Saturday, 30 April 2016

A-level summarising tasks

One of the new aspects of A-level assessment from 2017 and 2018 is the inclusion, at both AS and A-level, of summary tasks. On each Listening, Reading, Writing paper (Paper 1) there will be two summary tasks, one of a listening source, one of a written text. At AS-level the source texts are of around 150-200 words, at A-level a little longer. With AQA the length of the summary, written in target language, is around 75 words at AS-level and 90 words at A-level. You need to check specifications for any variations. The inclusion of summary comes from the DfE/Ofqual and is common to all exam boards.

I welcome this change. Summary is one of those multi-skill assessment tasks which marry well with what I would consider good classroom practice. Once you have worked on a listening or reading text with a class, exploiting in various ways (e.g. pre-reading/listening tasks, reading aloud, oral interactions including question-answer, correcting false sentences, aural gap-fill, information gaps and so on), morphological and syntactic activities with a focus on form - a natural and more challenging extension in the sequence is to ask students to pull together their knowledge to write a summary of the original source.

A good assessment should ideally reflect classroom practice and this task does so.

Teachers will, of course, have to help students develop their technique. This can be modelled orally, scaffolded with bullet points (as will be the case in A-level exam papers) and practised for homework or within a time limit in class. Students will need to learn to identify key points, not to transcribe large chunks, but also not to feel that every item of language needs paraphrasing. They will need to be concise. They will also need to be familiar with the mark schemes which give points for communicating key points and for using varied, accurate language. Teachers could even use these mark schemes when assessing their students work in the run-up to examinations.

What I also like about the task, apart from its 'multi-modal' aspect, is that students are being assessed on their comprehension and skill with language, not, as with language essays, on their ability to write a coherent essay. The latter is no doubt a useful skill and one which is developed elsewhere in the specifications, but with summary students do not need to be concerned with introductions, conclusions, essay cohesion and so on. Nor do they have to produce their own ideas, which can hold back some quite competent linguists.

In sum, whilst the new specifications contains a much shorter list of topics, which may come as a relief, the classroom emphasis may change somewhat towards summary, as well as translation and the study of film and literature. For many teachers this change will be a subtle one if you have already been doing these things.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

AQA A-level French from Hodder

Hodder have been kind enough to send me a copy of their new text book for A-level French which is published in May. This is an 'all-in-one', comprehensive AS and A-level book which, before discount, costs £29.99, making it relatively good value these days for a two year course. It has an unusually long list of authors: Casimir d’Angelo Jean-Claude Gilles Rod Hares Lauren Léchelle, with: Séverine Chevrier-Clarke Lisa Littlewood and Kirsty Thathapudi. You may know of Rod Hares - he wrote Tout Droit with David Mort and Compo.

The course rigorously covers all the sub-themes in the specification, includes work on all the prescribed texts and films and builds in a review of sub-themes covered in Year 1 into the year 2 programme. This is useful when you bear in mind the structure of the new A-level and the standalone AS-level.

In its early pages the book features maps of France and the francophone world and an explanation for students about how the A-level specification is structured. This introduction clearly lays out the exams to be taken and how the text book itself works. The clarity is notable. The back of the book has a detailed grammar section and verb tables.

It is not necessary to work through the book in order, since each 'spread' of work is pitched at a different level, but I imagine many teachers will use the book as a guide to their scheme of work. More on that below.

Each unit is prefaced with aims; theme, grammar and strategies, the latter following the current fashion (I wonder if this will be a passing fad). After this each unit begins with a activity called On s'échauffe, a kind of pre-reading/pre-listening task, to get students into the theme and its associated vocabulary.

Example of a Unit

Let's take Unit 2 as an example. This is the sub-theme of La cyber-société.

The warm-up tasks is a brief matching and oral activity to get students talking simply about favourite devices. No-nonsense and effective. There then follows a reading matching task based on short paragraphs, a true/false/not mentioned task, then a sentence level gap-fill grammar task on articles followed by translation into English of the sentences.

There is then a gap-fill and matching task based on a conversation, followed by a short translation into English based on the same topic and featuring the future tense. This material is all very much post-GCSE in standard. This is then followed by two useful group or pair-based communicative tasks and a written task. Here are the oral tasks:

a Par groupes de trois ou quatre,
Réfléchissez sur une liste exhaustive des différents usages de la technologie dans la vie de tous les jours.  
À tour de rôle, expliquez oralement à la classe les activités les plus importantes pour vous. 

b Échangez des points de vue sur les questions suivantes. 
Comment voyez-vous l’avenir des réseaux sociaux ? l Comment imaginez-vous les transports dans 25 ans ? 
Comment voyez-vous les progrès de l’électronique et de la robotique dans la maison ? 
Comment imaginez-vous la conquête de l’espace dans 50 ans ?

I like these. The level is beyond GCSE, allows for easy communication and invites a degree of reflective/imaginative response. The writing task is a write-up of the previous discussion. All very sensible.

The next semi-authentic reading source called Deux jeunes cybernautes français is preceded by a pre-reading task focused on vocabulary and word classes, and followed by two comprehension tasks in French 'find the equivalent in the text' and a matching task, then a slightly clumsy grammar drill focusing on verb tenses

 e.g. Est-ce que tu .......... souvent d’Internet ? (se servir, au présent)

Following a couple of listening tasks, there is then a strategies section on vocabulary learning, including sensible advice about learning words in context, mnemonics and visuals to aid memorisation.

After a short translation passage into French, there is a 'webquest'-style task involving some independent or group research, note-taking and feeding back.

The next section in this sub-theme is about cyber-crime and features, amongst other things, a longer text, a drill on adjective agreement, a re-ordering tasks based on a listening text, questions in French on the same text, translation into English and discussion activities.

