Sunday, 20 December 2015

Sample parallel reading for beginners

This is an example of a parallel reading activity on It is aimed at near beginners with just a few months French behind them. The aim, of course, is to allow inexperienced readers to access interesting content despite their lack of language skill. It's a great way of providing comprehensible input to novice learners. Frenchteacher users have found that putting the 20 examples of parallel reading together in a booklet is a super planned or reserve activity for the classroom.

This one is about planets. Here we go:

Les planètes intérieures sont Mercure, Vénus, la Terre et Mars. Mercure, la planète la plus proche du Soleil, est une roche pas beaucoup plus grande que notre Lune. Il est incroyablement chaud et incapable de supporter la vie. L'atmosphère contient du sodium et du potassium.

Vénus est la deuxième planète du Soleil et est de la même taille que la Terre. L'atmosphère est composée principalement de dioxyde de carbone. La température de la surface peut être aussi élevée que 480 degrés Celsius. Il n'y a pas de vie sur la planète Vénus.

La Terre est la seule planète qui possède les conditions pour soutenir la vie. La surface n'est ni très froide ni très chaude. L'eau peut exister sous toutes ses formes - gaz, liquide et solide. Ces conditions permettent aux plantes et aux animaux de vivre et de se reproduire.

Mars, la première planète au-delà de la Terre, est plus petit que la Terre. L'atmosphère est composée principalement de dioxyde de carbone. L'eau existe sur cette planète, mais seulement sous forme de glace. La planète entière est un désert sans vie.

 Les planètes extérieures, Jupiter, Saturne, Uranus et Neptune s’appellent les géantes gazeuses. Elles sont beaucoup plus grosses que la Terre. 

Version anglaise

The inner planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, is a rock not much bigger than our Moon. It is incredibly hot and incapable of supporting life. The atmosphere contains sodium and potassium.

Venus is the second planet from the Sun and is the same size as the earth.
The atmosphere is mainly composed of carbon dioxide. The surface temperature can be as high as 480 degrees Celsius. There is no life on Venus.

The Earth is the only planet which has the right conditions for supporting life. The surface is neither too cold nor too hot. Water can exist in all its forms – gas, liquid and solid. These conditions allow plants and animals to live and to reproduce.

Mars, the first planet beyond the Earth, is smaller than Earth. The atmosphere is mainly composed of carbon dioxide. Water exists on this planet, but only in the form of ice. The whole planet is a lifeless desert.

The outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, are called gas giants. They are much larger than the Earth.

And the exercises to recycle the language and use the reading strategy of looking for cognates:

Which of these French sentences are true?

1.          Vénus est une planète intérieure.
2.         Mars est une planète extérieure.
3.         Mercure est un peu plus grand que la Lune.
4.         Mercure supporte la vie.
5.         Vénus est de la même taille que la Terre.
6.         L’atmosphère de Vénus consiste d’oxygène.
7.         Il fait extrêmement chaud sur Vénus.
8.         Vénus supporte la vie.
9.         La Terre est unique car elle supporte la vie.
10.        Il y a beaucoup d’eau sur la Terre.
11.        Il y a beaucoup d’animaux sur la Terre.
12.        Mars est plus grand que la Terre.
13.        Mars est désertique et sans vie.
14.        Les planètes extérieures sont solides.
15.        Les planètes extérieures sont de la même taille que la Terre.

Highlight all the words in the French text the meaning of which
You could have guessed because they resemble English words.
These are called COGNATES. They are one reason why French is
a relatively easy language for English people to learn.

Complete this word list

French                        English
Terre                                      ___________
proche                                     ___________
rock                                        ___________
life                                          ___________
mainly                                     ___________
seule                                       ___________
soutenir                                   ___________
seulement                                ___________
entière                                    ___________

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Some strategies for teaching new vocabulary

This blog is by myself and Gianfranco Conti and is a short extract from our forthcoming handbook, which is nearing completion. Books take a long time! This is about teaching new words.

