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Showing posts from 2016

Talking about how The Language Teacher Toolkit came into being

My five most viewed blogs of 2016

It's gratifying to me that this blog has been read more and more this year with the total number of page views exceeding 1 million in December. Content has ranged from reviews, information and reflections to resources and marketing blogs. The blog has been a continued focus for me, along with, The Language Teacher Toolkit, my new soon-to-be-published handbook and the TES units of work co-written with Gianfranco Conti . The five most read posts of 2016 are listed below. 1. Learning strategies. This was actually the third in a series of five posts about Learning Strategies, based on material which we could not fit into The Language Teacher Toolkit . This post was shared by the British Council so picked up over 22,000 views. 2. What about natural aptitude for second language learning? With over 14,000 views, this post looked at the background and history of research into language learning aptitude. All teachers know how much variation there is between pupil

Book progress report

I blogged a while ago about the book I'm working on for Routledge. It's to be called Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher. Following the success of The Language Teacher Toolkit written with Gianfranco, Routledge approached me out of the blue to write a book in their series "Becoming an Outstanding...". I had not been intending to write a second handbook, but on reflection I did see how I could put together something which would be distinctive from the first book and original in its own way. The target readership is teacher trainees and other interested teachers aiming to refine their practice. Since most of the examples I use are in English, so as not to confuse teachers of particular languages, the book may appeal to ESL/EFL teachers too. The typescript is almost complete now. There are fourteen chapters covering areas such as running a classroom, teaching texts, listening, vocabulary, task-based teaching, writing and speaking, as well as a final chapter featuri

Which skill is most neglected in languages classrooms?

Out of interest I posted a poll on Twitter with the question "Which skill do you think is most neglected in MFL/WL classrooms?" The four options were listening, reading, speaking and writing. The responses (320 of them) were interesting and as follows: Listening 47% Reading 7% Speaking 40% Writing 6% I have usually written that listening is the most neglected skill and this accords with what the respondents to the poll thought. I wonder if this is because of the way we perceive "listening" in language teaching and the way it is assessed. One of the unfortunate by-products of the GCSE exam system in England and Wales, introduced around 1987, is that listening is seen as a separate skill, assessed separately and therefore to be taught separately. (For readers outside England and Wales, about half of our 15-16 year-olds do a high-stakes, national exam called GCSE which has always assessed (reasonably discretely) listening, reading, speaking and writing.) This had tende

Peppa Pig - la Visite du Père Noël

Here is a nice video listening task from The video lasts just over 5 minutes. You could use this with a very good Y9 class, or more likely a Y10-ll group for a bit of useful listening fun and vocabulary building. The class could do the task independently in a computer room or on tablets (if you have the bandwidth). The URL of the video is below, but you can find it elsewhere, e.g. on Dailymotion, with a Google video search. Apologies for any formatting issues - you could copy and paste into Word. Regardez, écoutez et complétez cette liste de vocabulaire que vous entendez Christmas Day - __ _____ __ ____              nanny and grandad - ______ __ ______ Father Christmas has been! - __ ____ _____ ___ p_____ bubbles - b_____ (f)                                      cartoon book - b____ d________ (f) too early - t___ t__                            all hands on deck! – t___ __ m____ s_ __ p

The immersion effect

Apart from being very well taught at school for seven years, three formative experiences stand out in my mind when I recall my own experience of learning French as a young person. The first was doing an exchange aged 16 with a lad called Eric, the son of a solicitor. Quite at the last minute, when the local girls' grammar school needed a boy to make up the numbers, I dashed over on a train and boat from my terraced house in not-so-well-off Gillingham to the rather grand home of my partner in Solesmes, near Cambrai, northern France. I just about recall ivy on the walls, high ceilings and the unfamiliar odour of green beans cooked in garlic and butter. After a week in Solesmes we spent a week at their beach house in Brittany. The second experience was a immersion course in rural Sussex, where about 30 sixth-formers gathered in an enormous house for an intensive weekend of French language with a virtual "no English" rule. Immediately after I had a practice oral exam and my t

