Topic:  Edith Piaf and World War II


Meredith Birmingham

French IV

Grade 12


Unit Rationale

By studying Edith Piaf, students learn about a key figure in French culture.  This also opens up doors to grammatical points (such as negative adverbs in the song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”) and the cultural and political happenings during World War II in France.  Understanding the war from the French perspective not only expands students’ perspectives on one particular conflict, but also gives them the skills necessary to analyze other wars from someone else’s viewpoint.


Essential Questions:

·         What factors make war a different experience for different people?

·         How does music help us understand others?


Students will be able to...

·         translate and use negative adverbs

·         compare French and American experiences of the war

·         appreciate the music of Edith Piaf


Students will know...

·         the history of French involvement in World War II

·         what life during the war was like in France


Students will already need to know...

·         present, future, imperfect, perfect, simple past tenses


ACTFL Standards

·         Communication

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 2.1: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices 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.

o       Standard 5.2: Students show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment.



·         Negative adverbs

o       Recognize and use negative adverbs in conversation.

·         Edith Piaf

o       Appreciate the music of Edith Piaf

o       Analyze her involvement during World War II

·         World War II

o       Identify key events and people dealing with the war in France

o       Describe daily life for the French during the war

o       Compare French and American experiences during the war



·         Introduce by asking if anyone knows Edith Piaf.  Can they name any songs by her?  Show trailer from « La Môme » and introduce a bit about her life.  Play « Non, je ne regrette rien », with students reading along in the lyrics.

·         Use song to introduce negative adverbs.  Present “ne…rien,” then introduce other negative adverbs.  Have students practice using these constructions, using each negative to answer a question in a mock interrogation (see Activity:  Negative adverbs).

·         Introduce World War II via Edith Piaf’s “Où sont-ils, tous mes copains?”  Discuss:  What experience did Piaf’s song relate?  How did she feel about those who went off to war?  Do students think that these feelings are universal?  Can they give examples?

·         Ask students to volunteer information that they already know about World War II.  Make sure they know the main countries involved in Axis and Allied forces, the main figures in France, what spurred American involvement, the Holocaust, and how the war ended.  Then, watch a clip that summarizes these points with pictures and French text (see “Video:  World War II”).  Use provided vocabulary handout.  Note:  the end slide—“Plus jamais ça”—is a good opportunity to reinforce negative adverbs.

·         Have students read about Edith’s involvement during World War II.  Students will write a reaction essay, describing their reactions to Edith’s position during the war and hypothesizing why she may have acted as she did.

·         Watch Au revoir, les enfants.  As students watch the film, have them keep a character list, noting which characters side with which forces in the war and which actions serve as evidence for each character’s loyalty.  After the film, have students choose one character whose loyalties lay with the Resistance and one who sided with the collaborators.  For each character, students will write a journal entry explaining why the character took a certain action during the film.  The students should be thinking about the following questions:  What was daily life like for these characters?  What was it about their everyday experience that made them act as they did?

·         Compare American and French experiences in the war.  Have students interview someone who was alive during the war—or someone who could tell them stories from their own parents or siblings—about the experience on the home front.  Have students compare these experiences to those of the characters in Au revoir, les enfants in a 3-5 minute presentation to the class.

·         Jazz Club :  Have students host a music event for a lower level French class.  Students will divide into four groups.  One group will explain—in French—who Edith Piaf was and why she is famous.  Use visual aids.  The other three groups will choose one song by Piaf, which they will play for the class and then explain.  French food and drink could be provided, if desired.




·         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



·         Quiz:  negative adverbs

·         Piaf reaction essay

·         Au Revoir, Les Enfants journals

·         American-French experience comparison presentation

·         Jazz Club presentation pieces