Thursday, 30 May 2013

Jeu du baccalauréat

This is a very good game for any lesson, but especially good for the end of term when your energy is flagging and you want the class to be doing most of the work!  You give pupils a set of categories (e.g. towns in France, food, drink, objects in the classroom, objects around the home, hobbies, sports).  They draw a column for each category and then you give them a letter.  They have to find a vocab item for each letter in a given time limit (e.g. 3 minutes).  They can work individually or in pairs/small groups.  If a group finishes before the time has expired you can stop everyone.  Pupils could use dictionaries if you want dictionary use to be an aim.

Pupils get two points for an item which no-one else has got and one point for an unoriginal one.

An alternative would allow students to put in as many words as they can think of for each category. In this case you would not award extra points for original answers.

The game practises vocab and keeps pupils pretty quiet (if that’s what you want).  The tricky bit is the correcting of answers after each round, which can get a bit noisy, but it does teach pupils to listen to others. If the correcting together is too noisy or time-consuming, then you can take the sheets home to look through quickly and choose winners.

Americans call this game Categories and it can work at all levels. You just have to adjust the categories.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Describe a bedroom pairwork task

Describing what's in a bedroom is a fairly standard near beginners' task in the language classroom. It makes sense to combine it with simple prepositions and the phrase il y a.

Il y a un ordinateur sur le bureau
Il y a des livres sur les étagères.
Il y a une affiche sur le mur.

Some teachers might find this approach a little predictable, but it serves a valid linguistic purpose and relates to the child's own experience.

Once the key language has been acquired (vocabulary, prepositions and il y a) you could spice up the task by getting students to work in pairs describing a simple aerial view of a bedroom (or any room, for that matter). To help them you would need to provide them with other phrases such as: dans le coin, à gauche, à droite, au milieu. Pupil A describes their picture to pupil B who has to draw it on a blank piece of paper or mini whiteboard. Then pupil B describes their picture to pupil A. Good pairs may well turn this into a dialogue with some limited questioning: la chaise, c'est à gauche de la porte ou à droite?

Weaker groups could be given plenty of written support on a help sheet or on the board.

This would be a good 20 minute task towards the end of a teaching sequence on prepositions or could easily be used with a more advanced group for revision.

Pupils could design their own simple overhead views of rooms or you could find them online. The one above came up in a Google search.

There is also James Mollison's well publicised Kids' Bedrooms Around the World which could be used. It is mentioned here, for example. It has stronger cultural value, but may make less sense to the teacher as overhead views are easier to describe and the Mollison pictures contain less controllable vocabulary. I would be tempted to use these almost as an afterthought, not as part of the main teaching sequence.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Frenchteacher survey results

I've had 93 responses so far to my Survey Monkey questionnaire about I kept it brief and to the point. I wanted to find out:

  • which sections were most used
  • whether users would appreciate more model answers to worksheets
  • areas which could be further developed
  • if the site is easy to navigate
  • any other comments
The most used sections of the site are the A-level section, followed by the Y10-11 (intermediate) section. These sections are used a good deal more than the Y7, Y8 and Y9 sections, which, in any case, have fewer resources on them.

Nearly 80% of respondents said they would like to see model answers to worksheets. I'll try to make some progress on this, but it will be impossible to provide answers to everything! I'll focus on the A-level grammar exercises in the first instance. To be honest, I would rather spend my time producing fresh material, but do expect to see some more answers. I had always assumed that tecahers would not need answers, but I do see how model answers would save time and allow sheets to be given to students with answers for self-marking.

As for areas which could be further developed, there was very little pattern to answers here. A few mentioned listening resources and I have been thinking about this for a while. Of course, because the site is for teachers, not pupils (the latter should not be given login details), this affects the type of exercise I could produce. For the same reason, I do not propose to offer interactive exercises.

Almost everyone found the site easy to navigate

As for other comments, many were kind enough to praise the site. Many thanks. My ego was suitabvly massaged.