Using literary texts at KS3

I have been reading a brand new book called Success Stories from Secondary Foreign Languages Classrooms ( Models from London school partnerships with universities ). It is edited by Colin Christie and Caroline Conlon and published by UCL/IoE Press. The book consists of eight chapters written by various academics and teacher trainers working on PGCE courses in the London area. I'll blog a bit more about it in due course, but here I'll focus on one chapter written by Fotini Diamantidaki and entitled Using literature in the key stage 3 modern foreign languages classroom . Fotini begins by putting the topic in context, referring to the latest DfE national curriculum for MFL and its inclusion of the directive that pupils should "read literary texts in the language... to stimulate ideas, develop creative expression andf expand understanding of the language and culture." A general justification is then provided for teaching literature. Fotini says that literary texts

Responses to my blog on teaching lower-achieving pupils

I have put together the responses I've received so far about how to get the best from lower-achieving students. These were posted on Twitter and Facebook and are, by the way, an example of how you can crowd-source ideas. Many thanks to those who responded. See what you think of them. **************************************************************** Twitter Make sure they're listening carefully when reading a text in TL by getting then to do actions (apologies for my shocking handwriting here 😶) Shared aim, short varied tasks practicing same in different ways using different media.accountability with recording all marks publicly. Tests at beginning of each lesson to show that effort = progress. Nowhere to hide, use sticks in pot to choose students to answer the questions. Pair, think, share. Seating plans changed until get the best fit. Not easy and I don't profess to hold answer but that's what I do. Will you do mixed ability teaching next as seems new fad... G

Phobias - parallel reading task

This is an activity from You could copy and paste this on to a sheet of A4 (landscape) with the French text on one side, English on the other. The subject matter should be iteresting for pupils. Phobies Dans un sondage récent on a demandé à 2000 personnes de quoi ils avaient le plus peur. Il semble qu’il y ait des différences non seulement entre les réponses des hommes et celles des femmes, mais aussi entre les différentes générations. En tête de la liste, beaucoup de gens ont peur des hauteurs (58%). En deuxième place vient parler en public, suivi de près par la peur des serpents (52%). Ensuite viennent les araignées, les souris, les piqûres, l’avion, les grandes foules, les clowns, l’obscurité, le sang et les chiens (14%). A noter que le dentiste n’était pas sur la liste de phobies présentées aux sondés. Il est intéressant de constater aussi que les femmes craignent davantage les araignées et les souris que les hommes. En général, à l’exception des piqûres, les f

Teaching lower-attaining pupils

I would really welcome any comments or suggestions on this blog. Tweet me or send comments to my email which is public at During my career I mainly taught pupils of above average ability, so I am writing partly from my own experience, partly based on what I have read and what other teachers have told me. This post is not about SEN pupils. I’m going to start by saying that the general principles of language learning apply to nearly all students: exposure to understandable TL, practice, four skills, interaction and recycling. When time is limited with less able students, however, you have to restrict the diet, sometimes quite a lot. The reality is that many pupils do not have great memories. It is quite likely that classes with more lower ability pupils will take more managing than others. If you are new to teaching, I'd recommend you read Bill Rogers. Doug Lemov or Tom Bennett on classroom behaviour. Good behaviour is the bedrock of learning and pedagogically soun

The TSC view of second language acquisition

As I said in my previous blog, there is much to like in the Teaching Schools Council review of MFL pedagogy, but one aspect stood out to me and I'd like to say a bit more about this. The review argues strongly for a skill-acquisition model of second language acquisition: presentation and practice lead to automaticity and long-term acquisition. For many teachers this will make sense since they were usually taught within that general paradigm. Here is the link to the review once again: Note this important paragraph about automaticity from the review: "Automaticity means that, through regular, meaningful practice, learning becomes stored in long-term memory (sometimes known as procedural memory) and can be accessed without conscious thought. Developing automaticity in a language can enable pupils to devote working memory resources to the meaning being conveyed or on noticing or mastering new or m

The Teaching Schools Council MFL pedagogy review

The Teaching Schools Council (TSC) is not well known in the teaching profession. The government established the body in 2011. It co-ordinates Teaching Schools and their alliances. Its nine-member board has a mix of elected and co-opted members. Today the body published a review on MFL pedagogy, presided over by linguist and executive head teacher Ian Baulkham. The review panel talked to teachers, heads, pupils, parents and researchers and emerged with fifteen recommendations. The ones I would like to pick out are as follows (with my gloss added): The vast majority of pupils should do a language to 16. (This is in line with government Ebacc policy. I still have my doubts.) Grammar, vocabulary and phonics should be explicitly taught in a structured fashion. Practice and skill-building are recommended. (The pedagogical bias in the review is clear and would suit those who favour a skill-acquisitio