Research into the brain and information-processing gives us some important leads with regard to teaching vocabulary. In general terms we would agree with this advice from Joe Barcroft (2004)*:

1.        Present new words frequently and repeatedly in the input.
2.        Use meaning-bearing comprehensible input when presenting new words.
3.        Limit ‘forced output’ during the early stages of learning new words.
4.        Limit forced semantic elaboration during the initial stages of learning new                       words.
5.        Progress from less demanding to more demanding vocabulary related                           activities.

That’s not to say there is never a case for learning isolated words. We see little wrong with presenting some new simple vocabulary via, for example, flashcards. Here are some specific teaching strategies which might make good sense:

v   In any given lesson we ought to teach words that are as closely related as possible at semantic and grammatical level. This is often done by text books anyway.

v   When teaching new words we should try as much as possible to hook them with previously learnt lexis which alliterates, chimes or rhymes with the new vocabulary. This can be turned into a game in which students are given the task to find, under time constraints, a rhyming or alliterating word for the new L2 vocabulary.

v   We could try to ensure that from the early stages students are aware of the word class an item belongs to. This provides the student with an added retrieval cue in the recall process. For instance, students could be asked to categorize the words into adjectives, nouns, adverbs, etc., or to brainstorm as many words they learnt on the day in those categories.

v   We could try to find as many opportunities as possible for students to relate words, especially the challenging ones, to their personal and emotional life. For instance, whilst learning colours students could be asked to match each colour to an emotion or physical state. Or, when learning food you could ask students to say which fruit, pastry, drink, etc. they identify with and why.

v   Students could also do activities requiring them to perform more elaborate semantic associations between new vocabulary and previously learnt lexis. For instance, students could create ‘lexical chains’, i.e. given two words quite far apart in meaning, students could produce an associative chain of words that links those two items in some way, logically or otherwise. For example: old lady, cats, cat food, cans, aluminium, factories, pollution. This can be fun and does not require knowledge of complex vocabulary.

v  Activities involving semantic analysis of words, such as ‘odd one out’, definition games, sorting vocabulary into semantic categories, matching lexical items of similar or opposite meanings, can also create further associations.

v   You should be careful when teaching cognates that are orthographically or phonologically very close in the two languages. This sort of L2-cognates can be tricky as they are so closely associated with their L1 translation that they can result in retrieval of the L1 form.

v  Teachers and students would do well to go back over the L2 vocabulary across as many contexts as possible and as often as possible until it has been fully acquired, especially during the two days following the initial uptake, when most of the forgetting usually occurs.

v  Where students need to learn genders, in the early stages, try to be consistent with which article you use. If students get to hear many times over a word with the same article it is more likely they will remember its gender without learning it by rote. Students can become quite adept at gender over time without setting them to memory.

v   Extensive reading will contribute greatly to vocabulary acquisition. Where possible, and where time allows, it would be wise to give students the opportunity to engage in reading texts for pleasure. Some applied linguists argue that “sustained silent reading” (notably, Stephen Krashen) should be a staple of language teaching and learning. This can be difficult owing to the mismatch between students’ cognitive maturity levels and their L2 proficiency. One solution is to make use of parallel reading texts where the text is presented in L2 on the left and L1 on the right.

v    Computer-aided text manipulation tasks, e.g. the widely used Textivate and various Hot Potato exercises, e.g. can combine exposure to vocabulary with the opportunity to use it repeatedly and meaningfully.

*  Barcroft, J. (2004). ‘Second language vocabulary acquisition: A lexical input processing approach.’ Foreign Language Annals, 37, 2, 200-208.

