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A simple conversational starter or filler

Do you fancy a break from the normal theme-based work, translation practice, listening test? Simple conversation starters can promote communication, provide input and interaction, help you get to know your students even better. This is an old favourite which requires zero preparation and can take conversation in unpredictable directions. Just give a short sentence starter like the following: “I feel happy when...” “I feel sad when...” “I am scared when...” “I was amazed when...” “I hate it when...” “I love it when...” You could just say the sentence starter and see what responses you get, then react to answers to build interesting conversation. Or if the class is less forthcoming, you could give them a few minutes to think and jot down some ideas before hearing what they have to say, or getting them to share in pairs or small groups. The advantage of you taking part is that the students get to hear higher quality input and you can choose what you want them to hear. The advantage of the
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Advanced communicative tasks on frenchteacher

Task-Based Language Teaching gets a lot of support from the research field. Communicative tasks with a real purpose to fulfil, maybe a purpose related to ‘real life’, are claimed to be an efficient and enjoyable way to promote language learning. I first discovered this type of activity back in the 1980s when they were sometimes called Task-Oriented Activities. They were common in the field of EFL/ESL, but less known in MFL classrooms. A classic book setting out their justification, with examples you could adapt for MFL, was Discussions that Work by Penny Ur, subsequently rewritten years later. It’s worth seeking out still. My experience with communicative tasks was positive, but like some other teachers, I found them most effective with advanced students who have a much greater stock of vocabulary and grammatical skill to call upon. The biggest supporters of task-based methodology argue that they can work fine with younger learners if the emphasis of the task is on input, not output. O

A low prep listening game

 As you know, I'm keen on activities which involve a good deal of listening input, preferably as comprehensible as possible so as to maximise acquisition and student self-efficacy. This simple, low-preparation activity is a one-way listening task (listening without interacting) and allows you to revisit lots of previously used words and phrases. This is the activity. Read a series of definitions of words. The first letters of each word form an anagram of a word the class should already know. You can scaffold the listening by using gesture, maybe the odd translated word, repetition and pausing. If a student cannot solve a particular word, this is not necessarily a problem, since they can still solve the anagram with the letters they have. So here's an example of a nine letter word. The solution is the word RECYCLAGE. The definitions are at a level a very good Y9/Y10 class might cope well with.  Possible definitions - remember that you would read this list in a different order to

A suggested sequence for teaching with a written text

  This sequence is an extract from Breaking the Sound Barrier: Teaching Language Learners How to Listen (Conti and Smith, 2019). It's not a prescriptive list, but does suggest a logical approach which you could use or adapt, especially if you are a teacher in training or have little experience. 1.        Pre-reading activity of some sort. This could be linguistic, e.g. a vocabulary brainstorm from the topic area, or non-linguistic, e.g. some taster questions in L2 or even L1 to stimulate some interest in the subject matter. In general it is not a great idea to go into a text ‘cold’. 2.        Read aloud the text . This helps ensure the class reads along at the pace you read and gets to hear sound-spelling relationships. To make sure every student is reading, use a trick such as warning that you will pause randomly and select a student to say the next word. Or tell the class you will make some deliberate mistakes they have to spot. Your intonation will also help students deciph

Vocabulary frequency: playing with the MultiLingProfiler tool

I thought I would try out the MultiLingProfiler tool linked from the website. You can find it here: The idea is that you can test a text you have sourced or written to see how many words fall outside the 2000 most frequent words NCELP use for their vocab frequency bank. I copied and pasted a French text from, one I wrote for Higher Tier GCSE pupils. It's an interview with a female astronaut, adapted from an online source somewhere. The tool highlights in orange any words which don't feature in the top 2000. Have a quick look at the text below. You'll note that the tool doesn't deal easily with verb chunks such as "avez-vous", so you can discount examples like that. Frequency counts (corpora) always produce surprising anomalies. So in the case below, words which you might be surprised to be in the top 2000 might include: formation, partenaire, exigences, recueillir, fonctionner, quotidiennes, s'

Fluency development in language learning

This post is a summary of a chapter in the Loewen and Sato book The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017). The chapter was written by Tracey M. Derwing from the University of Alberta. I've previously dipped into this book for summaries of research about vocabulary and grammar. The topic of fluency is of interest to me at the moment as Gianfranco and I are doing our research before publishing a book next year (provisional title Acquiring Second Language Skills: From Comprehension to Fluency ). I'll add my own glosses to this summary as I go along (in italics). Derwing begins her chapter with a quotation about fluency from Charles Fillmore, who described one of four types of fluency as the "ability to talk at length with few pauses" (Fillmore, 2000, p.51).  (This is what many of us think when we describe what it means to be a fluent, although we may also just mean "proficient" in the language. We have an idea that someone can spe

Why is it important to understand Transfer-Appropriate Processing?

Transfer-Appropriate Processing is one of those potentially off-putting jargon terms from cognitive psychology. It describes something actually very significant from a language teacher's point of view. Knowing about it helps answer questions such as these: How can I best design tests to help students succeed? How can I match my lessons to the assessment regime? How can I help students remember what I taught them? Below is what we wrote about it in our recently published book about memory. When you teach a class of beginners to recite the alphabet to a tune, they are likely to remember it successfully. If you then ask them to recite the alphabet without the same tune, they will find it harder. What does this tell us?  Edward Thorndike’s Theory of Identical Elements (Thorndike, 1914) stated that transfer of learning from one context to another depends on the level of similarity between the environment of the training and performance. When we learn something, our memories record not o

What about the defined vocabulary lists for the new GCSE?

This will be the last of my posts commenting on the proposals for the new GCSE, currently going through a 10 week consultation period. Once again, my aim is to reflect personally and hopefully help you with your own thinking. The document is here. It’s only 29 pages long, with a large part (curiously, but signficantly) devoted to grammar lists. The proposal is that Foundation Tier a list of 1200 words will be produced (1700 at Higher Tier). These lists will be based primarily (90%) on what are called frequency corpora - databases of language as it is used. The use of corpora is interesting. To start with, what appears in a corpus depends on where the language is drawn from. Spoken language? Written language? ‘Standard’ forms? Do they include commonly used swear words? Do they include, for example, South American Spanish o

What about culture in the new MFL GCSE?

                                                                                                                      The tour St Jacques in Paris (Wikimedia Commons) This is my fourth post referencing the consultation document for the subject content of a new GCSE for first examination in 2025. Firstly, a reminder of where to find the key document: Another new element of the proposed syllabus is the specific requirement below: It is important that students should be taught the language in the context of the countries and communities where the language is spoken. As they learn the language, students should become familiar with aspects of the contexts of the countries and communities in which the language is spoken. This is because an appreciation of the culture, history, geography and working environments of these

What about dictation in the new GCSE exam?

Image: This is my third post about aspects of the proposed GCSE subject content for MFL. I enjoy being able to reflect on these matters and hope my ramblings might stimulate your thinking too. Last time I wrote about one eyebrow-raising aspect of the proposals, the inclusion of a reading aloud test. Today I thought I would reflect on another surprising inclusion: dictation . Why is it there? Is it a valid and reliable means of assessment? Does it have any task "authenticity"? What could be its backwash effect on classroom teaching? A little context first. From around the late 1970s, with the communicative language teaching movement beginning to have an influence on MFL teaching in England, dictation fell out of fashion. Why? Well, to start with, dictation fell into the category of those tasks which are not 'communicative', i.e. don't involve the face-to-face communication of meaning through task discussion, information gaps, question and answer, etc. Dict