Skip to main content


 Update 27.3.14 I see that Oxford have just published the latest edition of Tricolore (version 5), the sample of which looks quite similar to Tricolore Total. I shall shortly be reviewing it.


Seven years after Longman published their widely used course, Nelson (in association with the Nuffield Foundation) brought out Tricolore, written by Sylvia Honnor, Ron Holt and Heather Mascie-Taylor. How had things moved on since Cours Illustré and Longman's AV French?

Visually Book 1 is very different. All black and white, but almost every double page spread is filled with photos, cartoon images and simple pictures. There is a fair amount of text, but much of it is now in English. This is a major change. It seems that the authors felt that previous books had been dull to look at and unappealing to pupils. They also wanted to include a good deal of cultural content which had barely been hinted at in the older courses. This was a necessary move.

The layout is frankly messy, with no numbers for exercises, making it hard for the teacher to direct pupils to them. In addition there is little sign of a repeated pattern to the layout, as if the authors (or designers) were keen to avoid any sense of repetition or boredom creeping in. This book is is many respects a quantum leap forward when compared to the earlier offerings for brighter pupils. Because let's not forget: this book ended up being aimed fairly and squarely at quite academic pupils, whether this was the authors' intention or not.

In other respects Tricolore has much in common with its predecessors: grammar is the basis of the syllabus, with selection and grading of material, even if this is far less finely or scrupulously executed as in Mark Gilbert's day. There is room for drilling and practice, but it is less rigorous, which was a frustration to me when I began using the book in 1988. The amount of English to be seen in the book, whilst comforting to pupils, was a challenge to the direct method orthodoxy.  It was perhaps also an attempt to sell the book to schools with a wider range of ability. Remember that modern languages were now being to taught to pupils of all abilities. But here is a further point to this: GCSE exams would soon see the use of discrete skill testing, with much use of English for questioning (sound familiar?!), so it is no surprise to see listening exercises in Tricolore Book 1 with English questions. This would have been anathema to the earlier writers. Maybe Honnor, Holt and Mascie-Taylor were heralding a new age of pragmatism in language teaching methodology.

The Tricolore dynasty continues to this day. We saw Encore Tricolore, Encore Tricolore Nouvelle Edition and recently Tricolore Total. Interestingly a small amount of the original material from Book 1 survives to this day. The story of cat and mouse Tom and Jojo has remained unchanged from 1980 to 2010.

The longevity of the course is testament to the success of its approach with more able pupils. The latest addition is better laid out, colourful, separates better the cultural information from the linguistic and comes with a comprehensive package of support material, including an online resource. It is very user and teacher-friendly, grounded in a sound, eclectic methodology, and much more expensive! Is the current TT better than the older books? Well, it is of its time and , yes, I would have to say better.


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…