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Knowledge Organisers

Knowledge organisers are a bit of a thing at the moment and their emergence has paralleled the growing influence of the "knowledge based curriculum" favoured particularly in some academies and free schools in England. Here is not the place to go into E.D. Hirsch Jr, cultural literacy and the skills versus knowledge debate, but just to mention first what form knowledge organisers can take.

Teacher Heather Fearn who works with the Inspiration Trust academy chain has summed up the uses of a knowledge organiser as follows:

1.  Curriculum mapping: for the TEACHER Identifying powerful knowledge, planning to build schemas, identifying transferable knowledge and mapping progression in knowledge.

2. For reference: for the PUPIL:  in place of a textbook or a form of summary notes for pupils to reference.

3. A list of revision items: for the PUPIL (and possibly the parents): what the teacher has decided ALL pupils need to know as a minimum at the end of the topic.

(Source here. )

I first came across the ones used at Michaela Community School (the best known example of a school using a "knowledge-based curriculum".) Here is an example from Year 8 French which covers all the bases above:

Here is an extract from a Michaela Y7 knowledge grid focusing more on spelling and phonics:

The next one is an alternative way of doing a knowledge organiser for Year 9 from Oasis Academy, Mayfield, Southampton. This one resembles a literacy mat or the sort of summary you'd find at the end of a textbook unit.

Now, I have to say to start with that the idea of a knowledge organiser sits a little awkwardly with languages since, if any subject leans towards skills rather than knowledge, then it's MFL. In subjects where there may be key facts, concepts and examples worth summarising and memorising I can see a greater use for them. But an MFL version ends up looking like a list of vocabulary, chunks or sentences (e.g. questions and answers) there to be practised, adapted perhaps, and memorised. They can be used in class successfully (I've seen it at Michaela) but they lead to a teaching approach which, while quite possibly effective, may not be to everyone's taste. (I much prefer the idea of teaching through communicating, not practising, adapting and memorising a body of knowledge.) As mentioned above, a knowledge organiser can just look like the traditional literacy/learning mat, useful for reference when speaking and writing. In this case there is nothing new in the concept.

So I don't myself see language learning as building up a set of knowledge or patterns to be set to memory and knowledge organisers could lead to such an approach if used indiscriminately. A word of caution here: knowledge organisers are no doubt being used in all sorts of useful ways and a cursory Google search suggests that they have not taken off hugely in MFL.

I have myself just been working on a parallel sentences knowledge organiser which I think could be useful at revision time, particularly for relatively lower attaining pupils (Foundation GCSE). The example below is to help pupils with their Speaking and Writing assessments (AQA). I wouldn't like the idea of it being the basis for lots of lesson work, but some teachers may see an attraction in using and adapting it in that fashion. (One approach is to take the given patterns and adapt them with different vocabulary of chunks.)

Here is one page of a nine page document on The nine pages of parallel text recycle high frequency language across the different themes and topic. Significantly awkward spelling or tense areas are in bold. Remember that this is for Foundation Tier:

Theme 1 Topic 1  Me, my family and friends

Je m’appelle Eric et j’ai 15 ans
My name is Eric and I am 15
J’habite une maison dans une petite ville près de Manchester
I live in a house in a small town near Manchester
Je suis assez grand(e) et j’ai les yeux bleus
I am quite tall and have blue eyes
J’ai les cheveux courts, bruns et raids
I have short, brown, straight hair
J’aime le sport, la musique et les animaux
I like sport, music and animals
Je déteste la musique classique
I hate classical music
Je suis sympa, loyal(e) et bavard(e)
I am friendly, loyal and chatty
Je ne suis pas paresseux (paresseuse) ou égoïste
I am not lazy or selfish

Il y a cinq personnes dans ma famille
There are five people in my family
J’au un frère et deux soeurs
I have a brother and two sisters
Je m’entends très bien avec mes parents
I get on very well with my parents
Le weekend dernier je suis allé au restaurant avec ma famille
Last weekend I went to the restaurant with my family
Hier soir j’ai regardé un film avec mon frère
Last night I watched a film with my brother
Dimanche j’ai joué au football avec ma soeur
On Sunday I played football with my sister
Ce soir je vais jouer des jeux vidéo avec mon frère
This evening I’m going to play computer games with my brother
Le weekend prochain je vais aller en ville avec ma mère
Next weekend I’m going to go into town with my mother

Mon ami(e) préféré(e) s’appelle David/Dawn
My best friend is called David/Dawn
Je m’entends bien avec mes amis
I get on well with my friends
Je joue au football et au tennis avec mes copains
I play football and tennis with my friends
Je fais du shopping en ville avec mes copines
I go shopping in town with my friends
Le weekend dernier j’ai regardé un film avec mon copain Paul
Last weekend I watched a film with my friend Paul
Hier soir j’ai mangé de la pizza avec mes amis
Last night I ate pizza with my friends
Ce soir je vais parler avec mes amis sur internet
This evening I’m going to chat with my friends online
Le weekend prochain je vais aller à un concert avec mes amis
Next weekend I’m going to go to a concert with my friends


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