There is then a good section on the boom in cyber-technology in francophone Africa (recall that in the new specifications the focus should be on the culture of the TL country). This section including strategies advice on checking and editing written work and an opportunity to do some semi-imaginative writing. here is the instruction:

Vous êtes arrivés dans un village reculé d’Afrique. Vous avez montré aux villageois tout ce qu’ils pouvaient faire avec leurs nouveaux téléphones portables. Décrivez dans un court rapport ce que certains d’entre eux ont réussi à faire pour la première fois, et comment cela leur a facilité les choses.

The unit ends with a vocabulary list for reference and learning.


Following the 12 sub-theme units there is a section which revisits the first six sub-themes (the AS-level ones, if you like) with further activities and the higher level of difficulty (A-level, not AS-level). teachers would find this very useful towards the end of the two year course.

Literature and film

The middle of this 291 page book features 34 pages devoted to film and literature, covering, as I mentioned earlier, all the prescribed works. As an example, the section on Les 400 Coups by Truffaut features a plot summary text, a TL comprehension task with 'choose the correct sentences', a listening tasks besed on a conversation about the film, oral and writing tasks. I like the opportunity for students to be able to dip into a film or text in this way - it may even be useful for teachers with little or no experience of teaching film and literature.

These 'mini-units' can be used to reinforce language work irrespective of whether you are teaching the works. The text book does not, of course, supply extensive resources for teaching film and literature.


If you were to follow the units in sequence the order of grammar covered would be as follows in the first year of a two year course (six sub-themes):

  1. Present tense, future, interrogatives.
  2. Articles, reflexive verbs, position and agreement of adjectives, perfect tense.
  3. Comparatives and superlatives, imperfect and pluperfect, direct and indirect pronouns.
  4. Irregular perfect tense forms, passives, infinitives, negatives.
  5. Imperatives, past historic, imperfect, present and past participles.
  6. Present subjunctive, conditional, adverbs.
Quality of reading material

Sourcing interesting reading at the right level is always a challenge, if a little less so at A-level. In this instance, the authors have written some good adapted-authentic texts of the right length and difficulty level. All are rooted in the target language culture and will not only develop language skill, but provide the knowledge students will need to do well in their speaking tests. (Recall that some marks are allocated for knowledge and understanding in the orals.)

I would just add the caveat that the requirement to include a greater degree of knowledge of the culture does force the authors into writing pieces focusing on, for example, information and history. This inevitably limits what you can do in terms of imaginative exploitation of the texts. This was always going to be an issue following the remit handed don by ALCAB and the DfE. On the other hand, the literary texts do offer scope for more personal texts. 

However, examples of interesting texts include an innovative approach to stopping smoking in Belgium (in sub-theme 3 - bénévolat); an article about whether being a UNESCO heritage site is useful (in sub-theme 4 - patrimoine); a feuture about eh development of French cinema (in sub-theme 6 - cinéma); a piece about eh history of trade unions in France (in sub theme 11 - manifestations et grèves).


I haven't had access to listening files so cannot assess their suitability, but the exercise types look fine and there appears to be a decent quantity and range of material.

Essay writing

Writing about texts and films in exam conditions (which students used to do in previous incarnations of the A-level) will be a challenge, so the book tackles this with two brief chapters on essay planning and writing, one for AS-level, one for A-level. Resources include strategies and a list of useful expressions to use. This is a worthwhile inclusion, though some will find it brief. Sometimes there is just only so much you can squeeze into a book.


This is the best A-level text book I have seen for many years. It manages to provide what students need for the new A-levels whilst being inherently interesting and extremely usable. There are bound to be exercises which teachers do not like, but you could work through the book (probably in order) and not need a huge amount of back-up material. It is a bit thin on structured grammar practice, but this is hard to accommodate with a text book so this is not a complaint at all.

The book is very clearly laid out, colourful without being gimmicky and the resource material and exercises types are well chosen. There are choices to be made in terms of how you exploit the book. As I mentioned above, each unit is graded for difficulty, so do you just go through the whole unit or do you dip in and out, doing the easier material of a unit first, then coming back to the harder material later. This latter approach feels a bit clumsy to me, but it may depend on the ability and prior attainment of the students you are teaching.

You would also need to consider the order that the grammar is presented within and across units. The sequence above makes pretty good sense which might lead you to simply working through each unit and building your scheme of work around the structure of the text book.

Students with very weak skills post-GCSE will find the material a challenge so some teachers might want to do a rigorous grammar revision course at the start of Y12, or just strongly reinforce the grammar elements in each unit.

I am hoping to review the text book from OUP very soon; I hope it is just as good, but I do urge you to get hold of a copy of this Hodder book. It's excellent and so much better than the previous generation of A-level books.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Histoires à écouter - authentic listening and reading

Here is a lovely authentic resource for listening and reading French at intermediate level or above. It's called Histoires à écouter from Shortédition and you can find it here. These are mini-story podcasts which you can either just listen to or read or listen and read together. They happen to be a very good way of ticking that literature box for GCSE and could be exploited in a number of ways.

  • Pupils could just read and listen for pleasure independently. There are a huge number to choose from, read and written by various native French speakers and writers. You can choose the length of story too; you can select 5, 10 or 20 minute pieces.
  • You could copy and paste sections of text to do further tasks such as gap-fill and questions in English or TL.
  • You can simply print off the stories to use as a classroom reading resource in the traditional fashion.
  • You could set sections for translation into English.
  • You could play them out loud from the for version for pupils to read.
  • Since the subject matter is story-based, many extracts will lend themselves to other creative exploitation.

