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Code-breaking games

We've been using code-breaking vocab games for quite a while, especially with younger students at Key Stage 3. I have mixed feelings about them, since they are all about spelling detail and little to do with communication in the foreign language, but students enjoy doing them and it's revealing to see how they approach the task. First, here's an example based on the topic "en ville" (Year 7):

19, 22 1,22,2,14,11,24,1,11,20,14 = LE RESTAURANT

19, 11 6, 11, 1, 22 ___________________

19, 11 21, 10, 2, 18, 10, 20, 22 ___________________

19, 22 8, 11, 1, 18, 16, 22 ___________________

19 ‘ 23,7,7,10,18,22 5,22 14,23,24,1,10,2,8,22 ______________________

19, 22 21, 23, 1, 14 ___________________

19, 22 18, 10, 20, 22, 8, 11 ___________________

19, 22 21, 11, 1, 18 ___________________

19 22 18,22,20,14,1,22-4,10,19,19,22 __________________

24, 20 8, 24, 2, 22, 22 ___________________

19, 11 17, 11, 20, 25, 24, 22 ___________________

19, 22 21, 11, 1, 15, 10, 20, 6 ___________________

19, 11 21, 23, 2, 14, 22 ___________________

19’ 16, 23, 21, 10, 14, 11, 19 ___________________

19’16,23,14,22,19 5,22 4,10,19,19,22 ___________________

Now, what you find is that some students are extremely methodical and write out a list of letters and any numbers they can match up. They try to solve the code before putting in answers. Other students (often boys) use clues beyond the code, for example the length of the word, the number of words or the gender. They see things more globally and may get to the answer more quickly. Others look "globally" but are too impatient to solve the detail of the code. I have sometimes found that those who get to the answer quickest may not be the best linguists at all and this can give them a boost to the ego.

The method they adopt tells you, as a teacher, something about the learning style of each pupil. That, in itself, is a useful piece of information.

Ultimately, I see these exercises as a pleasant change for you and the students, a chance to relax while they get on and an opportunity to reinforce vocabulary. Some would argue that this is a sound way of introducing new vocabulary. I'm not so sure. I still cling to the traditional notion that vocab is best introduced orally first, then reinforced later on paper.

See for more examples of code-breaking tasks, including a wingdings one!


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"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)

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"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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