Friday, 28 February 2014

Latest updates from frenchteacher

I've been a little less productive recently owing to a super winter break in Florida featuring a short Progressive Nation at Sea rock cruise, but that's another story...

Recent additions to the site include:
  • An article about the much discussed issue at the moment of female genital mutilation. There is an informative text with questions in English. The standard would suit A2 level in the English and Welsh exam system (17-18 year olds).
  • A simple worksheet for near beginners to practise the subject pronouns il/elle/ils/elles, I used to find that pupils were slow to assimilate these in the early stages. Maybe some focused work on them would help. The sheet has a list of 15 easy questions preceded by a simple explanation. I would do these orally first, then maybe in pairs, before they are written up. A very quick class could just do them straight off in writing or pairs.
  • I've added another Peppa Pig video listening worksheet t the collection. It's called Papa accroche une photo. Usual honks and much giggling in evidence.
  • The biggest recent resource is the addition of two new AS level booklets for WJEC and Edexcel. these are adapted from my existing one for AQA and match each board's list of topics.
  • A Blockbusters style quiz on shops for use on whiteboard as a team game with near beginners (Y8)
  • An AS level article and exercises on the secrets of a successful marriage. Easy, short text, vocabulary, true/false/not mentioned, questions for discussion, grammar tasks and extended writing. Nice double lesson plus homework!
Have a wonderful day! (Just back from the USA.)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A2 French interactive revision links 2014

Here are some great links for A2 Level French revision, updated slightly from last year's. I would not overload students with long lists of links. These are fine.

First stop
(a mine of all sorts of material: essay planning, vocabulary and vocabulary)

Interactive grammar



Essay writing

There is also plenty of free reading material with exercises on, bien sûr.

AS level French interactive revision resources 2014

Here is an updated list of revision links for students preparing for AS level French examinations in England and Wales, though I daresay it would be useful to students preparing for other assessments. I particularly recommend MFL Online from Jim Hall. Nearly all the links are free.

Carmen Vera's grammar through French songs. A bit more fun maybe.




(not error-free, but very useful examples)

Speaking test

GCSE (intermediate) revision resources 2014

In England and Wales, when those blessed controlled assessments are over, you can focus totally on comprehension and vocabulary building for the remaining exams. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

I do recommend the free print-off from (see Reading link below). I designed it for pupils working at the grade A-C level at GCSE. Good for individual work and students like the booklet format.

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices the French Vocabulary app is well reviewed. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher)
Reading (Foundation/Higher) - look in Y10-11 section for GCSE reading booklet to work through and common signs to interpret.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Conversing with Siri or Google Now

If your students have access to an Apple or Android mobile device equipped with the French language version of the personal assistants Siri or Google Now, then it would be easy to set an enjoyable and useful communicative task. Siri and Google Now will accept some inaccurate pronunciation, up to a point, and if you did this in a classroom setting background noise could be an issue, but I would set pupils a series of questions to ask either personal assistant.

To show the task was done, they could note down the responses they get. Siri and Google Now sometimes gives a straightforward spoken response to a question. Frequently it will refer you to a web source or give you  an answer in reading form.

How about these questions for intermediate students? They all practise the use of  " quel(le)(s)".

1.  Quel temps fait-il à Paris en ce moment?
2.  Quel est la capitale du Pakistan?
3.  Quelle est la date de naissance de Napoléon Bonaparte?
4.  Quelle est la population de la France?
5.  Quel est l'animal le plus rapide du monde?
6.  Quels sont les restaurants les plus près d'ici?
7.  Quels films peut-on voir au cinéma à ...?
8.  Quelles langues est-ce qu'on parle en Suisse?
9.  Quelle est la température actuelle à ... ?
10. Quelles sont les langues les plus parlées du monde?

Students could be asked to make up, say, five questions of their own.

This could be done as a paired exercise if students are sharing a device.

I wonder how far we are from having a device with which you could have more spontaneous conversations.  It may be less rewarding to talk with a device, but some students may actually feel more comfortable doing so. If you have seen the excellent movie Her you will know how personal your relationship with an operating system could one day become.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

One approach to schemes of work

When I began teaching in 1980 departmental schemes of work did not exist. You had a text book and tapes which were, effectively, the scheme of work or syllabus as it was then called; then in Y11 teaching content was largely led by the O-level exam, subsequently GCSE. If there was a common approach to practice in a department it was formed to a minor extent by the nature of the text book. My experience was that that teachers did not work much as a team, but did share clear common aims in terms of timing and exam content.

This was still the case when I became a Head of Department in 1988. I think it was the coming into being of Ofsted as well as a general growing professionalism which led schools to firm up practice on schemes of work.