All this seems to be free, the raison d'être being as follows:

"Ils sont romanciers et ils soutiennent Short Edition, l’éditeur communautaire de la littérature courte !
Pourquoi ?
Parce que… Ils veulent encourager l’écriture, le plaisir de travailler son talent, le bonheur de cultiver son jardin secret… et de l’ouvrir de temps en temps à des lecteurs visiteurs. Ils apprécient la valeur du format littéraire court… reconnu dans la littérature anglo-saxonne. Pas tellement en France… et dans les pays francophones ! Ils pensent que la lecture peut prendre différentes formes, se glisser dans différents moments de la vie et sur différents supports (le papier et le numérique), envahir les écrans – les grands et petits, les sédentaires et les nomades – et… revenir à ce bon vieux papier." 

What a super resource! The clarity and speed of the recordings is just right (done via Soundcloud, by the way). I could imagine using the shorter podcasts with a good GCSE class and the longer ones for advanced level students. See what you think.

MFL A-levels accredited

As of yesterday there are now two awarding bodies who have had their A-level specifications accredited by Ofqual. The delay has been a frustration to teachers anxious to be planning for September, but new specifications are never brought in early enough for teachers and Ofqual are certainly fastidious over the detail of mark schemes, question rubrics and specimen papers. the last minute nature of all this has much less to do with exam boards and Ofqual, much more to do with the politicians who set the hurried timetable. Need I say more?

Many teachers will, in any case, now be making their choice of exam board and when gained time arrives in May, then the real preparation can begin. New textbooks should be out by then too if you feel a textbook is useful.

In fact, what has emerged from the boards is much more palatable than the initial vision of ALCAB which was, in my view, too academic and unsuited to the planning of stimulating, communicative lessons (check out that link and you'll see what I mean). Overall, if I were still a HoD, I would not be unhappy about what has been produced. I might even go as far as to say that the new specifications are a fraction better. The boards should be congratulated for this.

In essence, what's new?
  • AS is decoupled from A-level. "A2" therefore no longer exists, but AS can be co-taught with A-level.
  • A whole A-level consists in part of six AS topics ('sub-themes') and six A-level topics. This is far fewer than before, so teachers may feel less pressed to get through a lengthy list of topics as now.
  • Film or literature now features at AS-level. The choice is from a prescribed list the nature of which will appeal more or less to the individual teacher. My guess is that many schools will choose to do a film.
  • Translation to and from TL now features at AS-level. The translation into TL is based on a brief stimulus text which will provide much of the vocabulary, so the translation will focus on skilled use of syntax and morphology.
  • Students have to write a literature or film essay at AS-level, but no general language essay.
  • At AS-level students have to summaries of reading and listening sources.
  • At A-level students do an Individual Research Project, assessed in the oral.
  • Cultural content now forms 20% of the assessment at both levels, so knowledge of the TL culture plays a bigger role than before. Don't worry needlessly over this, however. Depending on the board, much of this assessment is done as part of the film and oral, e.g. the literature and research project. Students will be expected to bring knowledge of the culture to parts of the assessments, but are not expected to be experts - linguistic skill takes priority. I really would not fret over this issue.
So, with next year in mind, the main priorities would be to place a greater emphasis than you may have done before on film/literature and the essay writing associated with it, translation and summary. Look at it this way: you'll be doing fewer topics in greater depth, so it should feel less like GCSE. Expect the standard to be roughly the same as now, with arguably a greater challenge at AS-level owing to the inclusion of film/literature. You'll clearly want to think about how you structure the AS year. I would personally put a film in the spring term where it would take roughly half the lesson time and a fair bit of homework.

My priorities in selecting a specification would be the topics and choice of film and literature. You'll find a good deal of overlap between boards, but enough differences to make a choice significant. Traditionally AQA have been the most popular board, followed by Edexcel/Pearson. Full disclosure: I write teacher support resources and lead training sessions for AQA.

Here are the six AQA AS-level French themes (which are also part of A-level, remember). The sub-heading are for added guidance and are not separate 'sub-topics'. They indicate the boundaries of where assessment material will be drawn from.

The changing nature of family (La famille en voie de changement) 
        Grands-parents, parents et enfants – soucis et problèmes 
        Monoparentalité, homoparentalité, familles recomposées 
        La vie de couple – nouvelles tendances 
The 'cyber-society' (La « cyber-société ») 
        Qui sont les cybernautes ? 
        Comment la technologie facilite la vie quotidienne 
        Quels dangers la « cyber-société » pose-t-elle ? 
The place of voluntary work (Le rôle du bénévolat) 
        Qui sont et que font les bénévoles ? 
        Le bénévolat – quelle valeur pour ceux qui sont aidés ? 
        Le bénévolat – quelle valeur pour ceux qui aident ?
A culture proud of its heritage (Une culture fière de son patrimoine) 
       Le patrimoine sur le plan national, régional et local 
      Comment le patrimoine reflète la culture 
      Le patrimoine et le tourisme 
Contemporary francophone music (La musique francophone contemporaine) 
      La diversité de la musique francophone contemporaine 
      Qui écoute et apprécie cette musique ? 
     Comment sauvegarder cette musique ? 
Cinema: the 7th art form (Cinéma : le septième art) 
     Pourquoi le septième art ? 
     Le cinéma – une passion nationale ? 
     Evolution du cinéma – les grandes lignes 

And the other six A-level themes:

