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Showing posts from February, 2013

Strip bingo

If you know this language game already, look away now... unless you you want to see the little twist that makes it even better.

To play strip bingo well, you have to make sure you introduce it by name to the class. Interest will be immediately aroused.

You then hand out a long strip of paper (A4 cut into three long strips is fine) and tell your students to write down, say, 12 words relating to a vocabulary theme you have been working on. Make sure you tell them to spread out the words and use the whole space! Then give them the instructions (I would do this in English to save time and confusion.) You then say out loud words on this theme and if a student has the word at either end of their strip of paper, they may tear it off. Remember that you will have to repeat the same words over and over. To make the game last you can avoid saying an obvious word which most students would have on their list. The process continues until one student has no words left.

The game goes quite quickly, bu…

Call My Bluff game

Some British readers will recall the BBC2 TV panel game called Call My Bluff. Three panelists were each given definitions of obscure words and had to persuade the opposing team that their definition was correct. The opposition were allowed to ask questions to test the wit and inventiveness of the individuals providing the definitions.

So if you follow the link below you will see how I've adapted this format for classes of advanced students.

Yes, you need to have a good, quite fluent group for this to get the best from it. Because you cannot guarantee to have two teams of three, I have adapted the idea to have one panel of three (which could be rotated to give everyone a chance) offering their definitions to the whole class who should then ask questions before deciding individually who they believe. Class members get points for guessing correctly. The teacher could award bonus points for particularly clever answers to follow-up questions.

The teacher's role would be just to thr…

The backwash effect

If you haven't come across this term before, it refers to the phenomenon of assessment style affecting teaching methodology. For example, if you include translation into the target language in an examination, teachers will inevitably incorporate plenty of practice in the skill of translating into the target language. Another common example would be testing comprehension by using questions in English. If you include this style of assessment in examinations, teachers will practise it and course books will include it.

Unfortunately the backwash effect can have a damaging influence on methodology. A while ago it was decided that the English and Welsh GCSE (intermediate) reading examination would return to discrete skill testing. In other words, listening tests, for example, would not include target language reading or writing in the exam paper, since the aim is to assess listening and nothing else. At first glance this may seem reasonable, but the result in the classroom is that teach…

Selecting intermediate reading for students

Students need a healthy diet of reading input to go along with their listening. Stephen Krashen has talked about "compelling reading" and he is, as I have blogged here before, a big fan of extensive reading for effective second language acquisition. But how do you find compelling reading for children who may not be great teenage readers anyway?

It seems to me certain factors need to be taken into account when selecting or adapting texts for adolescent learners.
The language needs to be at the right level. This may seem obvious, but it's not an uncontroversial thing to say. I still believe in reasonably careful selection and grading of language material. Too hard and it will put off readers who will be reluctant to persevere, too easy and it may not expand the learner's vocabulary and syntax enough. Unedited reading material aimed at French-speaking teenagers will be too hard and should be generally avoided.The content needs to interest students. This needs qualifying:…

Après les poissons, ce sont les coupes de viande

This is taken almost verbatim from the excellent FrenchEntree site which has all sorts of advice and information for English expats in France.

Pork (porc - viande porcine)

Bacon if thinly sliced is poitrine, or belly, preserved with salt. The French tend to slice their poitrine fairly thick, in order to make lardons, so you need to ask for the slices to be ‘fine’. Bacon is rarely injected with water in France, so you get more for your money, it tastes better and crisps-up easily. Not the same as the packets called bacon - these are brined, trimmed pork

Echine - meaning shoulder, encompasses the blade bone and spare ribs

Plat de côtes - where the hand and belly meet

Côtes - where the carré comes from, and is made up of loin chops. Basically, rack of pork.

Filet - in France, is from the hind loin area. The English fillet is from the part which the French call jambon, or ‘ham’

If you want your joint with crackling, this should be no problem for your local butcher, but you may need to or…


There is such a wealth of free and subscription material out there for French teachers that it hard to know what's worth a candle and what's not.

My old school subscribed to Esther Mercier's Atantôt site for several years and we were always happy to fork out our £40 each year. Atantôt is aimed very specifically for interactive whiteboard use and it fulfills its function very well indeed. It covers primary to KS3 very well, and to some extent KS4. The visuals are striking, clear and often amusing. Each collection of exercises allows for differentiation and development through the lesson.