COP21: L'accord sur le climat

Here is a resource I wrote and which is available as a Word document on (free samples page). The original text, which I have adapted a good deal, was from

COP21 : les principaux points de l'accord de Paris sur le climat

Après 13 jours de négociations, les 195 pays réunis pour la conférence de Paris pour le climat sont parvenus à un accord historique sur le climat, samedi 12 décembre. Selon les mots de Laurent Fabius, président de la COP21, le texte adopté est "juste,   durable, dynamique, équilibré, et juridiquement contraignant". Avec cet accord, le monde s'est engagé sur une limitation de la hausse de la température "bien en deçà de 2°C", une révision "tous les 5 ans" de ces objectifs et une aide financière conséquente aux pays du Sud, samedi 12 décembre au Bourget. Voici les principaux points de cet accord.

Limiter le réchauffement "Bien en-deçà de 2°C"

Le texte propose de limiter la hausse de la température "bien en deçà de 2°C" et de "poursuivre les efforts pour limiter la hausse de la température à 1,5°C", ce qui impose de réduire drastiquement les émissions de gaz à effet de serre (GES).  Plusieurs politiques doivent être adoptées pour arriver à cet objectif : des mesures d'économies d'énergie, davantage d'investissements dans les énergies renouvelables, une politique de reboisement des forêts. De nombreux pays, notamment les États insulaires menacés par la montée du niveau de la mer, soulignent qu'ils sont en danger au-delà d'une hausse de 1,5°C.

Comment y arriver ?

Sur 195 pays, 186 ont annoncé des mesures pour limiter ou réduire leurs émissions de gaz à effet de serre d’ici 2025-2030. Mais même si elles étaient respectées, la hausse de température serait ramenée à environ 3°C. Pour atteindre l'objectif "bien en-deçà de 2°C", le texte propose "un pic des émissions de gaz à effet de serre le plus tôt possible" et "d'entreprendre des réductions rapides ensuite... afin de parvenir à un équilibre entre émissions" causées par les activités humaines et celles "absorbées par les puits de carbone durant la seconde moitié du siècle", une référence possible aux forêts, mais aussi à la technique du captage et stockage du CO2. 

Révision à la hausse des engagements

Un des dispositifs clés de l'accord est la mise en place d'un mécanisme de révision des engagements nationaux qui restent volontaires. Elle aura lieu tous les cinq ans et chacune "représentera une progression" par rapport à la précédente. La première révision obligatoire aurait lieu en 2025, après un bilan de l'action collective en 2023. Certains craignent que ce mécanisme soit trop tardif pour rester sous les 2°C. Une première discussion sur les actions prises et à prendre est pourtant prévue en 2018.

Pays développés, pays en développement : qui fait quoi ?

La convention climat de l'ONU de 1992 a instauré une division stricte entre pays développés et pays en développement dans le partage des obligations. Les pays industrialisés, Etats-Unis en tête, veulent assouplir cette ligne de partage qu'ils jugent dépassée au vu de l'essor économique des grands pays émergents, mais des pays comme l'Inde refusent de l'effacer, au nom de leur droit au développement et de la responsabilité historique du Nord dans le dérèglement climatique.

Quant à la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre, cette "différenciation" reste actée : les pays développés "doivent être à la pointe et se doter d'objectifs de réduction d'émissions en valeur absolue", alors que les pays en développement "devraient continuer à améliorer leurs efforts" de lutte contre le réchauffement, "à la lumière de leur situation nationale". 
La formule proposée est que "les pays développés doivent apporter des ressources financières pour aider les pays en développement" à s'adapter aux effets du changement climatique et à prendre des mesures pour réduire leurs émissions. "D'autres parties (pays ou groupe de pays) sont encouragées à apporter un soutien sur une base volontaire".

On va aider financièrement les pays du Sud

En 2009, les pays riches ont promis de verser 100 milliards de dollars par an à partir de 2020 pour financer les politiques climatiques des pays en développement. Ces derniers exigent ensuite une progression de cette somme et plus de clarté sur les moyens d'y parvenir. Le texte acte que cette somme de 100 milliards de dollars n'est qu'un "plancher", et qu'en 2025, un nouvel objectif sera posé sur la table.