In my department we decided to create a scheme which was a working file. Each teacher had their own ring binder for each year with a general list of objectives for each unit based on the course book. The course sequence was very sound and well suited to the pupils at our school. The file then contained a set of resources which the teacher could dip into. Some of these would be from the course book, some our own or taken from other sources. These reflected and reinforced the common approach adopted by the teachers in the department. Resources included worksheets of various types, visual aids (OHP transparencies for example) lesson ideas, links to online interactive activities and websites, copies of unit tests and exam papers.

There were no detailed lesson plans, since although I hoped we were pretty much in tune as regards methodology (a target language, communicative oral approach with rigorous teaching of grammar and vocabulary). In addition, because my colleagues were skilled and fluent, I did not feel the need to stifle them with specific lesson plans. Our structure of 40 minute periods four or five times a week also made this hard to achieve. We found that it was better to have some flexibility. Some classes would go faster than others, some lessons less well than others. Furthermore, a scheme which was not overly prescriptive allows teachers the freedom to develop their own ideas which, I believe, makes for more motivated, creative and happy colleagues.

We did set time targets for units in order that we covered all the material needed for assessments, but some teachers would get ahead of others. We would regularly compare notes on this and, if necessary, be flexible enough to adjust the content of exam papers.

Differentiation was not built in specifically to the schemes of work. This was in part because our school was a selective grammar school with a setting system from Y9. Even so, there was obviously a considerable range of ability (just think of an intelligence bell curve and where the "top 30%" of the ability range can descend to). We would use differentiation by outcome and selective use of resources for each class to ensure effective differentiation. When combined with sensitive classroom techniques and "assessment for learning" this always seemed effective enough to me.

In the early days of Ofsted a specialist MFL inspector would take a look at our schemes of work. In recent years we found they did not have time to do this as the focus moved more and more to results and value added scores.

Over the years the scheme of work was regularly updated, with each year group being revised every four years or so. This was usually done by a teacher as part of their personal development. Updating a scheme of work would often involve adding new resources and reorganising existing ones.

I cannot claim that this approach would work in every context, but the balance of prescription and freedom worked well for us. I would certainly commend the idea of using the scheme of work as a working file, not a document to be locked away in a filing cabinet.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Dans ma trousse

This post is a defence of the humble pencil case as a classroom language teaching aid.

Some MFL teachers argue that teaching children about what is in their pencil case is plain dull and that there are better ways for children to acquire the vocabulary of classroom objects. In general, they would argue that we need to find classroom activities for beginners and learners in general which are inherently stimulating. the argument runs: they are studying volcanoes in geography, burning magnesium ribbon in chemistry, learning about how the body works in biology, then they come along to the languages lesson to point at the window and say "this is the window".

I get the argument and if you want to see it amusingly parodied, watch Eddie Izzard's well know and very funny video.

Oh.......... alright, if your device lets you watch it, here it is:

So how can I defend using a pencil case in the classroom. First, the obvious stuff. There are a range of simple language areas for which the pencil case and its contents provide a useful tool. Here are some:

  • Teaching the vocabulary of classroom objects, which children need to understand simple, target language instructions such as "prenez un stylo", "soulignez avec votre règle" etc. beyond simple demonstration and repetition there are guessing games of various types to play.
  • Teaching the principle of gender. Note that it is best to teach items of one gender first, then the other. You can then ask pupils what they noticed - inductive learning.
  • Teaching colours. This is easilty done with beginners who keep an array of coloured pencils. Also, pupils have pencil cases of different colours.
  • Teaching prepositions: "Le stylo est sur la table ou sur la tête du professeur?" etc etc.
  • Teaching object pronouns: "Je prends le crayon et je le donne à David".
  • Teaching indirect pronouns: "Je lui donne un crayon ou une gomme?"
  • Teaching negatives: "Je n'ai pas de crayon rouge".
  • Teaching verbs. "Je touche la gomme; il touche la gomme; tu touches la gommes? vous touchez la gomme?"
  • Teaching possession: "Le taille-crayon est à moi ou à toi?"
  • Helping to develop early fluency through accumulation memory games: "Dans ma trousse j'ai... et... et..." 
  • Teaching imperatives: "Donne-moi ton bic".
  • Teaching il y a and plurals.
Now, I can hear you saying, but there are other more interesting ways of teaching all of these things, so why not use more stimulating resources and texts which have more intrinsic interest to young people? I would reply that where this is possible, absolutely, why not? But you then get serious issues of grading of language - texts and pictures which require too much unknown vocabulary and grammar for example. I have seen interesting sites which are superficially attractive, but when you think about how you would use them, you soon find that ungraded vocabulary can create blockages, slow the pace and hinder the teaching sequence. (An example is this bedrooms around the world site which is important and interesting, but not necessarily the easiest to use.)