The language covered may not fit perfectly with your own scheme of work and you cannot edit the resources as you can with Powerpoint, but these are minor niggles. You just have to pick and choose what fits and be prepared to teach new language when it comes up. The language is accurate and the range of activities is good. Pupils enjoy the resources which are really designed for teacher-le…

A close look at the draft Programme of Study for KS2/3

The document begins with a general statement of the aims of learning languages. This "purpose of study" begins with the clunky phrase "liberation from insularity" followed by: "A high-quality languages education should foster pupils’ curiosity and deepen their understanding of the world." No quibble there. The same introductory paragraph continues:

It should also provide opportunities for them to communicate for practical purposes, learn new ways of thinking and read great literature in the original language.

The third of those opportunities is very specific and reveals a bias we shall see flavouring the whole document. Why "read great literature"? Why not "watch great films" or "read online newspapers" or "read scientific papers"? Literature is not of interest to every language learner.

In the four aims of study which follow there is referen…

Where Mr Gove may have got it wrong!

I hesitate before pontificating about educational policy, but that's what the blogosphere is about, isn't it? So here we go...

I want to say something about the Ebacc and Michael Gove's belief that to achieve greater social mobility we need to give all pupils access to a certain body of important knowledge.*

Gove believes all, or nearly all, children should do what he views as the most important subjects which represent an appropriate selection of our shared culture. Only by having access to this culture, which may not be available at home, will all children have an equal chance to succeed. He thinks children should, up to the age of 16, learn mathematics, English, science, a foreign language, study history or geography (I am not sure why it is either/or) and, it now seems, computer science. He observes other "high-performing" education systems and notes that these subjects are usually compulsory and often up to the age of 18.

One consequence of this policy view …

Why Michael Gove is wrong to advocate translation

One of the intriguing elements to emerge from Michael Gove's recent speech in parliament about his National Curriculum reforms is his desire to see a "new stress on learning proper grammatical structures and practising translation". The precise references to translation (both to and from the foreign language) are to be found on p.175 of the National Curriculum Framework Document.

I have blogged previously about the value of translation in language lessons and my view is essentially that it can have a small place within a much wider diet of target language work.

I do not know where Gove has got his affection for grammar and translation from. It is highly unlikely it would come from any advisers who know about second language language acquisition. Grammar-translation is a widely discredited approach to language learning. Unlike the communicative theory, direct methods, audio-lingualism it has no basis in language learning theory and is largely a hangover from the teaching of…

National curriculum reform document

I've just been reading through the government document on reform of the national curriculum for England. The document is open to consultation until September. The key areas for language teachers are:

MFL will be compulsory at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3MFL will not be compulsory at KS4.
Some teachers may be disappointed by one or both of these points.

On the face of it, compulsion at KS2 should raise the profile of languages and bring about a welcome injection of commitment and renewal, but for the policy to be successful there will need to be considerable investment in training. It is unlikely this will be provided, so I find it hard to rejoice.

As for KS4, I am a little surprised that we shall not see compulsion, but the government has taken the view that the EBacc accountability measure should be enough to shore up numbers of students taking languages at KS4. It remains …

Irish State Commission Exam paper archive

I know that teachers are not short of resources these days, what with course books, free shared materials online, subscription sites and the rest. In fact, my department used to talk of "resources panic" as they contemplated the huge range of stuff there was to choose from when approaching a topic. We've moved a long way since "turn to page...".

However, I've only just come across the large archive of past examination papers from the Irish State Examination Commission.

In French they have papers going back to 1996 (1995 only offers one sound file for the leaving Certificate).

There are two types: the Junior Certificate is like the English and Welsh GCSE and it has two levels, Ordinary and Higher Level. These correspond well with Foundation and Higher Tier in England and Wales.

The equivalent of the English and Welsh A-level is called Leaving Certificate, also at two levels - Ordinary and Higher. Listening, reading and writing are tested. Sound files are ava…

French cinema terminology

Thanks to Steve Glover (writer of the ALF (A Level French) resources) who pointed out this link on the TES Connect site. A-level teachers doing film topics will find it very useful indeed.

Arte have produced a short cartoon video guide to the basic types of camera shot used in movies. Narrated in clear French and using a cartoon gunfight scene as a model, the video runs through the basics of the frame (cadre) framing shots (plans) and types of camera movement (e.g. panorama, travelling and, the one I liked most, the travelling compensé - that effect used by Hitchcock in Vertigo and which Truffaut used in Jules et Jim in the scene where the protagonists suddenly see the face of Catherine among the Greek ruins. The effect involves a zoom out combined with a camera travelling forward on a dolly track, or the reverse, a zoom in combined with a rearward motion of the camera on a dolly. If you've never noticed the effect, hav…