Vocab apps and opportunity cost

Opportunity cost is a term from economics. It refers to the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. In every lesson you plan and teach there are numerous options. They are not all equal in terms of their learning value, that much we can agree on. I'd like to question the value of vocab learning websites/apps. Now, I must make it clear that isolated word vocab learning can have a place and apps, from what teachers write, suit some pupils well. Teachers report productive lessons and homework using Quizlet and Memrise, for example. One teacher wrote on social media that almost all the homework she sets is based on Quizlet. Quizlet Live (where pupils can compete with each other in class to win vocab games) is getting good reports too. If you are not familiar with Quizlet or need a reminder here is an example for advanced students doing A-level French .Have a quick look and try the Gravity game. Perhaps because of my own methodological journey which began with

Latest from frenchteacher

Here are the resources I've added to the site in the last month: Vocabulary booklets for the second year of the new AQA, Eduqas/WJEC and Edexcel A-level. Word lists for each of the sub-themes. These can be added to the existing ones for Year 1 (A-level). Low intermediate video listening.  Trotro part en vacances . Vocab search, true-false and gap-fill. You could exploit this further too with dictation, story re-telling, translation etc. Free sample (see Samples page). (Low intermediate/Y9)y Easy video listening for near beginners.  Trotro a un beau cartable . Short video with French subtitles featuring your favourite donkey-small boy hybrid, French to English matching exercises and true/false. (Near beginners/Y7) Four short and very simple gapped dictations for beginners. Introductions, town, home, pastimes. Individual letters are indicated in the gaps. (Near beginners/Y7). Text and exercises on Peppa Pig, her family and friend Suzy. Text, tick off correct stat

Becoming an outstanding language teacher

I've been working on a book which will be published by Routledge in the first half of next year (all being well). It's provisionally titled "Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher". The book is aimed at trainee and experienced teachers around the world who aspire to the magic "outstanding" epithet, that piece of English inspection-speak (which I never liked). It's hard to define precisely what excellence means in teaching, of course, yet we have a pretty good idea who the excellent teachers in our schools are. The book tries to unpick aspects if what "outstanding" might look like. What do you have to do for pupils to hold you in the highest regard? The book is pretty much written and will be around 200 pages long. Its "unique selling point" will be the level of detail in which it analyses individual lessons. There are four chapters which analyse in detail lessons and lesson sequences centred on speaking, reading texts, visuals an

Making words memorable

Most teachers and researchers would agree that knowing words is even more important than knowing grammar if you wish to be proficient in a language. As linguist David Wilkins wrote in 1972: "Without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed."One of the frustrations for teachers is pupils' inability to retain vocabulary for productive use. A good deal of research has been done over the years into how pupils might better keep words in memory. Two concepts which have come to the fore are spacing and interleaving . Spaced practice A 2003 review of the literature by P.Y. Gu reported that most studies show that students frequently forget words after learning them just once.  Anderson and Jordan (1928) discovered that after initial learning, then one week, three weeks and eight weeks thereafter, the recall success was 66%, 48%, 39% and 37% respectively. Other studies have produced similar results. Unsurprisingly, these researchers recommend,

Video listening: Trotro part en vacances

Here's another example of the type of video listening worksheets I have on Trotro is a popular young children's show in France. Videos like this are great for classes: they amuse, they are clear and not too long and the language is fairly restricted to quite high frequency language. I hope this video displays in your territory! Apologies for any slight formatting issues. 1. tout à l’heure              a. toys 2. j’ai sommeil                b. big waves 3. faire ma valise           c. net 4. les jouets                   d. sand 5. emporter                    e. later 6. des grosses vagues    f. I’m sleepy 7. du sable                     g. to pack my case 8. un filet                        h. to take 9. des crevettes              i. spade 10. une pelle                   j. armbands 11. un seau                     k. teddy 12. un rateau                  l. shrimps 13. la baignoire