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Showing posts from March, 2016

Get it right from the beginning or get it right in the end

Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada,  in their very readable book How Languages are Learned (OUP, 2011, third edition), make the distinction between two ways of looking at second language teaching. The label the first "get it right from the beginning" and the second "get it right by the end". The "get it right from the beginning" position, they say, characterises a great deal of second language teaching practice. It is typical of the grammar-translation and audio-lingual approaches, but still features strongly as part of weaker communicative approaches. The idea is that you design your tasks with accuracy in mind, tightly control the input, moving from "easier" to "harder" and building up skills and knowledge as you might complete a jigsaw. Some writers call this (usually disparagingly) skill-building. You hope that these explicitly taught rules become internalised and enable students to produced spontaneous language. Research suggests t

Drôle de monde

This is a review of Drôle de Monde written by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri, sung by Archipol and Judith Charron. Drôle de Monde is a song-based package to support GCSE/intermediate level students. It is available via Linguascope and consists of a CD and Cahier d'activités. You purchase each resource separately.  £19.99 for the workbook  Audio CD £19.99 The CD contains 12 songs, each one matched with a GCSE theme. Themes covered include family, work, weather, media, tourism, customs and festivals. The songs are written by ArchiPol, a Breton singer-songwriter from Rennes. They feature him singing, mostly accompanied by Judith on vocals, with guitar, cello, keyboard and percussion. Vocals are clear, the songs are fun, varied in pace and style and all clearly in the time-honoured French singer-songwriter style. The recording production is highly professional. The work book is

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’   ( ) .

Social forums for language teachers

It goes without saying that social media allow teachers to exchange ideas, activities, lesson plans, problems and successes so much more easily than in the past. The opportunity to pick up ideas beyond your own school or department is fabulous and means that no teacher should feel they are working in a vacuum. Social media forums change over time. The prime platforms form exchanging ideas are currently Facebook and Twitter. In the UK teachers seem to have moved away from other forums such as TES, although the Yahoo group MFL Resources maintains a healthy following with well over 3000 members. UK-based Facebook groups include Secondary MFL Matters, MFL Resources and Ideas, Secondary MFL in Wales, MFL Teachers, MFL Teachers' Lounge and Languages in Primary Schools. My impression is that the first of these closed groups is becoming to most popular. Teachers on these closed FB groups are courteous and helpful and trolling (which became an issue on TES) seems to be absent. Having at

Picture sequence example lesson

This is a slightly adapted short section from our chapter about using pictures in The Language Teacher Toolkit. Visit to Paris Above is a sequence of about 15 simple pictures depicting a visit to Paris. They show times, places, means of transport and activities. Arrows indicate arriving and leaving, going up and coming down. They could all be displayed at once or presented one by one in a PowerPoint presentation. Typical questions would be:                 At what time did you leave the house?                 Did you go to the bus station?                 Where did you go?                 At what time did the train leave?                 Did the train leave at 9.00?                 When did you arrive in Paris?                 Did you go to Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower?                 Did you take the bus to the Eiffel Tower?                 How did you get to the Eiffel Tower?                 How long did it take? 20 minutes?   subscriber survey

Every few months I do a quick survey using Surveymonkey to get feedback about how the site is being used by subscribers. This is the link: I am keen to see which areas of the site are most used and what improvements or additions subscribers would like to see. One of my main areas to focus on over the next few months will be resources for the new GCSE and A-level specifications, even though there plenty of resources already in place. I have already produced GCSE role play and photo card resources and a set of literary texts with GCSE-style exercises. I shall be making sure that any topic and exercise type gaps are filled. For A-level I have been focusing on making sure themes are well covered and will add further resources on summary writing and translation. As far as users who live outside England and Wales are concerned, do let me know if there are any assessment-related resources which could be useful. A small but important propo

How will you plan your A-level course?

A new specification is clearly an opportunity to revisit not just themes and exercises types, but the overall structure of the course. At the moment is is unclear how many schools will enter all or some of their candidates for the new standalone AS level, or how many (possibly for reasons of cost) decide to abandon AS levels altogether. Anecdotal evidence suggests schools will react in different ways in the first year or so of the new spec. The traditional approach to a course is to tackle each sub-theme in turn (e.g. family, volunteering), bolting on grammar in a sequenced fashion, beginning with revision of simpler grammar and moving to harder. Text books often reflect this approach. Each unit features a mixed diet of listening, reading, speaking, writing and structured grammar tasks. The study of a text or film, in this scenario, would be done, in most cases, during the spring term of an AS course, or the autumn and spring terms of an A-level course. recall that for AS students ha

