Skip to main content

Can Pokémon Go really teach us anything in MFL?

My son has a degree in physics and is soon to start his PhD on solar energy. He has also taken to Pokémon Go, which is essentially a collector's game which gets you out and about. I slightly get it, having been (full disclosure) a collector of train numbers when I was 12. It does have a strongly social aspect - we were amused when he gravitated towards and starting chatting to a couple of young French players while wandering around La Rochelle. You can tell Pokémon collectors by the way they walk around with the mobile phone in a particular position and gather in clusters.

I've been wondering whether the collector's instinct can be called upon a bit more in language lessons. Schools are already aware of the powerful effect collecting can have - think of those keen youngsters collecting merit stamps and stickers from teachers. Some collect detentions, of course.

In a language lesson here is a simple idea which goes some small way to satisfying those who enjoy collecting. It's a simple variation on the task type where you tick off words you hear during a listening comprehension exercise. Instead of that, why not, every now and then, provide students with a list of TL words they might hear during the lesson. This could be a simple and quick add-on to your normal lesson plan.

Let's say you know that your lesson is about healthy living. You give each student a list on a strip of paper of about twenty words or phrases broadly on that topic (body, food, exercise, football, vegetarian, smoking etc - you can also include general words) and they have to tick off any they hear you say. You tell students they can only tick off words on their list which they hear you saying, not words they read. You could make the activity competitive, praising or rewarding the students who find the most words.

How do you know for sure if you used the words? Well, you wouldn't want to make this too accurate or time-consuming, so you could use your memory or make an educated guess which words you uttered. The checking-off of the words would be an excellent and natural plenary activity. There may even be disagreement about which words were used - another excuse for recycling the language.

If you did this activity several times over a term you could even keep a league table of who did the best if you or the class were that way inclined. Students could keep their lists and stick them in books.



Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:

Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…