Positive features of a diverse society (Les aspects positifs d'une société                 diverse) 
      L'enrichissement dû à la mixité ethnique 
      Diversité, tolérance et respect 
      Diversité – un apprentissage pour la vie 
Life for the marginalised (Quelle vie pour les marginalisés ? ) 
      Qui sont les marginalisés ? 
      Quelle aide pour les marginalisés ? 
      Quelles attitudes envers les marginalisés ? 
How criminals are treated (Comment on traite les criminels) 
      Quelles attitudes envers la criminalité ? 
      La prison – échec ou succès ? 
      D'autres sanctions
Teenagers, the right to vote and political commitment (Les ados, le droit de          vote et l'engagement politique) 
      Pour ou contre le droit de vote ? 
      Les ados et l'engagement politique – motivés ou démotivés ? 
      Quel avenir pour la politique ? 
Demonstrations, strikes – who holds the power? (manifestations, grèves – à         qui le pouvoir ? ) 
      Le pouvoir des syndicats 
      Manifestations et grèves – sont-elles efficaces ?  Attitudes différentes                   envers ces tensions politiques 
Politics and immigration (La politique et l'immigration) 
      Solutions politiques à la question de l'immigration 
      L'immigration et les partis politiques  
      L'engagement politique chez les immigrés 

Here are the French books and films:

• Molière, Le Tartuffe 
• Voltaire, Candide 
• Guy de Maupassant, Boule de Suif et autres contes de la guerre 
• Albert Camus, L’étranger 
• Françoise Sagan, Bonjour tristesse 
• Claire Etcherelli, Elise ou la vraie vie 
• Joseph Joffo, Un sac de billes 
• Faïza Guène, Kiffe kiffe demain 
• Philippe Grimbert, Un secret 
• Delphine de Vigan, No et moi 

• Les 400 coups, François Truffaut (1959) 
• Au revoir les enfants, Louis Malle (1987) 
• La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz (1995) 
• L’auberge espagnole, Cédric Klapisch (2002) 
• Un long dimanche de fiançailles, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2004) 
• Entre les murs, Laurent Cantet (2008) 

There's plenty for you and the students to get their teeth into there. Much of it is not dissimilar to the current specifications, which is to be applauded.

There will be three exams at AS-level:

Paper 1 - Listening, Reading , Writing - 1h 45 - including translation into English.
Paper 2 - Writing 1h 30  Translation into TL and an essay on film/lit
Paper 3 - Speaking - 12-14 minutes plus 15 mins prep

A-level exams:

Paper 1 - Listening, Reading, Writing - 2h 30 - including translation both ways
Paper 2 - Writing - 2h - two essays on film/lit
Paper 3 - 21-23 minutes, inc 5 mins prep - includes IRP presentation/discussion

I mentioned earlier that the new specs may be a little better than the already satisfactory ones. This is because the number of topics is lower, film/lit features at AS-level, the Personal Research Project is a bonus and the prescriptive lists of texts may make assessment more consistent across schools (erratic marking is a frequent complaint). I also like the fact that some 'lightweight' GCSE-style topics such as holidays and healthy living have gone, but regret that the environment does not feature at all. However, the IRP is a 'catch-all' where students can choose something they want, with advice from the teacher.

Here is the AQA spec:

For comparison, Edexcel/Pearson's offer:

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Help! Comprehensible input is not working for me!

I don't get it.

I've watched two series of The Killing, The Bridge, Borgen and Follow the Money (all Danish or Swedish/Danish series with English subtitles). I understood what people said and everything that happened. That's many hours of comprehensible input. Great TV too.

And yet... I cannot understand any Danish (apart from the the odd swear word). I occasionally repeat things to amuse myself and my wife, but I can barely say a word. Comprehensible input failed miserably.

This is not really to dismiss CI, of course, but just a reminder that understanding language with the aid of subtitles is an inefficient way of learning a language. It's also a reminder to teachers that showing a film in the target language to near beginners or low intermediate pupils does little to directly further acquisition. It may serve other very useful purposes, such as giving an insight into culture and contributing to general motivation, but it's a very inefficient way to teach a language to inexperienced learners.

If you want to use film with new linguists you might have a look at Sara-E Cottrell's blog post about scaffolding Spanish film for 'Novice-Mid' students (the ACTFL's term).

She describes her approach thus:

"It is a bridge between the aural input and the oral output, a middle piece in that continuum where on one end they’re passively listening to comprehensible input and on the other end they’re accomplishing a performance task in the target language."

You can read her blog for more detail.

If you want whole films to seriously help with acquisition it generally makes sense to begin with high intermediate students who have acquired enough language to be able to begin to decipher the rapid stream of language they hear. Even then, I would choose films in which characters speak clearly and relatively slowly, preferably with pauses which allow students to process what they have heard. This is when comprehensible input can have its effect.

So with subtitles input can be comprehensible, but not usefully comprehensible. As strong proponents of CI rightly say, input needs to be at the student's level, or just above it. This is common sense.

For lots of ideas on how to exploit film with advanced students you might find this useful:

Sunday, 17 April 2016

New A-level translation booklets

Gianfranco Conti and I have been working on new resources for the new A-levels (although they could easily be used with the current specifications). The main focus is on translating into French, but each unit/booklet contains a range of tasks:
  • Pre-reading vocabulary, morphology, syntax and translation exercises.
  • An article with comprehension exercises (e.g. true/false, tick the correct sentences, questions in TL).
  • An oral communicative task.
  • Translation into English.
  • Grammar manipulation drills.
  • Post-reading vocabulary and pre-translations tasks (matching, gap-fill, definitions etc).
  • Three graded translations into French. All the previous tasks are designed to lead up to these. At first glance they will look hard, but after doing all the preparatory tasks, students should find them more than do-able and hopefully will get a sense of mastery and achievement.
  • Answer key
Topics posted so far; family (AQA, Pearson) , Cyber-society (AQA), World of work (Pearson), How criminals are treated (AQA).

