Skip to main content

In the mood... for the subjunctive

I am hugely grateful to Sarah Shaw for sending me this guest blog. Sarah's background is in advanced level French teaching in England. It's a lesson plan for teaching the subjunctive to advanced level students.

***************************************************************

Being conscious that students enrolling onto the A-level French course have all had very different experiences of grammar instruction and perhaps more importantly, have very different feelings about their own ability to use previously taught structures and to tackle new structures, has strongly influenced how I approach the ‘teaching’ of grammar.

I have always enjoyed exploring creative strategies to do this in a way that not only aims to develop the students’ use of a wide range of structures, but also endeavours to break down the anxiety that some students have about grammar, to build confidence around understanding and application, to spark curiosity and develop instinct.

I have found an effective way to achieve this is to carefully layer activities to encourage the students to work cooperatively to first of all identify, investigate and imitate patterns (I prefer to speak about 'patterns' rather than 'rules') where I initially facilitate rather than instruct.

By actively unpicking structures and pinpointing patterns, students often seem more confident to then model their own language using examples, before finally taking the step to explore and experiment with the structure in order to use and integrate it meaningfully, rather than as an impressive but isolated add-on.

For me, the subjunctive is a particularly exciting structure to do this with, especially as the students appear to hold it up on a grammar pedestal! This is my 5 point lesson plan for introducing the subjunctive focusing on when to use it and how to form it (with initially just regular verbs). I find it works best if students are divided into 4 mixed ability groups of 2-4 students.

Part 1 - Identifying the subjunctive triggers: Each group is given a card which focuses on one subjunctive trigger.


The students are given 2 minutes to examine the card and note down what the sentences have in common on a post-it note, which they then fold over to hide their ideas. The cards are passed onto the next group of students who are given 2 minutes to do the same but who can consult the previous group’s ideas after 1 minute before completing their post-it note. This is repeated until each group has seen and commented on each card.


More often than not, the students correctly identify the first four subjunctive triggers. At this stage, you may wish to summarise their findings and provide more succinct, formal ‘titles’ for the triggers by asking each group to identify these from a selection of 4 that are displayed.


Part 2 - Introducing key conjunction triggers: There are a number of ways to approach this part. I tend to pin eight key conjunction triggers around the room and then let students roam around for one minute before asking them to note down as many as they can remember (as a group) in 45 seconds. With the collective effort of all students from each group, I generally find that all 8 conjunctions are recalled. I then feedback as a main group to check the understanding of each conjunction and also to stress the relevance of this activity in relation to the subjunctive.


Part 3 – Investigating regular subjunctive formation: This part is split into 2. Firstly, to investigate how the subjunctive is formed, each group is given 5 verbs that are already correctly conjugated.


The students have to fill in the gaps of their original sentences using the verbs.


Secondly, students are asked to look for formation patterns. They may need prompts such as looking for the stem, verb endings etc… but in general, when steered towards verbs such as ‘venir’, they do work it out. It is valuable at this stage to pull together the students’ findings and present them back (using questioning) in a more structured way to consolidate and also, assess understanding.

Part 4 – Imitating regular subjunctive formation: To imitate the verb formation, swap the cards and replace the conjugated verbs with infinitive verbs. The students therefore have to identify the correct verb to use in the gap fill and then conjugate the verb accordingly. They can do it!


Part 5 – ‘Receptive Practice’: I introduced this stage after reading Gianfranco Conti’s blog on the major shortcomings of L2 grammar instruction. I would previously have dived into application at this point, perhaps risking ‘losing’ some of the students. However, in his blog Dr Conti talks about ‘receptive practice through aural and written medium’. I therefore now use a reading activity to bring together everything we have covered.

Many passages exist in A-level textbooks but I have written my own passage to be confident that it covers exactly what I want it to! It shows points covered in class in use and it also introduces the 6th trigger (superlatives) as well as a couple of irregulars that I like to use as an extension task for more able learners who have quickly assimilated the structure. Students use different coloured highlighters to identify the different triggers, underline what they suspect may be the ‘new’ trigger and the ‘irregulars’. I also like to ask learners to select a sentence that they are particularly impressed with. I find this encourages them to develop a true awareness of how language is being used.


This individual task is also an extremely valuable way for me to ‘check-in’ with each learner and assess understanding. A final full group feedback working through the reading activity together is a great way to conclude the class. I like to close my lessons with some kind of exit pass. There are many possibilities here; noting down the triggers, noting down conjunctions, conjugating some regular verbs in the ‘ils’ form, predicting what the ‘irregulars’ will be. These can also form good starters for the next class, which focuses on those usual suspects!

The students always seem so proud to be able to use the subjunctive and this approach does appear to work. I love observing the transition from the excited overuse at AS (which I do not advise for the exam but which I do feel is an integral part of the acquisition process) to the natural, well placed and fluent use at A2 when the subjunctive is just another impressive part of their personal repertoire.

Comments

  1. this is very clear and really useful. Thanks. May even now buy the toolkit(!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, on behalf of Sarah, unknown.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.


Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …