Friday, 28 March 2014

Example reading text for low intermediates

On frenchteacher.net there is a huge range of articles to help students improve their reading comprehension. The two key factors I bear in mind when selecting texts are: (1) Is the text at the right linguistic level to make it accessible enough? (2) Is the content inherently interesting for the age range it is pitched at? Below is an example from the Y9 page (low intermediate). I used questions in English for this text to make it more accessible for low intermediates, but there are also true/false/not mentioned questions to add extra reading input.

The text was rewritten from online encyclopedia material.

Le suricate

Le suricate mesure de 26 à 38 centimètres Il mange des insectes, des souris, des rats, des oiseaux, des petits reptiles et des bulbes de plantes qu'il trouve dans le sol avec ses griffes.

Le suricate habite en colonies de vingt membres environ, dans des terriers des plaines d'Afrique du sud, au sud du fleuve Orange (Angola, Namibie, Afrique du Sud et sud du Botswana).  La mère suricate produit entre 2 et 7 bébés.

Pour chercher leur nourriture, les suricates creusent le sol. Ils ont donc la tête dans le sable et des sentinelles veillent sur le groupe. Ils se dressent sur les pattes arrière pour avoir une bonne vue et ils communiquent par cris pour alerter le groupe des dangers, comme la présence d’oiseaux de proie.

Quand les jeunes ont moins de trois semaines, des individus du groupe restent avec eux au terrier pendant toute la journée. Ces babysitters, qui ne sont pas nécessairement parents des jeunes, ne mangent pas et surveillent le terrier et les jeunes.

Le suricate est brun-gris avec quelques marques sombres sur son dos. Deux particularités importantes : il a une queue très agile qui agit comme une cinquième patte et une vue exceptionnelle.

Les suricates sont immunisés à une grande variété de poisons, des morsures de serpents aux piqûres de scorpions. Les suricates coupent la queue venimeuse des scorpions avant de les manger.

Il fait très chaud dans le désert du Kalahari, alors les parents recouvrent leurs petits de sable pour les protéger du soleil.

Les suricates ne doivent pas boire beaucoup car l’eau est fournie par les insectes et larves qu’ils mangent.


Vocabulaire

claw – g________ (f)                                  soil - ___ (m)            
roughly – e__________                               burrow – t_________ (m)
river – f________ (m)                                  to dig – c________
sand – s_________ (m)                               to watch over – v_________ ___
to sit up - __ __________                           leg – p________ (f)
bird of prey - ________ __ _____ (m)       dark – s________
tail – q________ (f)                                    bite – m__________ (f)
sting – p___________ (f)                           to cut off – c_________
to cover – r____________                         to protect – p____________
provided by - ___________ ___                                       
           


Questions

1.         What does the meerkat eat?
2.         How does it find its food?
3.         Where does it live?
4.         What is a “sentinel” and why are they needed?
5.         How do meerkat lookouts get a good view?
6.         What is the main predator of meerkats? 
7.         What does the article say about babysitting?
8.         What natural immunisation do meerkats have?
9.         What care do they take when eating scorpions?
10.       How do parents protect their young from the heat of the desert?
11.       Mention one way they obtain water.


Vrai, faux ou pas mentionné?

1.         Le suricate habite dans des terriers dans des régions désertiques.
2.         Les suricates ne sont jamais mangés par des oiseaux.
3.         Le suricate trouve de quoi manger sous le sol.
4.         Le suricate pèse environ deux kilos.
5.         Le suricate se dresse sur les pattes arrière pour amuser le public.
6.         Les suricates font attention quand ils mangent des scorpions.
7.         Le suricate a des marques sombres sur le ventre.
8.         Les babysitters sont toujours les parents des bébés.
9.         Le suricate est capable de voir sur une distance de 500 mètres.
10.       Ils crient pour communiquer aux autres.
11.       Le suricate a une protection naturelle contre les serpents venimeux ?
12.       Les enfants adorent regarder les meerkats.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Recipes make for good listening material

I've been looking around for good video listening material for the adult student section of frenchteacher.net and discovered that there are a myriad of useful short videos featuring cooking recipes. Many are short enough (up to about 4 minutes is good) and easy enough to be very usable in the classroom or for homework.

As with all listening resources you need to find language which is clear and not too fast. With recipes you have the great advantage that the visuals follow  the language very closely so comprehension is facilitated. In addition, most students would find at least some interest in following recipes.

