Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Christmas resources and ideas from frenchteacher

I do have a range of Christmassy worksheets and activities on if you like that sort of thing near the end of term.

Beginning at primary/Year 7 level you'll find a crossword, online Blockbusters game, wordsearch, vocabulary list, code- breaking task and strip bingo game. All of these can equally be used with Y8 pupils, or even some Y9s.

On the Y10-11 (intermediate) page there is a pairwork activity on Christmas presents which works well for a first lesson back after Christmas. The focus is on developing vocabulary and using recevoir and offrir. There is also a text with activities based on the Cinderella story, if you find that a Christmassy thing to do.

But Christmas activities need not just be for the young ones! In the A-level section there is a video listening task, which could be done with Y11s too (high intermediate/low advanced). This is based on a good video made at Nottingham High School. In addition there are two interesting texts with exercises. The first is about the origins of Christmas, the second an article about the giving of gifts in France based on an opinion survey.

When I was teaching my other "go to" site for resources for younger students was

With younger classes I also recommend finding Youtube videos with singalong words for songs like Silent Night (Douce nuit) and Jingle Bells (Vive le vent). There are also nice French Christmas medley Youtubes which you can play in the background whilst the pupils are doing a worksheet.

Finally, don't forget the standard primary/Y7/Y8 task of making a French Christmas card. You can raid the stores or art department for coloured card and get the youngsters to bring in their own glitter or glue. If you want to go "techy" you could try an online card-making site, I suppose. There are examples here:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 23 November 2014

MFL teacher's handbook

I just wanted to draw teachers' attention to the handbook I put together some months ago and which will, no doubt, evolve further as I add new sections. I know that some teachers have used this resource to inform their departmental discussions and it was always my intention that it might be a useful resource both for new and experienced colleagues.

There are around 70 pages of ideas for language teachers, most of which have been copied- and in some cases adapted or rewritten - from existing material from or this blog.

The content includes a number of concise checklists and includes the following areas:

Update: section on target language teaching now added.

- Methodology/theoretical basis of good practice
- Classroom organisation
- Lesson planning
- Speaking and writing activities
- Listening and reading
- Using texts
- Teaching vocabulary
- Using music
- Teaching film and literature
- Using games
- Reconciling grammar and communication
- Exploiting grammar worksheets
- Task- centred discussion work
- Assessing grammar-translation
- Using pictures
- Pace, challenge and questioning
- Teaching able linguists
- SEN learners
- Primary language learners
- Extensive reading
- Marking and grading
- Homework
- Accuracy and fluency
- Assessing course books
- Skill-building and comprehensible input.

I shall soon be adding a new section specifically on target language use once I have my notes completed for my ALL webinar on the subject in January.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Is there a consensus on language teaching methodology?

It is well established that we are in a "post methods" or eclectic period when it comes to how best to teach languages. Having been down various roads, maybe cul-de-sacs: grammar-translation, audio-lingual/visual, strong communicative and no doubt others, we seem to be in an era when most teachers accept the need for a suitable balance of target language/comprehension and grammar-vocabulary teaching/controlled practice.

When I read what teachers write online I do wonder sometimes whether teachers feel confused about what works best. Should I be using more target language? Should I be teaching grammar more explicitly? Should I feel guilty about using English or translating? Is there actually a consensus about what works best? Or are we just confused?

It would be reassuring if there were a body of reliable research to support a particular approach, but, despite some claims to the contrary, I do not believe there is such a body of empirical data which tells us clearly and objectively what is best. When one factors in the various contexts in which language teaching occurs and the fact that different teachers may make different methods work for them (especially if they believe in them), one has to ask where we can find the evidence we need which goes beyond the anecdotal.

With this in mind, I was interested to read something from Ofsted which was published some time ago and which Helen Myers brought to our attention again in the MFL Resources forum. She reproduced the post on her blog here. She was responding to an article in the Guardian which had suggested that language teachers were guilty of using phrase book methods to teach.

Ofsted has an enormous body of lesson observations and progress data to draw on and they have a pretty good idea, therefore, about what seems to work. This is important evidence.

