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Trotro fait de la peinture

Finding video listening material for beginner to intermediate pupils is a challenge. I look at many clips and reject nearly all of them since I believe that there's little point playing material with too much unknown language or clips which are too long. (The research suggests at least 90% of listening and reading material should already be known for and acquisition to take place, although adapting the task to the text helps mitigate the level of difficulty.)

Cartoons aimed at very young French children open up possibilities, though even these need careful sifting. They are authentic and fun. So, as you may know already, I have published a lot of comprehension worksheets linked to short cartoon clips, especially Peppa Pig. They are well liked by teachers and pupils.

This one is a Trotro video which you could use from Y8 to Y10 (low intermediate). I cannot stress too much how naughty Trotro is. In this video he is no PicASSo.

Use the lin…
Recent posts

A National Language Centre

The DfE in England announced today an investment of nearly £5 million in a national centre for languages, including the involvement of nine schools which will act as hubs spreading good practice and, it’s said, drive up standards. The good practice which the centre aims to spread is based on the Teaching Schools Council Review of MFL Pedagogy, which I have previously blogged about on a couple of occasions.

You can find it here. It’s worth a careful read:

On the one hand any new investment in languages (in this case French, German and Spanish) is to be welcomed. This particular initiative, officially supported by the CBI, is a response to the faltering take-up of modern languages in secondary schools and skill shortages in the world of work. One DfE spin on this is that in the post-Brexit era we shall nee…

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT)

This is my third blog summarising chapters from the Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (Loewen and Sato, 2017). This one is written by the eminent writer Rod Ellis and concerns Task-Based Language Teaching, known as TBLT (researchers love these abbreviations - think of CLT, SLA, ISLA). In fact, in this chapter Ellis discusses both TBLT and TSLT (Task-Supported Language Teaching) and it's the latter which may be of most relevance to you in the classroom.

1.  What is a task?

In this context researchers make a distinction between exercises/activities and tasks.Ellis also refers to a distinction between task-as-workplan and task-as-process (Breen, 1989). The former is the materials which make up the lesson plan, including the instructions. He mentions the Heart Transplant Task where you give students information about four people and have to discuss and decide who is most deserving of a heart transplant. (This is a version of a balloon debate.) The task-as-pr…

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

The latest research on teaching grammar

This is a summary of a chapter by Hossein Nassaji entitled Grammar Acquisition in the recently published Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017). The chapter in question succinctly and clearly reviews recent research into classroom grammar teaching and offers some general advice on the topic to language teachers.

Can grammar instruction help develop proficiency?

Nassaji points out that this has been a long-standing controversy in the field. Does learning develop primarily through explicit teaching and conscious manipulation of structures, or merely through unconscious processes when people are exposed to meaningful input (known as implicit learning)? N. Ellis (2007) points out that implicit and explicit learning are functions of separate memory systems in the brain. Scans show that explicit learning is supported by neural networks located in the prefrontal cortex, whereas implicit learning involves other areas of the brain, the perceptual and motor cortex.


Au Revoir les enfants worksheets

Some time ago Paul Heywood sent me his worksheets for use with the film Au Revoir les enfants, one of the prescribed films for A-level French (all exam boards).They are freely available on the Samples page of Here is the first worksheet from the set.

Louis Malle: Sa vie et son œuvre

Faites des recherches sur la vie de ce metteur en scène/réalisateur français:

1. Quand est-il né et où? Est-il encore vivant?

2. Qu’est-ce qui lui arrive pendant l’Occupation?

3. Il travaille avec quel réalisateur très célèbre et quel est le résultat?

4. Qu’est-ce que c’est le mouvement du cinéma qui s’appelle La Nouvelle Vague?

5. Louis Malle en fait-il partie?

6. Quelle musique emploie-t-il dans son excellent film noir en 1957?

7. Pourquoi à ton avis les films suivants suscitent-t-ils toujours la polémique? : Les Amants (1958), Le souffle au coeur (1971), Lacombe Lucien (1974)

8. Au Revoir les enfants: Bref, de quoi s’agit-il?

9. A-t-il gagné des prix de cinéma? Lesquels?

Le film

Après avoir regard…

What does “mastery learning” mean for language teachers?

This is a guest blog by teacher Mick Heseltine-Wells who works at the Kings’ School, Al Barsha, Dubai. He and his department have been looking at ways of improving their practice by considering the notion of mastery learning. They have chosen to link this in particular with the teaching of grammar and have come up with their own action points for the future. His Twitter handle is @mickheswells nad his school can be found at @KSABMFL.

Do get in touch with me if you have something interesting to share. My email is

‘Mastery’ – what is it? How can it be achieved in MFL? Well, that is a question my second in department (@SenoritaUskova) and I were asked to present about to SLT recently. Not an easy task. However, one which, has really shaped our thinking on our French and Spanish course content, particularly at KS3, and also ignited a desire to explore this issue even further.

In the early stages of research on the topic it soon became apparent that mastery in MFL is not a…

How many new words should you include in a text?

We know that for second language acquisition to occur students need to hear or read meaningful input. If the message what they hear or read is not understandable you might as well expose them to gibberish. In fact, there has been research into how many new words students can cope with while maintaining a meaningful message. Don't forget that students can use compensatory strategies, e.g. their knowledge of the world, their hypotheses about what a text might mean, their knowledge of cognates and so on, to work out meaning to some extent.

Studies, for example those carried out by Paul Nation, indicate that for a text to be understood a bare minimum 90% of the words need to be already known. For most learners this figure rises to around 98%, maybe even more. If you include more unknown words than that students lose the message (and may switch off as a consequence).

Those percentages may seem high to you, so to test them for myself I have taken a text from and looked…

Teaching writing: a sponge cake and an epiphany

This is a guest post kindly sent to me by Australian language teacher Rowena Bata who works at Kardinia International College, Geelong. You'll see that Rowena is making a very valid point about process and product which she stumbled upon in an unusual fashion. But let her explain...

I'm a firm believer in the idea that practice makes perfect; you get better at something by doing it. I'm never going to be able to run 100 metres in 10 seconds if all I do is sit on the couch and watch Usain Bolt on the telly. I need to get out on the track, learn how to run faster, and train regularly. Similarly, I'm never going to be able to write a decent essay in French if I never actually write anything in French.

Looking at this situation from the teacher's perspective, I know I should set my students more writing tasks so they can improve their writing, but I don't have time to mark so much writing each week. Like the majority of teachers, I'm not lazy, there just ar…

Quizlet Bingo

I sometimes think that there are so many teachers getting on with their jobs and doing great things, but who perhaps don't engage so much with social media or are maybe too modest to share their work. If you have any great lesson ideas or plans or just things to say about language teaching, with nowhere to share them widely, let me know, as I am looking for a wider variety of content on my blog. I often have 2000 views or more of my blog posts, so you'll have a readership for your work. Just send a pdf or Word doc to

So here is something Greg Armstrong sent me. Many teachers enjoy using Quizlet and Quizlet Live with their classes. Greg sent me this guide with comments about how to play Quizlet Bingo. See what you think.