Videos like this can be exploited in a number of ways. Here are a few:
  • True/false/not mentioned
  • Gap fill
  • Matching starts and ends of sentences
  • Vocabulary list completion
  • Oral recounting of the recipe to a partner
  • Adapting the material to produce a written account in past tense
  • Making the recipe at home to be brought in for a class tasting.
  • Focusing on an aspect of grammar (e.g. imperatives and il faut)
  • Focusing on cooking vocabulary which can be re-used when describing another recipe orally or in writing
Here is a simple recipe for cheese and ham canapés on which I based a worksheet for adults, high intermediate or advanced students. My wife makes something similar.




Monday, 24 March 2014

Four Yorkshiremen game

This is the opposite of the one-upmanship game I have posted about before. With one-upmanship (known cheekily as "Swankers" on BBC Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue), students work in pairs or small groups. You give a student a statement e.g. L'année dernière je suis allé en vacances à Scarborough. Students then take turns to impress with something better. Results can be amusing and ridiculious.

So, it occurred to me you could do tyhe opposite à la Four Yorkshiremen sketch from Monty Python. In case you don't know it, here is part of the script:

Michael Palin: Ahh.. Very passable, this, very passable.

Graham Chapman: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay Gessiah?

Terry Gilliam: You're right there Obediah.

Eric Idle: Who'd a thought thirty years ago we'd all be sittin' here drinking Chateau de Chassilier wine?

MP: Aye. In them days, we'd a' been glad to have the price of a cup o' tea.

GC: A cup ' COLD tea.

EI: Without milk or sugar.

TG: OR tea!

MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.

EI: We never used to have a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.

GC: The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.

TG: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, "Money doesn't buy you happiness."

EI: 'E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN'. We used to live in this tiiiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.

GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!......

et ainsi de suite

So I suggest this as an oral filler game for a lively and creative group of AS or A2 students (advanced level). You could play it in groups of four or fewer. It might go something like this with an advanced group:

- J'ai pas beaucoup d'argent pour les vacances en ce moment. J'ai passé quatre jours au bord de la mer à Trouville.

- Ah bon? Tu avais de la chance. J'avais voulu aller à Trouville, mais j'ai été malade juste avant de partir, donc j'ai dû me contenter d'une journée à Paris.

- Tu as eu de la chance, toi. Une fois j'ai eu une infection à la gorge et j'ai été tellement malade que j'ai été hospitalisé, alors je n'ai pas pu aller en vacances.

- Une infection à la gorge? C'est rien ça. J'ai eu une infection à la gorge et des vomissements, alors j'ai dû annuler mes vacances au Mexique.

- Tu as eu du pot, toi. Quand j'étais enfant je ne partais jamais en vacances car j'étais allergique à tout et j'ai dû rester sous une tente spéciale à l'hôpital.

- Tu avais une tente, toi? Tu étais gâté. Avec la maladie que j'ai eu, ils m'ont mis dans le coma pendant deux mois. J'étais alimenté grâce à un tube spécial. Mes parents paratient en vacances et me laissaient tout seul à l'hôpital.

- Mais tu avais des parents au moins. Moi, j'étais orphelin après la mort de mes parents dans un attentat terroriste....

et ainsi de suite


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Blogger or Wordpress?

I have worked with Blogger for nearly five years and Wordpress for nearly two and can share a few observations for any potential bloggers out there who don't have much experience of this sort of thing. By the way, I am not an IT expert, but have taught myself enough to get by on over the years. Youtube videos can be brilliant.

This is my main blog, using Blogger of course. I also run a Blogger blog for one of my choral groups, The White Rose Chorus. You'll see that it looks a tad primitive, with a bit of time and effort it could be made better! The frenchteacher.net site was designed by a former student using Wordpress. He taught me the basics of using Wordpress. I have since put together two other Wordpress sites, one for our village, Follifoot, and one for my other barbershop chorus Spirit of Harmony. I designed these two sites by slavishly following this excellent video on Youtube.

So, why use Blogger and why use Wordpress? Blogger is entirely free. It is owned by Google, it is dead easy to use and it integrates with a Google account. You can use your own URL if you want. If you don't you request one which will end with "blogspot.co.uk/com". They will tell you if the URL is obtainable. You can customise the appearance of Blogger to a reasonable extent, but it has its limitations. There are quite a few templates to choose from including some called "dynamic views" (which have not caught on that much). You can have a banner, backgrounds, choose different colour schemes and fonts. It is easy to embed pictures and video.

