Skip to main content

Exploiting a simple drill worksheet

One type of activity which I found useful to do from time to time with students was audio-lingual style grammar drills. A simple cue and response style drill can be exploited in a number of ways. In the example below the exercise is designed to practise perfect tense verbs (avoir auxiliary, regular past participles).

So as not to overload pupils with too much other distracting information, all the (high frequency) vocabulary should already be known to the class so that students are encouraged to notice and focus on the contrast between present and perfect tense.

First of all, the worksheet is meant to be used primarily for whole class and paired oral work so that pupils get to hear multiple uses of the two tenses. Assume that these exercises come late in a sequence of work focusing on the perfect tense with avoir verbs, i.e. pupils already have a good understanding of how the grammar works and the phonology associated with the two tenses. This stress on listening should help build a strong link between sound and grammar.

So first, here is part of the sheet (imagine a total of about 20 cues):

1.                  Aujourd’hui je joue au football. (Hier j’ai joué…)
2.                 Aujourd’hui je voyage en train.
3.                 Aujourd’hui je finis mes devoirs.                   
4.                 Aujourd’hui je choisis un biscuit.
5.                 Aujourd’hui je vends mon CD.
6.                 Aujourd’hui je perds mon cartable.
7.                 Aujourd’hui il écoute le prof.
8.                 Aujourd’hui elle chante dans la chorale.
9.                 Aujourd’hui on finit à trois heures trente.
10.               Aujourd’hui nous dansons dans la rue.

Here is a possible sequence of tasks:

1.  Teacher reads a cue and gives an example answer (as in No. 1 above).
2.  Teacher reads a few cues and pupils answer (hands up and no hands up), then choral repetition aftre each response so all are involved).
3.  Pupils work in pairs. One reads the cue, the other gives an answer. Most pupils should be able to work confidently having heard the responses already.
4.  Now the teacher goes through the cues again and this term asks pupils to change another element in the sentence too, e.g. in No. 1 the answer may be Hier j'ai joué au tennis.
5. Then the pupils have to hide the sheet (or you hide it if you have been displaying it from the front) and you do some of the same examples requiring pupils to just listen and respond. (This raises the challenge level and adds a twist to the lesson.)
6. Then make up some new examples with the sheet still hidden.
7. Reveal the original sheet and get students to write out their answers with one changed element. (This allows for a degree of creativity and differentiation.)
8. Finally, as a fluency task, in pairs each student has to give as many past tense examples as possible without stopping. the partner could time them to see how long they can go. This could be done competitively.

You can imagine how many repetitions you get from a sequence like this. A bit boring? It depends how you deliver it and remember that each activity would be seen as a variation by the pupils. And don't forget this would be just one sequence in a whole series of lesson activities, some less structured than this. Note that you have been working in TL nearly all the time, using high frequency vocab and structures in a meaningful way. True, this is not highly interesting comprehensible input, but as part of a unit it should help embed a key area of grammar. Long term memory (acquisition?) is the aim.


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…

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2018

It's coming up to that time of year again. In England and Wales. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

Don't forget the GCSE revision material on of course! How could you?

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices try the Learn French Vocabulary Free. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher) (Foundation/Higher)