Questions in English

1.         What happened on 12th December 2015?           
2.         How did Laurent Fabius describe the agreement?
3.         What three main points are made about the agreement in the first                           paragraph?         
4.         What will be required to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C?
5.         Mention three main policy measures required.
6.         Which countries in particular feel threatened by a rise beyond 1.5°C?                   Why?
7.         Why is the figure of 3°C mentioned?
8.         What is meant by “puits de carbone?
9.         What will happen exactly every five years?
10.       What do some fear?
11.       What would the USA like to see?           
12.       Why do countries like India object to this?
13.       In terms of CO2 reduction what difference is made in the agreement                     between developed and developing countries?
14.       Why is 100 billion dollars mentioned?

15.       Translate:
            La formule proposée est que "les pays développés doivent apporter des                 ressources financières pour aider les pays en développement" à s'adapter               aux effets du changement climatique et à prendre des mesures pour                       réduire leurs émissions.  "D'autres parties (pays ou groupe de pays) sont               encouragées à apporter un soutien    sur une base volontaire".
Teacher’s answers

1.         historic agreement on climate in Paris.
2.         fair, sustainable, dynamic, balanced and legally binding.
3.         an agreement to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, revise                   goals every five years and provide help to southern hemisphere countries.
4.         drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
5.         energy saving, investing in renewable energy and reforestation.
6.         island nations threatened by seal level rise.
7.         that is the predicted rise based on countries’ current goals.
8.         ways of locking up carbon e.g. forests or carbon capture and storage                     (“carbon sinks”)
9.         national goals will be revised and mark a progression compared the the                 previous ones.
10.       that it will be too late to stop temperatures exceeding 2 degrees.
11.       the old defintion of developed and developing nations to be revised, to                 take account of the rise of nations like India.
12.       they feel developed nations, who profited from carbon-based                                 development, owe a historic debt to developing nations which need to                   grow economically.
13.       developed nations have to state specific carbon reduction figures,                           whereas  developing nations just have to make an effort to combat                         warming based on their national situation.
14.       the sum rich countries will invest in helping developing natuions reduce               CO2 emissions.

15.       The proposed wording is that “developed nations must provide financial               support to help developing nations” adapt to the effects of climate change             and to take measures to reduce their emissions. “Other                                           stakeholders/parties (countries or groups of countries) are encouraged to               offer help on a voluntary basis.”

Saturday, 5 December 2015

The accredited AQA GCSE specification (3)

You'll find all the specimen papers here;

In this third look at the new AQA MFL syllabus I'm going to look at the Higher Writing papers. The examples will be from French, but the principles apply to other subjects.

There are three questions, two of which are compositions, one translation.

Question 1 Composition (overlap with Foundation) (16 marks)

I looked at this in the least blog, so won't go through it again. The mark scheme usefully provides indicative content for examiners to help with their assessment.

Question 2 Composition (150 words) (32 marks)

Once again,ther is a choice of two compositions. Here are the examples:


Vous écrivez un article sur la qualité des collèges en Grande-Bretagne pour un magazine français. Décrivez :
• pourquoi votre collège est un bon collège
• un événement scolaire mémorable.
Ecrivez environ 150 mots en français.
Répondez aux deux aspects de la question.


Vous écrivez un article sur les vacances pour un magazine français. Décrivez :
• l’importance des vacances
• des vacances mémorables.
Ecrivez environ 150 mots en français.
Répondez aux deux aspects de la question.

Passing quickly over the slightly absurd 'authentic' nature of the task (a reminder, perhaps, that writing is the least authentic and useful of all the skills at GCSE), the two essays are of similar difficulty level and quite clearly invite candidates to write one section largely in the present tense and a second in the perfect tense. Within these two sections it would be possible, of course, to include other tenses and a good range of structures and vocabulary.

The lack of bullet points leaves plenty of scope for freedom. The word limit is approximate (exam boards do not want candidates to waste valuable time counting up words exactly). Stronger candidates would write a good deal more than 150 words. The mark scheme , again, provides indicative content for examiners and teachers.

