Friday, 29 November 2013


I have been taking a look at Kahoot!, a phone/tablet-friendly app which allows teachers to create multi-choice quizzes, polls and surveys.

The Edshelf site describes it thus:

Using a simple and speedy ‘drag n drop’ creation tool, educators create and manage ‘Kahoots’ in the form of quizzes, surveys or polls related to the topics they're teaching; either asking quick questions ‘on the go’ to get feedback or opinion, or more in depth questions for formative assessment. Content can be shared with learners, colleagues or fellow educators globally.

Educators launch their Kahoots on the screen at the front of the class to their learners, who join through their personal devices. In real-time and with gaming elements to increase engagement and motivation, learners answer questions through their personal devices. Educators get an overview of the current knowledge levels of everyone in the room, and can adapt their teaching accordingly.

I had a go with the multi-choice quiz function. You create a free account and can immediately create your quiz. Each question can have four answers. You can add pictures to make your quiz more attractive. You can set a time limit for each question, from 5 seconds to two minutes. Questions can get points if you choose this option. Once it is finished, you can then get students to sign up and take part in the quiz.

The result is colourful and bold, well suited to mobile devices, accompanied by some music to add drama.

On the plus side, it is free and you can create a quiz very quickly, making it available to a class who can compete on it very easily. You can also tailor exercises to the abilities and tastes of your class. The competitive elee element will no doubt appeal to some classes and teachers. But we are, when it comes down to it, talking about a multi-choice test here. For linguists, the Hot Potato package of tasks provides more sophistication and range, even if not every game works perfectly on an iPad. A pay site such as Textivate may be less flashy, but offers a far greater variety of authoring options. Taskmagic 3, although a significant investment, has a much graeter "fun" factor, if that is what you are looking for.

I have to say that my first reaction is that this is a triumph of style over substance. If the teacher can construct clever quizzes, then it can be worthwhile.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Silly jokes to translate

Here are some Tommy Cooper (UK comic, no longer with us) jokes translated into French. What were they originally?

Je suis allé chez le médecin l'autre jour. J'ai allongé le bras en disant: «ça fait mal quand je fais ça ». Il a dit: «Eh bien, ne le faites pas».

Je suis monté dans le grenier et j’ai trouvé un Stradivarius et un Rembrandt. Malheureusement Stradivarius était une peintre nul et Rembrandt a fait des violons moches.

Nous allions atterrir en avion et ça fait mal aux oreilles, n'est-ce pas? L'hôtesse m'a donné du chewing-gum. Je l'ai mis dans les oreilles. Il a fallu deux jours pour le faire sortir.

Un policier m'a arrêté, l'autre soir, il a tapé sur la fenêtre de la voiture et m’a dit: «Voulez-vous souffler dans ce sac, Monsieur. J'ai dit: «Pourquoi, monsieur l'agent?" Il a dit: «Mes frites sont trop chaudes».

Un homme entre dans une épicerie et il dit, je veux cinq livres de pommes de terre s'il vous plaît. L'épicier dit « nous ne vendons que des kilos ». Alors l'homme dit : « je prendrai cinq livres de kilos ».

J'ai pris un repas la nuit dernière. J'ai commandé tout en français. Tout le monde était surpris. C'était un restaurant chinois.

Mon ami a dit: «Mon chien ne mange pas de viande». J'ai dit: «Pourquoi pas?». Il a dit: «Nous ne lui en donnons pas »

Je suis allé à Blackpool en vacances et j’ai frappé à la porte de la première pension que j’ai trouvée. Une femme a passé la tête par une fenêtre à l'étage et a dit: «Que voulez-vous?». «Je voudrais rester ici ». 'Ok. Restez là ».

Je suis allé chez le médecin. Il a dit « vous avez une maladie très grave ». J'ai dit: «Je veux une deuxième opinion». Il a dit «D’accord, vous êtes laid aussi."

Monday, 18 November 2013

A fun way to teach daily routine

I came across this on the Teaching English site (BBC/British Council). It was an idea submitted by Jo Adkin and Jeff Fowler. I have adapted it considerably for a French class.

