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My five most viewed blog posts of 2017



I've been blogging since 2009 and usually post about 130 - 150 times a year. I sometimes wonder if I'll run out of topics to write about but, as you can see,  I haven't done so far. It seems that in semi-retirement I can't stop thinking about language teaching. I've got two handbooks under my belt, with another one in preparation with Gianfranco Conti (about teaching listening), umpteen blogs, Facebook and Twitter posts and a steady flow of new resources on frenchteacher.net. No doubt I shall slow down at some point, but not quite yet.

En passant  Facebook is definitely the place to be for support and ideas from fellow professionals. You could try GILT (Global Innovative Language Teachers), Secondary MFL Matters or MFL Teachers Lounge. The first of these is a bit more focused on theoretical, pedagogical issues in general while the others are more parochial and a bit more centered on day to day issues of interest to British teachers. My favourite language teacher blog remains Gianfranco's The Language Gym where you get a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical classroom ideas.

As well as writing this year I have been presenting for AQA, teaching PGCE trainees at Buckingham University and doing occasional talks at at language teacher events such as ISMLA conferences (Taunton and London) and ResearchEd in Oxford. I've posted 122 times this year on this blog about a range of topics including A-level, GCSE and  methodological issues. I've written website and book reviews, suggested lesson ideas and discussed reports and language teaching news. In addition I sometimes share free resources I have written for frenchteacher.

This is my final post of 2017 and it lists the five most viewed posts from this year.

Wishing you the compliments of the festive season!

1.  Tell stories

This post was about one way to foster listening skills, namely by telling stories. I describe three particular, low preparation activities you could do.

2. Worried about the new GCSEs?

This post addressed the most concerning issue for many English and welsh language teachers this year, the pending first batch of new style GCSE exams. I was trying to calm anxieties to some extent, knowing that these curriculum changes are rarely revolutionary, and suggested some specific activities which may be useful to help pupils prepare for these new, undoubtedly harder exams. As I write I know many colleagues are worried about mock exam results and what they signify in terms of grades. my usual message, for what it's worth, is that the "comparable outcomes" policy will ensure that the spread of grades will be similar to before, so don't panic!

3. My new book

This was about the publication of my Routledge book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher. In this post I summarised the content of the book. I am pleased to say that the book has been selling very well so far and received some excellent reviews, including in the latest edition of Languages Today from the ALL. Thank you to anyone who has bought the book and feedback is always welcome.

Incidentally The Language Teacher Toolkit is still a best-selling 5 star reviewed handbook and widely used by trainees learning their craft.

4.  GCSE reading: a Syrian refugee family

This was just an example of an intermediate level reading text with exercises. It was about a Syrian refugee family who find refuge in Belgium. It would make a ready-made lesson for a good GCSE class.

5. The Google Translate problem

Google Translate is a fabulous tool, one I use to save time when writing resources. But many teachers have abandoned setting written homework because it's used so much by pupils who cheat. I find this a great shame since I believe home is the best place for most writing if you want to maximise classroom time for listening and speaking. Apart from suggesting that sanctions are needed for pupils who cheat, in this post I suggest some tasks you could do which would obviate the written homework problem.

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The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net 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 pixabay.com 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…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

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 frenchteacher.net 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
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/french/ (Foundation/Higher) http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/ (Foundation/Higher)
http://www.audio-lingua.eu/spip.php?rubrique1&lang=fr (Foundation/Higher) http://www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk/07-langcoll/MFL-resources/french/fr-video-index.shtml