Marks are distributes as follows: Content 15, Range 12, Accuracy 5. This clearly places the emphasis on communication rather than accuracy and this is to be welcomed. In any case accuracy will be more important in the next question...

Question 3 Translation into French (12 marks)

There are 6 marks for conveying messages, 6 for knowledge of language and structures. here is the short passage for translation;

To celebrate my birthday, I invited my friends to my house. My mother prepared a special meal. I received a computer. It is useful because I have a lot of homework. Next year in September I will do an apprenticeship in a college in the town centre and I would like good results.

As at Foundation Tier, marking is not done on a points, phrase-by-phrase basis. here are the two mark grids:

Conveying key messages 

6 All key messages are conveyed.
5 Nearly all key messages are conveyed.
4 Most key messages are conveyed.
3 Some key messages are conveyed.
2 Few key messages are conveyed.
1 Very few key messages are conveyed.
0 The content does not meet the standard required for Level 1 at this tier.

Application of grammatical knowledge of language and structures   

6 Excellent knowledge of vocabulary and structures; virtually faultless.
5 Very good knowledge of vocabulary and structures; highly accurate.
4 Good knowledge of vocabulary and structures; generally accurate.
3 Reasonable knowledge of vocabulary and structures; more accurate than inaccurate.
2 Limited knowledge of vocabulary and structures; generally inaccurate.
1 Very limited knowledge of vocabulary and structures; highly inaccurate.
0 The language produced does not meet the standard required for Level 1 at this tier.

My concern with this approach to marking is that an element of subjectivity comes into play; a phrase-by-phrase assessment is more objective, in my view. To offset this potential problem, the mark scheme provides examples of 6 imaginary students who fall into each mark category for the two criteria. This is useful, but research shows that as soon as you offer a level-based mark scheme examiners will interpret it differently. I would anticipate some discussion of this when it comes to moderation. This issue will arise with all the exam boards since it is the DfE/Ofqual who have insisted on this approach.

Anyway, the level of the translation is very reasonable (much easier than what candidates had to cope with in a different era, buy the way). Vocabulary and tenses are limited, sentence structure simple (e.g. no relative clauses). The fact that only 12 marks out of 60 are allocated to the translation question should be a reminder that teachers need not go overboard on grammar-translation in lessons. There are, as I regularly say, other ways to develop grammatical accuracy.

Friday, 4 December 2015

The accredited AQA GCSE specification (2)

Here is the link to all the AQA specimen materials:

Yesterday I looked at the Speaking assessment specimens, with a focus on the Foundation Tier questions. In this blog I'll take a look at the Foundation Writing questions, which will inevitably be of interest since this testing format differs so greatly from the current one of controlled assessments and may (no, will!) prove a difficult challenge for many students. For old hands, it's a case, to some extent at least, of déjà vu!

Foundation Tier example

Question 1 Stimulus photo (8 marks)

Candidates see a picture of some people eating in a school canteen. the rubric reads:

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? Ecrivez quatre phrases en français.

Question 2 Writing a short message  (16 marks)

Vous êtes en vacances et vous écrivez à votre ami(e) français(e). Mentionnez : 
• où vous êtes 
• la météo 
• l’hôtel 
• vos activités de vacances. 

Ecrivez environ 40 mots en français.

Question 3 Translation into French (10 marks)

Translate the following sentences into French.

1. My father is tall.
2. At school I like maths and science.
3. I listen to music in the evening.
4. In my town there is a cinema and a museum.
5. I played football in the park with my friends.

Question 4 Composition (90 words) Choice of two (16 marks)

Vous décrivez là où vous habitez pour votre blog. Décrivez : 
• votre ville et ses attractions 
• les aspects positifs et négatifs de votre maison 
• une visite récente à votre ville 
• où vous voulez habiter à l’avenir. 

Ecrivez environ 90 mots en français. Répondez à chaque aspect de la question.

