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Review: This is Language

It's been a while since I've had a good look at This is Language which was established in 2011 and seems to be going strong. They have been kind enough to supply me with a temporary logon to review the site. There are three languages available, French, German and Spanish. I'm looking at the French resources here.

The site is best known for its authentic video interview content which is primarily aimed at KS3 and GCSE students. Categories to choose from are Friends and Family, Free Time and Leisure, Education and Work, My Area, Home and Health, Holidays and Travel, Prompt cards and Compilations. In the friends and family there are over 50 short video clips tagged "My friends" ranging length from 15 seconds to two minutes. (Most are under one minute long.) The whole archive is enormous. A star rating system ranks clips from Easy to Hard.

The hardest clips are well within the range of good GCSE pupils while the easiest are more limited…
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130 activities for the languages classroom by Clare Seccombe

Clare Seccombe, who runs the Lightbulb Languages website, has produced what looks to be a superb little resource for language teachers. Clare has been incredibly supportive of teachers over the years, sharing resources and ideas. She has worked in both the secondary and primary sectors and brings a wealth of experience and good sense to our field.

She is currently selling "130 Activities for the Languages Classroom" on Sellfy.

This is what she says:

"I have been sharing resources and blogging about them for many years now. These 130 activities are ones that I have either used in the classroom over the last 20+ years or blogged about at some point, or both!

A lot of the activities included cover more than one skill, so for ease of reference each one has a key which shows what it covers:

L - Listening
S - Speaking
R - Reading
W - Writing
V - Vocabulary
G - Grammar
P - Phonics
T - Translation

Most activities can be adapted to suit different age groups, ability levels and…

Words with pictures: help or hindrance?

First, I'm going to assume that most of you do teach vocabulary explicitly to novices and that you often do so with pictures. There are good reasons for doing so - memorability, avoiding interference from the first language, holding pupils' interest to name three.

When you show pictures to beginners or near-beginners on a PowerPoint or hand-held flashcard do you prefer to show the written word with the picture or not? At what point do you like pupils to see the written word? Here are a few thoughts on the issue.

Now when I began teaching I was encouraged (in the good old direct method - avoid English - way) to introduce spoken words before written ones. The rationale was something like this:

When we learn a first language in early years we do so almost solely without the use of written words. If we believe second language acquisition is fundamentally the same as fist language acquisition, why not try to match the way caregivers "teach" their children?Speech is primary…

Parallel reading for beginners

In case you weren't aware (!) I have a set of 25 parallel reading passages for beginners or near-beginners (Y7-8). These each come in the form of a landscape A4 sheet with a short passage in French on the left and its English translation on the right. each passage is accompanied by another A4 sheet of exercises including true/false, matching, ticking true sentences and vocab lists to complete.

You can either download each one separately or the whole lot as a booklet with a cover sheet. (Thanks to my former colleague Felicity!)

Teachers tell me their classes like these exercises. They can either be used in class or given as a booklet for independent work in class or at home. They make a great extension task for faster pupils.

I chose the topics to be instructive and to appeal to pupils of that age (as far as you can judge these things!). I also endeavoured to use cognates where possible. These are the topics:

The Eiffel Tower
The Channel Tunnel
The EU

5 activities to develop anticipation skills

Have you been watching the tennis at Wimbledon? Thinking about tennis for a moment, can you complete these sentences?

She hit a great first ________.
That was a great back-hand ________.
Federer won in three _______.

Now try these. You are in the classroom:

Open your _______.
Put up your _______.
Do you know your target _______? (yuk)

We have a great store of linguistic and whole world knowledge which helps us to understand and produce appropriate and correct language by predicting or anticipating what comes next in a sentence or utterance. As well as being able to decode sounds, spot words and parse sentences grammatically, being able to sub-consciously anticipate what comes next is a great aid to fluency and comprehension. We cannot be fluent one word at a time - we have to be constantly scanning ahead, as it were, to keep going or understand messages. Are there activities we can do which help develop this ability?

Perhaps the first thing to say is that the ability to anticipate the next…

Exploiting hand-held flashcards

One of the features of my new book Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher (published by Routledge in late August and available for pre-order from Amazon) is the focus I place on the nuts and bolts of individual lessons and lesson sequences. Several chapters include tables describing in detail how teachers and pupils can interact during oral lessons. I hope this will be of particular use to trainee teachers (as well as more experienced practitioners, of course - I have to say that!). Plug over.

I adopted a format of three columns with Teacher Cues, Student Responses and Commentary. The Commentary column has allowed me to include tips of the trade and to elaborate a little on the interactions being suggested. You might have your own which you think are better.

The tables are not meant to be prescriptive of course, but they should be useful in making clear that interactions need to be planned, thorough and smartly sequenced. One common mistake is to not do enough examples and to not e…

Interpersonal listening

I'm posting my slides from the presentation I gave yesterday at Bishop's Stortford High School.

During our afternoon of CPD Gianfranco Conti presented on working memory, skill-acquisition and their implications for classroom practice. In the section of his presentation on teaching listening skills he focused on matching teaching to John Field's model of how we listen: decoding sounds, lexical search, parsing, meaning and discourse construction.

Gianfranco produced a telling analogy: if we ask a PE teacher how she teaches, say, football, she doesn't just say "we play football", she breaks down the process into different skills, e.g. tackling, passing, dribbling, spacial awareness and so on. This is how we should try to teach listening, he argued, breaking down the activity into the key elements and matching our teaching to them. Not to do this is a disservice to pupils, he said, and I see his point. Gianfranco provided practical lesson ideas, examples of which…