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A few years into my TCI (teaching with comprehensible input) journey, I read Stephen Krashen’s book, The Power of Reading, and was sold. The insights from this book made me realize how important it was to get my students to read. I knew that they needed longer stories, novellas or readers, that would be accessible to their level of study, and I knew that I needed to set up the stories and characters in a way that would entice my students to actually want to pick up the book and read it. I suspected that if I went about things the right way, that they would to know what was going to happen and maybe even read ahead! Back in the day, we would just open the book and dive right in. With no background about the characters, the culture or the time in history when the story was set, I was missing on out hooking my students and I knew it. 

For the last few years, my students have read Nuits Mystérieuses à Lyon in October or November of French II. This book is chock full of French culture and is set in a very important French city.

It is the story of two American boys, Kevin and Dylan, who spend the summer in Lyon, France before heading off to college in the fall. Over the course of their three-month stay, the situation for one of the two boys goes from bad to worse. From the creepy house where he lives to his creepy home-stay family, Kevin cannot escape the feeling that he is being watched and that he is living in a kind of nightmare.

Between the creepy tone of the storyline and my students’ love of horror films, I decided to set up this reader with a creepy modified MovieTalk. As I scoured the Internet for scary shorts, I had the good fortune to find Lights Out. With printed screen shots in hand, I gave the students just enough insight into the video to pique their interest. And then, we were off to the movies. 

With my anticipated structures on the board in both French and English I systematically started and stopped the video in a way that built not only anticipation, but also a little bit of fear. Asking questions using whatever grammar I needed – conditional, future, subjunctive, preterite, imperfect, etc…, I had them guess what would happen next, tell me what they would do, etc… —almost entirely in French! It was magical. 

Through this little experiment, I learned that watching a scary video is like looking at the accident on the side of the road. You don’t want to look but you cannot help yourself. If my students want to look this badly, then I have the best chance ever for them to acquire French. During these scary shorts, they are so engaged in what is going on in the video that they almost forgot we are speaking French. They answer my questions and signal me when they don’t understand because they don’t want to miss anything. When their FOMO is at an all-time high, they are primed to acquire the French that I am working so hard to get in their heads.

Setting up Nuits Mystérieuses à Lyon with a creepy video was so successful that I now bookend the reader by dong one at the end as well. Below are some of my favorite creepy videos that I have used over the last couple of years with success.

Clearly, creepy videos are not for everyone and they are certainly not appropriate for all ages, groups or schools. But when the setting is right, don’t hesitate to capitalize on their interest to help set the tone for jump scares and anticipation.


Some of my favorite creepy shorts:

Lights Out

Closet Space

Attic Panic


The Piano Tuner


Anticipated structures for Lights Out:

éteint/a éteint la lumière – turns off/turned off the light

allume/a allumé la lumière – turns on/turned on the light

a peur – is afraid (has fear)

elle vient de… – she just… (elle vient de fermer la porte – she just closed the door)

C’est flippant – that is creepy


Potential questions to get them talking and thinking:

After she closes the bathroom door:  Qu’est-ce qu’elle vient de faire?  Elle vient de se laver les mains? (What did she just do?  Did she just wash her hands?) 

After things start to get creepy, I ask loads of prediction questions: 

Qu’est-ce qui se passera?  (What will happen?)  Elle allumera la lumière?  (Will she turn on the light?)  Elle quittera la maison?  (Will she leave the house?)  Elle se couchera?  (Will she go to bed?)

What-would-you-do questions:

Qu’est-ce que tu ferais si tu étais la femme?  (What would you do if you were the woman?)  Tu téléphonerais à la police? (Would you call the police?)  Tu te coucherais?  (Would you go to bed?)  Tu pleurerais?  (Would you cry?)

Qu’est-ce que tu veux qu’elle fasse? (What do you want her to do?)  Tu veux qu’elle quitte la maison?  (Do you want her to leave the house?)

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Donna Tatum-Johns is a veteran French teacher in Louisville, Kentucky with more than 30 years of experience, and she is also a knock-your-socks-off trainer who you can meet at iFLT this summer! Visit Donna’s blog at

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