Vous décrivez votre vie d’adolescent(e) pour votre blog. Décrivez : 
• vos passe-temps préférés 
• vos rapports avec votre famille 
• une activité récente avec un(e) ami(e) 
• vos projets pour le week-end prochain. 

Ecrivez environ 90 mots en français. Répondez à chaque aspect de la question.


Now, I have to say that AQA have done pretty well with this. The mark allocation does not place too much importance on any one exercise type (e.g. translation). The translation sentences are fair. the composition bullet points are as clear as they can be. The final question includes past and future time and, whilst weaker candidates will be confused by the TL rubrics, with training from teachers this need not be a huge obstacle. The same issue which I pointed out yesterday applies: if you have TL rubrics, then there is a risk some students will not show off the full extent of their written skill. many teachers will regard this as unfair, but it is what Ofqual insist upon.

The element of choice in Question 4 is very welcome. If a candidate is confused by the instructions they would be well advised to do the composition they clearly understand, otherwise they may drop quite a lot of marks unnecessarily.

Much depends on the mark schemes, of course, which you can find from the link above. interestingly (and somewhat surprisingly to me) the translation question is assessed using a level (overall performance) system, not an objective point by point system which is standard at A-level. This may benefit candidates who make minor mistakes. Here it is:

Translation mark scheme

Conveying key messages

5 All key messages are conveyed.
4 Nearly all key messages are conveyed.
3 Most key messages are conveyed.
2 Some key messages are conveyed.
1 Few key messages are conveyed.
0 No key messages are conveyed.

Application of grammatical knowledge of language and structures

5 Very good knowledge of vocabulary and structures; highly accurate.
4 Good knowledge of vocabulary and structures; generally accurate.
3 Reasonable knowledge of vocabulary and structures; more accurate than inaccurate.
2 Limited knowledge of vocabulary and structures; generally inaccurate.
1 Very limited knowledge of vocabulary and structures; highly inaccurate.
0 The language produced does not meet the standard required for Level 1 at this tier.

The longer composition, worth 16 marks, gets 10 for Content and 6 for Quality of language (including accuracy). Younger teachers may need reminding that accuracy is not the be-all-and-end-all. The key messages to get across to students are (1) write stuff! (2) keep it clear, relevant and simple!

Overall, AQA have done well here, given the hand they were dealt by DfE/Ofqual. Many teachers will welcome the demise of CAs and need not fear this new assessment format too much. If students are given a regular diet of composition writing over a few years, plus an element of translation, at least in the last year of the course, they can do well. Clearly, students will need to have a decent knowledge of vocabulary and some ability to handle past, present and future without dictionary or verb table help. This ought to be a given in any languages classroom.

The weakest students will still struggle, perhaps a bit more than with CAs. Working to a time limit in exam conditions is a challenge for some, but, you know, in some ways, the translation element has its advantages. My experience was that, with weaker candidates, their problem was knowing what to write. At least with translation, they do not have to make up content.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The accredited AQA GCSE specification (1)

Here is your key link to the specimen papers:

AQA will be very pleased that their specification is first out of the blocks, having been scrutinised by Ofqual over the last few months. A good deal of the draft has remained very similar, notably the subject content and assessment of listening and reading. The most significant changes requested by Ofqual have occurred in the Writing and especially Speaking papers.

For Speaking the main issue has been Ofqual's insistence that all prompts must be in the target language at Foundation Tier. Let's have a look at what this means in practice on a French paper (the principles will be identical for German and Spanish).


Here is a specimen Foundation Tier photo card task (15 marks):

Example B: The student gets a photo of some people celebrating at a party. The prompts are:

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? 
• Qu’est-ce que tu as fait pour fêter ton anniversaire l’année dernière ? 
• Quel est ton cadeau d’anniversaire idéal ?

Example C: The student gets a photo of three young children looking at a box of bottles and cans for recycling. The prompts are:

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? 
• Tu aimes recycler ? … Pourquoi/pourquoi pas ? 
• Qu’est-ce que ta famille a recyclé la semaine dernière ?