A reflection on language teaching

We rounded off our handbook for language teachers with a final reflection which attempts to encapsulate our general feeling about the craft of language teaching. This is a slightly adapted version of that afterword. *************************************************************** If you read our blogs ( and you'll know that we are interested in both ends of the second language acquisition spectrum: conscious learning (explanation and skill acquisition through practice) and unconscious (natural and with the focus on meaningful input). The longer we have taught and examined the theory and research over the years, the more we think that there is strong merit in both these perspectives on language teaching. Research into second language learning is still young. Although progress is being made, we cannot yet be sure what is happening in the 'black box' of the brain, but if we make sure we provide meaningful, repetit

Where to do GCSE listening exams

There has been a Facebook thread in the Secondary MFL Matters group about GCSE listening exams. The issue is whether tests should be done in a large hall or in classrooms. We had this conundrum in our school and I foolishly allowed listening exams to take place in the school gym for a year or two. We did our utmost to provide adequate playback devices with the right tone settings (treble up, bass down) and generally sound was adequate. I would walk around the hall to test it when the pupils were all there. However, I thought better of the situation and soon insisted that classrooms be made available. This became all the more important when language teachers were no longer allowed to invigilate exams. We ended up using a group of classrooms, close together, and I would go round, before the exams, checking that all the CD players were correctly placed and set up for volume and tone. This was a better solution. Even so, on one occasion, I discovered afterwards that one invigilator had

One key to student progress: recycling language

This is a brief extract from The Language Teacher Toolkit and part of a chapter about the importance of recycling language. Recycling in one lesson or sequences of lessons In our opinion the best way of building in recycling opportunities within lessons by using the same language in different, varied activities. Within the PPP model (Presentation – Practice - Production) this is easy, as you provide examples of new language through listening or reading, practise them though controlled oral and written exercises, then further recycle them in free writing, for example as a homework task. You would return to the same language, and maybe a bit more, in a subsequent lessons, either re-using similar activities (because familiarity is important to students) or with new ones (because students also enjoy variety). Here is one example of a range of tasks which could be used within a lesson when presenting and practising the past (preterite) tense. Each task might take only a few minu

GCSE French literary extracts

I have just finished working on a set of ten short literary extracts with exercises. these are designed to resemble the examination questions which you'll see in specimen papers and actual exams from June 2018. I'm sure subscribers will find them useful. They could be done individually or given out as a booklet for practice in the run-up to exams. I've included pieces by Camus, Balzac, Ionesco, Sartre, Saint-Exupéry, Pagnol, Hugo, Zola, Sagan and Maupassant. Writing these has reminded me of what a cul-de-sac this inclusion of literature is. Someone high up decided that it would be a good idea to get pupils reading more literary texts as part of work from KS2 through to KS4. This implied that such texts have high value and can contribute to a more rigorous approach to language teaching overall. In practice, however, you soon discover the limitations of working with authentic or abridged/adapted literary texts. These are the issues: Texts are nearly always too hard, un

Conforming to the paradigm

Something bugs me from time to time. I'll call it "conforming to the paradigm". This is what I mean: In education an expert, educational body or government quango will come up with a new framework for looking at language teaching or education in general. Teachers, who are generally an obedient and occasionally unquestioning lot, take on board this new framework and buy in not only to its tenets but to its language. In England the obvious example is Ofsted-speak. Teachers now describe lessons as "outstanding" without using the quotation marks. They post requests on social media for ideas for an "outstanding" lesson, as if anyone (including Ofsted) knew what such a thing actually were. A school is described as "good" as if we knew and all agreed what this actually means. In the USA, since 2012 when the ACTFL published its guidelines for language teachers, teachers now refer to "interpretive" listening (without the quotation marks) and

A departmental library for teachers

I wonder if your languages department has a library of books for teachers. Such a library could contain a number of resources, including books on general methodology, games, grammar reference and fluency activities. Here are some recommendations from my own knowledge. Used editions of some of these can be found for very little money on Amazon. Discussions and More -  Penny Ur (2014). This contains ideas for mainly task-based fluency activities for mainly high intermediate and advanced level. Penny has worked for many years in the TEFL field, but her experience and ideas deserve an audience in the modern language teaching community. This book is an updated and broadened version of her book Discussions that Work. Fun Learning Activities for MFL -  Jake Hunton (2015). This is a very usable set of games or game-like activities for helping pupils develop their vocabulary. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching -  Jack Richards (2014).  This is a "big picture" book whi