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Showing posts from April, 2013

In defence of pictures

I had an interesting exchange the other morning on Twitter on the subject of using pictures in modern language lessons. A fellow teacher, Barry Smith, was arguing strongly against the use of pictures, when, in his view, we should be making more use of English to present vocabulary if it is more effective to do so. Barry is not alone in arguing that knowledge of the mother tongue is the biggest advantage second language learners have and that we should not shy away from it for dogmatic methodological reasons. TPRS practitioners are happy to use L1 when presenting new vocabulary and some applied linguists, for example, Wolfgang Butzkamm, have made the same point strongly, for instance here . Among the arguments Barry listed:  Pictures are patronising - we wouldn't use them with adult learners Translations are clearer than pictures English is in children's minds anyway, so do not shy away from using it Pictures demand too much use of memory which can be threatening - use wr

On textbooks

I have detected an anti-textbook feeling from some language teachers and I understand where it stems from. Books are not always good, some teachers use them too slavishly and with poor methodology, some have been poorly selected for a department. They seem expensive. It is also true that in some schools teachers cannot trust pupils to take them home or look after them properly. On one occasion an HMI told me he was pleased to see my department using textbooks when many schools were not. This is why I think he was right: A textbook is a collection of resources, part of a package of language learning materials which include a teacher's book, repromasters, recorded language and frequently online exercises. It has, in the best examples, been painstakingly pieced together, often refined over many years, to be a coherent, carefully graded, methodologically tried and tested learning resource. It is a reference book for pupils, a comfort blanket, a resource for overworked teachers to f

Message from

One or two subscribers to have asked if I could add answers to exercises to save time with marking or allow students to self-mark. With this in mind I have just supplied answers to all the AS Level grammar cloze exercises. These are appended to each A4 page. I have also, some time ago, provided model answers for the A2 level English to French translation sentences. I hope these prove useful to teachers and students. I shall look at other activities where answers might be provided, but given the very large number of resources it is unlikely I shall get far with the task. I would rather be creating fresh stuff! By the way, it is almost a year since the site became subscription based and I have been surprised just how popular it has been, with a significant proportion of all English secondary schools subscribing, not to mention many teachers from overseas. The first batch of subscribers are coming up to the renewal date and I am sending reminders out on this.

Sentence starters for advanced level discussion

How about these sentence starters for an advanced level discussion lesson? (from Quand j’aurai 64 ans… Je me sens toujours bien quand… Le meilleur moment de la journée, c’est… Les professeurs devraient essayer de… Une chose que je voudrais savoir, c’est… Si j’étais millionaire je pourrais… La plupart des gens que je connais… Je me souviens du moment où… Je regrette que… J’apprends le français car… Ça fait longtemps que… Un bon ami, c’est… Je n’ai jamais compris… Un bon élève ne… La reine d’Angleterre ne… J’ai peur de… Dans la vie, le plus important, c’est… Un bon cours de langue, c’est… Un bon prof, c’est… Le mariage, c’est… Based on an idea from Dictation: New Methods. P. Davis and M. Rinvolucci (C.U.P. 1988)

Environment discussion task

Here's some good material for an advanced level discussion on the environment. It would probably fit well near the end of a sequence of work on the topic and covers a wide range of vocabulary. This is taken straight from the frenchteacher site. Que faire pour réduire les émissions des gaz à effet de serre? Dans votre groupe discutez les propositions ci-dessous, choisissez celles qui sont les meilleures, puis mettez-les dans un ordre de préférence 1.             Faire construire des parcs d’éoliennes. 2.             Augmenter considérablement les taxes sur les vols aériens. 3.             Démanteler toutes les centrales thermiques en les remplaçant par des centrales nucléaires. 4.             Créer une loi européenne qui interdirait la fabrication d’automobiles traditionnelles dès l’an 2015. Toute voiture neuve devrait être hybride. 5.             Assurer que toute maison neuve soit équipée de panneaux solaires. 6.             Simplifiez les procédures p