The answer key means these could be handed out for independent work/revision.

The unit respects some of the principles we laid out in our handbook The Language Teacher Toolkit, namely lots of TL comprehensible input, repetition and recycling of language and focus on language form. Whilst the focus is ultimately on the skill of translation, the unit features a good range of tasks, some more focused on comprehension and speaking. Each unit will feature drills on a particular aspect of grammar, e.g. the subjunctive, si clauses, relative pronouns and passives.

The first unit consists of 9 pages of dense A4, plus an answer key. It could be used for classwork, homework or as an independent study/revision resource. Our first topic is Comment on traite les criminels - a theme from the new AQA specification. Others will follow soon.

We are charging £3 per unit and when there are a set of 10 each for AS and A-level, we shall eventually charge £25 for a bundle of ten. These are photocopiable resources which could be used over several years, so we think the cost represents excellent value. We have done our best to ensure that the language used is challenging, accurate and well matched to the needs of A-level exams. We both bring a good deal of experience to the task.

Go and have a peek at the TES site for a preview here:

You'll need to be registered to download.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Oral booklets for new AS-level specifications

I have completed two booklets to help pupils and teachers prepare for the new AS-level oral exams to be done in 2017. Here is an example of one theme with vocabulary and questions. This is for the Edexcel/Pearson spec, but is the same, in this case, as the AQA theme (family). Apologies for formatting issues! Feel free to copy for your own use.


l’amitié (f)                     friendship                     l’amour (m)               love
le bonheur                    happiness                     un partenaire                partner
un compagnon              partner                         une compagne             partner
un mari/époux              husband                       une femme/épouse       wife     
une connaissance         acquaintance                les parents                   parents/relatives
cohabiter                      to live together             le mariage                    marriage, wedding
le cocon familial           family nest                   le soutien                     support
une querelle                  quarrel                         se disputer                   to argue
un enfant unique           only child                    parler coeur ouvert      to talk frankly
supporter                      to put up with                             une dispute                    argument
s’énerver                      to get annoyed             crier                             to shout
critiquer                        to criticise                    strict                           strict
respecter                      to respect                      raisonnable                   reasonable
décontracté                  relaxed, laid-back         des conseils                 advice
être ferme avec            to be firm with              protéger                       to protect
la liberté                       freedom                       l’indépendance             independence
l’autonomie                  independence               traiter                           to treat
autonome                     independent                  aîné                              elder
cadet(-te), benjamin(e)  younger, youngest      embêtant                     annoying
un enfant adoptif          adopted child               l'homoparentalité (f)    gay parenting  
une mère seule         single mother         une famille recomposée  reconstituted family
adopter                        to adopt                        vivre en couple             to live as a couple       
vivre en solo                to live alone                 l’abus(m)                      abuse  
épouser                        to marry                          se marier avec                to marry          
sortir                            to go out                      le divorce                      divorce
divorcer                              to get divorced                    se séparer                        to separate
la divortialité               divorce rate                  le taux de divorce        divorce rate
une rupture                  break-up                       rompre (avec)               to split up (with)
célibataire                    single                           marié                             married
le foyer                        home, household          une femme au foyer      housewife
la famille monoparentale single-parent family   l’union libre               living together
le concubinage             living together              le PACS                       type of civil marriage
vivre en couple             to live together             le mariage civil            civil wedding
une mère célibataire     single-mother               énerver                        to annoy
fidèle                            faithful                          infidèle                         unfaithful
en vouloir à              to bear a grudge against           une carrière                   career
la retraite                      retirement                     retraité                          retired
le comportement          behaviour                      partager                        to share
amoureux de                in love with                   un amant                      lover
négliger                        to neglect                     les tâches de ménage    household chores
disponible                    ‘there for me’                la responsabilité           responsibility
égal                                equal                           l’égalité                         equality
un couple gay               gay couple                   le mariage gay              gay marriage
un partenaire                partner                          une liaison                    affair
le taux de nuptialité      marriage rate                un(e) fiancé(e)            fiancé(e)
s’unir                            to stay together             un contrat                    contract
en hausse                 rising                         en baisse                 falling

A discuter

1.     T’entends-tu bien avec ta famille ?
2.     Quelles sont les sources de disputes chez toi ?
3.     Et les sources de bonheur ?
4.     Quels sont les avantages et les inconvénients d’être enfant unique ?
5.     Que fais-tu avec ta famille ?
6.     Raconte quelque chose que tu as fait récemment en famille.
7.     Est-ce que tes parents te laissent assez d’indépendance, à ton avis ?
8.     De quoi parles-tu avec tes parents ?
9.     Veux-tu être parent un jour ?
10.  Quel genre de parent serais-tu ?
11.  Un parent idéal, c’est comment ?
12.  Que fais-tu pour aider tes parents à la maison ?
13.  Est-il nécessaire d’avoir deux parents ?
14.  Est-ce que tes parents s’intéressent beaucoup à ton travail scolaire ?
15.  Voudrais-tu vivre près de chez tes parents plus tard dans la vie ?
16.  Voudrais-tu vivre dans une famille nombreuse ?
17.  Que penses-tu de l’homoparentalité ?
18.  Penses-tu que deux parents sont meilleurs qu’un seul ?
19.  A ton avis, comment la famille va-t-elle évoluer à l’avenir ?
20.  Quelles sont les difficultés pratiques auxquelles un nouveau couple doit faire face ?
21.  Que penses-tu du mariage traditionnel ?
22.  Penses-tu que c’est avantageux qu’un couple partage les mêmes idées politiques ou la même religion ?
23.  Quels sont les ingrédients principaux d’une bonne vie de couple ?
24.  Quels sont les avantages et les inconvénients de vivre en solo ?
25.  Est-ce que les parents devraient continuer à aider financièrement les enfants à l’âge adulte ?
26.  Comment serait ton partenaire idéal ?
27.  Crois-tu au mariage ?
28.  Veux-tu te marier un jour ?
29.  Y a-t-il un âge idéal pour le mariage ?
30.  Comment peut-on gérer une carrière en ayant des enfants ??
31.  Quels sont les avantages de vivre en couple ?
32.  Pourquoi y a-t-il tant de divorces dans la société ?
33.  Peut-on avoir une carrière et élever des enfants en même temps ?
34.  Que penses-tu du mariage gay ?
35.  L’adoption devrait-elle être réservée aux couples hétérosexuels ?
36.  Comment les tâches ménagères sont-elles partagées chez toi ?

