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Showing posts from January, 2013

frenchteacher updates

It's been quite a busy January at frenchteacher towers. There are a good number of new resources on the site.

I don't normally post other people's resources since there are other repositories for sharing and, frankly, I like to keep a tight control on quality, but Paul Haywood of the Henrietta Barnett School offered me some very good sheets on Louis Malle's touching Au revoir les enfants. I have posted these as free samples for others to use. It's a tremendous film which can form part of topics such as racism, occupation and the second world war. If you have never seen this movie, do so!

I am making a conscious effort to build up the resources for younger learners, so, with that in mind, I have added some wordsearches for Y7 (numbers, days and months). I am not a huge fan of wordsearches, but pupils like them and they do get children to look at spelling. You'll also find new worksheets on numbers (Y7) and partitive articles (Y8). There is also a text and lesson…

Accuracy versus fluency

One of the best things to happen in language teaching over recent decades is the movement away from accuracy at all costs to a greater emphasis on listening skill and fluency. In the heyday of the grammar-translation era, accuracy was paramount and class activities focused on the precise translation to and from the mother tongue, along with detailed comprehension of written texts.

With the communicative movement of the 1970s onward the focus rightly shifted towards the use of language for practical communication. Mistakes were tolerated as long as they did not interfere with getting the message across. We soon got used to the notion of the "sympathetic native speaker" when assessing what a student had said or written.

But of course we would like accuracy too and as teachers we should aim for it without hindering communication.

With this in mind, I rather like the idea of planning lessons with the main focus on EITHER accuracy OR fluency. You can even share this with classes…

Design a worksheet homework

Here's an idea for you if you haven't thought of it already.

Pupils design their own worksheet based on a text.

This could work well with intermediate (GCSE) or advanced students. For intermediate students I would probably supply the text myself, to make sure it's at the right level of difficulty. With advanced students I would suggest they search out their own (short) article. A site such as 1jour1actu would do the job for AS level, something more meaty for A2 level.

You would suggest to students a menu of exercise types to use. They will probably have a good idea of these from their experience with previous resources. Suggest: questions in French, true/false/not mentioned, find the vocabulary, questions in English (last resort, but would suit some students).

Once their sheet is completed, they could be marked by the teacher or, much better, copied and shared amongst pupils for them to do, with the creator of the sheet doing the marking.

This task has many merits which m…

Proposed changes to A level exams

Here is the full text of Michael Gove's letter to Ofqual regarding changes to A levels.

I note that he records that university modern language staff complain of students' lack of skills after A level. I wonder how anecdotal and widespread this evidence is. My feeling, backed by over 30 years A level French teaching experience, is that A level has become only marginally easier and that A grade students are pretty much as good as they ever were. They probably have better listening and oral skills than those of the 1970s and, possibly, slightly worse grammar skills than students from that era. Nearly 70% achieve A*-B grade* (more than previously because A level linguists, along with mathematicians and scientists, tend to be relatively more able than most students).

Secondly, Gove writes that private schools routinely teach beyond A level to give their students an advantage. I taught in both the state and independent sector and my feeling is that this is probably not often the cas…

What happened to authenticity?

Back in the 1980's, if my memory serves me correctly, "authenticity" was a major buzz word in language teaching. An excellent newspaper for MFL was even established at Dublin University called Authentik, which was filled with real texts from various sources, accompanied by effective exercises. (It has now evolved into a range of magazines and interactive content to be found here.)

We don't seem to hear the "a" word much now. Is that because authenticity in language sources (texts and conversations) is taken as axiomatic? Or is it that we have realised that authenticity has its limitations?

Authenticity came, like plenty of other language teaching innovations, from the ELT world. It is easy to see why it became fashionable. Traditional grammar-translation (Whitmarsh), audio-lingual (Longman) and oral approach methods (Gilbert) had all used, to a large extent, home-made texts or, occasionally at A-level, texts adapted from literature.

The limitations of these…

BBC French resources

The BBC is a mine of free resources for French, drawing on its archive of television programmes over the years. Cutbacks have curtailed more recent programming, which is a pity, but they have made a good job of giving easy access to older material.

So, here we go - the quick guided tour.

Here is a good place to start. Absolute beginners could try this starter page, an introductory guide to the French language, including simple phrases to listen to and repeat.