You need a list of 15 sentences on the whiteboard (out of order). These would be fine:

Je me réveille à 7 heures
Je me lève à 7 heures et quart
Je me brosse les dents
Je m'habille
Je prends le petit déjeuner à 7h 30
Je quitte la maison et je vais au collège
Je travaille en cours
Je déjeune à la cantine avec mes amis à une heure
Je rentre chez mois en bus à 17 heures
Je goûte
Je regarde la télé un peu
Je fais mes devoirs
Je prends le dîner avec mes parents à 20 heures
Je joue à la console
Je me couche à 10 heures

1.Teacher mimes the day in order . Pupils choose a sentence from the board.
2.Get a pupil up to the front to mime any of the day's events. This time pupils adapt the sentences to say "tu...." Watch out for the reflexive verbs where the pronoun changes.
3.Now cover up the sentences on the board and get individuals (or pairs if the atmosphere is right) to write down as many sentences as they can remember. (Break from oral/listening - quite moment in lesson)
4.Back into partner mode. One partner mimes an action, the other tells them what they are doing (alternate).
5.  If the class is good enough, each partner now has to recount the same daily routine from memory. Tell them not to worry about making mistakes. To add an element of competition, the partner who is listening could time the speaker to see how long they can go without stopping.
6.Lastly, the pairs recite their OWN daily routines, adapting the original one as much or as little as they can (differentiation).
7.Homework: write up (they have quite a few sentences already written down in rough)

There are variations you could work in. One which would work well for good classes: each person jots down five actions with times. The partner has to guess them with yes/no questions. First to get all five wins.

I have always found that classes respond well to tasks which require short term memory challenges and time limits/challenges. These can make quite mundane activities more motivating.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Boy-girl seating plans

About 20 years ago at the school I taught in, Ripon Grammar School, in the MFL department we introduced a boy-girl seating pattern in Y7 and Y8. We did not extend it beyond Y8 because setting usually meant there was an imbalance of the sexes, so it was not possible for every table to have a boy and a girl.

At the time we justified it with two main reasons: the more important one was that would discourage chatting and silliness between boys, thus creating a more civilised atmosphere in the classroom; the second, less plausible, reason was to do with the idea that boys and girls may have different approaches to learning, boys being on average more competitive and greater risk-takers, girls being more conscientious and worried about getting things right. In MFL lessons, where pair work plays such an important role, who you work with is important.

Apart from that we did not have a seating plan policy in the department as such. I would let children sit where they wanted, occasionally moving distracted ones, whilst colleagues sometimes produced structured seating plans, especially with more challenging classes.

My department agreed that the boy-girl system was a sensible policy which encouraged good behaviour and I would commend it to other language departments.

Looking back on this now I think there is a third good reason for boy-girl seating. In school, if you observe children at break and lunch, the younger children especially tend to congregate with members of their own sex. To force children to sit with someone of the opposite gender in the classroom may go some small way to giving children greater confidence with members of the opposite sex. I would sometimes use the line "this is a classroom, not a social club" to justify not allowing friends of the same sex to sit together.

If you have reservations about boy-girl seating plans for any reason, you could try it out now and again. It's a good idea in any case to have children change partners from time to time.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Implications of new accountability measures

I wonder whether we have all taken on board the possible implications of the DfE's new accountability measures due to come into force in 2016.

I quote from my ALL newsletter:

There is an additional new measure which will be the floor standard, and which will be published in league tables. This records the percentage of pupils receiving a ‘pass’ in English and mathematics, along with pupils’ average scores across a suite of eight qualifications consisting of English and mathematics; three further English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects; and three other high value qualifications: EBacc, other academic, arts or vocational. 

The original EBacc attainment measure remains unchanged as a soft accountability measure, and will be reported in performance tables. This consists of A*-C grades in each of: English, mathematics, two science subjects, history/geography, a foreign language. 

Now, there is no doubt that the EBacc accountability measure had a positive effect on the numbers taking a modern language GCSE examination this year (2013). There was a significant increase in linguists, though maybe not quite the game-changing figure some may have hoped for. Numbers rose back up to their level of 2010, no better than that. If the EBacc is now to become a measure of secondary importance, it is highly likely that MFL numbers will flatten or even fall away again. Minds will be focused on maths, English and the other six subjects - three of these must be Ebacc subjects, but not necessarily a language (i.e. sciences, history and geography).

It is also worth noting, in passing, that the Ofqual is reveiewing the status of some GCSE subjects, so it remains possible that pupils will not be able to count, for example, drama or PE as GCSEs.

