Autonomous Learning in Action Series #1


oh la la.001I’m learning French just like many people are learning English. I live in Thailand, so very few people speak French here, and I don’t get an opportunity to converse with native speakers except during my French class, but that’s only 3 hours per week, and it’s not a conversation; it’s a class with one native speaking teacher and 7-10 students. So how will I ever learn this language and actually get good at it??


Sitting in class, it reminded me just how challenging it is for people studying languages under the same circumstances. We are busy. We have lives. We don’t know any native speakers. But we REALLY, REALLY want to achieve fluency in a language not our own.

So I thought we could sort of do it together.

For the next few posts, I plan to share what I’m doing to learn and practice French using the principles and activities I share on this site – autonomous learning principles that get us talking and writing, instead of the silent “in your head” kind of studying we normally do on our own.

So let’s get started!listening

First, I’ll tell you where I’m at in French. I am currently taking a French class at Alliance Française in Bangkok at the Beginner level. Ten years ago, I took French classes, as well. I think at that point I was at the B1 or Intermediate level in reading and writing, but I could not understand any native speech. Listening skills have always been SO hard for me! I plan to work a lot on listening.

polka dot dress


As for speaking, like most people, I am VERY self-conscious and don’t like to speak French in front of others. That’s another thing I will be working on – confidence! And confidence comes from being good at something, and getting good at something takes practice, practice, practice! So I will be doing a lot of speaking practice on my own. As you well know, we don’t get NEARLY enough time to practice speaking in class.

As I start my French lessons again after 10 years of not studying, I have a lot of catching up to do, so I’m going to start with vocabulary exercises. Vocabulary words are the building blocks to conversation, and I want LOTS of blocks to work with, so I’m using Story Cubes (see my post on Story Cubes here) to help rebuild my vocabulary. I know that most of you don’t have Story Cubes, so I’ve developed Downloadable Story Cards to share with you so you can do the same activity for your own autonomous learning:

Story Starter Cards

Verb Cards

Foreign Lands Story Cards

Here’s how I used the cards…

(Of course, I am doing these activities for French, but I will give examples for studying English here.)

Choose a set of cards (above). I’m going to use the Verb Cards for this activity. Print color copies of the cards (I haven’t tried them in black and white, so I don’t know how they would turn out, and besides, things are so much better in color!) and cut them up. I laminated mine, as I also use them for teaching. There are 60 cards per set.

Step 1: Mix up the cards and randomly draw 6 cards.

story card example draw

Step 2: List all of the verbs or verb phrases you can think of for each card. Use a translator or dictionary to  translate the verbs and phrases you don’t know yet.



burn, light, set on fire, ignite, heat





cook, bake, fry, boil, prepare a meal





dig, shovel, plant, garden





dance, skip, jump, leap, hop, prance





sleep, dream, snooze, nap, rest





lock, unlock, secure, set free



As you can see, there can be many interpretations of the cards. That is intentional. The purpose of the cards is to stir ideas, so anything you associate with the cards is fine; it’s all about building our vocabulary!

Step 3: Using the six cards, make up a story and write it down. (Don’t worry too much about perfection just yet. When you are working independently, it’s hard to know if you are getting things just right, but don’t let that stop you from practicing. This is really about vocabulary building and expressing yourself. It also helps you a little bit with grammar because you want to say things properly, so you will likely look things up. Again, don’t worry too much if you don’t have someone to correct your work. If you are following me in this, you will be reading a lot of good writing, and those grammar rules will eventually sink in naturally, just like the grammar rules of your native language did when you were little.)

A quick story example:

I was planting my garden when I realized I had lost my keys. I was locked out of my house! I was cold, so I lit a fire in the fire pit. I danced to warm up. Finally, someone came to open the door. I made dinner, and because I was tired, I took a nap.

Here’s what my mess looks like:

sample 1















As you can see at the bottom of the second page, I did some grammar work in looking up the conjugations for the word planter (to plant in English). You may do the same thing with words you are unfamiliar with, as you don’t want to be stuck talking in the present tense all the time. For regular verbs, you will soon become familiar with the patterns, and for the irregular verbs, it gives you some extra practice.

If you are taking a class, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher to quickly check your work. My paragraph at the top of the second page is short enough that a native French speaker will be able to quickly read over it and make some notes about what to fix. Your teacher will likely be thrilled to see you taking initiative in learning and will be happy to help. If not, don’t let that stop you. With lots of reading, listening, and mimicking speech, your grammar will straighten itself out in time. Right now, it is more important that you focus on the message you are trying to convey. If it can be understood, it’s all good!

Step 4: Write at least 3 sentences with a different subject for each verb card. For example:

burn: 1. I burned a hole in my jeans. 2. Joe is burning his garbage in his backyard. 3. They are going to burn wood in the fireplace tonight.

cook: 1. She is cooking supper for her boyfriend. 2. I am going to cook a turkey for the holidays. 3. We cooked every night this week instead of going to a restaurant.

garden: 1. I love to garden in the summer. 2. Jane gardens because she likes organic food. 3. Did you garden this weekend or just play?

dance: 1. Pat went dancing last weekend. 2. I love dancing in my living room when nobody is watching. 3. They took dancing lessons so they could dance at their wedding.

sleep: 1. Matthew likes to sleep late on Saturday mornings. 2. They sleep in cheap hotels when they travel for work. 3. I sleep for 7-8 hours a night.

lock: 1. I forgot to lock the door to my house, so I had to go back and was late for the party. 2. She locked the door so she could have some privacy. 3. They always lock the shed so nobody can steal their lawn mower.

You could do this for just one verb per card, or all of the verb examples you came up with for the cards. It all depends on how much time you have and how motivated you are. When thinking of sentences, don’t just use words you know. Think of sentences you might really say, and look up the words you don’t know.

And again, here is what mine looks like. Neatness is NOT a concern here 🙂

example 2















Step 5: Use the verb cards as flashcards and try to recall the verbs from memory. Also, make sentences from the words. Put the cards you have studied into an envelope marked “REVIEW”
and start on another set. Occasionally review the cards in your REVIEW envelope. Go through example 3the 60 cards in the set using these or other techniques you come up with.

Of course I did not do this all in one day. I did this over several days (and will continue until I finish the card set) and I also did the homework from the workbook that my teacher assigned. If you don’t want to use the cards I provided, make your own cards from the vocabulary in the book you are using for class, or vocabulary you know you want to learn.

In the next post, I will share what I am doing to get more exposure to native spoken French, as well as how I practice speaking. Until then…Happy Autonomous Learning!




About the Author
Lori Michele Kelley

Lori has Master’s degree in TESL and has taught English and Intercultural Communication in the United States, Turkey, South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand. She also develops and conducts teacher development workshops for both pre- and in-service teachers. Riding pillion on backroads in the tropics and wherever else there are good roadside coffee shops is one of her favorite things to do. She’s also quite fond of the water and made her husband promise they could live on a houseboat someday.