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Showing posts from July, 2019

Advanced level parallel gapped translations

I've been working on some A-level translations into English and thought I would add a variation to make it much harder for any students to resort to Google Translate or Deepl (another very good online translator). I've used the principle of parallel gapped translations for lower level students before, but not at advanced level. I think students would enjoy this and learn more about the subtleties of translation at this higher level.

So here is an example, using a text about the crisis in French prisons. (This relates to an AQA sub-theme, by the way.) First you will see the French version with gaps, then the English version with different gaps. Students must use the two together to solve the translation puzzle, as it were. I chose to gap whole phrases for the most part so that students have to bring syntactic and morphological skill to bear, not just vocabulary knowledge. I have also provided the two original versions on which the gapped versions are based. By the way, I used D…

Dissecting a lesson: 20 faits divers et Intéressants sur la France

An easy multi-skill task with some general knowledge thrown in. Try this lesson plan with a very good Y10/11 class or advanced group.

Pre-listening: try brainstorming any facts the class can produce about France. Give pairs 5 minutes for this, then elicit some answers, in French for advanced groups, English for intermediate level classes. Then explain that the class must watch and listen carefully to the video with the aim of recalling as many facts as possible.

1.  Play the video through once (2m 25s)
2.  Play the video a second time. After playing it, students must jot down in English, in pairs or individually, any facts they can recall.
3.  Play the video a third time. After this viewing students add to their previous list with as many items as they can recall.
4.  Do the same again a fourth time.
5.  Allow individuals or pairs to share their notes with other individuals or pairs. Advanced groups could do this in French, intermediate groups in English.
6.  Pairs or individuals then…

The NCELP rationale for teaching phonics

First, a reminder that the NCELP is the National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy, the body based at York University which has as its objective to spread the word about "best practice" as defined by the TSC Review of MFL Pedagogy (2016).

Among its growing resources on phonics, vocabulary and grammar - three areas of focus from the TSC Review - there is a useful document written by Rachel Hawkes about the rationale for teaching phonics to beginners and near-beginners. I'll summarise its contents here, adding a few observations of my own, mainly to encourage a critical evaluation of the NCELP's guidance. The 13 points are in bold, with my comments added.

1. Teaching phonics develops phonological decoding (the ability to sound out accurately), and without explicit phonics teaching, decoding is limited.

I would add that many higher-achieving pupils in fact develop excellent decoding skills without much explicit phonics teaching at all. Their skill seems to deve…

NCELP resources and guidance

NCELP stands for the National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy. You can find it at You might recall that this is the DfE-funded initiative set up to raise standards in MFL teaching and learning in England. Based at York University, and with a number of ‘hub schools’ around the country, its aim is to disseminate best practice and resources.

More info in this blog

What is ‘best practice’ is open to debate, of course, but the remit of the NCELP is clear: to encourage teachers to put into practice the guidance provided by the TSC Review of MFL Pedagogy.

That TSC Review is not as well-known as it might be. At a recent CPD event I ran for MFL teachers, only a small minority had actually heard of it. It deserves to be read carefully and critically. You can find it at :

I have blogged about the revie…

Drill and kill or drill and skill?

One of the legacies of the audio-lingual approach to language teaching is the grammatical drill.
This type of task was commonplace in classrooms in the 1960s and 70s, before the communicative movement took hold. In fact, teachers devised all sorts of variations on the drill, many of which are listed in an influential pre-communicative era handbook by Wilga Rivers.* Many teachers still use this type of exercise now and then. But are they an unpleasant imposition upon reluctant learners, or a useful tool in the box? Before we look at an example of a drill, let's consider why they were so popular.

The audio-lingual approach was based on the tenets of the behaviourist movement in psychology where learning was said to be (at least in part) a matter of habits being "stamped in" or "internalised" through repeated practice. You can see why the idea was appealing. Repeated practice at an isolated skill would gradually become perfected to the point where it would becom…