Friday, 15 April 2016

On giving written feedback

Evidence from reputable sources such as John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam has led schools and teachers to place an increased emphasis on feedback than in the past. Effective, timely feedback is said to be one way to maximise your students' progress. One unfortunate consequence of this emphasis is that schools have sometimes insisted on teachers providing detailed written feedback and targets on students' work in a very prescribed and back-covering fashion. This is time-consuming, as the recent DfE workload report noted and not a requirement of Ofsted.

A further consequence I have picked up is that, because marking and feedback has become so prescribed and detailed (including the use of colour coding, 'two stars and a wish', etc) it becomes, in some cases, less frequent. It has to; there are only so many hours in a day. To my mind, frequent, lighter feedback is more effective. If you set homework at the right level to a Y9 class, it should take no more than about an hour to mark 30 books. You could do that once a week, maybe once a fortnight.

So my approach to this was to ensure pupils did plenty of homework, much of it marked by me, but that the feedback was traditionally brief. I felt, and still do, that the most important part of the process of homework and feedback, was the fact that the students actually did the work. Marking and feedback are mainly there to ensure that students care enough about their work and do it punctually and carefully.

Given the choice between (1) setting lots of work and marking it lightly and (2) setting less work and marking it in detail, with lengthy comment at the end or in the margin, I would unhesitatingly choose option (1).

Now, some second language learning researchers claim that corrective marking makes no difference to acquisition. (It's actually quite hard to prove.) I would not go that far, but I do think its importance is exaggerated. I repeat: the key thing is that the students did the work, i.e. recycled the language, got more comprehensible input, thought about the grammatical forms, used a dictionary, and so on.

Nevertheless, I believe some feedback is useful and tend to go along with the approach touted by the Michaela free school, whereby the English teacher, for example, makes a few notes about common recurring issues and deals with them to the whole class. This seems to be efficient, if less personalised. As far as I can make out, the work is read, a brief mark or remark added, but little if any detailed comment. Much work can also be peer-marked, then briefly checked when the books are collected in next (a good argument for exercises books over file paper, by the way). Many teachers have adopted this approach over the years.

One feeling I had about all this was that going through work with students was, frankly, just a bit boring for them and for me. Rather than do this, I wanted to move on to the next activity. I wanted to do something stimulating and communicative in the target language in the limited time we had available. I think (hope?) I had a sense of what they found useful and what they found boring - call it "affective and cognitive empathy" if you like. We talk about this in our book.

I hope that the DfE report is read by school leaders and that those who insist on "gold-plated" feedback systems consider other priorities.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Self-publishing with Createspace

Sitting here at the Gare du Nord waiting for the Eurostar, I thought I'd tell you about my experience of publishing a book with Createspace. Createspace is part of Amazon. It allows you upload a book file and have it published online on Amazon and through other outlets. You can publish traditional paperbacks or Kindle versions of your work.

We chose to use Createspace, after reading around a bit and concluding that the process was fast, easy and almost certainly more profitable than using a known publisher in the traditional fashion. Createspace is most associated with creative writing, but more and more educators and academics are finding it a convenient way to spread their word.

The process is simple and mainly pain-free. You sign up for an account at and start a project (your book). You write your book using Word. Createspace offer ready-made Word templates which correspond with the size of book you wish to have printed. 9 by 6 inches is common.

We opted for this size and downloaded a pre-formatted Word template. This, with hindsight, was an error. I would recommend going for a non-formatted template from Createspace in the future. The formatted one causes issues if you wish to override its standard settings. The pre-formatted version comes with a ready-made contents page, but this may not match what you want to do, especially of your book is not as simple in format as a novel. The advantage of a downloaded Word template is that it numbers pages correctly, ensures your chapters start in the right space and, crucially, that margins are appropriate for a book.

With Createspace you can include visuals, tables, pictures and so on. We had to fiddle quite a bit with the pre-formatted template to get these to look good on the page. It's important to remember that the file you upload to Createspace is a pdf, so you need to check carefully that your Word to pdf conversion is as you want it. If you are a newbie, it is dead easy to save a Word doc as a pdf.

Once your file is uploaded, the Createspace team check the formatting and point put any issues which need fixing. They will also do a spell check if you forgot to. It is easy to re-upload a second version.

When you work through your project on the CS site, you enter key information such as your name and book title, and you are given the option of uploading your own cover or using one of their free templates. These can be edited by altering fonts and colour schemes. You can also include your own picture in some of their templates. We used a ready-made template because it was attractive and free. You get to write your book's blurb during the cover creation process.

Once your book is uploaded it is ready for sale on Amazon within about 48 hours. It appears on UK, European and north American versions of Amazon, but not in Australia and New Zealand. Amazon's free "expanded distribution" service allows the book to appear in other catalogues too.