Helen picked out a section from a report written in 2011 entitled Modern Languages: Achievement and Challenge 2007-2010 which I shall also reproduce. It is worth noting that this report was written after analysing the practice of 90 secondary schools, two thirds of which were considered "good" or "outstanding". Ofsted wrote:

1.        The following strengths were commonly observed in teaching that was judged to be good:

  • well-managed relationships: teachers took care to build up students’ confidence and encourage them to take risks
  • teachers’ good subject knowledge, including knowledge of the examination syllabus
  • clear objectives in lesson plans, ensuring that prior learning was recapped, and that the lesson had a logical structure so that planned outcomes were reached
  • effective use of the interactive whiteboard to present and explain new work
  • good demonstration of the target language by the teacher to improve students’ listening skills and pronunciation
  • lively and varied lessons which students enjoyed
  • effective, collaborative work in groups and on paired tasks
  • careful monitoring of students’ progress.
2.        The following additional strengths were noted in the outstanding teaching seen:
  • teachers’ expert use of the target language
  • planning that took students through a logical series activities and catered for the needs of all students
  • pace and challenge: students were expected to do a lot of work in the lesson
  • thorough practice of new work before students were expected to use it
  • very effective use of activities bringing the whole class together to test learning, monitor progress and redirect the lesson if necessary
  •  intercultural knowledge and understanding built into the lesson
  • language learning strategies taught very well to develop students’ understanding of learning the language
  •  very good deployment of teaching assistants and foreign language assistants in lessons.
You would need to read the more of the report to put the above points into clearer context, but viewed in isolation they still provide a solid framework for a methodology. Is this something on which to build a consensus? Good relationships, plenty of high quality target language use, clear instruction, variety, thorough practice, grammar (I believe this is implied), effective, monitoring, pace and challenge, collaborative work and cultural content.

Témoignages de migrants africains

This is a text and exercises from If you were to use this A-level resource you could set up the activity by getting students to watch this video report about the role of the Italian navy in rescuing migrants. This was linked on Twitter by a former student of mine, Giles Pitts.

Témoignages de migrants africains

Voici le témoignage d’Abderrahmane, arrivé par la mer au péril de sa vie en Italie, puis à Paris. Une traversée dangereuse. Pendant les premiers six mois de 2014, le nombre de migrants morts ou disparus en Méditerranée approchait les 3.000. 

Place de la Chapelle, XVIIIe arrondissement de Paris. On y trouve des dizaines de migrants africains. Des hommes pour la plupart, entre 15 et 30 ans. Le soir ils cherchent un endroit où dormir sur des cartons. Là, nous rencontrons Abderrahmane, 25 ans. Il a fui le Soudan à cause des violences. Abderrahmane a des traits fins, les joues creuses et des yeux noirs. Son exode a commencé en février 2014. Il a traversé le désert à pied pendant cinq mois avec trois copains de son village. Arrivés à Zuwara sur la côte libyenne, ils ont découvert des conditions de vie plus dangereuses qu'au Soudan. C'est là qu'Abderrahmane et ses amis ont rencontré ceux qui leur ont promis une traversée en mer vers l'Europe.

« On marchait dans la ville quand ils sont venus vers nous. J'étais content quand ils m'ont parlé d'une possibilité de fuir, de rejoindre l'Italie. Ils nous ont emmenés en voiture jusqu'à un hangar, où on a retrouvé d'autres Africains de différents pays. Dans ce hangar, nous sommes restés quinze jours. Il faisait chaud, nous n'avions pas de lumière. Juste un petit pain par personne par jour. »

Abderrahmane a commencé à détester ces hommes violents qui lui ont pris toutes ses affaires. Mais il a choisi avec ses trois copains de faire confiance à ces passeurs libyens car c’’était son seul espoir d’avoir une meilleure vie. Il leur a versé toutes ses économies : 2.200 dollars.