This is pretty clear. My only observations are that the level of challenge is greater than what it used to be at Foundation Tier some years ago and that to accomplish the spoken task the student has to understand the TL questions (in listening or reading mode or both).

If we look at the role play next, here is an example.

The student gets these instructions:

"Your teacher will play the part of your French friend and will speak first. You should address your friend as tu. When you see this – ! – you will have to respond to something you have not prepared. When you see this – ? – you will have to ask a question."

Then the task (15 marks):

Tu parles de ton collège avec ton ami(e) français(e). 

• Ton collège – description (deux détails). 
• ! 
• Sciences – ton opinion et une raison. 
• Projet – septembre (un détail). 
• ? Matière favorite.

AQA have done their best to make the task as clear as possible given the Ofqual constraints. Nevertheless, we know that weaker candidates will struggle with interpreting tasks of this type, even with classroom practice. Point 4 (Projet) would cause difficulty and the (!) response is another mixed skill response demanding comprehension of a question.

Here is another example:

Tu discutes du collège et du futur avec ton ami(e) français(e). 

• Uniforme scolaire (deux détails). 
• Règlement au collège – ton opinion. 
• Premier cours – quand. 
• ! 
• ? Profession idéale.

In this example point 2 might cause confusion for a weak candidate.

Fortunately, AQA have been able to stick to the principle than the role plays can be conversational in nature, rather than transactional in a very artificial way (as proposed by other boards in their drafts). For example, I am glad we don't get examples of students buying clothes in a shop or asking about lost property. This type of role play might seem superficially attractive, but when you think about it teenagers are very unlikely to find themselves in the type of situations you get in such role plays. An exchange with a partner is a little more likely and role plays of this sort reinforce general conversation work.

The remainder of the 7-9 minute oral is devoted to general conversation (30 marks).

The teacher conducts a conversation based on the two themes which have not been covered on the photo card (between three and five minutes at Foundation Tier). A similar amount of time is spent on each theme. The student chooses the first theme; the second theme is the remaining theme which has not been covered in the photo card part of the test.


The structure is the same as above, but the conversation last longer - 5 to 7 minutes.

Here is a photo card task:

The student gets a photo of some people watching a film in the cinema. The instructions and prompts are:

Your teacher will ask you the following three questions and then two more questions which you have not prepared.

• Qu’est-ce qu’il y a sur la photo ? 
• Quelles sont les qualités d’un bon film ? … Pourquoi ? 
• Comment était le dernier film que tu as vu ?

Of note is the fact there that, unlike Foundation, there are two unknown questions to be answered. In addition the prompts anticipate longer answers.

Now let's see a role-play:

Tu parles avec ton ami(e) de la technologie et des réseaux sociaux. 

• Utilisation de la technologie récemment (deux détails). 
• Importance des portables et une raison. 
• Réseaux sociaux (un avantage). 
• ! 
• ? Projets ce soir.

That should be within the compass of a Higher candidate. I must say there is a clumsiness about this format which irritates, but which is down to Ofqual's demands. There remains the risk that candidates will simply misread or misunderstand a prompt, so the test could be considered slightly invalid. If we wanted to test speaking ability alone, then we would need to take out any interference from listening and reading. This is a constant dilemma in an assessment regime which separates out the four skills. Interestingly it is not something we fret about so much at A-level, so maybe Ofqual are on the right lines here by wanting to encourage teachers to use as much TL as possible. We know how strongly the backwash effect from tests operates; teachers teach to tests.  If when practising for tests, students see more TL, this may improve overall learning. On the other hand, many teachers will just see a testing format which unfairly penalises their weaker students, not allowing them to show what they can do.

I believe AQA have done their best to produce something as approachable as possible given the constraints they were working under. Next time I'll have a look at the Writing papers which may (spoiler alert) disappoint teachers of Foundation candidates. Go and have a look yourself.