Thank you to all those who took a few moments to answer the questions. My two actions points will therefore be: some more model answers and further explore listening resources.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Vocab to story

This is an activity for a very good intermediate or an advanced group of students.

First, establish six vocabulary categories, say: animals, furniture, means of transport, technology, science and geography. Then decide on the name of a personality, preferably French-speaking.

For each category do a brainstorming session with the whole group, or get students to do it in pairs if they are keen enough. Write down on the board all the words you can come up with. This shoud take at least ten minutes.

Next, get the group to pick one word from each category.

Now it's story time. Together with the group, or, once again in pairs or groups, the class has to produce a fantasy story of six complex sentences, with each chosen word featuring once in each sentence. Stress to the class that the aim is NOT to get every word into one sentence.

If done in pairs or groups you can then listen to each story. You may prefer to do the task all together as some groups may lack the imagination to produce good stories on their own.

The whole task should take around 30 minutes, including 10 minutes for vocab brainstorming. By the end the class will have revised or learned vocabulary, practised listening and speaking and improved their grammar.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Spirit of Harmony

I enjoyed using music and song in language lessons and, with the help of some others, wrote a page on using music in MFL lessons. It's here.

There's a good deal of talk about phonics at the moment. In the barbershop singing style there is a great focus on the production of sounds, since we have to produce well blended, accurate vowels. If everyone sings the right notes (preferably in the right order) with the same sounding vowels, then you get the fabulous "expanded sound" and "ring" which audiences and singers enjoy.

There is, as far as I know, no French language barbershop, as it is essentially a North American style, later taken up in anglophone countries, usually featuring American songs written in the first half of the twentieth century. However, French "pure" vowels would lend themselves well to the style and, indeed, would make the music easier to sing, given the relative absence of diphthongs.

Teachers could easily design musical warm-ups to practise French vowels. Frère Jacques has a good range of vowels, plus the uvular "r". Children should have some fun practising mouth shapes, just as we singers do.

Anyway, here is our chorus Spirit of Harmony photographed at the BABS (British Association of Barbershop Singers) national convention SING at the Bournemouth International Centre, May 2013. Images: BABS

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Habit-forming, pros and cons

I'm not talking about behaviourist habit forming here, that notion that language could be acquired by an elaborate process of stimulus and response, but about we as teachers use habits to further student learning.

This occurred to me after reading Tom Sherrington's headguruteacher blog about flipped classrooms. He described how his physics classes got into the routine of previewing material before lessons so that classes would be more focused on discussion, question and answer that just transmission of knowledge. Some (including me) are sceptical about the flipped classroom concept, but once the routine is established, it can surely work.

Routines are useful to us. First there are the daily classroom routines we use to start and end lessons, to move from one activity to another, to set and collect homework, to police pair and group work and so on. It's hard to imagine an effective MFL teacher who does not use these.

Then the are the routines we employ as part of our methodology. My AS French classes became used to being introduced to a topic via lists of oral questions with attached vocabulary. They knew I would introduce the topic with an oral synonyms or definitions exercise, followed by some whole group question-answer to get them going and provide good model answers, followed by paired question-answer which the students would expect to lead to a write-up for homework. The expectation was that short answers would not do and students routinely produced short paragraph answers, developing their range and accuracy, whilst producing their own model answers to be referred to at oral exam revision time.

A predictable routine to teaching texts gives confidence to students. Reading aloud by teacher, some group repetition, student reading out loud, find the French, short term memory oral gap fill, correcting false sentences, then full blown question-answer - all this forms a useful routine which students get comfortable with and which, therefore, promotes learning.

A routine approach to flashcard use or picture sequences helps pupils stay with you and understand why you are doing each task in that way. Even better if you share this "secret information" with your class.

The point is that habits help students understand what is going on. When working in the target language clarity is vital, because all too often we over-estimate how much pupils understand. It is vital we lose students as little as possible.

