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Isabelle Giorgis at Maryland Foreign Language Association conference on October 14, 2023.

Isabelle Giorgis at the Maryland Foreign Language Association Conference on October 14, 2023

Teaching Language Through Storytelling

“I teach with stories, songs, and dialogues,” said Lower School French teacher Isabelle Giorgis. Giorgis, who has taught global French studies at Gilman for 17 years, has created a French program made of her original work: stories, songs, biographies, and dialogues all featured in a website, a project she dove into during her six-month sabbatical in 2022.

“My goal was to create a website of my body of work as well as my methods of teaching French with complete language, in context, and to make it available to fellow teachers.” In this website, 12 stories she adapted and illustrated are featured from French fairy tales to African fables, from classic novels to historic narratives. These stories are adapted to the boys’ various grade levels, teaching the vocabulary and grammar they need while providing them with a meaningful and colorful message.

Her time off also allowed her to write and illustrate two children’s books: “The Carnival of the Animals: Le carnaval des animaux,” a collection of poems related to each creature of the famous symphony Camille Saint-Saëns told in both English and French, and “The Diamond Rock: Le rocher du Diamant,” a bilingual, origin story with themes of nature, family, and culture that takes place on the Caribbean island of Martinique, where the author’s father is from. During her sabbatical, Giorgis had a chance to travel to Martinique, as well as to Paris, and Corsica, French, where her sister and brother-in-law reside.

On each trip, she met with a local author — in Paris with Edith de Belleville, in Martinique with Jeannine Lafontaine, and in Corsica with Xavier Casanova. She was inspired by their passion and attachment to their culture, as well as their original and authentic work. 

Additionally, Giorgis wrote thematic songs teaching expressions and vocabulary as well as history about Hannibal Barca and Roland of Ronceveau. Then, she recorded those songs with Lower School music teacher Amy Cyman on the flute and grade 5-12 music teacher Cheryl Nkeba on the bassoon. Giorgis said she is grateful for the collaborations with colleagues.

Giorgis herself was born and raised in Paris and came to the United States as a young adult. But she draws from her family’s strong heritage and classical education when instructing students, wearing many hats as she steps into a room as a teacher — writer, illustrator, storyteller, dancer, and singer, to name a few. “Teaching the younger boys is to motivate them: their bodies, minds, and spirits must be in movement, constantly activated and engaged with beauty, laughter, action, and drama.”

Having taught every grade from pre-k through college, Giorgis noted that she has learned from many mentors along the way. “You have to be humble in your creative process,” she said. Her materials and holistic style of teaching encompass what she calls the full experience. “What I hope to provide beyond language skill are memories for a lifetime.”

Giorgis is grateful to the Riepe family for funding the grant that gave her the opportunity of a lifetime to discover, create, and grow. In a letter to the family after her return from sabbatical, she said:

I came back for this new school year, rejuvenated, reinvigorated. I feel stronger and happier. I also know that, as much as I enjoyed the peace, freedom, and independence of being away from the classroom, I truly missed the boys; this beautiful experience made me better appreciate the joy of teaching, to be face-to-face with my students in the classroom. I am forever grateful for this incomparable gift, and I will surely encourage other educators to be part of such a journey.


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