If you want to get more picky about layout you can edit the html language directly, but I imagine most people don't do that so much. You can copy and paste in text from pdfs and Word docs, but you need to keep an eye out for layout when you do this. In addition you can make your blog into a basic web site with several pages and a menu bar.

You can also add "widgets" or "gadgets" to add a bit more interest - you often find tese down the right hand column of peoples' blogs. They can be useful e.g. blog rolls, favourite sites, bio, calendar etc. Many others are gimmicky and come with small ads attached.

All in all, Blogger is great for basic blogging and simple web sites. Almost anyone can use it with little fuss. If you were skilled with html you could make it look very professional too, I'm sure. Here is where you start.

Wordpress is more stylish and powerful than Blogger, harder to use for the uninitiated, but looks more professional with its vast range of templates and "plugins" which allow you to do more exciting things, for example make slideshow galleries. Many individuals, groups and companies use Wordpress for their websites now. The web space does not come free, but for well under £100 a year you can get your own URL and server space.

In addition, with Wordpress, unlike Blogger, you upload files, create complex menus of pages. Membership plugins allow you to run pay sites pretty much automatically. Some plugins are free, but smarter ones have to be paid for. To start a Wordpress site/blog just go to their site and follow the instructions.

In short, for a basic blog I would go with Blogger, for something smarter and more powerful Wordpress is better. Both platforms are "responsive" i.e. work well on phones and tablets.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Clever vocabulary discussion game

I thought I would share this with you. It comes straight from Josué's World Language Classroom Resources blog:

http://wlteacher.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/communicative-speaking-activity-for-foreign-languages-category-sort/

If you follow the link everything is explained simply and there is a link to an example vocabulary list in French (plus English and Spanish). In a high school context I believe this would work well with intermediate to advanced students. I like the fact that, by choosing words carefully, you can get students to argue about what category each word should be. For advanced students you could even include abstract terms on a topic you have been covering.

It's also one of those lessons which could be done as a "one-off" between topics, or as one of those fillers when you feel you just need to do something a bit different. Don't we all need those from time to time?

Once the pairs or small groups have allocated their words to categories they could then present their findings to the rest of the group. Alternatively the teacher could draw up his or her own list and explain it to the class for extra listening input. I like any excuse for input!!

It would be easy to attach a teaching pint to the activity. For example, how about ways of expressing opinions and negotiating: à mon avis, je suis d'accord, je ne suis pas d'accord, on pourrait...

Monday, 17 March 2014

Clarity is all

I began my teaching career believing that teaching almost always in the target language was the way to go to maximise pupil progress. I would still hold to this pretty strongly, but after many years of experience teaching quite able young linguists I came to realise more and more that pupils understood less of what I and my colleagues were saying than I had thought. So much for comprehensible input!

I also realised that some students were being put off the subject a bit because basically they didn't really know what was going on all the time. They felt confused and even a little alienated. Maybe, to put it technically, their "affective filter" comes into play, makes them feel uncomfortable and negative about the subject. This would occur typically when, after explaining an activity in French, you realised you had to do it again in English to ensure everyone was clear what they were doing and successfully on task. My conclusion was that, in order to maximise motivation and, ultimately, useful comprehension of the target language, you had to compromise on its use.

You see, clarity is vital for children, isn't it? They love to know exactly what is expected of them. If you confuse them before or during a task, they will switch off, learn little, get bored and behave worse. Now, having assumed that we use all the usual clues to aid with understanding of the TL - picture, gesture, mime etc - when would we be justified in using English without any feelings of shame?! When do we need to sweeten the pill?

  • When explaining grammar points orally or in writing
  • When setting up a complex pair, group or writing task
  • When giving pep talks to classes about why you use certain methods and what you expect from pupils
  • When correcting poor behaviour
  • When telling anecdotes or talking about the target language culture
  • When explaining exam specifications and mark schemes
  • When giving general feedback about homework
  • When doing translation or other "transfer of meaning" work
  • When explaining what the aim of a lesson is or was
  • When recapping what was learnt (plenaries)
  • When giving extra special praise (this could carry more weight than a run-of-the-mill comment in French)
  • Checking meaning of individual words
  • When greeting and saying goodbye to individual pupils - making personal contact, getting to know them better
  • When intervening in pair work to give personal support
  • When raising the voice for effect
  • When writing in detailed feedback in an exercise book
  • When discussing targets
  • When giving immediate feedback to a student after an oral presentation
The relationship between a teacher and a class is an immensely subtle one and, whilst I do not say it is impossible to work solely in the target language, I believe that using English judiciously will improve relationships and ultimately result in greater motivation and progress. I have read of a 90% rule and this does not seem unreasonable.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

French for Free review

This is a quick guided tour of the site French for Free which is party of the FrenchSpanishOnline website by Pascal d'Hervé.

