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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 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.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

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 _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for 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 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…