C’est le 14 août, à la nuit tombée. « Quand on est entrés dans l'eau, on a distingué le bateau dans l'obscurité. On nous avait promis un chalutier, mais c'était un pneumatique de 12 mètres sur 2 ! On est quand même montés à bord. Nous étions 95, serrés comme des sardines. Les passeurs, eux, étaient installés à l'aise sur un autre bateau, devant. Ils nous ont juste distribué une bouteille d'eau par personne pour un voyage qui a duré trois jours »

Trois jours en enfer. Le jour il fallait se protéger contre le soleil brûlant. La nuit, tout le monde avait peur à cause des vagues. Epuisé, le jeune clandestin s'est évanoui plusieurs fois. « Si je bougeais, je risquais de faire chavirer le bateau... alors je ne bougeais pas. Je ne sentais plus mes jambes. J'ai fait mes besoins sur moi. Ce qui m'a marqué ce sont les cris, les pleurs des enfants. Il y avait neuf enfants et sept femmes à bord »

Après 48 heures en bateau les passeurs ont décidé de faire demi-tour, de les laisser là au milieu de la Méditerranée. « On ne voyait que de l'eau... rien d'autre à l'horizon. Evidemment, on a eu encore plus peur ».

Le pire est ensuite arrivé : une panne de carburant,  puis une latte du plancher qui s’est brisée. L'eau a commencé à monter dans le bateau. Avant que la marine italienne intervienne, 37 passagers sont morts noyés. Abderrahmane, en larmes, raconte : « C'était tellement l'horreur... je n'ai pas vu tout de suite que mes trois amis étaient parmi ceux qui avaient coulé... C'est quand on a été secourus que je les ai cherchés et que j'ai compris que je ne les reverrais jamais... on savait qu'on pouvait mourir. Mais de toute façon au Soudan c'était la mort assurée. Alors, je ne regrette pas ce que j'ai fait, je ne regrette pas d'être ici à Paris ».

Oublier l'enfer, penser à l'Angleterre

Au pied du métro la Chapelle, Abderrahmane s'est lié d'amitié avec un autre clandestin, Kibrom, originaire d’Erythrée. Le jeune homme de 29 ans écoute le témoignage de son compagnon. Ses mains tremblent, il a envie de raconter son histoire à son tour.  Lui aussi a traversé la Méditerranée le mois dernier, mais depuis les côtes égyptiennes, pour 3.000 dollars. 

« Mon bateau à moi était plus grand, mais on était 300 et ça a duré 20 jours ! 20 jours sans dormir, à manger du pain recouvert de champignons. J'ai cru mourir car la mer a failli nous emporter, mais aussi parce qu’on n’avait pas assez d’eau potable. Plusieurs personnes sont mortes à bord. J'ai cette image en tête d'une femme, on a mis longtemps à voir qu'elle ne respirait plus. Puis avec la chaleur son corps s'est vite décomposé. C'est moi qui ai décidé de jeter son cadavre à l'eau. Des enfants regardaient. Un cauchemar", confie Kibrom.

Abderrahmane et Kibrom voudraient ne plus penser maintenant à l'enfer qu'a été la traversée de la Méditerranée. Le soir, allongés sur un bout de trottoir parisien, quand ils ferment les yeux, les deux jeunes préfèrent rêver de l'Angleterre. Dès demain, ils prendront la route pour Calais.

Vocabulaire choisi

personal story - _____________ (m)             cardboard box - ________ (m)

to flee - _____                                                 to take (someone) - ___________

to trust - _____ ________ _                            smuggler, courier - ________ (m)

to pay - _______                                             trawler - _________ (m)

wave - ______ (f)                                           to faint – s’__________

to rock (boat), capsize - __________             to turn around - ______ ____-____

plank - ______ (f)                                           to  break - _ ______

drowned - _____                                             to sink - _______

to rescue - ___________                                to make friends - __ ____ _’________

mould - _____________ (m. pl.)                    corpse - _________ (m)

Answer in English in note form

1.         How did Abderrahmane get to Europe ? Make three points.


2.         Describe the scene where he is being interviewed. Make three points.

3.         Describe the conditions he was kept in by the people smugglers in Libya. Make four points.


4.         Why did he and his friends end up trusting the people smugglers?


5.         Describe the boat and the conditions on it. Make four points.


6.         Why did he faint on the boat?


7.         What went wrong with the boat? Make two points.


8.         What was the result of this?


9.         What awful thing did Kibrom have to do during his crossing?


10.       What are the two men doing tomorrow and why?


Story from France Info

Teacher’s answers

1.         walked across desert (from Sudan to Libya)

