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Showing posts from February, 2021

What is a synthetic syllabus? Why should we know about it?

Not the snappiest title for a blog post, but I wanted to share with teachers a significant aspect of second language teaching and learning research, one which is very relevant to your day to day practice. The chances are you are working with a synthetic syllabus and were taught using one. Researchers will tell you that there are some compelling reasons not to. So what is it? The term was coined by David Wilkins (actually a former lecturer of mine at the University of Reading in England). Wilkins (1974, 1976) divided syllabuses into two types, synthetic and analytic . Although, as has been pointed out by Long and Crookes (1991), these are really two points on a continuum rather than a strict dichotomy. So a syllabus can more or less synthetic or more or less analytic. Synthetic syllabuses break down the target language into discrete items for presentation one at a time, step by step. The gradual accumulation of these bits aims to build up a learner's proficiency with the language.

What did you do last weekend?

If ever there were a language teacher question, it's the one in the title of this post! Once students have spent some time getting LOTS of input and practice with past tense verb forms over a good few lessons, they can often cope with some somewhat unstructured conversation (a sort of semi-controlled practice, if you like). So on the Monday lesson, "What did you do last weekend?" is really not a bad starter question. How could it be exploited in different ways? Below are 10 that I have come up with. I bet you have others. 1. The simplest approach is just to ask the whole class the question and invite hands up. The pupil answers with a sentence or two and you can ask follow-up questions, looking for any opportunity for interesting content or humour. Pupil: "I went to the cinema with my friends." Teacher: "Ah! What did you see? Was it good? Did you go by bus? Did you have popcorn? I hate popcorn! I prefer chocolates. Do you like popcorn? Really?" As one

Exploiting a simple train timetable

                                             TRAINS AU DEPART   Paris (Montparnasse)          0900                10.30                14.05   Tours                                9.56                  11.26                 15.01           Poitiers                            10.22                12.52                15.27   Niort                                11.02                 13.32                16.07   Surgères                          11.45                 14.15                 16.50   La Rochelle                      12.07                14.37                17.12 With this simple visual aid you can generate a lot of language with a near-beginner class. For example, we can use it to practise numbers, time and the verbs to arrive and depart, in whichever language you teach. You could make the lesson task-orientated by saying that the aim will be to plan a day's visit to La Rochelle. You could change the place names to make them most relevant to your

An NCELP lesson resource analysed

NCELP (National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy) is the body set up and financed by the DfE in England. based at the University of York and headed by Emma Marsden and Rachel Hawkes. It works through a number of hub secondary schools which, in turn, work with a small group of other schools. Their mission is, broadly speaking, to spread the research findings and principles as laid out in the Teaching Schools Council (TSC) Review of MFL Pedagogy from 2016. By sharing a selected body of research, considered relevant to secondary MFL in England, and creating schemes of work and lesson resources across the hub schools, they hope to spread so-called best practice around the country. As I write this, schemes of learning and lesson resources have been written up to the third term of Y8 for French, German and Spanish. I've been watching with interest as these resources have been built up and in general my view has been that the research resources are very useful and informative (

We really need graded readers

Some of you will recall the old, widely used Bibliobus collection of French readers for use from Y7 to Y9. If you don’t, these were box sets of colour-coded readers, graded by level, richly illustrated, on a wide range of topics. each box contained, from memory, around 50 stories or non-fiction texts. My friend Steve Glover of reminded me the other day that he had a hand in the writing a few of them. Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell did illustrations for some. It was no doubt the cost of printing such a colourful and rich resource which led to their demise. In the hands of young readers they became scruffy within a few years and were costly to replace at nearly £100 a box. In addition, departments must feel they don’t have the time to allocate to quiet reading. Not to mention the fact that teachers want to feel busy! I recall one charming young Y7 girl saying to me on one occasion:  “Do you get bored as we just read on our own?” I used the readers withY7 and Y8 classes, o

The power of stories

It's well known to cognitive scientists that stories have a powerful hold, not just on our imaginations, but on our memory. Language teachers and language learning textbooks have long given us examples of stories to amuse, interest, provide input and provoke interaction. I bet some of you remember stories from the text books you used at school. I've noticed in recent years a decline in their use, For example, I was looking through some NCELP resources yesterday, I was struck how absent stories are. I think this is a shame. When I taught, some of my favourite Y7 and Y8 (beginner) resources from the text books were short cartoon stories. Some of you might recall, from the Tricolore series, the Tom et Jojo  and Louis Laloupe stories. Tom et Jojo were the copyright-free version of Tom and Jerry and they would chase around the house, conveniently doing things featuring regular first group (-er) verbs in the present tense. Louis Laloupe was an incompetent detective who didn't