Skip to main content

Exploiting hand-held flashcards

One of the features of my new book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher (published by Routledge in late August and available for pre-order from Amazon) is the focus I place on the nuts and bolts of individual lessons and lesson sequences. Several chapters include tables describing in detail how teachers and pupils can interact during oral lessons. I hope this will be of particular use to trainee teachers (as well as more experienced practitioners, of course - I have to say that!). Plug over.

I adopted a format of three columns with Teacher Cues, Student Responses and Commentary. The Commentary column has allowed me to include tips of the trade and to elaborate a little on the interactions being suggested. You might have your own which you think are better.

The tables are not meant to be prescriptive of course, but they should be useful in making clear that interactions need to be planned, thorough and smartly sequenced. One common mistake is to not do enough examples and to not exploit a resource or activity to its maximum, thus not allowing memories to become embedded. PGCE students should find this stuff very useful and instantly usable.

When training teachers I often point out that one of our skills is to provide a "twist" to a lesson by altering the activity somewhat, making the new task seem fresh, yet essentially repeating and recycling target language, and building on the previous task. This can occur within a lesson but also be carried over to the next lesson when you might do a nearly identical activity again to provide more "retrieval practice", to coin a fashionable phrase.

Some theorists are disparaging in their views about this type of "skill-building", but my view is that learning best occurs when there is both meaningful input and frequent opportunities to interact and practise in a structured way. So below is a table from the book which is the first in a series of three about exploiting the traditional hand-held flashcard. You could do essentially the same with flashcards on PowerPoint, but hand-held cards have the advantages of novelty (these days) and portability (e.g. they can be given to pupils, flipped over, pinned to a board or wall).

In my tables I often specify whether I think the activity is best done with hands up or hands down ("cold calling"). In the early stages of a teaching sequence I would tend to go with hands up to allow students to take in the new material at their own speed to some extent. Once the whole class is confident I might move to a mix of hands up and no hands up. On the whole I still favour hands up with occasional use of no hands up. (I'm not too keen on random questioning since this deprives us of the skill to match the question to the student, a vital part of differentiation.)

The topic is places around town with beginners. Comments are always welcome.

Here is the cinema.
Here is the park.
Here is the market.
 – all 12 items. (Do this all twice.)
Listening and watching.
Students just listen as you just say each word. Students need time to just hear and take in the new sounds. No need to force any repetition.
The cinema.
The park.
The market,
etc – all 12 items.
The cinema (x2).
The park (x2).
The market (x2).
Choral repetition, focusing on accurate pronunciation, exaggerating vowel and consonant sounds a little. No need to rush. You could vary the repetition style by whispering.
What’s this? It’s the cinema (x2).
Listening and watching?
Allow students to hear the question and the answer.
What’s this? (show a card) (x12).
Hands up.
 It’s the cinema, etc.

Elicit answers from volunteers with hands up. Get other individuals to repeat the correct answer. Get the whole class to repeat correct answers.
Either/or questions,
e.g. Is this the cinema or the market?
It’s the cinema.
You can create a comic effect by stressing the right answer in each pair or by refusing to accept their option, e.g. No, it’s not the cinema!
Hide all the cards. Ask in English how many the class can remember.
Hands up.
The cinema, etc
Elicit suggestions with hands up. Try to obtain all 12 items.
Ask in English who can list all 12 on their own.
Hands up.
The cinema, the park, the café, etc.
You can prompt the student by giving the first sound or syllable of a word. If a student is struggling encourage others to help out.
Play “hide the flashcard”. Tell the class they have to guess the hidden card.
Hands up. Students make guesses.
You can add comic effect by pretending with a facial expression that they’ve got the answer right, then say no!


  1. Hi Steve, I can't seem to find parts 2 and 3, do you have a link to them?

    1. Hi. The other two parts are in the book. Sorry if that wasn’t clear!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

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 _____ …

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

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…