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

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 _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…

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…