For beginners and near beginners the Talk French course is good, featuring short video clips which can be used in class to support your existing scheme of work. There are accompanying transcripts, worksheets and fact files.

The French Experience is for intermediate learners and was really aimed at adult learners, but if you search around you will find useful material for youngsters. Topics include travel, hotels and campsites, health and fitness, shopping and working life. The source material is a bit dated, but still useful. Trans…

frenchteacher updates

Just to keep you up to date with recent additions to the site.

I have just added a resource for the teaching of simple prepositions using a simplified class plan as the visual aid (inspired by Mark Gilbert, 1966!). I have added a suggested plan for using it, particularly for less experienced teachers. A good chance for teachers to practise their questioning techniques! In general I am hoping to produce relatively more resources this year for the beginner and intermediate levels.

With this in mind I have made a crossword on weather expressions, probably suitable for Y9, but could be used for revision with older students. there is also a new resource called La maison de la famille Leblanc. It's a text with vocabulary and ideas for exploitation. Good for practising il y a and il n’y a pas de.. Goes with another resource onthe site, introducing the Leblanc family.

The issue of food wastage has been in the news lately, so I constructed a text based on a BBC report in English. To save …

Want to maximise progress? Do an exchange.

The classroom is a good place for beginners to learn a second language. The teacher can control the content, simplify language, use the mother tongue where necessary to help things along. By the time a student has reached a good intermediate level they can benefit greatly from an immersion experience to maximise the language input they receive. Language acquisition is all about the input!

The exchange is a tried and tested way of providing students with a (relatively inexpensive)week or two of full or part immersion and if language teachers are serious about providing the best conditions for progress they should seriously consider making an exchange available to as many students as possible. If you have run an exchange or taken part in one as a student you will know how much of a boost it gives to the language learning process.

Exchanges do not always run perfectly smoothly, but if care is taken over getting the right school, over matching students by age and interests, and if staff d…

Stephen Krashen on language acquisition

In my experience modern language teachers are not terribly interested in theories of language acquisition; they prefer practical ideas and solutions for the classroom. They eagerly grab the latest games, realia, worksheets or lesson plans to stimulate their classes and/or themselves. This is entirely understandable, because teachers are pragmatic and, in any case, aren't too sure about how second languages are acquired. Who can be sure what works best?  So the best solution is to use, from experience, what you think works.

I believe, however, that language teachers should have some theoretical underpinnings to their practice, even if there is no certainty about what happens in the brain. One applied linguist who always seemed certain about how languages are picked up is Stephen Krashen. I studied him in the 1980s and have always been influenced by his model of second language acquisition, even though I have some issues with it. I have just come across two talks he gave back in 19…

Vous aimez le français? Vous aimez les sciences? vous propose des vidéos (une par semaine) sur des sujets tels que: la biologie, la génétique, l'énergie, l'environnement,la médecine, l'histoire des sciences,les maths, la chimie, la physique et beaucoup plus. Ces vidéoclips viennent de sources très diverses, par exemple l'Inrap, Ifremer, FranceTVéducation et l'Inserm. Certaines sont sous-titrées en français.

Au programme en ce moment c'est la rubrique Voyage en science fiction. A la une il y a une vidéo où l'on explique le concept du warp de Star Trek (la déformation de l'espace qui permet de voyager au-delà de la vitesse de la lumière).

Le site fête ses trois années d'existence et plairait à des élèves avancés qui s'intéressent aux sciences et qui voudraient perfectionner leurs compétences à l'écoute.

Je recommande par exemple les vidéos sur les robots humanoïdes (voir une fiche sur et la déforestation. Il…

The tech package language teachers need

Computers and other new technology have been tremendous for languages. Ever since the reel-to-reel tape recorder and slide projector language teachers have led the way in schools in the use of the latest technology to enhance the quality of lessons. Language laboratories, cassettes, television, VCRs, CDs, interactive boards, mobile devices and networked computers have all provided us with new tools to make lessons more accessible and interesting. Some have even created new approaches to language learning in their own right.

And yet... we still await the total package which would fulfill all our needs.

For presentation, enhanced powerpoints (e.g. Boardworks) are good. For advanced grammar explanation we have Le Français Interactif. For grammar practice, interactive web sites such as languagesonline do the job. For interactive listening we have the likes of the Ashcombe School video quizzes, the BBC, Audio Lingua and a wide range of online and published resources. For comprehension we c…