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Showing posts from February, 2012

Exploiting vocab lists - going beyond the vocab test

This is a version of a page from the site: Thanks to colleagues who have suggested some of these ideas. Many of us work with text books which contain lists of vocabulary. Vocab learning can be a pretty dull task to do and an uninspiring homework to set. Then you have to deal with the students who do not do their learning or who simply cannot set words to memory very easily. Doing a vocab test of the traditional kind has its uses, of course, but I find them dull to administer and they work best only with the brightest classes. By the way, I used to doubt the whole value of vocab learning, believing that vocab was acquired by regular use rather than by rote learning. Without entering a debate on conscious versus unconscious learning in language learning, I now believe that learning by heart can have a place. Put simply, consciously learned vocab can make the crossover into one’s “acquired” competence (despite what Stephen Krashen would claim!). Needless to say, we

TV5 Monde - For some reason I have neglected this fantastic site for too long. TV5 Monde have made available an enormous number of exercises suitable for advanced level students. There are video reports, comprehension tasks and even grammar exercises, on a vast range of subjects, most of which would suit students in their final year of French at high school. Just to give you a flavour: have a look at the “Cités du Monde” section where you select a city and then choose from a menu of activities, including listening comprehension, reading comprehension and grammar. The activities are graded by difficulty level, but don’t be fooled, even the ones labelled “élémentaire” are really of advanced level as the recordings are authentic interviews. With each recording there are interactive activities, usually multi-choice, but with detailed feedback when you get an answer right or wrong. Lots of good work has gone into this mat

So predictable!

The French presidential election is taking a predictable course. In a recent Harris poll Sarkozy was sitting on 24% with Marine Le Pen ( Front National ) not far behind on 20% for the first round. Needless to say, Sarko's first priority is to not do a Jospin and get beaten in the first round, so he is cosying up to right-wing voters by, for example, coming out (if I can say that) against gay marriage, gay adoption and votes for foreigners in local elections. If he makes it to round 2, his language may soften a bit and in any case we are bound to see him play the experience card. He has been a man for a crisis, serious, out there with Merkel on the European stage, protecting France's long term interests. Photo by Robin King from Meanwhile, François Hollande (on 28% in that Harris poll), whilst promising the Earth to left-leaning voters, is playing the man in the street card, which he has to given that he has remarkably little experience for a presidential candidate

Key developments in language teaching

What have been the key developments over the last few decades in language teaching? Here is my top ten, not in rank order. Yes, it had to be ten. Feel free to shoot me down in flames. As a group game you could rank them! 1. The near death of grammar-translation. 2. The invention of the tape recorder and language laboratories. 3. The rise and fall of audio-lingualism. 4. The widespread growth of "direct methods" or "oral-situational approaches". 5. The rise of authenticity of resources. 6. The rise of the communicative approach and information gap. 7. The four skills approach. Focus on speaking and listening. 8. The arrival of the computer and the internet. 9. The rise of generic formative assessment techniques. 10. Eclectism and the resurrection of grammar.


Apparently, 45% of England's secondary schools are now academies, with the DES's financial sweeteners and propaganda campaign through social media continuing to exhort schools to detach themselves from local authorities. What we are witnessing is a gradual privatisation of the education system. It is currently illegal for schools to be run on a for-profit basis, but it won't be long before sponsored chains of schools cream off public funds for the benefit of their investors. Meanwhile schools are directly accountable to central government through Ofsted. I am struck by how all this is happening with remarkably little fuss beyond the columns if The Guardian. The Labour party, still in thrall to the Blairite competition ethic, looks like a rabbit stuck in the headlights. Is there a case for academies? Although very recent research suggests early adopting academies in poorer areas have done a little better than equivalent community schools, it may be too soon to judge whethe


Our school recently went through our latest Ofsted inspection, under three years since our last and, once again, in the vanguard of schools inspected under the latest framework which focuses on just four areas: achievement, teaching, behaviour and safety, and leadership and management. To use those familiar footballing metaphors, goalposts are moved again and the bar is raised. I cannot yet say how we got on, but I can offer a few reflections. Although everyone wants to do well, most of the pressure falls upon the Head and SLT. The pressure to be "outstanding" is high. The staffroom becomes a place of greater mirth, an "us and them" spirit is pervasive and we enjoy a greater than usual feeling of solidarity. One of the commonest questions is "Have you been observed?" Staff recount how lessons went and how they found each inspector. Teachers try harder than usual, write more detailed lessons plans, though many teachers are not observed at all. Inspectors

About closing down university PGCE courses

In a recent blog post Donald Clark gave seven reasons for slashing university PGCE courses. In attacking such courses he is supporting government policy which aims to close down courses and move teacher training into schools to an even greater extent. One of Donald's seven reasons was: "Irrelevance The drift towards ‘University-led’ courses had loaded these courses up with irrelevant theory that has no real bearing on the practice of teaching. A good example is Abraham Maslow, a staple in teacher training, yet of no use to anyone in terms of what they’re actually asked to do in schools." I can only talk (with relatively little knowledge, I confess, though I have supervised trainees and picked up anecdotal evidence) about PGCE courses in modern languages, but I suspect what I say could apply to other subject areas. I am slightly concerned that trainee MFL teachers do not get enough theory. Apart from learning something about the general psychology of learning and t

Language learning: for business or pleasure?

It is a sign of the times that arguments for learning a foreign language are so often framed in utilitarian terms: will knowing a language get me a job? The economist Lawrence Summers recently argued in the New York Times that there will be less use for foreign languages as English dominates business more and more and people use technology to translate. I liked this response from Marcelo  M. Surez-Orozco: I enjoyed this line: "Learning a foreign language is about a way of being in the world, not about getting the next deal done." Britain, we are told, suffers economically because of our shortage of linguists. Research will indicate that language graduates are less likely to be unemployed. I have no doubt that is all true and I, like many fellow teachers, tell students that learning a language will help them in the job market. I somehow doubt, h

Un match de tennis oral

I don't often blog about individual lessons at school, but I'd like to share this resource which went really well with a Y10 class of pupils of reasonable ability (GCSE grade B/C standard). It's a tennis match activity with questions using a resource I made for . It's nice when pupils say "Can we do that again?" You could use the resource with any good class from Year 9 to Year 11. Students work in pairs and each have a list of questions to ask their partner. They score the activity like tennis. Partner A "serves" a question and partner B tries to answer. If partner B cannot answer the point goes to the server (15.0). If the partner can answer, the server wins the point (15.0). Each student has the answers to their questions, so it is easy to keep score. Advise them to keep a written note of the score. You can teach the French system of scoring including "deuce" (40 à), avantage , jeu and set . And so on until the game