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Showing posts from July, 2015

Shopping for men's clothes - web task

Here is a simple web browsing and vocab searching task. Students enjoy these and pick up new vocabulary in an enjoyable way. Good for the computer room or iPad. This is from the Y10-11 pages of La mode masculine Trouvez le site du magasin de mode masculine Jules En cherchant sur le site traduisez les termes suivants : T-shirts et polos                                                      Blousons et parkas printed - __________                                                padded - _________ sleeves - __________                                               hooded - ________ round collar - ___ ____                                             leather look - ______ ____ buttoned - ___________                                           raised collar - ___ ______ vest top  - ___________                                           denim - _____ Chemises                                                             

How the exam boards cocked a snook at ALCAB

Readers of my blog may recall that I got unusually hot under the collar when ALCAB (the Russell Group led advisory panel on MFL A-levels, set up by Michael Gove) came up with their recommendations for the new A-levels. My two main gripes were the idea of a literature/film essay in English and the nature of the subject topics they were recommending. The essay in English was rejected by Ofqual and ALCAB after consultation, so students will now have to write in the target language. That is good, since teachers will be encouraged to make maximum use of the target language in the classroom and overall language proficiency will be enhanced at no great expense to "cognitive challenge". As far as the topics are concerned, let me remind you of the French list of themes ALCAB had proposed in their "indicative list". Then have a look at what the exam boards came up with. How similar do you think these lists will be? ALCAB indicative list Republican values. Schooling

Primary to secondary transition

A problematic area for language teachers is how to handle the transition between primary and secondary school. As a head of department I once did a survey of our feeder primaries (about 28 of them, mainly small, rural) to find out what the nature of their provision was. You won't be surprised to learn that it was very varied. The large majority of schools were offering a little French, with about half an hour a week at KS2; one or two did some Spanish. There was no common curriculum and the skill levels of the teachers were inevitably varied. I concluded that that provision was so patchy that we had to assume, in general terms, a "clean slate" approach. We did refine this to some extent by asking every Y7 pupil to fill in a survey sheet for us very early on. They could show us what they had done, what words they knew and could spell, what languages they had done and so on. The principal purpose of the exercise was to make sure we knew which pupils had covered a signific

The grammar-translation approach and beyond

Younger teachers and readers may be curious to see these two examples of O-level French exam papers from 1959 which have been on the Lawnswood School, Leeds website for some time. (Thank you to them for keeping them on public record, along with papers for other subjects.) Enjoy! Addendum:  See these papers kept in archive by Cambridge too. Thanks to Frances Wilson from OCR. Grammar-translation was the predominant approach to language teaching for much of the twentieth century and was based on the way Latin had been taught for many years. There was no real syllabus to speak of. Teachers worked through text books (often written by W. F. H. Whitmarsh) and relied on past exam papers to give them a guide on what to prepare. Lessons consisted of vocabulary learning, gr

Make your own booklets

Teachers and pupils like booklets. There is something satisfying about having a stapled set of resources to work through. Pupils develop a habit, get a sense of progress and a feeling of completion. I know some teachers have made booklets from resources on . In case you haven't thought of it before, here are some stapled booklets you can produce. Year 7/primary A set of parallel reading texts (dolphins, vampires, ladybirds, my friend, my mum etc - 27 texts in all) Crosswords, wordsearches and code-breaking games  Verb practice sheets ( être, avoir, faire, aller, jouer etc - 12 sheets). Vocabulary by theme Year 8 Crosswords and wordsearches (17) Video listening sheets (6) Vocabulary by theme Perfect tense grammar sheets (10) Year 9 Video listening sheets (8) Grammar worksheets (perfect/imperfect/future) (about 35) Texts with exercises (15) Year 10-11 (intermediate/GCSE) Grammar worksheets (about 30) Video listening (20) Texts wit

Five blogs I like

On I have a long list of French teacher blog links, but I don't have the time to visit them all, apart from checking that the links have not gone dead. The languages blogs I like to read most, though, are ones related to language teaching pedagogy. I have maintained an interest in this over the years ever since my linguistics study at university and the MA I did later (partly on the work of Stephen Krashen). But there are other education blogs I like to read too. Here are five blogs I would recommend: The Language Gym blog by Gianfranco Conti is unusual in combining detailed reference to research with practical implications for the classroom. It's a relatively new blog, but Gianfranco, who teaches French in Kuala Lumpur, is a frenetic blogger who always makes you think without trying to sell one particular approach over another. Young teachers could learn a good deal from his posts which are detailed and referenced. Gianfranco really gets into the nitty-g