Royalties are generous and can be viewed on the Createspace site. Broadly speaking, you get about 40% of the purchase price (which you choose). Each month your royalties are transferred into your chosen bank account. You can see your sales in real time on the Createspace site and they send you a regular report if you opt into this. You get to see where your book is bought and what the royalty was in each case.

Incidentally, Amazon can discount your book price, but your royalties are always based on your original chosen price.

Any reservations? Not really. I suppose you lose the kudos of being with a regular publisher. Publishers also edit for you, which is useful. I would strongly advise that you get an editor. We were fortunate in having an experienced one and she (my wife) was very thorough about the process. Although you may not appear in some catalogues, remember just how many books are sold via Amazon these days, along with reviews. What I liked almost most of all was the speed and efficiency of the process - no waiting six months for a publisher to do their thing.

If you wish to publish via Kindle, you need to bear in mind that a different type of file is required (not a pdf). This can be done professionally by searching online. For simple books it is cheap. Where more complex formatting is needed, it costs more. We paid around £130 to have our book formatted for Kindle. To do this yourself you would need some IT skill, but is is feasible. So far, we have a small but significant number of Kindle versions of our book.

Finally, using Createspace is free unless you opt for their professional cover service or other extras. They make their money from sales.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Review of The Language Teacher Toolkit

We were pleased to read the following review of our book written by Joanna Asse-Drouet, Head of Primary MFL at Alice Smith International School of Kuala Lumpur (you can find the review on

"The most useful book I have read in a while and a definite "must-have" for all aspiring language teachers, but also for more established and experienced educators!

Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti have brilliantly covered all parts of language teaching, as well as all questions you could ever ask yourself as a Modern Foreign Language teacher. Detailed research and thorough analysis of a variety of approaches will guide you through captivating chapters dedicated to the different skills we teach every day. Teaching Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing is meticulously covered, but you will also find tips on how to successfully teach culture, grammar, tenses or how to make translation a useful learning tool.

Steve and Gianfranco give concrete examples of excellent, fun activities that you will be able to use in a variety of contexts: from teacher-led tasks to peer-coaching, from 'Gianfranco's 'micro-listening' tasks for bottom-up processing' to 'Steve's zero preparation reading activities'... the impressive list of brilliant tips does not seem to end!

Motivation and behaviour management, formative and summative assessment, marking and feedback are also covered, as well as the effective use of technology in our modern classrooms. Steve and Gianfranco even give us some great examples of outstanding lesson plans at the end of their book.

As I said, I would highly recommend The Language Teacher Toolkit to all language teachers. I have found every single chapter inspiring and uplifting and I have thoroughly enjoyed its reflective approach, which makes it unique!"

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Friday, 8 April 2016

frenchteacher survey feedback

Many thanks to those who took a moment to answer my Surveymonkey questions. I do a survey every few months to see what parts of the site teachers are using most, whether the site is easy to navigate and what improvements teachers would welcome. There were 78 responses.

Here is my summary and comments

The A-level pages remain the most used overall, with 80% of respondents choosing it as one of their three choices. the GCSE section is the next most popular on 60%. The Y9 and Primary/Y7 pages were chosen by 30% and the adult students page by 10%.

Over 70% of subscribers make use of video listening tasks.

10% make use of resources with primary age pupils. I was a little surprised the figure was that high.

Nearly 40% use the Teacher's Guide pages.

In terms of improvements subscribers would like to see, there were no frequently recurring issues, but ones which came up were: a greater range texts, more beginners adult resources, more primary, more Edexcel-based resources, more answers to worksheets, more PowerPoints, a better searching system, harder listening tasks, worksheets for lower-attaining pupils, more game templates, more vocabulary-based activities and more resources for A-level books and films. Two respondents mentioned that some YouTube links were not working and three mentioned they would like more model answers. One respondent thought a regular digest of latest additions sent to subscribers would be useful.

Juts a few points to make:

  • I shall not be adding more literature and film resources. I leave this to my esteemed colleague Steve Glover who has this area more than well covered at
  • I avoid PowerPoints on the whole, partly because I would need copyright to use pictures in the paid-for parts of the site. There are free PowerPonts on the site.
  • Regarding model answers, I now systematically do these following previous requests, but I am afraid it would take me too long to add more to older resources. I would rather keep making new sheets.
  • I shall continue to add texts, with a particular focus on the new specifications starting in September. I shall also be reorganising my pages to fit with the new new themes for GCSE and A-level. Many users, by the way, are outside the UK and do not follow English exam courses. In the survey 15% reported they were outside the UK.
  • I cannot do much about the searching system. There is a search box, but I am aware it is not very refined. My webmaster has worked on this in the past and made improvements. Almost all users said the site is easy to navigate.
  • It is true that my resources are geared towards the middle and higher ability range and I shall keep in mind the need to make available easier materials.
  • If any subscribers find that video links do not work I would like to know which ones - there is a note to this effect on my contents pages. It is hard to keep up with every change and in any case teachers should always check links before a lesson.
  • I shall see what I can do in terms of more easy adult resources.
  • I have noted the mention of harder listening resources. I am assuming this was regarding A-level.
  • As regards the digest of new resources, perhaps it is worth reminding that there is a page of latest additions on the site. this is always kept right up to date and occasionally reposted on this blog.

Once again I am very grateful for the kind comments which teachers left. I am always happy to read that the site is so useful and widely used.

