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Review: Cambridge IGCSE and O level French as a Foreign language

Written by Danièle Bourdais and Geneviève Talon, this brand new coursebook and accompanying CDs are for pupils studying for IGCSE and O level. It's a thickish, colourful and clearly laid out 12 unit pupil book of nearly 200 pages. The book looks suitable for good Year 10 and 11 pupils.

Unit titles are: mon quotidien, La pleine forme, Une famille à l'étranger, Faites la fête!, Ma ville, demain, La nature - amie, ennemie ou victime, Bonjour de Francophonie, L'école et après, Au travail!, A l'écoute du monde, En voyage and Jeune au XXIe siècle. There are revision units built in to the course after every two units. The coursebook should be bought in conjunction with the Workbook if you want plenty of back-up vocabulary, grammar and strategies support. These workbooks are usually well worth getting.

When I look at a unit in detail, e.g. Faites la fête, I see it contains a good range of activity types: imaginative questions, comprehension matching, task-based activities such as drawing up lists for a celebration and traditional short texts with key grammar embedded, e.g. future tense verbs, quand + future + future. The latter leave plenty of scope for exploitation with question-answer and other interactions.

There are group and pair activities, grammar drills (e.g. changing infinitives to future tense), cultural information, boxes with brief grammar notes, gap-fill listening and reading comprehension tasks (grids to complete, matching names to paragraphs etc).

There is one longer text about the positive and negative consequences of a festival on a locality. This is followed by a range of exercise types: matching, TL questions (only three - I like to see more but space is limited in text books), identifying opinions and how they are expressed, grammar analysis (finding verbs in different tenses), finding time expressions, note-taking from listening texts and oral work to get pupils to use complex si clauses.

The grammar section for the unit is written all in French. This may confuse some pupils, but the target students tend to be at the able end of the spectrum and may be able to handle this. Teachers may choose to do their own explanations in English and add plenty of supplementary grammar drills.

Whenever I look at a book my main question is: could I use this in class? Overall, this unit, even if you don't go for every single exercise, looks very usable and quite interesting for its target clientele. (I always think this topic is a tricky one to approach since it is relatively hard to personalise it compared to some others.) The implied methodology is the common hybrid of communicative + comprehensible input + explicit grammar and drills so is in the sensible mainstream. The source texts look to be adapted authentic.

Just a word about the revision sections in the book. I like how these build in an element of spaced learning. They include lots of model questions and answers for exam practice, extra reading and games.

As far as the listening material on the CDs is concerned, it's definitely in the "clear and slowed down" camp, which is fine by me. Some would argue that it should be more authentic and natural to prepare students for real life speech. If anything, there may be a slight disconnect with the difficulty level of the written material and easier listening. I hesitate to be too judgemental about this, however, especially as I have never taught this specific course.

Danièle and Geneviève should be congratulated for putting together such a comprehensive, well thought-out and varied book which I daresay is well matched to its exam specification. I am full of admiration for teacher-writers who spend so much time producing resources for relatively little reward. It's a mammoth task.


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What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"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." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

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’( The point i…

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When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…