            Took five months

            Boat from Libya to Italy

2.         18th district of Paris /La Chapelle Square

            10s of Africans migrants (mainly men)

            Cardboard boxes to sleep on

3.         In a hangar/shed

            No light


            One piece of bread a day

            Other Africans for company

4.         Only hope for a better life

5.         Inflatable dinghy (12 x 2 metres)

            95 people packed like sardines

            One bottle of water for the whole journey

            Burning sun

6.         Had to stand upright for fear of capsizing boat

7.         Ran out of fuel. A plank broke/split (let in water)

8.         37 people drowned

9.         Throw the rotting corpse of a woman into the sea

10.       Going to Calais. To get to England.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Fundamental challenge of new GCSE speaking assessment

It won't be long before we see what the awarding bodies have in mind for the latest version of GCSE speaking test. As always, the fundamental challenge will be to produce an assessment which challenges the most able and supports the least.

The most recent version of oral assessment, the controlled assessment regime, has leaned towards helping the less confident linguist. By allowing students to set answers to memory, we end up with nearly every student being able to say something worthwhile. Weaker students achieve something. At the same time, the most competent linguists still get the chance to excel by producing longer and more linguistically complex responses.

Previous versions of GCSE speaking tests have attempted to achieve the same balancing act by allowing part of the test to be a memorised talk of at least one minute. The earliest version of GCSE speaking, back in 1987-8, as I recall it, leaned too much towards spontaneity for weaker pupils.

The current controlled assessment regime has been rightly criticised for going too far down the road of rote learning at the expense of spontaneity (even though it still allows the best students to shine). Therefore we can expect the new assessment to value unrehearsed responses more highly.

There are various ways to do this: you can get students to speak about pictures, do role plays and answer (relatively) unpredictable conversation questions, for example. The danger is, of course, that we produce an assessment which does not allow for enough pre-learning. I recall very clearly the GCSE speaking tests I used to mark for AQA in the 1990s. Too many candidates were unable to say very much at all. Minutes of silence or the odd uttered word were easy to assess, but you had to question whether the experience was worthwhile for everyone concerned.

Thankfully the DfE accepted the need for tiering in the new exams, but the the challenge remains. Even in an era when so many less able students no longer do MFL GCSE, can the exam boards produce a test which allows for both sufficient spontaneity and advance rehearsal? We should examine specimen tests with this strongly in mind.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 13 November 2014

What's better: work done in books or blogs?

For a couple of years I experimented with having a proportion of written homework done using student blogs. Y10-11 classes would write a composition piece about once every two weeks. I taught them how to set up a Blooger blog, encouraged them to personalise it and to read the blogs of other students. I would always read and comment on every homework done in this way.

Overall students seemed happy to do work in this way and I really should have got some empirical feedback, but I didn't.

On reflection there were a few disadvantages in having students work in this way.

Firstly, I always had the impression that typed work in a blog was less carefully done than it would have been in their exercise books. I am not certain why this was the case. Maybe there were simple typos. Maybe the blog format encouraged fluid writing at the expense of accuracy. Maybe typing encouraged some subtle use of copy-paste/ Google Translate (I never was aware of this at the time). Word-processing does allow for easier redrafting and editing, but may produce more inaccuracy.

Secondly, marking blogged work was less than perfect. I would write a grade and pick out a few corrections to comment on, but obviously could not deal adequately with minor error where I would have liked to. I also tended to be more generous with comments because blogs were public. Sometimes you need to be critical and direct to get the best work in future. (The Craig Revel-Horwood approach!)

Thirdly, with typed work it is harder to tell how hard a pupil tries. Neatness of handwriting is a big indicator of time and care taken. Generally, as I mentioned, blogged work came across as less careful.

Lastly, and this is a minor point, it was a bit harder to keep track of the punctuality of student work. When exercise books were handed in in lesson time students were very reluctant to meet with my disapproval if a book was not there. With blogs, on the other hand, delayed, online disapproval meant students were a little more likely to fail to meet deadlines.

On the positive side, a few students excelled even more using blogs and did take advantage of the presentational opportunities. Students did read other blogs, though less than I had hoped for. Students also got used to blogging in general.