In addition, and this might raise the eyebrow of comprehensible input fans, by using very familiar classroom items you are focusing the students' attention on grammatical form rather than meaning. This may be what you want to do. The acquired syntax can later be recycled and ultimately internalised in other more interesting contexts.

Is it boring to use the pencil case as a teaching aid? Not necessarily. It's all about how you do it and the enthusiasm you bring to the tasks. Guessing games are always popular. A humorous delivery helps as does  getting pupils up to play teacher. In addition, holding up real touchable objects may, I stress may, be more immediately motivational than using pictures in a powerpoint or on a flashcard.

I suppose my fundamental point is this: a teaching activity is a means to an end. We engage in artificial classroom activities because we know that, if they are well done, they can lead to long term acquisition. Clarity is vital and the humble pencil case can play a very useful role.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Ways to raise the profile of languages in a school

With the strong focus on maths, English and science, it is easy to feel that
 MFL does not have the status it deserves in a school. How can an MFL team 
counter this and this get students to take the subject area more seriously?

Here are some thoughts for your consideration:

Make sure department activities are well advertised through the school 
website, magazine and social media.

Organise visits and exchanges to boost confidence amd bring the subject to life.

Keep pressing home the value of languages for personal growth and career 

Organise whole school events such as theme days and theme weeks (e.g. 
European Day of Languages).

Organise theatre visits and study days.

Invite outside speakers e.g. from universities or foreign language speakers from 
various walks of life.

Use awards such as "linguist of the week" certificates.

Get older students and former students to speak to younger pupils.

Do assemblies on language related themes.

Keep pressing the EBacc agenda with school leadership to raise numbers.

Use parents' evenings to advertise the value of languages, including their 
status as a "facilitating subject" for Russell Group universities.

Use open evenings and days to strongly advertise the subject.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Tapis Volant 2

This is just a quick post to point you to a site from Australia which has just come to my attention. It's not new, dating from 2007, but it contains useful interactive material for beginners up to low intermediate level (KS3 in England and Wales).

It's called Tapis Volant (2). Try clicking on the Students link in the toolbar to get to two levels of exercises. Each unit has a short listening task (no interactivity), with grammar and vocab sections. The grammar tasks are quite brief and involve, for example, interactive matching and gap filling. Some of the vocabulary activities no longer work it seems, so this looks like an old site that has been left online. Australian teachers may know if it was once a pay site.

I could imagine the site being used for its short listening extracts accompanied by a picture. They are clear but, annoyingly, you cannot pause and rewind the text. You can choose between written text on and off. The site uses Flash so is dated and will be useless on an iPad. The text would be too small to easily read if displayed on a screen and cannot be enlarged to full screen.

Keen students could use it for independent revision and practice.

Bits and pieces could be worked into your existing scheme of work. Do have a peep and see what you think.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

AS level oral booklets

I wrote a booklet of vocabulary and practice questions for the AQA AS level speaking test some time ago and was well used by our students at Ripon Grammar. We would use a relevant page from it either to round of a sequence of lessons or, more often, to introduce a topic.

Anyway, I have now done versions for the Edexcel and WJEC exam boards. They in the same format, but cover the Edexcel and WJEC topics which are not all the same as AQA's. Interestingly, Edexcel's are arguably a little more challenging, but, in my humble opinion, not quite as good. I found the sub-topic title Sex, drugs and alcohol a shade naff! No rock and roll? WJEC's a similar to Edexcel's.

Here is a sample page from the Edexcel version (apologies for formatting - does anyone know any tricks for copying and pasting from Word to Blogger?)

L’alcool, la drogue, le sexe

l’alcoolisme (m)             alcoholism                         un héroïnomane              heroin addict
une boisson alcoolisée    alcoholic beverage            l’héroïne                         heroin
un spiritueux                  spirit                                  le cannabis                     cannabis
l’abus de l’alcool             alcohol abuse                  un joint                           joint
être accro (de)               to be hooked                     s’injecter                        to inject oneself
être adonné (à)              to be addicted                    la cocaine                      cocaine
une addiction                 addiction                        le tabagisme          tobacco abuse, smoking
excessivement               excessively                         une e-cigarette (fam)      E cigarette
le binge drinking            binge drinking                    l’âge legal                       legal age
la biture express            binge drinking                    la consommation            consumption
le foie                            liver                                   la vie sexuelle                 sex life 
une gueule de bois         hangover                           la masturbation               masturbation
ivre                               drunk                                des rapports sexuels        sexual relations
l’ivresse (f                     drunkenness                       l’amour (m)                    love
saoul (fam)                    drunk                                 vivre en couple               to live together
se saouler                     to get drunk/p***ed           vivre en solo                   to live alone
avec modération            in moderation                    entamer une relation       start a relationship
sans alcool                    non-alcoholic                      s’entendre (avec)           to get on with
non alcoolisé                  non-alcoholic, soft             la pilule contraceptive     pill
un apéritif                      aperitif                                un préservatif                 condom
un digestif                     after meal drink                   faire l’amour                  to make love
une drogue douce          soft drug                             platonique                      platonic
une drogue dure            hard drug                             tomber amoureux (de)    to fall in love
un stupéfiant                 drug                                     le coup de foudre           love at first sight
un drogué                     drug addict                          l’orientation sexuelle       sexual orientation
un toxico(mane)           drug addict                          homo(sexuel)/gay          gay