Reciting letters and numbers

I don't recall learning to say the alphabet in French at school. When I began teaching French in 1980 I didn't teach the alphabet either. By the time I finished teaching in 2012 I had come round to regularly teaching the alphabet to Y7s. But was it a good idea? My approach eventually became to teach A-Z using an American marching song melody. It was a fun thing to do at the start of lessons, brought the class together, helped developed pronunciation and encouraged a focused, disciplined start. Classes liked it and it no doubt helped somewhat at later stages when pupils had to spell out words. Saying the alphabet out loud, just like reciting numbers in order, seems like an obvious thing to do. And yet... the reasons we didn't do it at school and I balked at doing it in my early career, were as follows: 1. Spelling out letters in alphabetical order is not a typical communicative task. How often do we do it in life apart from when teaching the alphabet to children?

Comparing the new draft A-level specifications (2)

In this blog I am going to look at the assessment regimes of the four exam boards as they appear in the drafts. Usual caveat: this may change a bit! This summary applies to French, German and Spanish. It is worth saying at the outset that there is far less variation in the pattern of assessment between boards as there is with subject content and prescribed lists of books and films. Nevertheless, if a teacher is weighing up two different boards, they may be slightly influenced by how the exams are arranged (content and timings). You'll see that, as the drafts stand, students will sit in the exam room a bit longer with OCR and Eduqas overall. I shall look at both AS and A-level this time. There is a little variation in nomenclature across the boards, but for ease of comparison I'll just use the terms Paper1, Paper 2 and Speaking. Note that you need to add 15 minutes prep time for the AS oral and 5 minutes for A-level. Note also that even though weighting seem to vary som

Co-teaching new AS and A-levels

You'll be aware by now that the new AS-Level for first teaching in September 2016 is a so-called "stand-alone" or "decoupled" qualification so any marks gained from it will not count towards A-level. Like all other AS-levels, however, it has been designed to be co-teachable with A-level. It remains to be seen how many schools will embrace this idea. Certainly the exam boards anticipate a large fall in AS entries as school focus on the traditional three linear A-levels taught over two years. For schools which do go down the co-teaching route, what are the implications? Recall that for AS-level students have to be taught either a literary text or a film. For the full A-level students have to study either a book and a film or two books. In terms of themes/topics, the AS-level material is incorporated within the A-level themes. Students in schools who do offer AS-levels in Y12 could do their language for a year, take the AS exam and get a grade. This may influ

Comparing the new draft A-level French specifications (1)

Ofqual and the exam boards are on a tight schedule ( merci Monsieur Gove) . The new draft specs for A-level are now published for first teaching from September 2016. These have yet to be accredited by Ofqual and based on recent performance there may be tweaks to come. So here is a comparison of the subject content for A-level   French of the four awarding bodies AQA, Eduqas, OCR and Pearson. Remember that they were working within the straitjacket provided by the DfE and Ofqual. Nevertheless you will see some significant differences in the choice of subject matter and prescribed literary texts and films. You'll see that OCR provide more detail in their list of topics. AS topics, literary texts and films are within the A-level ones. All boards except AQA have a shorter list of texts and/or films for AS-Level. There are also some differences in the assessment regime (e.g. exam timings, mark schemes and what goes in each paper) but I shall not deal with those issues in this pos

A look at The Language Gym

The Language Gym is a free interactive website for French, Spanish and some Italian written by Gianfranco Conti, who also authors the outstanding Language Gym blog which I have mentioned before here . From the homepage you have three options. The Verb Trainer focuses on conjugations. There is a menu on the left from which you can choose a language, verb or tense to work with. I initially found the menu confusing, but you quickly get used to it. You then play the game to a time limit, given a pronoun and tense and an infinitive. You type out the correct part of the verb. If you get an answer wrong you are given the correct one. This is reminiscent of similar conjugation programmes online and is fine given its obvious limitations. It may appeal to some students who enjoy playing with verbs to a time limit. The second section is called Workouts and is considerably meatier. For this section you can choose French or Spanish. So far there are grammar, oral and vocabulary modules