You can't beat a good teacher

All the international evidence says the same thing.  Forget technology, school structures, iPads, academies and the latest methodology; if you want to raise standards just get a really good teacher in front of a class. So far, so obvious. I have just returned from a weekend "retreat" in York with one of my barbershop choruses. We are doing our final preparations in the run up to the national convention in Bournemouth. We are fortunate to have an extremely gifted and experienced chorus director. This is what she does well: She has superb knowledge of her field, so we have confidence in what she tells us She has high expectations but tells us we can achieve them with hard work She models good performance She is passionate and enthusiastic about what she is doing and shares that with us She praises us when we do really well, not just quite well She admonishes us quite agressively when we go wrong, but not in a vindictive way - we perform better afterwards She smiles

50 writing activities for the MFL classroom

Below is a list of common writing activites in the target language which can be carried out in a classroom or in some cases online. Most of these would be done within a sequence of activities, often following oral activities to improve comprehension, embed vocabulary or syntactic rules, and improve accuracy of speech and writing. Writing in the classroom adds variety, can calm a lively class, especially when the activity is led by the teacher, or can give the teacher a breather in a busy day. Even in our era of an ever-improving Google Translate, writing is worthwhile as it combines with other skills to reinforce overall linguistuic competence. Much writing will be done at home so as to maximise classroom time for listening and oral activity. Writing should nearly always be in the target language, although there will be times when using English makes more sense e.g. when taking notes on a harder spoken or written passage. The teacher will alsways need to adapt to the needs of the p

Frenchteacher teething problems

Apologies to any subscribers to who have been inconvenienced over the last few hours. Access to member resources on the web site has been impossible owing to some teething problems following our move to a new web hosting company. My IT guru is working on this and we hope to have normal service resumed very soon. Update (Thursday a.m.). There are currently logon problems which we shall fix shortly. Members can mail me directly for any resources they need. Update: Thursday p.m. All is running fine at the moment. If there are any further logon issues, members can just mail me and I'll send any documents direct. Steve

The blind men and the elephant

While there is no prevailing panacea method for teaching languages (grammar-translation, audio-lingualism, strong form communicative approach all having been wholly or somewhat discredited), there may be a resulting confusion about what works best. How is a young teacher to know how to teach a language in a primary or secondary school? It reminded me of something the eminent applied linguist Wilga Rivers wrote somewhere; when we try to describe second language learning we are like blind men trying to describe an elephant. I have recently seen the same metaphor used in two introductions to second language acquisition, one edited by Bill VanPatten, the other written by Muriel Saville-Troike. The reference comes from an Indian legend reworked in a poem by John Godfrey Saxe. It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind. The First approach'd the Elephant,

Frenchteacher updates

Here's a brief summary of the latest activity on the site. I've been focusing mainly on resources for intermediate and advanced level, as always seeking interesting texts to design exercises around. I came across an interview with a TGV train driver in an SNCF magazine which I adapted for GCSE. Not the most exciting of material, but very typical of the GCSE genre! It's also close to my heart ever since my old friend who was a TGV driver allowed me to accompany him on two occasions from La Rochelle to Paris and back in the cab of a TGV Atlantique. Also for intermediate level I've done a text with questions on smiling. Evolutionary biologists think we developed smiling from apes who use it to show they are inoffensive. Works for me. For advanced level I have done texts with exercises on TV and its effects on children's behaviour, music streaming and how it may take over from downloading, gay marriage (the previous resource on this was getting outdated) and the p

Gove versus Reality

Forgive me for going beyond my usual brief, but I have to write this.... There is a growing tide of rejection of Michael Gove's misguided, rushed and bodged transformation of the English education system. He has misled us about the success of academies, written a much criticised knowledge-based curriculum based on his own prejudices and which, for ideological reasons, only half of English secondary schools have to follow, introduced a performance related pay structure which nobody in the world has shown can raise standards, abandoned healthy food standards in half of our secondary schools, taken a risk allowing the creation of free schools, some of which are already failing to do a proper job, paved the way for profit-making schools for which there is no evidence of higher achievement and destroyed a functioning system of support for school sport. He has knowingly abused data from international comparisons to claim a justification for some fundamental shifts in policy and he is