We do not have enough young people studying languages at 16. Well under half of pupils take a language at GCSE. This figure should be higher if we are to give young people more opportunities and provide the linguists for the nation's needs.

I have always been of the opinion that, in the UK, a languages for all policy at 16 may not be the best solution. Teaching a foreign language is a hard sell and I am prepared to accept that some pupils may be better served doing something else.

However, there are plenty of potential linguists who are missing out on opportunities.

How we address this (given the political consensus about lack of compulsion at KS4) is another matter. To raise the status of MFL one possibility would be to encourage some universities to make a GCSE in MFL a minimum requirement for entry. This alone would have a dramatic effect on GCSE take-up.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Enriching verbs for advanced level French

A challenge for students at A-level is to achieve an appropriate register when speaking and writing discursive paragraphs or essays. As we know, language can be made richer in style and therefore more persuasive if, in particular, a greater variety of verbs are used. The list below is from a worksheet on You may find it a useful handout for students.

It is easy to use the list for oral and written exercises such as inventing sentences on a topic you are covering.

I would often tell classes to avoid the verbs être, avoir and causer in essays.
Causes et effets

In essays and discussion we often need to refer to causes and their effects. When doing so there are plenty of alternatives to the verb causer. Here are some possibilities with suggested translations in English. Try to work in a range of these to your essays and oral work.

provoquer        -           to cause
engendrer        -            to bring about, engender
déclencher      -            to trigger (off)
déchaîner        -            to unleash
produire           -           to produce, result in
créer                -           to create, produce
conduire à       -           to lead to
mener à           -           to lead to
amener            -           to bring about
entraîner          -           to involve, lead to
occasionner    -            to cause, bring about
aboutir à          -           to end up with, lead to

Avoiding être   
constituer                    Cela constitue une barrière importante
représente                  Cela représente un gain de 25% 
demeurer                    La situation demeure préoccupante

Avoiding avoir

disposer de                  Il dispose de plusieurs moyens pour lutter contre le chômage
posséder                     Elle possède trois voitures de luxe

Avoiding il y a

Il existe                        Il n'existe aucun moyen de transformer la situation

On trouve                    On trouve bon nombre de solutions possibles


Friday, 8 November 2013

frenchteacher updates

It's been reasonably busy at Frenchteacher Towers recently, though not quite as frenzied as at the start of the academic year.

Recent additions to the site include the following (in no particular order - can you tell I watch Strictly?).

  • A gap fill based on a simple little song sung by Laurent Voulzy. It's called Derniers Baisers and is an alternative version of Sealed with a Kiss. Nice little tune and captures teenage holidays rather well. This would be a good 20 minute filler activity for a lower sixth class (low advanced for non England-Wales readers)
  • A film review of Gravity which I am quite excited about seeing soon. I have heavily adapted an online review, added vocabulary, true/false/not mentioned, oral activities and a grammar task. Again, this would suit a Y12 group.
  • An article and exercises on homelessness in France. This is the story of a homeless woman. I wonder if stories of real people are more motivating for students than discursive articles.
  • A homework task on the imperfect tense which would work with low intermediates (Y9-10). This is one where pupils need to interview a grandparent or parent about life when they were young. The write-up could be a summary, news feature or dialogue. I have used this in the past to good effect.
  • A story and worksheet based on Les Trois Petits Cochons. This is actually a rewrite of an existing worksheet, made a bit more accessible.
  • A crossword for Y8-9 on the near future.
There is now a good set of listening tasks, especially for intermediate and advanced level. If you use these do check the online videos are still there.

P.S. I hope Natalie wins.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Homework idea to practise the imperfect tense

This is a simple one. Maybe you have already done it.

Give your class at least a week to do this for a good, chunky and hopefully enjoyable double homework. Tell them they are going to interview a grand-parent or parent. Provide them with a list of questions in French. They will have to ask these questions, take notes, then write up the answers in French. It should produce some real-life use of the imperfect tense as well as enable children to talk to their parents or grand-parents about the old days. the write up can take the form of a dialogue/interview with questions, or it could just be a summary e.g. for a mock news feature.

An amusing alternative would be to ask them if a teacher will give them 15 minutes to be interviewed. Others could guess the teacher. I actually prefer the parent/grand-parent version in this case since it seems a good conversation to have in a family anyway, therefore more authentic.

How about these questions?

