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Identifying and supporting high-achieving students

My previous blog was about working memory, and how to identify and support students who may be struggling because of working memory deficits. In contrast, this post is about high-achieving students. It may be that this is a school or departmental issue or priority for you. The text here is taken from the new edition of my book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher (Smith, 2023). (Yes, 2023. Although the book is already out, its official publication year is apparently 2023.) I taught for well over 30 years in schools with, on the whole, quite high-aptitude pupils, so the text here is based partly on my own experience. I wonder if it squares with your own feelings. Here is the section from the book. Apologies for the errors in formatting, which happen in Blogger when you copy in a text in Word. Stretch and challenge So-called gifted and talented students have a special need of their own, you can argue. I spent my career teaching students of above average aptitude in three schools in
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Identifying and supporting students with poorer working memory

In the second language acquisition research literature, some scholars believe that a key factor in language learning aptitude is working memory. Working memory, you may recall, is our so-called mental workspace where we hold things in our conscious attention. Working memory span, or capacity, varies somewhat between individuals and may, or may not, be subject to alteration through specific exercises. In typical memory models (e.g. the famous Baddeley model), by rehearsing things in working memory, e.g. practising silently or saying things out loud, we can help information pass into long-term memory, where we need it to be. Think, for example, how you say out loud a telephone number to help it stick in your memory. As a reminder, here is the general model of memory often shared with teachers these days. For language teachers, phonological working memory is of particular interest, since we depend so much on students listening to language. Phonological working memory, in the Baddeley mode

10 more nifty starters for language lessons

My previous post 10 nifty starters for language lessons was popular, with a few thousand views. Since I have been focusing on starters on my site, I thought I’d share another 10 starters I would happily use with classes at various levels. You might find something new here. Or you might not! 1. Guess what I did last weekend We often ask students what they did last weekend, and I blogged about variations on this theme some time ago here . For this starter, just turn things round and get students to guess what you did. For some languages this is an opportunity for students to use the formal ‘you’ form, which can be tricky to work into lesson plans. So students make guesses about what you did and you reply yes or no, or give a whole sentence answer - positive or negative -  to provide more listening input. As soon as they guess, say, five correct things, the starter is over.  2. Number sequence One for near beginners who can count to about 50. Read out a sequence of numbers and students m

Advanced listening: a teen at a Montreal high school

One of the staples of my frenchteacher site is 'video listening'. These resources are worksheets linked to online video clips from various sources. I look for short clips of up to about 3-4 minutes, clear language and relevant content. The exercise I design for each video depends somewhat on the content, but in the example below I went for the simple 'questions in French' approach. An advantage of this is that it not only requires comprehension, but the ability to transcribe and adapt the language students here. (In contrast, questions in English require comprehension and translation/summary only.) For the hardest texts I might avoid QA in French since more effort is needed in the processing, so adding the burden of writing in French may overload students. It depends on the student, of course. Below is an example, unusually long in this case, but manageable, given the speed and level of language. I like this source since it relates to a francophone country outside mainl

10 nifty standby language lessons

This is actually just an lightly edited update of an old post from 2015. Things can sometimes go wrong at school. The computer doesn't work, you have to teach a lesson you weren't expecting, you didn't get time to plan that lesson you intended to, the photocopier broke down so you couldn't print those worksheets, you're covering for a colleague and no work was set, the computer room was double booked. I'm sure you can identify with some or all of those! That's when you might need standby activities you can call upon, lessons which you know will work and can be adapted to various levels. So here are ten I would recommend which you could include in your repertoire. With these you’ll never be short of a lesson! 1.   Jacques a dit This is Simon Says and it is a hit at all levels. You can use it to teach body parts from scratch or to revise them at any time. You can adjust the pace to suit the class, it encourages careful listening and it's good fun. 2.  Bing

'Find five facts'

I've been uploading lots of starter activities to in recent weeks. Most involve working at sentence and chunk level and involve retrieving, recycling, adapting or correcting simple language. Most of the exercises also involve time limits, to encourage the development of cognitive fluency - quick recall and usage of high-frequency language. The activities I have made have all been aimed at Y7-9, which is CEFR A1 towards A2 in some cases.  A recent task I put on the site, and which you can view above, is focused on reading comprehension with an element of time pressure. I just called it 'Find five facts' and in this case the short texts students see on each slide contain some language students will not have encountered. The aim is to read quickly and pick out comprehension points of their own choosing. This task runs counter to the usual idea that language should be highly comprehensible (at least 95% if you accept Nation's figure, the one Gianfranc

10 nifty plenaries for language lessons

My previous post called 10 nifty starters for language lessons had a lot of views in a short time (thank you Twitter and Facebook), so I thought teachers might appreciate some ideas for plenaries - ends of lessons which round up or review language used during the lesson. You could add these to your current repertoire. To begin with, I don't think for one moment that every lesson needs a starter or a plenary. Hopefully the days are gone when three part, four part, or X part lessons seemed prescribed. But there is some sense in using the start of a lesson to review language used in the previous lesson(s) and there is some sense in giving a lesson plan some extra shape and clear purpose for students by including a plenary. In reality, by the time you get to the end of a lesson, both you and the students may have had enough and a plenary may seem superfluous. I certainly did more starters than plenaries. One old web page described the purpose of plenaries as follows: To help pupils re