  The modern account was written many years after the events; what affect does this distance have?

·         In collaboration with a Contemporary History class, have History students examine an American online newspaper while French students examine a French online newspaper (see handout).  Have both classes work together to compare what they found.  Discuss what stories they found on the front page, which were in the international section, and what differences they note.  Have students write reactions to what they have found:  What findings surprised them?  Why do they think differences in the news reported exist?

·         As a class listen to the Marseillaise while following along in the lyrics.  Have students complete handout, in which they will note characteristics of the song.  Do the same with the Star-Spangled Banner.  As a class, compare the ways in which each song represents its citizens and enemies, as well as the powers that it invokes to help them in their struggle.  Discuss:  What kind of image does each song give to its country and citizens?  Do students think that these images are  accurate?  What biases exist in these songs?  What is their purpose?





·         Daily observation of students’ progress during above activities

·         Entrance and exit ticket activities, tied to daily vocabulary, grammar, or culture points, student self-assessment, and/or student feedback to teacher on activities as appropriate

·         Progress on history research and timeline.



·         Present participle quiz

·         Group history presentation

·         Bias reaction essay

·         Media reaction essay