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Retrieval grids

 You've probably come across grids with words and phrases in like the one below. I was thinking about the concept of "do-nows", those starter activities used by many teachers for when students enter the room, perhaps in dribs and drabs, and who benefit from a task to settle into straight away. Doug Lemov has championed these as one means to limit the waste of time in lessons. They also, clearly, serve to bring back in material covered in previous lessons, so serve the purpose of a retrieval practice starter. I must say firstly that I have reservations about them. This is mainly because I prefer the idea of all students entering together and the lesson beginning with a snappy, often teacher-led activity. I feel that this sets the tone and can give that famous "flying start" to a lesson. But teachers have told me they work well. I guess it depends on the nature of the task, its quality, including level of challenge. Now, the type of grid you can see above can be
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On interference, fossilisation and learning from the unexpected

When I was 12 years-old, my French teacher explained to us the difference between the meanings and spellings of three words: le cours (lesson), la cour (courtyard, playground, court of justice) and le court (court - for tennis or royalty). French speakers will know that these three words are pronounced identically in most circumstances.  Now, I think that the teacher's explanation helped me remember to this day the different meanings of the words. But the explanation may just as well have left me confused in the long run because of what cognitive psychologists call interference . In other words, if we learn more than one item at the same time, and those items are very similar in sound, interference between the items will make it harder to recall them correctly. Indeed, some psychologists such as Robert Bjork claim that when we forget things in long-term memory, it is not so much due to decay or fading, but rather interference between competing information. Similarly, some resear

What about explicit versus implicit grammar teaching?

This post is a summary of a chapter by Miroslaw Pawlak in the book Debates in Second Language Education (Macaro and Woore, 2021). I'll summarise the main points of the chapter, adding my own comments in italics . This post will be a bit longer than usual, so bear with me! The title of the chapter is: Implicit versus explicit grammar learning and teaching Pawlak begins the chapter with the claim that there is a broad consensus that "grammar instruction might be necessary or at least facilitative in some contexts", even if controversies exist about how grammar teaching should be carried out. (It is not exactly a ringing endorsement of grammar teaching, but most language teachers reading this will find the claim that teaching grammar helps to be be pretty uncontroversial! You'll see that Pawlak is actually very supportive of explicit grammar teaching. ) He then says that he will provide theoretical support for both the implicit and explicit routes by pulling together the

Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher 2nd edition

I'm happy say that Routledge have just let me know that the second edition of my book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher is available for pre-order , with publication due on August 2nd. They have a special offer on too! Let me give you some background and tell you what's the same and what's different about the second edition. In 2017 Routledge asked me to write a book in their series Becoming an Outstanding.... Teacher , edited by Jayne Bartlett. There was already a maths edition in the series, and others have been published since. The use of the word 'outstanding' in the title has to do with the fact that in England schools are judged by the inspection body Ofsted according to various categories, with 'outstanding' being the best. So 'outstanding' became a buzz word in English schools. For a while, bizarrely, even individual lessons could be graded 'outstanding', though this is now rare, as I understand it. So you can see the editors

Things to know about phonological memory

This is an adapted extract from our book  Memory: What Every Language Teacher Should Know  (2021). It's about the the concept of phonological memory. In the multi-store model of working memory shown above, based on the Alan Baddeley model, (figure from Smith and Conti, 2021), the phonological loop is the most important part as far as language learning is concerned. How does  it work?  Think for a moment about how you hold a word or phrase in your head as you make sense of it, or prepare to say it; or how you say words in your head as you read from a book; or how you try to make sense of some spoken language. These processes are carried out by the phonological loop, what psychologists sometimes call verbal or phonological working memory . The phonological loop has been described as the mind’s ear , processing and storing sounds. You could think of it as our language learning device, activated in a particular part of the brain (the temporal lobe of the left hemisphere - above and

A 'daily routine' lesson plan

Image: Pixabay Teachers often wonder whether teaching 'daily routine' is worthwhile. It's feels like a tired topic and one that's hard to make interesting or fun. On the other hand, the vocab and verbs relating to it are very useful and fashionably 'high frequency' for the most part. Teachers can be creative in trying to make the topic more amenable to students, for example by doing 'A day in the life of (insert celebrity name)' and on my Y9 and Y10-11 pages I've included video listening tasks based on the 'Portrait d'un enfant' series from Arte. These show children in developing countries (mainly) talking about their typical days (or, usually better because they are clearer, have a voice-off commentary of the child's day). Needless to say, those videos have a superb extra cultural dimension in raising students' awareness of lives beyond their own experience. However... on balance, I think there is still a place for appealing to s

Another parallel text on frenchteacher

Some years ago I began putting together parallel text reading tasks for beginners or near beginners. I blogged about this back in March too. The idea is to help students access interesting reading material through the use of parallel translation. Of course, without supporting exercises, students would just read the English text and barely process the French at all. The exercises I add require students to do some processing, while keeping the focus largely on comprehension. So the format is true/false, underlining cognates and completing a short bilingual vocabulary list. the latter is made possible by the English text, so overall the exercises are feasible by a large majority of students, provided their English literacy is reasonable. Recently I have been adding further examples to the existing set of 20 or so texts. I have put some more emphasis on culturally significant content, rather than just general interest reading. You can see the format below - just imagine this on two landsca

The illusion of mastery

 Do you ever get your classes to chant or sing verb conjugations or endings? Later in my career, I certainly did, influenced by colleagues, and seeing that pupils enjoyed singing verb paradigms to tunes. My favourite was singing the present tense of the verb ‘aller’ to the Mission Impossible theme. The Pink Panther was good for some verbs too. In the same vein, I was happy for students to enter the class singing the alphabet to a US marching melody. It was an upbeat, organised start to beginner lessons. Why did I do these things? Was there value in them? First, let me remind you of something from cognitive science. It's the TAP effect. TAP stands for Transfer-Appropriate Processing. It’s the idea that when we encode a memory of something we learn, we also encode the context of the learning. For instance, if you teach the phrase ‘I have a headache’ along with a gesture, the student will encode both the language and the gesture. It has been found that when you later ask a student to

Class surveys for beginners

One easy way to bring a task-based element into beginner lessons is to do class surveys. These get students to learn and rehearse simple chunks of language based on topics which may be interesting or relevant to them. In my examples on frenchteacher.net, once students have been taught and practised the relevant vocabulary with the verb 'Je préfère', then milled around asking classmates to say aloud their three favourite (animals/subjects/pastimes/fruits/vegetables etc), they can then analyse and share their results with you and the class. You can then hear back some results from the class and arrive at a conclusion for the class as a whole. (If you want to incorporate some tech, students could enter their results into Excel and produce a bar chart or similar.) There is a communicative aspect to a simple lesson such as this, as students want to find out what their classmates thinks (i.e. there is an information gap). In addition, there is an aspect of  ' doing something wi