You can go too far with habits, though. If you use the same routine too often the class will get bored, so you have to judge just how far you should rely on students responding to habit. So, let's say that with pairwork you normally let students work with their regular partner next to them. They are comfortable with this and produce good language. Why not just occasionally mix things up to give a different twist to the lesson?

So, in sum, we should not shy away from routines and indeed should develop effective ones, whilst not becoming a slave to them.

Simple yes/no game

This is a resource I have just uploaded to You could use it with a fast Y8 group, or with Y9-11. The main aim is to practise negation with ne.. pas, but you could adapt it for other negatives. You could have bonus points for using ne.. jamais or ne... plus, for example. Point scoring should give an edge to the task and bright groups could then make their own examples if 15 each are not enough.

 Personne A Oui/Non game
Ask your partner the following questions. You must answer without saying oui or non. Every time you say oui or non you lose a point. Take turns with the questions.

1. Tu vas au lit à sept heures du soir?
2. Tu vas à l’église le dimanche matin ?
3. Tu aides tes parents beaucoup à la maison ?
4. Tu es membre d’un club au collège ?
5. Tu fais beaucoup de devoirs chaque soir ?
6. Tu manges des céréales au petit déjeuner ?
7. Tu te lèves à neuf heures d’habitude ?
8. Tu vas au supermarché avec tes parents ?
9. Tu aimes les maths ?
10. Tu parles espagnol ?
11. Tu vas au Japon régulièrement ?
12. Tu joues au football quelquefois ?
13. Tu aimes la musique classique ?
14. Tu manges beaucoup de chocolat ?
15. Tu bois du whisky ?


Personne B Oui/Non game
Ask your partner the following questions. You must answer without saying oui or non. Every time you say oui or non you lose a point. Take turns with the questions.

1. Tu parles italien?
2. Tu aimes les bonbons?
3. Tu joues au tennis de temps en temps?
4. Tu aimes la musique jazz ?
5. Tu visites la France quelquefois ?
6. Tu aimes l’histoire ?
7. Tu bois du jus d’orange ?
8. Tu vas au lit à dix heures ?
9. Tu fais de la gymnastique au collège ?
10. Tu aimes faire du shopping ?
11. Tu écoutes de la musique souvent ?
12. Tu joues d’un instrument de musique ?
13. Tu manges beaucoup de légumes ?
14. Tu vas chez le dentiste régulièrement ?
15. Tu travailles dans le jardin quelquefois ?

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Recette pour cookies à la vanille

Here is a homework idea which worked well for my Y10 class once. Just set the task for a homework, give them a week to complete and then have a tasting in class. Getting them to complete the vocab sheet should help mitigate any short-cuts on the part of pupils!  


1 tasse de beurre
1 tasse de sucre 1 œuf (gros de préférence)
1 cuillère à café de concentré de vanille
2 cuillères à café de levure
3 tasses de farine  


Préchauffer le four à thermostat 6 (180°C). Dans un récipient mélangez le beurre ainsi que le sucre, jusqu'à ce que le mélange devienne blanc.

Ajoutez l'oeuf ainsi que la vanille. Versez la farine et la levure tasse après tasse sans cesser de mélanger. La pâte devient de plus en plus compacte, alors pétrissez la manuellement avec la dernière tasse de farine.

Divisez la pâte en deux boules de taille égale. Etalez la pâte sur une planche farinée, puis découpez la pâte avec une forme. Placez les cookies sur une plaque (non grasse) au milieu du four.