To answer the question posed in the title of this post, I would suggest that hand-written work has the edge over the blog. I would even argue that hand-written still just about trumps word-processing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Adult beginner resources

A little project I have given myself is to create some resources specifically for beginner and near beginner adult students. This is in response to requests from adult tutors and feedback from my recent Survey Monkey questionnaire.

What I have in mind is nothing very original, but it should be useful. I shall write some simple situational dialogues for reading aloud in pairs or small groups. The conversations can then be adapted as appropriate. I'll add some cultural notes, key phrases or vocabulary lists to help.

As always with the resources I write, my intention is that they be considered practical, accurate and usable. Each of these respurces should take about 20 minutes or so to use in class.

These new resources should usefully supplement the numerous advanced resources already on the Adult Students page.

Update: 13.11.14 I have now posted seven dialogues,  au restaurant, à la réception de l'hôtel, au camping, à la boulangerie, au café, à la boucherie and à la poissonnerie.

Update: 29.11.14 The are now a dozen dialogues.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

MFL A-levels are not dire; they are rather good!

I blogged yesterday about remarks made about the current modern languages A-levels. The accusation was, essentially, that they are dumbed down, lack rigour and are not interesting enough. I categorically rejected that claim but did not go into why I believe the current A-level is very good.

  • The AS level offers a good bridge between GCSE and A2 level. ALCAB made this a criticism, claiming AS was too much like AS level. I think they underestimate how much students like the topics, how stimulating they can be and how weak many students are when they emerge from GCSE. ALCAB believed that the new GCSE might fix the latter issue. It will not.
  • The current A-level stresses target langauge use in nearly every respect, especially as far as the cultural topics are concerned. Discussion and assessment in the target language are best. If you set essays in the target langauge, you will practise them that way. If you set essays in English students will spend hours writing English, not the target language. Assessment through English will harm acquisition.
  • The current A2 topics approach - what I label "general studies through the target language" - has been established for years and it works. ALCAB worried that there was insufficient reference to the culture of the target language, but in practice teachers use resources which, in most cases, refer to the target language countries. In addition, the topics are of great relevance to the modern world and merit continued loyalty: integration, environment, development and so on. These are the issues of the day and they are of relevance in all countries.
  • The balance of communication and grammatical rigour is about right as it stands. If students emerge from A-level without a firm grammatical and lexical basis it is not because of the syllabus. It may be because they are not taught thoroughly enough or that some students do not retain structures as easily as others.
  • The current system of cultural topics gives teachers freedom to choose from a wide range of areas: history, film, drama, the novel, geography and so on. Not all students are motivated by film and literature. A-level need not reflect a university academic bias towards these areas. Prescribed lists may allow for a slightly more robust assessment and greater consistency, but they do sometimes force teachers to teach in areas they are less confident with or enthusiastic about. Any essay-based assessment will always leave room for subjectivity and complaint.
  • The current emphasis on translation is adequate. Indeed, I would remove it completely. You can achieve grammatical and lexical rigour without translation.
  • The current A-level is set at a reasonable level of challenge. I know this having taught students with a range of aptitudes, from E/U-graders to Oxbridge entrants. Noone ever complained it was too easy. Indeed, the grading regime places languages among the hardest subjects, along with sciences.
  • Students are challenged by and enjoy the current A-level. Low take-up at A-level has little to do with the A-level itself. As the recent JCQ report found, it is much more about previous experience of GCSE and the perception that languages are harder to get good grades in, therefore a risky choice. Most students want stimulating courses with a stress on speaking and listening.

Friday, 7 November 2014

A-levels are not "dire"

An article in The Guardian penned by Lucy Ward caught my eye this morning. The starting point was a survey of students which suggested that most language students cannot do more than understand basic phrases. The thrust of the article was to reinforce the view that languages are in a state of crisis in English schools.

One point in the piece attracted my attention in particular. This was the attack by Katrin Kohl, professor of German literature at Oxford who labelled the current A-level syllabus "dire". Kohl was a member of the ALCAB panel tasked by Michael Gove to reform MFL A-levels. The DfE syllabus produced from their report is now in consultation, having met with a great deal of ire from the language teaching community.

Kohl is quoted as saying that the reformed qualification is “supposed to be an A-level, not some kind of dumbed-down Berlitz course".