The contents feature vocabulary by theme, "French method", conversation, verbs, GCSE, grammar, expressions, easy vocabulary, difficulties, news in French and English, exercises and "hear what you type". There is a good degree of interactivity on the site, as well as a mine of reference material.

The Vocabulary section is very extensive and each of the 26 topics  includes lists and a whole host of interactive tasks including matching, drag and drop, gap fill and multiple choice. There is some use of colourful pictures and "audio quizzes" where students listen to a short clip and then do exercises. There is also the opportunity for students to record their own voice. All vocabulary, both individual words and phrases, can be listened to.

The section entitled French Method has a set of mini dialogues and vocabulary lists. Once again, students can listen to everything and follow scripts. Arrow keys can be used to move from slide to slide. I found that the top of each page did not display in Firefox, even though the section states that Chrome, Firefox and Safari all work well. Check it with your own browser.

The verbs section is simply a lengthy list of verb conjugations with audio.

The GCSE section contains a set of themed presentations, based on a few questions. These are in the form of quite short sentences without linking words. Students would certainly find them an excellent reference source for their own controlled assessments (i.e. they could cheat by copying them, or better use them as a guide for their own work). Once again, all is recorded. Teachers could use the recording without scripts visible for listening comprehension work.

The Grammar section is pitched largely at the intermediate to advanced level, including, for example, subsjunctives and more advanced compound tenses. Explanations are in Youtube video format along with written explanations  and are very clear. These would be good for reference or revision for keen students. Some grammar points have a multi-choice interactive task at the bottom with a good number of examples.

Let me also mention the embedded text-to-speech page ("Say what you type") which allows students to paste in or type text which is then read aloud in very good French.

There is a good deal more on the site which I won't go through now. Suffice it to say that this site is clear, very useful and could be used selectively by teachers in the classroom, but better by students working alone. GCSE and advanced level pupils would get the most out of it. It appears to be iPad-friendly.

For interactive grammar a site such as languagesonline.org.uk is more attractive and better graded to students' abilities. With French for Free you would also have to integrate which bits you used in class very carefully. For this reason I feel it is, on the whole, better as a student revision/reference source. That said, you have to admire the enormous amount of work that has gone into this site. I also like the large amount of audio material available. You should really have a look at it!

How come it's free? Well. if you do not have an ad blocker you will get plenty of advertisements, but they are not obtrusive enough to make the site unpleasant to use. Maybe at some point the site will be monetised.




Thursday, 6 March 2014

La nouvelle LGV Tours-Bordeaux

I love this stylish video presentation of the new high speed rail line being built between Tours and Bordeaux. You could use it as a resource. There is no listening involved, but students could watch at home, pause, take notes, adapting the language on screen, and write a summary in French. There are plenty of opportunities to convert nouns to verbs and vice versa, use passives and various tenses. A lovely two hour homework assignment.

See what you think.


Resources for adult learners

 J'ai une idée.

The focus of frenchteacher.net has always been on high school students, since that was the target audience of the resources I designed for the pupils in my classes. One of my subscribers, Rosalind Leveridge, who is a tutor for adult learners has reminded me that many of the resources, especially those in the A-level section, are appropriate for adults doing continuing education. However, many resources make the assumption that users are teenagers, with teenager interests. They also strongly bear in mind the needs of the exam specifications.

With that in mind, I am going to take up a suggestion Rosalind made, which is to adapt some resources and create new ones with older students in mind. Resources might relate, for example, to subjects such as work, home ownership, house buying, travel, food, restaurants, topics of cultural interest and so on.

I shall look at the possibility of highlighting these in some way, possibly by creating an extra page dedicated specifically to this audience.

Une affaire à suivre! Update: here is the start of the new page for adults based on existing resources. http://www.frenchteacher.net/contents/adult-students/

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Translations on frenchteacher

Anyone who follows my blog will know that I have reservations about translation in language teaching, largely because it takes valuable time away from activities which provide target language input, "comprehensible input" if you prefer.

However, with regard to translation into the target language, I have usually found that students enjoy the problem-solving aspect, the chance to fix grammar issues which have troubled them and the idea that that have a clearly defined task which they can complete with success. It seems likely to me that if you do translation into the target language students will, at the very least, improve their accuracy.

