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Showing posts from May, 2018

Why is teaching French partitives so hard?

While writing a couple of PowerPoints recently for frenchteacher, I was reminded about how tricky it is to teach, and for pupils to acquire, partitive articles in French (du, de la and des).

Firstly, here is a a pretty good description of how they work from the site;

"The French partitive articles express a notion of quantity: a vague one, a non-specific one.
These articles are often used after the verbs vouloir (Je voudrais du vin) or avoir (J’ai des chats) and with food. It’s the notion of “some” in English, but we don’t always use the word “some”. Often, we use nothing at all. In French, you need to “accompany” your word with something.
Je voudrais de l’eau, s’il vous plaît. (some water, maybe a glass, or maybe a bottle…)Le professeur a de la patience. (patience ; you are not saying how much patience the teacher has, just that he/she has some)Voici du gâteau. (some of it, not the whole cake) To describe an unspecified plural quantity, use des (both feminine and…

A zero preparation 30 minute listening task

Review: Vocabulary in Language Teaching by Joe Barcroft

This short booklet of 36 pages published in 2017 is a beginner’s introduction to vocabulary, vocabulary learning and teaching. It is one of Joe Barcroft’s language teaching modules at Washington University in St Louis, USA. Joe is a leading researcher in the field of vocabulary acquisition as well as being a Professor of Spanish and Second Language Acquisition.

As well as providing concise analyses of the issues for language teachers, the booklet includes questions for reflection and short quizzes to check understanding. For many readers these will seem superfluous, I think.

Barcroft begins by defining what vocabulary is, reminding is that apart from isolated words, it includes lexical phrases and formulaic language such as “What can I do for you?”. It's worth repeating his reminder that nearly 50% of what we say is in the form of chunks which don't require us to syntactically code sentences. He gives a simple lesson in grammar by providing handy definitions of different type…

Knowing Your Subject

The title of this blog is borrowed from an article by Mark Enser in the latest edition of Impact, the Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching. Mark reminds us of research carried out by Robert Coe et al (2014) which indicates that having good subject knowledge is one of the main keys to effective teaching. In another publication by Rosenshine - Principles of Instruction (2012) - one of the defining characteristics of effective teaching is claimed to be the ability to provide detailed explanations of the material being taught.

This got me thinking again what subject knowledge entails for language teachers. For the purposes of this blog post, I would split our own subject knowledge into three parts:

1. Linguistic skill - comprehension, fluency, instantly retrievable knowledge of vocabulary and a wide range of structures and idiom.
2. Meta-linguistic and cultural knowledge - knowledge of the rules of the language; the ability explain to classes how the language works; knowing about th…

New GCSEs: intended and unintended consequences

Most language teachers in England and Wales welcomed the end of the previous generation of GCSE exams largely because of the way they skewed teaching towards rote learning for controlled assessments. Little did they know at the time quite how hard the new papers would be, in particular the listening tests. Once again this year teachers on social media are commenting on how difficult, even unfair, the first Higher Listening papers are. (Note: this complaint is heard every year actually, but the new tests do seem to be genuinely more difficult.)

But the 9-1 GCSEs have brought in their wake a few unintended consequences.

But first there is an intended consequence. It's true the DfE wanted to create a harder and more reliable assessment, arguing that we need to match the standards in other countries. (How reliably they can do this when many countries don't have an equivalent to GCSE must be opne to question.) This they have done, even if the grade outcomes are in line with those o…

Three examples of task-based lessons

Task-based lessons are those where the activity is focused as much (if not more) on the accomplishment of a real life task as on the language being used for it. Well-known second language acquisition scholars Bill VanPatten and Rod Ellis both argue strongly for tasks being the most successful way of generating acquisition. You'd have to take that on faith, mind, since there is no irrefutable evidence that doing a task leads to faster acquisition than doing traditional language-based activities such as comprehension, meaningful drilling and language manipulation activities. However, common sense suggests that giving students an achievable and enjoyable task to complete may be more motivational than many other exercises. This in itself may make learning more likely.

Although the focus is on the task, it means sense to devise tasks so that significant language is recycled as much as possible, since we know repetition helps build memory.

Here are three examples of easy to implement …

Latest additions to frenchteacher

This is one of my regular updates about what's new on frenchteacher.

Up to now I have uploaded almost no PowerPoint presentations, partly because I never made that many when I was teaching, partly because of the copyright issues involved when using pictures (especially commercially). Many teachers seem blissfully unaware of copyright when publishing images. Fortunately, the site has a sizeable archive of photos and graphics which can be used in all circumstances without any credit.

So I have been writing some simple PowerPoints for beginners, near-beginners and low intermediates. My principles are to use clear and striking graphics accompanied by limited text and to build in to the presentation a natural teaching sequence moving from choral repetition with or without text, question-answer (or similar) teacher-led practice, pair work (e.g. guessing games) and some writing, including simple translation and transcription. The presentations can be used in various other wa…

French Verb Blitz

French Verb Blitz is a free verb conjugation app for Apple and Android devices. It could be used by very good ntermediate (GCSE) or advanced pupils wishing to build up speedy recall of verb forms in a wide range of tenses (e.g. conditional perfect is included). The verbs chosen are a bit on the obscure side for GCSE at times and the emphasis in some of the games is definitely on speedy recall rather than just knowledge itself.

There are seven sections to the app in all, one a set of verb tables covering all tenses, one being a Performance Checker (showing you how you have done in a league table of verbs), the rest being familiar games. These are called Infinitive Quiz (translation), Snap (fast spotting of translation matches), Grid (completing a grid by matching verb forms with their translations), Conjugation Quiz (translation) and Gapfill (spellings). In addition you can choose the tenses to focus on in Settings.

The interface is colourful, clear and ungimmicky, well-suited to phones.…

Pros and cons of pair and group work

Most teachers have made frequent use of pair and group work for many years, notably since the rise of communicative language teaching in the 1980s. Even before then it would have been common for pupils to work in pairs on simple role-play and dialogue tasks. So pair and group work is standard practice, if not universally supported by language teachers.

It’s always worth evaluating, however, whether a practice works - whether, in this case, it helps students develop their proficiency.


Rod Ellis (2005) summarises the advantages of pair/group work (based on Jacobs, 1998)

“1. The quantity of learner speech can increase.
In teacher-fronted classrooms, the teacher typically speaks 80% of the time; in groupwork more students talk for more of the time.

2. The variety of speech acts can increase.
In teacher-fronted classrooms, students are cast in a responsive role, but in groupwork they can perform a wide range of roles, including those involved in the negotiation of meaning.

3. There can be mor…