Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2018

Dissecting a lesson: speaking and listening

The Smiths in Yosemite 2016 I am adapting an example of a lesson from Chapter 3 of Jack C. Richards' book Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). The original lesson was planned by Diana Croucher, an English language teacher in Barcelona. This could be used with a good intermediate or advanced class and is a good example of the communicative approach at work. Students receive lots of comprehensible input and opportunities to adapt it for their own needs. The topic is a memorable event in life. 1. Display a photo depicting an event from your life. It could be something like a wedding, a holiday, a graduation or sports achievement. Do some whole class question-answer work on describing the picture. Where is it? Who is it? What do you see? What was happening? You could scaffold this bit with some sentence options on the board. 2. Tell the class you are going to describe an important event in your life. It could be the one suggested by the photo or another one. You might br

The power of improvisation

Do you ever have those lessons where things didn't go to plan, but went really well nevertheless? Sometimes you have to improvise or adapt to circumstances and no doubt part of being an effective teacher is having the ability, sometimes borne of experience, to adjust a lesson on the spur of the moment. In Jack C. Richards' excellent book Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015) Chapter 6 is devoted to the theme of increasing the effectiveness of lessons. He begins his chapter with a section on adjusting the plan during the lesson. He describes some of the unplanned decisions teachers have reported making during a lesson - he calls them interactive decisions (from Richards, 1998). Timing factors Dropped activity because of time. Added activity to fill out time. Affective factors Added activity to liven up the class. Modified activity to increase interest level. Pedagogical factors Changed sequence of activities. Elaborated an activity. Changed grouping arrangeme

Book review: Ça marche! by Maria Harney

When I presented recently at the MFL Alive conference for Irish MFL teachers in Maynooth, it was clear that the main thing on their mind was the introduction of the new Junior Cycle syllabus for MFL, which, crudely speaking, is about introducing a more communicative and inclusive approach to language teaching for secondary students. Along with the new syllabus come a crop of new text books, one of which is the one Maria Harney kindly gave me for this review. This is where you can find the French syllabus for the Irish Junior Cycle, by the way. You'll see the stress on communication and the needs/interests of children. The course is called Ça marche! I'm looking at the first year book and its accompanying "portfolio" book and CD. The second book is for years 2 and 3 of the course nad is co-written with Anne Grills. There is also a free e-book to accompany these materials. Hats off to them both for putting all this material together - it’s a mammouth task! To

GCSE exam resources on frenchteacher

This is for your information if you aren’t already a subscriber to As well as the very many worksheets for listening, video listening, grammar, reading comprehension and vocabulary, I have a bunch of resources specifically written to help with preparation for GCSE exams. I list them below, divided into Foundation and Higher tiers. Note that the AQA-style sheets are fine for other exam boards. At a rough guess, at least a quarter of all secondary schools in England subscribe to the site, so you may want to have a look at it. There are many samples and testimonials to look at. An annual subscription is £25 for over 1400 separate resources. Many schools subscribe year after year, for which I am very grateful! Foundation Tier GCSE resources - Knowledge organiser (for speaking and writing) - AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays - AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations - Photo card conversation mat - AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2) - AQA GCSE general conve

Will it work?

It’s one of those questions you have to ask when you are lesson planning. Will it work? Now I’ve been out of the school classroom for over six years, it’s also a question I also ask when writing resources for my site. With lesson planning it’s an absolutely crucial question, of course, and if you have a really good feel for your class you’ll more than often get it right. I suppose I have to preface this by asking how do you know if a lesson worked? Well, on my list would be: Did the class work hard? Were the aims achieved? Did they get input and practice at the right level? Did they enjoy the class (not, by the way, did they have fun, but did they find the work stimulating and challenging enough?). So what factors do we keep in mind when planning for these outcomes? Here are some which occur to me: 1. Have I pitched it right? Will this lesson hit the sweet spot in terms of level of challenge? To get this right you need to know the class well and have that key sense of “cogni

Dissecting a lesson: teaching an intermediate written text

This post is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do yourself. You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible. So here

Think, pair, share in the MFL classroom

This blog was prompted by a section in Tom Sherrington’s excellent book The Learning Rainforest. Tom writes about the revelation he experienced when someone explained the “think, pair, share” technique when interacting with a class. In case you are not familiar with it, this is when you ask a question and, instead of asking for hands up or ‘cold calling’ (to use Doug Lemov’s term), you tell the class to discuss the answer with a partner before eliciting a response. To put the technique in context Tom reminds us of the disadvantages of traditional hands up questioning. They are worth revisiting: 1. Only one pupil can answer at a time. 2. The answer can be given before others have had time to work it out. 3. Pupils can opt out of answering and hide. 4. More timid students are intimidated when there is a ‘forest of hands up’. 5. When no one raises a hand the teacher doesn’t know if the class doesn’t know the answer or is just reluctant to offer a response. 6. H ads up can encourage closed

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended. Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013: “Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".” For the record he subsequently added: “The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.” I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative as

An advanced listening task: Cinderella

Here is a listening task you could try with an advanced level class. You might preface the task with a discussion about fairy tales, and perhaps specifically the story of Cinderella. After this get the class into pairs and have one partner slowly read this faulty story to their partner (with repetitions where needed). The other partner should try to correct or improve the story. The task might take about 20 minutes. Tell the students that there may be variations in the final, corrected version. CENDRILLON   Il était une fois un beau jeune garçon, orphelin, qui habitait dans un petit appartement avec sa mère. Le garçon avait deux chiens laids mais mignons.   La belle-mère et les deux chiens obligeaient Cendrillon à regarder la télé toute la journée à la maison. Elle ne devait pas faire la lessive, faire la vaisselle, faire le repassage et préparer tous les repas. Chaque jour elle devait aussi enlever les cendres dans la poubelle, alors on l’appelait Cendril

One way to build lexical and grammatical skill at A-level

When we talk about building vocabulary, the 'mental lexicon' in long-term memory needed for fast comprehension and spoken fluency, we may be tempted to view it as learning lists of words or chunks or (better in my view) getting as many exposures as possible in listening or reading input. An important aspect of 'knowing words' is, however, being aware of the multiple forms words can take or the company that words keep (common lexical phrases). This is where vocab meets grammar, of course, in the form of morphology (word forms). One way you can work on this at advanced level is to draw explicit attention to word relationships, helping students see and ultimately internalise common patterns. With this knowledge students can often come up with new words spontaneously using what you might call educated guesswork. You can find out how well they have internalised patterns by trying out some new or non-words with a class. So, let's say you gave them the non-word