1.       Que penses-tu du binge-drinking ?
2.       Quels sont les dangers pour la santé de boire à excès ?
3.       Quels sont les dangers sociaux de l’alcoolisme ?
4.       Quelles boissons préfères-tu en général ?
5.       Penses-tu que les e-cigarettes soient une bonne idée ?
6.       Que pourrait-on faire pour réduire la consommation du tabac ?
7.       Es-tu pour la dépénalisation du cannabis ? Pourquoi ?
8.       Que penses-tu de la politique anti-drogue (la « guerre contre la drogue ») ?
9.       Quels sont les avantages et les inconvénients de vivre en solo ?
10.     Que penses-tu de l’âge de la majorité sexuelle ?
11.     Est-il facile d’être gay dans les pays occidentaux ?

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A simple version of the game Pointless

Here is a smashing little idea from a teacher which I read about in the Spring 2014 edition of Languages Today from the ALL (Association for Language Learning).

It's a version of the TV quiz game Pointless.

In case this show has passed you by, in a nutshell contestants have to give answers to questions which were posed to members of the public. The aim is to provide an answer no member of the public gave.

In this case you give pupils 5-10 minutes to write down as many words they've been taught. The object of the game is for pupils to write down at least one word which no-one else has thought of. Pupils get one point for every correct word and five points for a word which no-one else has thought of - a "pointless" answer.

This could work for near beginners up to advanced level students. It could also be played with pairs against pairs. At advanced level, if a general theme was given for the vocabulary, say, health, then the lists would be long and useful oral and listening practice could be had as students try to justify controversial choices.

A more challenging extension of this idea for near beginners or intermediates would be to use key phrases or short statements rather than individual words. e.g. "Write down any statements/phrases you might use in a café, restaurant, tourist office, classroom etc".

The sting in the tail of this game would be the "marking" part in the lesson, when there would be potential for mayhem! For the single word game, if the emphasis is on spelling accuracy, the lists could simple be collected in for quick tick marking, though finding the pointless answers would be a pain! A time-saving and more useful approach would be to provide a printed list of correct words, swap written lists and have another pupil mark. Pointless answers would have to be identified as quickly as possible by the teacher walking around.

An easier to manage solution would be to have small groups who could simple self mark after their time is up.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

So how can we get more young people studying modern languages at university?

Apparently, despite tuition fees, university applications in the UK are at record levels. One notable subject area which has struggled in recent years, however, is modern languages. What could we do to get more young people continuing with languages in higher education and thus help to address the shortage of linguists which business reports?
  • Firstly, all the while the A-level/post 16 academic curriculum is so narrow, various subjects will always struggle to attract recruits. MFL is not alone. The last twenty years has also seen a sharp decline in students studying, for example, history and geography. We need bums on seats at A-level to secure a larger number of undergraduates. To address this we need to broaden the A-level curriculum which we failed to do in 2000. A recent report has recommended we do the same, but will fall on governmental deaf ears. The traditional A-level is a protected species and, apparently, a global brand.
  • Secondly, we need to make a qualification in a language prerequisite for entry to at least (and maybe all) some universities. UCL's current policy sets the example. If pupils knew that to go to a Russell Group university, or better a wider pool of universities, then they would flock in greater numbers to GCSE and, one would assume, A-level. 
  • Thirdly, we need to keep ramming home the messages about the benefits to one's personal growth and job prospects of learning a language. We have been building up STEM subjects for years and need to do the same for languages.
  • Lastly, we need to finally address the issue of severe grading at both GCSE and A-level. MFL is nearly half a grade harder than maths and English at GCSE. At A-level it is one of the hardest subjects along with sciences.  Too many schools are reporting that students do not choose languages because it is harder to get a good grade. That's not right or fair.

Two policies which are unlikely to produce results are primary school MFL (too thin, too inexpertly taught, not enough progression) and compulsory MFL at GCSE. The latter would be positive in as far as more students would get to a low intermediate level, but most would still continue to dislike languages and not wish to carry on. Don't forget, languages are hard and will always only attract a minority in the UK which speaks the world lingua franca.

All the while we continue to produce too few linguists at least we will be able, as in other fields, to fill the employment gaps with migrants, but this is not really good enough, is it? Too few young people are reaping the rewards that an education in a second language produce.