Faites-les cuire pendant 4 à 12 minutes jusqu'à ce que les biscuits soient bien dorés (le temps de cuisson des cookies dépend de leur taille).
Complétez le vocabulaire

add – a__________           mix – m___________         pour – v__________
knead – p____________         divide – d____________    spread out – é__________    cut out – d___________      place – p________           cook – f________ ____           spoon - ___________ (f)         yeast - ________ (f)                oven - ______ (m)            container - ___________ (m)        mixture - ____________ (m)   flour - _________ (f)    cup - ________ (f)       ball – b________ (f)     size - _________      equal - ______      baking tray – p_______ (f) golden - ________

Saturday, 11 May 2013

No frills lesson plan to teach negative ne... pas

Here is an effective way to introduce and thoroughly practise the negative ne... pas with near beginners (late in Y7 in England). This could take around 30 minutes. Very little preparation needed.

Teacher starts by miming some simple activities whilst saying  je joue au football, je regarde la télé, je joue un jeu vidéo, je joue au tennis, j'écoute ma musique

Do group repetition of the sentences. Class could copy mimes for more fun.

Get a volunteer up to mime simple activities (sports are good) whilst you give a commentary:

Elle joue au tennis
Elle regarde la télé
Elle écoute de la musique etc

Get another volunteer up to mime activities. This time add a negative to each commentary:

Elle joue au tennis; elle ne joue pas au football.

Let the class quite hear a few examples of the negative. Support with a negative gesture (hands and face).

Introduce group repetition of negative sentences.

Then get your two volunteers to use negatives in first person; Je ne joue pas... help them by giving your own examples.

Then mix up first and third person questions with class and volunteers.

Il joue au football? Non, il ne joue pas...

At this point you could release some tension by asking the class in English what is going on in case some are lost. Once this is establish, go into a simple oral drill with the class. (Your volunteers have sat down.)

"I'll give you a sentence, you tell me you don't do that activity." (Give an example or two.)

Tu joues au football? Non, je ne joue pas au football.

Do lots of these - at least 15 - to get the structure well established.

OK, if the class is ready they can now do the same task in pairs. You could give them a bit more freedom, telling them the partner may give a positive or negative answer if they want. To support the class, have a list of sentences on the board to give written support.

You can then go to a written exercise along the same lines.

With a very quick class you could use your volunteers to introduce more persons of the verb (ils... vous... nous)

Later in the lesson or next time you could give notes for the class to copy down.

Why this is good:

Lots of easy target language
Clear structure
Lots of repetition practice
Bit of fun

Friday, 10 May 2013

Frenchteacher survey

It's just over a year since became a subscription site and I'd like to know a bit more about which sections people are using most and what people might like to see added to the site. I can't promise to respond to all requests, but if there is a pattern to responses, I'll certainly be receptive to new ideas.

One or two people have asked if I could include more model answers, so I have asked about that in the survey.

I have been thinking of putting on some listening resources for a while and have a French friend who might help me with that if there is demand. I am aware that course books do lots of good quality listening, so haven't thus far gone for it. We'll see...

The survey is really short and should take no more than two or three minutes.Select the link above.

By the way, recent additions include an article about today's story that CO2 emissions have exceeded the 400ppm level for the first time in about 4 million years. You'll see that I have a lot of resources on the environment, especially global warming, which is an issue that I obsess about just a bit.

For intermediate level sports fans I have done texts on Gareth Bale and Lionel Messi.

A bientôt.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The end of Authentik

I was disappointed to learn today that the Authentik Language Learning company has folded after many years of producing high quality newspapers, magazines and, latterly, online content.

I can recall using the Authentik French newspapers with their accompanying cassettes back in the 1980s. From Dublin University, they were latching on to the craze for "authenticity" in language learning. They would take texts from other sources, republish them, add exercises and produce tapes from radio broadcasts. Originally I'm pretty sure they only catered for A-level, but later on they went into lower levels and producing online content. Teachers would copy from them or get students to subscribe themselves.

My memories of the newspapers are very positive ones, though I do remember thinking it was slightly paradoxical that the newspapers were called Authentik when in fact they were not, if you see what I mean. Never mind, the concept was excellent and the exercises they produced were challenging and well conceived. When good audio recordings were rare and teachers often relied on taping poor quality long wave radio broadcasts for lessons, it was refreshing to get decent sounding material.