Selection and grading

A fundamental principle of choosing a resource for a class should normally be skilled selection and grading. This involves choosing material which approximates to the current level of a class and then takes them a step further. With a text, for example, you do not want to overload the students with too much new vocabulary or unfamiliar grammar. Some theorists would favour a "finely tuned" selection and grading whereby you very carefully design or choose a resource to include previously practised material plus just a little more. Others would favour "rough-tuning", arguing that you do not need to worry too much about focusing on the form and that interesting content of roughly the right level should be sufficient. Teachers who favour more naturalistic approaches (e.g. TPRS or CLIL ) place less emphasis on fine-tuning, whilst making sure, in general, that they limit the range of vocabulary and grammar they present and practise. Most teachers in a high school co


Since GCSE began mark schemes have always rewarded pupils' ability to express opinions. I never really got this. It is easy to teach pupils a set of phrases to include in their speech and writing - "je pense que, je crois que, à mon avis, à mon sens" etc - but why would we want to particularly reward the learning of a narrow range of set phrases? When students wrote GCSE coursework essays in the pre controlled assessment era, they could ensure they gained a significantly higher mark by including opinion phrases. If they wrote "je pense que" this was even better because it meant they were creating a subordinate clause and complex sentences were needed to gain the highest marks. The current regime of written controlled assessment awards highest marks for "explaining ideas and points of view" (AQA). The Speaking CA mark scheme descriptors for Communication refer to "points of view" and "opinions" (AQA). The draft AQA GCSE Speaking mar

An approach to translation which keeps emphasis on target language.

I'm going to be writing some beginner and near beginner resources with translation in mind. You know I'm not a huge fan, but many schools will want to include more translation with the new curriculum in mind, so I have to keep the customers happy! So here is a sample of what I'll be doing where translation features but with the focus still on comprehensible input. This one is an adaptation of an existing parallel reading task called Mon chien. The original is in landscape format with French on the left and English gapped translation on the right. I have added true/false and sentence completion to keep the emphasis on target language input. This one is pretty easy. French Mon chien s’appelle Bouba. Il a cinq ans. C’est un labrador noir.  On l’a trouvé dans un refuge pour chiens. Il est énorme et très mignon. Quand je rentre de l’école, il saute et veut jouer dans le jardin. Il adore courir, jouer à la balle et se baigner dans la rivière ou dans la mer. Il ma

So what's the point of translation?

Translation is in GCSE for the first time. The last time pupils had to translate both ways was back in the days of O-level i.e. pre 1987. Its position is also reaffirmed at A-level from which it has never disappeared. I would hypothesis that it is in at GCSE because someone at the DfE, or advising the DfE, estimated it was the only way to get teachers to apply a rigorous approach to grammar and vocabulary teaching. To many of us it seems like an old-fashioned and misguided way to achieve that end and one which will inevitably lead to poor classroom practice and an even greater neglect of target language use. With that preamble out of the way, what is the value of translation?  It clearly has merits as a language learning activity. Let's take each form of translation in turn - L1 to L2 and L2 to L1. Please note that I am limiting myself to written translation of written passages or sentences. L1 to L2 (translation into the target language) We used to call this "prose translatio

Latest from frenchteacher

Here are the subscriber resources I have added in the last month: Text and exercises on overcrowding in French prisons. Article, vocabulary list to complete, questions about the text, general questions on prison and law and order. Y13 (advanced) Video listening for near beginners:  Trotro fait un bonhomme de neige . Linked video with sentences to recognise, gapped translation and a mini story in French to complete. By the way, if you didn't know, Trotro is a cute little donkey much loved by toddlers in France. Fortunately, unlike most donkeys, he speaks French slowly and clearly. (Y8 - near beginner) Parallel reading passage and exercise on the organisation Islamic State. Some useful background knowledge for students. (Y10-11 - intermediate) Parallel reading. The story of three Mexican fishermen rescued after drifting 8000km across the Pacific. True/false/not mentioned exercise and an idea for written exploitation. (Y10/11 - intermediate A French to Engl