Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Games for Teaching Primary French

This is a review of the book Games for Teaching Primary French by Danièle Bourdais and Sue Finnie, just published by Crown House at £18.99.

I should say at the outset that I have precisely zero experience of teaching primary French, but I did teach many Y7 classes over the years, so I might have some useful observations to make. I would expect games for primary children to involve a good deal of activity and these do.

This well-priced book of 250 pages is divided into sections with the titles Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, Numbers, Grammar and Playing with Sounds. The authors describe the book as a practical toolkit ('in' word, that) containing a wide variety of fun and engaging games for all abilities, from beginners to more competent learners. The no-tech games are designed to support existing schemes of work and are claimed to be based on sound pedagogy and years of classroom experience. All good so far!

There then follows a large number of games, one per page or two pages, many with room for you to write in your own notes at the end. Each game is very clearly laid out in steps, with an indication of whether it is for the whole class, small groups, teams or pairs; the skill type being practised, the aim of the game and any resources you might need. The latter include, for example, soft toys, hand puppets, flashcards, drawing pins, adhesive tack, chairs, pens and dice.
After a step-by-step guide to each game, the authors add further tips in a comments section.

Let's have a look at three of the games.

From the speaking section they describe The Conductor/Le chef d'orchestre.
In this game you play the conductor and pupils are auditioning for an orchestra.

1. You say the word you want pupils to repeat in a specific style (e.g. like a robot or whispering). You ask them what the style is.
You say: (speaking like a robot) Bonjour! and the class respond "You're speaking like a robot"
You say: "Oui! Comme un robot!"
You do these for a number of styles.

2. You now play the audition game, pointing to individual pupils and modelling a style for them to copy, e.g:
T: (in a loud voice) Salut! Comment ça va?
P1: (in a loud voice) Salut! Comment ça va?
if the pupils does it well they come to the front and join the orchestra.

3. You ask the rest of the class to take part in the auditioning process by showing if they think the candidate did well (thumbs up). Pupils who don't repeat well get another chance later.

4. To round off the game you ask all the pupils to repeat the words after you, using different voices and styles.

That seems like a decent way of having fun with sounds and getting confident with repeating simple language. I suppose you would use that with beginners from Y4 or thereabouts.


From the grammar section Danièle and Sue describe a game called All Aboard!/Tous en bus!

The aim of this is to practise prepositions of place (devant, derrière, à côté de, à gauche de etc) and just requires chairs.

1. You set out chairs in rows to represent seats in a bus, with one seat for the driver at the front. You need the same number of chairs as players in the team or class.

2. The team or class is divided into two. They form a queue and listen to your instructions.

T: Emily, assied-toi devant, tu es le chauffeur. Kevin, mets-toi derrière Emily. They choose their seats accordingly. Team B have to watch and point out if anyone gets their seat wrong. If there is a correct challenge the pupil must get off the bus. When every pupil in Team A has had their turn you make a note of the number of correctly placed pupils.

You then repeat the process with team B and see which team wins.

I like this one. It reminds me of the principle of the TPR method (Total Physical Response), an approach strongly based on following instructions with physical actions. I could see this being used with a Y5 or Y6 class.


The third game I'll look at is from the reading section and is called What's the Word/A demi-mots.

This is for the whole class and the aim is to decipher words. You need A4 sheets of paper, scissors for the teacher and adhesive tack or drawing pins.

1. Before the lesson the teacher takes ten sheets of A4 and writes a word or short phrase in large letters on each one. You could do countries for example.

2. You cut each one horizontally and put to one side the bottom half of each word.

3. You pin up the top halves around the room.

4. When the pupils arrive they have to walk around the room and try to work out the words and write them down.

5. When they have finished you hand out the bottom halves to volunteers who pin them up in the right place with the top halves. The winner is the pupil with the most correct answers.

That seems like an OK activity for various levels, depending on which langauge you use. I can imagine doing that with Y7s too, perhaps as a starter or plenary.


In fact, Danièle and Sue make the point that all these games can fit in where you want them to: as fillers, starters, plenaries or to occupy the bulk of a lesson. In addition, many games do not neatly fit the categories of listening, reading, grammar and so on. The authors acknowledge this, but it is still useful to structure the book in that way. There are LOTS of games here, along with two useful appendices containing sounds and words for phonics practice an a set of rhymes and tongue-twisters.

I would thoroughly recommend this book. I can imagine primary French teachers using this as a bible with their own notes added. Some teachers will work out their own variations on the games. Spanish and German teachers will also be able to adapt these games for their own language. The lack of need for technology is a bonus - you can imagine many of these games being used in an emergency.

Well-thumbed copies of this toolkit may be discovered one day by aliens searching through dusty old cupboards.



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