It looks like they have finally succumbed to falling numbers of subscribers, online competitors and the wealth of freely shared teacher resources. It's tough to produce paper magazines for such a small market. I wonder if they were quick enough to produce a competitive online package.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Nice vocab practice idea

This came from FrauSue, a German teacher who posts on the TES site.

For vocabulary revision, each student has a mini whiteboard or their rough book. The teacher gives a word and asks the class to think of any other semantically related words. While the class are writing down as many as they can think of in a time limit of, say, one or two minutes, the teacher writes down his or her own related word.

So, the teacher might announce the word piscine, then pupils could write words such as maillot de bain, eau, baignade, nager, se baigner, natation, plonger. Pupils get a point if one of their words matches the teacher's chosen word.

I think classes would go for this and the game has the advantage of being instantly adaptable to the level of the class. With a really smart group, the teacher could choose more obscure words; with a less able class the teacher could be more generous.

As a variation, a bright pupil could come to the front and lead the activity. Alternatively, with a well-disciplined group, the task could be done in groups of, say, four to six students.

Teachers delivering the GCSE course might find this a fun way of revising synonyms and associated words in preparation for the reading papers, in which examiners often use synonyms and near synonyms in matching tasks.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Spirit of Harmony 2013 Convention package

Totally off topic, but I thought I would share with you a recording made of our barbershop chorus Spirit of Harmony. We competed in the national convention competition at the Bournemouth International centre, coming fourth in the country and having a really enjoyable time. Here is how our dress rehearsal went. Warning: large cheese factor. Great fun though.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

So which pictures are best?

I recently wrote in defence of pictures in modern language teaching. In essence, they allow us to teach through the medium of the target language without recourse to English. In addition they can be stimulating, attention grabbing (so important!) and even amusing.

One point I neglected to mention in my post was the cultural information supplied by good pictures. The same point is made here. Far more effective to show a picture of a cultural icon than to describe it, especially when some students will come with less inter-cultural knowledge than others.

So what are the best pictures?
  • Clarity of image is the first prerequisite when teaching vocabulary. A stick figure or simple line drawing/icon does the job perfectly well, and may be less distracting than an amusing depiction of a word. (Stick figures can, in themselves, be amusing, of course, and the teacher can play on their expertise or lack thereof when establishing a rapport with a class.)
  • For more open-ended, advanced level activities a suggestive picture will be most productive. I blogged about that here
  • Authenticity of image is important when the stress is on intercultural understanding, but not so when the picture is being used to teach vocabulary or grammar.
  • Blurred images can be good for practice once words are known - you can achieve this by just adjusting your projector lens!
  • Partial images are motivational - using the keyhole/iris feature of the IWB is easy and effective for this.
  • Pictures based on the teacher's own life may be motivational.
  • Spot the Difference pictures are good.
Pupils themselves often enjoy drawing. My standard way of introducing both regular -er verbs and the perfect tense (regular avoir verbs) was to get students to come to the board and draw simple pictures, enabling the class to practice through question-answer and repetition the verb dessiner in all of its forms. Il a dessiné un chat ou un chien? (Il a dessiné...) Tu as dessiné un éléphant? (Non, j'ai dessiné...) Qu'est-ce qu'ils ont dessiné? (Ils ont dessiné...) J'ai dessiné une maison? (Non, vous avez dessiné....) You've got the idea. Mini whiteboards can then turn this into a further whole class or paired activity.

Picto is an excellent source of pictures for language teaching. The Half Baked Software people have effective simple images. Microsoft's image bank is, of course, very good and for sites with an "any use" policy (including commercial) I have been using Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons.

Here is an excellent (and I do mean excellent) link to an article by Harry Tuttle with ideas for using pictures at intermediate and advanced level:

Try here for further picture searches or here..