I'm not sure how well placed Professor Kohl is to judge the current A-level, but I can assure her that very few teachers or students consider it "dire". On the contrary, students are well challenged and enjoy their A-level courses very much. I know. I taught them for over 30 years. The Berlitz reference is frankly ridiculous and a little insulting.

We shall see quite soon how the consultation on ALCAB's syllabus has gone. I was interested to read towards the end of the article that the proposal to examine parts of the syllabus in English (we are talking the literature/film essay here) is "controversial and may be rejected". I am curious to know where Lucy Ward picked up that suggestion.

I remain hopeful that Ofqual will very soon report accurately what teachers and associations have thought of the ALCAB A-level. If the consultation has been negative, which I am assuming it was, will they be prepared to review it or make suignficant conscessions to common sense?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Enseigner Le Français avec TV5Monde

I last blogged about this site back in 2012. I've been looking at it again and have to say that it's a fabulous resource for video listening, with some skillfully produced graded worksheets.

If you do a search via Fiche par Thème, you access a large range of advanced level listening material. the topics include: Actualité mondiale, Diversité à l'école, Expressions imagées francophones, l'Europe vue par des experts, Découverte des régions francophones (including some from Canada), Patrimoine oral francophone, Analyse des relations internationales, Un pays, un lieu, une émotion, Sport en tous genres. There are quite a few more.

Whether you like the videos may depend on your taste and that of your students, but the ones I have viewed are generally interesting, clear and well-paced for advanced level and are accompanied by a range of very usable worksheets, set at different levels, depending on the class you have. On the whole they will suit Upper Sixth students in England and Wales (Higher in Scotland, advanced level elsewhere).

At the time of writing there are no fewer than 212 French song videos available (usually Youtube linked). The worksheets include song lyrics, matching tasks, completion, note taking. There are also teacher notes for guidance. Documents are in pdf and word, so there is an opportunity for editing them to match your own class. I really like these worksheets, They look like they are written by practising teachers who know what works and what will stimulate.

In the Sports section, which features some extreme sports, I looked at the video about Le snowkite. This would work at AS level (low advanced). The language is reasonably paced, clear and authentic, of course. The Fiche apprenant élémentaire (A2) is well thought out and I would be happy to use it with a lower sixth class.

In the Découverte des régions francophones I looked at the one on Languedoc-Roussillon. This is a tourist brochure style video which would work well with advanced adult learners, as well as at AS level if you were doing a theme on holidays. This video has three sets of graded worksheets. All of them work well, the hardest demanding writing at greater length. the teachers' notes are detailed and act as a lesson plan with answers where required.

I cannot praise this site highly enough. Students doing self-study may have appreciated their own answer keys at the end of each worksheet, but this is a minor quibble really.

A-level MFL presentation for York University PGCE students

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Four great Francis Cabrel songs for the classroom

I am a fan of Francis Cabrel. French friends introduced me to his music quite a few years ago and I used his songs many times in French lessons, from Year 10 (intermediate) to advanced level. Although he writes intimate love songs, he also follows that tradition of the singer songwriter with a social conscience. As a result there is much in his lyrics to chew on in lessons. Principally, though, he has a very clear voice and writes great music, strongly influenced by anglo-saxon musicians (e.g. Dylan) and the blues.

Here are four of his songs which work well in the classroom and which will get classes humming.  I have worksheets on naturellement.

J'ai peur de l'avion (from the album Sarbacane)

This is a heavy blues rock song in which Cabrel sings of his fear of flying. I used this song to tie in with the theme of transport. The lyrics and music are straightforward. A good song for intermediate level. I can't find this one online, so you'd have to buy the album, which is very good.

La Corrida (from Samedi soir sur la Terre)

Maybe Cabrel's most famous song. Dramatic music with a hispanic feel to accompany a trenchant attack on bullfighting. Get students to work out from whose point of view the song is sung. (Answer: the bull's.)

Madame X (from Hors saison)

A melancholic ballad about poverty. Very clear and effective lyrics. You could use this at intermediate or advanced level.

I couldn't find the original of this online, but there are covers.

Hors saison (from Hors saison)

Ostensibly about an out of season seaside resort, but this ballad is really about lost love. Better used at advanced level.