Finally, A-level teachers might like to keep an eye out for some AS and A-level resources which will appear on TES later this year. I have written these with my collaborator Gianfranco Conti. They will be quite meaty and focus particularly on translation.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

DfE desperate for language teachers

This is from the website. They are trying to increase the supply of ML teachers to enable schools to offer the Ebacc suite of subjects at GCSE. Look at what the site says:

"As a lead school, you can apply for up to £30,000 funding for teacher subject specialism training in MFL. This can help you address workforce challenges to support the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

The purpose of teacher subject specialism training for MFL is to provide school-led MFL subject specialism training to non-specialist teachers and MFL subject specialism training to specialist MFL teachers who:

- are not currently teaching MFL and may need refresher training to enable a move back into an MFL teaching role
- may be looking to teach a new language in addition to their language specialism

This will build capacity within the system to enable schools to address strategically workforce and deployment challenges to support delivery of the Ebacc and build the skills necessary to enable non-specialists to move into an MFL teaching role or upskill non-specialists already undertaking an MFL role.

The priority target groups for secondary MFL are:

- teachers not currently teaching MFL with post A level MFL qualifications;
- teachers not currently teaching MFL with good A level MFL qualifications;
- teachers not teaching MFL who are native/near native speakers;
- non-specialist teachers currently teaching MFL in addition to their specialist subject;
- specialist MFL teachers who are not currently teaching MFL and who need refresher training to enable a move back into an MFL role;
- specialist MFL teachers who have the capacity to teach a new language in addition to their language specialism".

So, it seems that the DfE consider an A-level in a modern language an adequate qualification to teach in secondary school. Being a native or near-native speaker is also fine. They are also happy for existing specialist teachers to mug up on another language.

Does this not smack of desperation? I thought the government expected teachers to have a 2.1 degree in their subject, not just A-level. Would they be just as happy to A-level mathematicians teaching secondary mathematics?

In short, they are willing to put anyone in front of pupils who can get by a bit with either limited pedagogical knowledge or mediocre language proficiency. This is their response to the "workforce challenge". Need one say more?

Here is the link:

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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Why do you teach the way you do?

Research from the field of teacher cognition suggests that the prime influence on the way you teach is how you were taught yourself. Does that apply to you? Please indulge me with this wistful post!

I have quite clear recollections, no doubt distorted a little with time, of who taught me French and how they did it. First there was the avuncular Mr Chittenden, a bits-and-pieces teacher who did some French and RE. He started us briefly with audio-visual slides, but we quickly moved on to Cours Illustré de Français, written by Marc Gilbert. We were taught using an oral, question-answer approach, much loved by practitioners from the university of London at that time (Hodgson, Hornsey, Harris et al). We worked a lot in the target language and used simple visual aids such as stick characters and classroom objects to help us pick up vocabulary and structures. We did dictations, wrote lots of answers to questions in French and rarely used English. We did little sketches and played the odd game. The content if the text book was largely little accounts based on two fictional families, the Lavisses and Telliers. The syllabus was religiously structural, moving meticulously from one grammar point to the next through the artificial communication of question-answer and repetition.

Mr Bowyer took us on in the second year, when I was 12. He had excellent pronunciation and must have been quite a fluent speaker. Cours Illustré probably dominated his oral approach too. I'm not certain, but I think we were put in ability sets thereafter and I found myself at some point with Colin Wringe, who was a thoughtful teacher committed to target language teaching. He wrote reading comprehension books and went on to become a trainer of teachers at Keele University. He was not terribly charismatic, but I observed his method, strongly based on providing lots of listening and reading input, and soaked it up.

By the sixth form we had two teachers, both gifted in different ways. Mick Dawson, who also coached me at cricket, was another fluent speaker who worked through Actualités Françaises, along with other activities of his own devising. We talked and listened a lot, did drills and a lot of grammar manipulation tasks. Literature was in the hands of a very literate and academic type called Bill Steer, with whom we read through, more or less page by page, La Peste and Britannicus. He explained ideas to us clearly and helped us write effective essays. We discussed ideas largely in English, I recall. Miss Wood took over from Bill in the upper sixth and we did Maupassant with her, somewhat less effectively. My mind was already moving on to university in Reading.

My secondary schooling, therefore, featured that structured direct method approach which I went on to use when I began teaching. My belief that this approach was modern and effective was reinforced by my PGCE tutors (e.g. Peter Sands) who were also steeped in "death by question-answer". To be honest, by 1980, the approach was becoming a bit passé. CLT was taking hold.

Reading University had a French department of some repute and was quite forward-looking. As well as traditional translation, we did a good deal of target language work, notably summary and "exercices de style" based on a book by the same name by Raymond Queneau.

By the time I began full-time teaching at Tiffin School, Kingston, I had moved on a bit, however, having taught some EFL in summer vacations, and had picked up some revolutionary ideas, such as pair work. During my teaching practice at a boys' secondary modern I noticed that teacher-led question-answer did not always succeed and could be boring. Some adaptation was needed and over time I became less dogmatic, more pragmatic. I picked up a good deal watching my colleagues.

In my case, therefore, it's true that my own teachers strongly influenced my eventual approach. Over my career, I remained fairly faithful to it, moving more towards communicative ways, grammar explanation, vocabulary learning (which I initially dogmatically disliked) and, to some extent, translation. The latter always seemed a necessity for exam preparation and an intellectual challenge for pupils, rather than an effective way for young people to acquire a language. Americans would have called my a "proficiency" or CI (comprehensible input) practitioner, but wedded essentially to a structural syllabus and limited by the GCSE and A-level exams. I still think you can do both.

Just to add that a further reason for my belief in the power of immersive input were my French exchange when I was 16 and a weekend immersion course I did during the sixth form. I clearly remember the quantum leap in fluency I made just after those experiences.

I am grateful to my language teachers. They all knew their subject and some were very fluent indeed. They were good role models who unwittingly encouraged me to pursue a career in language teaching from my early teens. I believe their methods were sound. I wonder whether you fit the paradigm of the teacher who teaches the way they were taught...

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