A quelle école allais-tu quand tu avais 10 ans?
Qu'est-ce que tu aimais manger quand tu étais petit?
Où habitais-tu?
Quelles émissions de télé ou de radio préférais-tu?
Qui étaient tes meilleurs amis?
De quoi avais-tu peur quand tu étais petit?
Allais-tu régulièrement en vacances? Où?
Avais-tu des animaux familiers?
Qu'est-ce que tu aimais faire à l'école primaire?
Quelles matières aiamais-tu à l'école secondaire?
Avais-tu des ambitions quand tu étais jeune?
Que faisaient tes parents comme travail?
Tu t'entendais bien avec tes parents?
Quels passe-temps avais-tu?
Quelle musique aimais-tu quand tu étais adolescent?

As always, you can assist students, where needed, by providing starts to some answers: il allait... il aimait...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

How did schools measure progress before levels?

This may be of interest to younger teachers in England and Wales who have only known national curriculum levels and who may be curious about the era before.

Wikipedia reminds me that following the Education reform Act of 1988, national curriculum tests were introduced for 7-year-olds for the academic year ending July 1991, and for 11-year-olds in the academic year ending July 1995. Attainment levels had to be recorded for tests and levels awarded by teachers in both core (maths, English, science) and non-core subjects. Sometime after 2000 schools began to refine level measurement by using sub-levels, which were never defined.

So how did schools measure progress from 1944 to around 1990?

GCSE O-level, A-level and CSE were the main indicators of performance for a whole school, even though these results were never advertised to the public. In addition schools would set internal examinations at least once a year. These would produce data in the form of percentages. At my first school I recall an attempt was made to standardise these percentages so that parents would be able to compare them fairly in school reports.

Day to day assessment and tracking occurred in the usual way, with the by means of the teacher's informal assessment, homework marks and regular tests. Marks were recorded in mark books with pen and paper.

At least once a year, and sometimes more often, a brief summary report was written for the benefit of parents and students. This would usually consist of an A4 sheet with an attainment and effort grade (usually in the form of letters and numbers) for each subject, an exam mark and quite possibly an indication of the pupil's position in the class relative to others. Rank ordering was common, though lost popularity during the 1980s as schools realsied how demotivating this might be to lower performing pupils. Teacher comments on reports would be very brief and would rarely indicate any targets for improvement.

Senior staff would generally keep a record of internal and external exam results and could therefore informally monitor the performance of teachers and departments. There was no reference to national standards. No levelling. I don't think it crossed many people's mind. What maintained the standard was the content of external examinations which dictated to a large extent the content of the course book which in turn dominated teaching. This remains true today and is why a national curriculum seems superfluous to some, including Michael Gove.

Did it work? Well, I think it is fair to say that modern leadership teams and heads of department have, with the aid of detailed tracking of levels as well as performance management, a much firmer handle on pupil progress. In the past poor performance was much more easily tolerated or brushed under the carpet. Weak, lazy or incompetent teachers were left relatively unchallenged. Then, as now, teachers took pride in getting good results from their classes and there was certainly a sense of competition between staff and departments, but measurement was far less objective, there was no benchmarking and no concept of value-added. There was far less pressure on teachers to perform. There was also less time spent on detailed measuring, recording and target-setting.

When you bear all these things in mind, it would be surprising if standards had not improved in the last two decades or so.

It is possible that, at the margins, a clear focus on levels and target-setting, along with more focused management and CPD, has raised attainment. This remains hard to measure for certain. Explicit programmes of study and level descriptors no doubt clarified to some extent what was expected of pupils nationally. But levels could also distort classroom practice. In MFL classrooms a more distinct focus was placed on tense usage in Y9, since that was the key aspect required to achieve level 6. Did this mean that we over-focused on this at the expense of other areas? Possibly.

The problem with levels is that they became a monster. With the invention of sub-levels and finely tuned tracking processes  teachers sometimes felt they were spending too much time weighing the pig rather than feeding it. In some subjects levels were hard to define, for example when progress in a subject was not linear. Levels may have made more sense in maths and science, than history, MFL or English. A good deal of creativity was used by teachers to concoct levels from other data such as test percentages, giving one the feeling that exam data was primary, levels secondary. If levels were so important, why were they not used beyond KS3? It seems we could manage without them.

Although I get why levels were invented and how a reference to a national standard may be useful, ultimately I doubt very much whether their demise will lower standards. It will be interesting to see where we are in 10 years from now.