Translation from the TL provides good input, but, at a more advanced level, becomes a test of a student's English as much as their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. It is really a specialised skill which should be left until later.

There is little "authentic" in either forms of translation - grammar and comprehension can be tested in ways which reflect real-life language situations.

It is also the case that the new GCSE exam, being taught from September 2016 will definitely feature some translation both ways and this is already changing practice in some schools. In England, and no doubt elsewhere, if you want to change classroom practice, change the exam.

On frenchteacher.net I have translations into French at GCSE/intermediate level and advanced level. In the Y10-11 section of the site I have two sets of translations which may be used at any time. As GCSE returns to a linear format, without controlled assessments, they might be best done in the last two terms. In due course I shall be adding more translation material for KS3 and 4.

The first set are at a simpler level, aimed at pupils who might realistically be aiming for grade B/C. Here is an example:



Hello.  My name is…..  I am 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a small town in the north of England, near York.  I have two sisters and one brother.  My brother is called David and my sisters are called Erika and Claire.  We live in a large house in the centre of town.  In our house there is a lounge, four bedrooms, a dining room,  a kitchen, two bathrooms and a garage.  We have a small garden behind the house.



In my bedroom there is a computer, a hi fi, a desk, two chairs, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and, of course, a bed.  I spend a lot of time in my room.  For example, I do my homework, I listen to music, I talk to my friends on the computer and I practise my guitar.



In my spare time I play the guitar, I watch TV, I play football with my friends at school, I go out at the weekend and I like to read.  Sometimes I help my mother in the kitchen, but I don’t like working in the garden.


The second set is aimed at pupils aiming for A*/A grade. Here is an example:

I have just returned from my holidays in Spain.  We enjoyed ourselves very much.  We caught the plane from London on the 1st of August.  The flight took two and a half hours, too long for me as I am scared of flying!  When we arrived at Malaga the weather was superb; the sun was shining and the temperature was 30 degrees.



On the first day of our holiday we stayed at the hotel and spent the day next to the pool.  We drank a lot, swam, ate lunch in the hotel dining room and in the evening went into town to look at the shops.  Our room had a spectacular view of the sea.



On Sunday we hired a car and did a trip to Granada where there is a beautiful palace with magnificent gardens.  We had lunch in a lovely restaurant in the town centre.  I had paella and my mother had chicken with salad. After having lunch we entered the castle and did a guided tour.



The best moment of the holiday was when we visited the beautiful historic city of Seville.  What a fantastic place!  I took lots of photos, bought some souvenirs and visited two interesting museums.


Lastly, in the A-level section I have a few more testing translations adapted from literature, both French and English. Here is an example with helpful notes for students:


 The Great Glass Lift


“I’ve never seen anything like it!” [1] cried Mr Wonka.
“The children are disappearing like rabbits!  But you mustn’t worry about it! [2] They’ll all come out safely!” [3]

Mr Wonka looked at the little group that stood beside him in the corridor.  There were only two children left [4] now – Mike Teavee and Charlie Bucket. [5]  And there were three grown-ups, Mr and Mrs Teavea and Grandpa Joe.  “Shall we move on??” Mr Wonka asked.

“Oh yes!” cried Charlie and Grandpa Joe at the same time.

“My feet are getting tired,” said Mike Teavea.  “I want to watch television.”

“If you’re tired then we’d better [6] take the lift,” said Mr Wonka.  “It’s over here.  Come on!  In we go!”  He skipped across [7] the passage to a pair of doors.  The doors slid open [8].  The two children and the grown-ups went in.

“Now then,” cried Mr Wonka, “which button shall we press first?  Take your pick!”

Charlie Bucket stared around him in astonishment. [9]  This was the craziest lift he had ever seen [10].  There were buttons everywhere!  The walls, and even the ceiling, were covered with hundreds of rows of black buttons!  There must have been [11] a thousand of them on each wall, and another thousand on the ceiling!  And now Charlie noticed that every button had a tiny printed label [12] beside it telling you which room you would arrive at if you pressed [13] it.

Notes

1.      “rien de pareil”
2.      “s’inquiéter de” (so which pronoun?)
3.      “sains et saufs”
4.       Use “il ne restait que...”
5.       You could make up good French versions of these names
6.       Use “il vaut mieux...”
7.       Use “traverser à petits bonds”
8.       Say “opened, sliding” (same principle as note 7)
9.       Use “étonné”
10.     subjunctive after superlative, but which tense/
11.     Say  “il devait y avoir”
12.     “une étiquette imprimée”
13.     to press = appuyer sur, presser