French Primary School Syllabus

The French Primary School curriculum has been revised.

The French Primary School syllabus, known as the programmes de l’école primaire, is established by the General Inspection of National Education and revised every 6 years. The latest revision, which went into effect in September 2008, asks teachers to reorient learning around the basic skills - reading, writing, spelling, and math.

Schooling in France is broken into three cycles. The national primary school syllabus indicates the learning objectives for each grade and the skills to be acquired by the end of each cycle:

  • Cycle I (Early Learning Cycle) includes the three Pre-Elementary School grades Pre-kindergarten 1, Pre-kindergarten 2, and Kindergarten (PS, MS and GS). GS is a transition class between Cycle I and Cycle II.
  • Cycle II (Basic Learning Cycle) includes GS (Kindergarten), CP (1st Grade) and CE1 (2nd Grade).
  • Cycle III (In-Depth Cycle) includes CE2, CM1 and CM2 (grades 3, 4 and 5).

Cycle I

This pre-elementary cycle begins at 2 1/2 or 3 years of age, once a child is toilet trained. These first three years at school are above all a place where children learn to become part of the group, to express themselves in a clear, coherent manner and where they prepare to master the skills they will be learning in elementary school.

There are six fields of learning with set goals to be met before moving on to Cycle II: 1)Appropriating language, 2)Discovering the written word, 3)Becoming a student, 4)Body awareness and basic movement skills, 5) Discovering the world, and 5) The Arts: Perceiving, Feeling, Imagining, Creating.

Children in the PS and MS grades spent much time in whole class activities either participating in story time, communication and language development, working with numbers and counting, or taking part in activities that develop coordination and fine or gross motor skills. The children are also regularly organized into small groups where they work on artistic projects or engage in activities that enhance self-awareness and develop knowledge of the world around them. The children’s ability to follow instructions and focus on a particular task is in constant progress. Time is also allotted for informal play, drawing, coloring, painting.

The Kindergarten (GS) year is oriented towards preparing the children for the 1st grade. The alphabetical principal is introduced, but the programs stipulate that the students don’t yet learn the alphabet in order or learn to read. Students begin to recognize letters, work with letter/sound correspondence and can distinguish the syllables in a word. Some will even be able to identify the sound that certain letters or groups of letters make. In this transitional year, a certain amount of time is spent doing exercises that develop the fine motor skills necessary for writing in cursive script - cutting out, tracing letter patterns, reproducing different graphic motifs, etc. Those who are ready will go from printing in all capital letters to using this joined-up writing style, starting with their name and short words. In 1st grade students no longer print, they write in cursive script .

Cycle II

The recent modifications in the national syllabus for children between six and ten have introduced changes questioned by many teachers. Other than a reduced but more rigorous curriculum, one of the highly contested innovations is the reduction of time spent in the classroom from 26 to 24 hours a week. The two hours “lost” should be used to benefit students lagging behind who will work in small groups with volunteer teachers.

Cycle II is the first level of what is called the socle commun or the common trunk of basic skills that the students must master before the end of junior high school and obligatory schooling. At the end of this cycle, in CE1, the students are evaluated to assure that their skills meet the requirements. Though there are required abilities in 7 fields of learning, the students spend the large majority of their class time working in French and mathematics. A summary of the requirements for these two subjects is given below.

In French the students should be able to use an appropriate vocabulary when speaking or writing, to easily decipher familiar and unfamiliar words when reading out loud or silently and to understand literary texts and other short texts, including instructions and directions, when reading or when being read to by the teacher. They should also be able to take a 5 line dictation without errors, write a 5 to 10 line text autonomously and copy a short text in legible cursive script keeping a neat, clean page.

At the end of the Cycle II, the skills in mathematics, science and technology include knowing, comparing and sequencing the whole numbers up to 1000, using the operative techniques of addition, subtraction and of multiplications by 2,3,4 and 5. Divisions concern only the numbers smaller than 100 whose quotient is a whole number when divided by 2 or 5. Students should also be able to do simple mental calculations with these operational techniques. In geometry students can recognize and correctly reproduce the usual solid and plane figures, use the common units of measure and solve simple problems. Students have also acquired the vocabulary permitting them to positions objects in relation to oneself, in relation to other objects and to describe the movement of objects.

The other fields of study for this cycle are: world language, information and communication technology, humanities ( poetry, art and music education, the recent past and the distant past), civics and living with others, autonomy and personal initiative.

Cycle III

Mastering the French language and the principal elements of mathematics remain the priorities in Cycle III (CE2, CM1, CM2). The students build on their knowledge in a progressive manner, from on year to the next. Below is an overview of the requirements for French and mathematics.

The students continue to become proficient in both oral and written French. The other disciplines – history, geography, mathematics, science, physical education and the arts — are also a means of attaining this mastery .

French includes continual practice in oral expression and in reading and writing. The literature studied will give the students a repertory of references that correspond to their age. Each year the children read the integral version of the classics of youth literature taken from a bibliography established by the National Ministry of Education. Following the instructions given, students should be able to write different types of texts - narration of facts, poetry, inventing stories, summaries of texts, reports. The students should acquire the ability to work in an organize manner, keeping a neat legible page by the end of this In-depth Learning Cycle .

Mastery of the French language in Cycle III calls for working with words and acquiring vocabulary, understanding the relationships between words (synonyms, homonyms, antonyms and polysemy) and organizing words into word families. In grammar the students must be able to recognize the different types of sentences, use punctuation correctly, know the parts of speech and identify the functions of words in a sentence. Students should also be able to conjugate the verbs of the first two groups (-er, -ir) and a selection of irregular verbs in the commonly used tenses as well as be able to identify these tenses in a text, using the appropriate vocabulary. Other aspects of grammar concern subject-verb agreement, noun-adjective agreement and agreement of the past participle for the verbs être and avoir. Spelling is mastered through exercises such as copying, memorizing and prepared dictations.

In numbers and arithmetic, at the end of Cycle III, the children should be able to write, name, compare and use whole numbers, decimal numbers and simple fractions . They have now mastered the 4 operational techniques (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and practice mental calculations daily, using these techniques. They can solve real-life problems using different strategies, which reinforces their understanding of the operational techniques and develops reasoning. In geometry the students know the principal plane and solid figures and the vocabulary that describes them. They have acquired the techniques for measuring, reproducing or constructing plane figures, geometrical objects or solids and can manipulate the commonly used tools (ruler, triangle, compass,etc.) used to carry out these actions. Students can also reproduce or construct diverse geometric objects when solving geometric problems. In the field of measurement students can measure and estimate length, mass, area and volume using the metric system, know the formula for the perimeter of a square, a rectangle and a circle. They can tell time, read a calendar and calculate a laps of time. They can also solve problems involving laps of time, length, perimeter and area. In data analysis and statistics students should be able to read tables, charts and graph and to collect, organize and display data in charts, tables or graphs. Students have acquired their first notions of proportionality, analyzing situations that introduce percentage, scale, conversion, enlargement or reduction of objects.

The other fields of learning for Cycle III include: Physical Education and Sports, World Language, Experimental Science and Technology (this falls into the sector of mathematic), Humanities, History and Geography, Information and Communication Techniques, Civics, Art and Art History.

At the end of cycle II (CE1) and again at the end of cycle III (CM2) the students are evaluated in the different fields of learning and receive a livret de compétences, or record book, containing their grades on these assessments. This booklet will follow them as they continue their schooling and the results of the last evaluation, the brevet des collèges taken at the end of middle school, is recorded as well.

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