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GCSE modern language specifications are rather boring, aren't they? It seems like the people who decide what kids should be learning at KS4 can't get beyond the paradigm of the last twenty years. At KS3 there has been a willingness to think outside the box a bit and to give teachers more freedom to do what they wish, not that that's been reflected hugely in the course books I see.

So why are our books dull? Well, we are generally working with a grammatical progression imposed on a series of worthy topics which are deemed to be of interest to our students. You know the sort of thing: holidays, town and country, health, hobbies, food and drink, friends, shopping etc. Every now again our books are spiced up with something more "relevant", so now it's all internet, emails, web sites and mobile phones. None of it is what you might call attention-grabbing. I've nothing against grammatical progression, but the topical contexts it is set in could be better.

One thing that's missing is stories. Back in the days of Mark Gilbert's Cours Illustré de Français, which I have discussed here before, it was nearly all stories. Every day family stories, stories about monkeys in trees, stories about Christmas truces during the war and so on. Many of them were mundane and dull, some were mildly amusing, but the reason they were used was to try and fire the imagination of youngsters and to provide a framework for productive oral and written work through question and answer. Stories lead to greater creativity of thought, along with a range of written and oral tasks.

let's say you were revising clothes and accessories in Y10. As well the fashion show or the pictures of people dressed up in the book, why not have a story, or cartoon story, about a murder at a fashion show, or about a French teacher who falls in love with a fashion model, or a story of jealousy between two fashion models? OK, so they aren't brilliant, but you get the point.

I haven't seen course book in years which tries to use stories effectively. They do appear sometimes. In the Tricolore series (Y8 book) we read about Inspector Louis Laloupe and I find those cartoon stories very usable for teaching purposes as well as a bit of fun for the kids. If I were publishing language books I would hire an imaginative children's writer to produce some simple stories which could be simplified in the target language. I'm not sure the current crop of linguists who produce courses are up to writing somrthing good enough. In any case, the latest exam board demands may stop them doing so. One could even start with simple versions of classic, familiar tales, written in the perfect tense.

So, if greater numbers of students are going to flock back to MFL at KS4, let's make sure that the lessons are not, as OFSTED recently put it, too dull.


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Higher Tier 

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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…

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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…