Saturday, 29 June 2013

20 reasons to learn a language

Now I know you often find lists such as these, but I did this one specifically for my students at school, so it's aimed at youngsters. It's on the Y9 page of frenchteacher.net, but I'll post it here as some may find it handy:

1. If you ever move abroad you will be able to talk with local people.
2. You may need the language for your work in the UK or abroad.
3. You will find the language useful when you go on holiday or travel through the country.
4. You may wish to study abroad one day.
5. You may need the language for study or research in another field.
6. You may need it to learn about the culture, civilisation or history of another country.
7. Maybe you just like the challenge of learning another language.
8. It may help you look at your own language or culture.
9. You may just enjoy using different sounds and words. It’s fun.
10. Perhaps you enjoy solving grammar problems and translating.
11. It will make you seem clever – people think learning languages is hard!
12. Maybe you do not want to look stupid when you meet non-English speakers.
13. Perhaps you wish to show courtesy and respect to others.
14. You may like to watch films in the original language.
15. You may like to understand songs in the original language.
16. Perhaps you want to have an advantage over others in the job market.
17. Research shows learning languages may make you more clever in other areas.
18. Learning some languages will help with your own grammar and spelling.
19. You will become a more tolerant and rounded person..
20. You can have secret conversations which others do not understand.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Teaching the most able


I spent my career teaching students of above average aptitude in two grammar schools and one independent so I modestly put forward some thoughts on how to get the best out of the most able students. What I have learned comes from my own practice and from watching other teachers at work. Of course, some of the strategies I enumerate below will apply to a wide range of pupils. Where can you draw the line between AGT students and others?

Generally speaking "gifted and talented" linguists have certain characteristics. I would pick out:

1. Good powers of concentration
2. A desire to learn and work hard
3. An openness to language learning
4. An ability discriminate sounds and reproduce them quite accurately
5. An ability to see patterns in language
6. In many cases a strong sense of competitiveness
7. A desire to be accurate
8. Very good memory skills
9. High expectations of themselves
10. High expectations of their teacher


With these characteristics in mind I found that the following strategies worked well, produced motivated classes and good results.

1. Use lots of target language in a structured, graded fashion, resorting to English only for grammar explanation, class control issues, some cultural input and some explaining of activities.

2. Do quite a lot of teacher-led work, thus maximising high quality input at just the right pace.

3. Pitch the lesson at just the right level for the group, maybe, on average, above the middle.

4. Make sure the most brilliant are challenged with special attention, allowing them to give good examples and giving them oral and written tasks which allow them to extend e.g. extended oral answers and lots of creative composition work.

5. Having extra work always available for the fastest workers.

6. Telling them about how language learning works so that they buy into your approach.

7. Be very critical of average work when you know it could have been better. They will almost invariably show off what they can do next time.

8. Challenge their memories with tests and short term memory tasks such as oral gap fill based on a text you have been working on.

9. Let them know you are smart; they like smart teachers. They may want to show how good they can be.

10. Don't be afraid to do lots of practice examples e.g. grammar drills, but vary the challenge and give hardest examples to best students.

11. Use no-hands up from time to time to keep all students on their toes, but not all the time as you need to let the best show off a bit.

12. Don't play too many games or do gimmicky lessons or they will think they are wasting their time.

13. Do plenty of structured pair work as they will use the time well and gain confidence orally.

14. Do some traditional grammar-translation work. They are good at it and enjoy solving puzzles. Not too much, though, as it will limit target language input.

15. Use humour. They get it. But never, ever patronise.

16. Strongly encourage them to do a study trip or, better, an exchange. This will give a huge boost to progress and motivation.

17. Occasionally tell them how good they are to boost self-esteem and produce even better work. Not all able children have high self-esteem. 

18. Try to make sure they are in ability sets. Research suggests that, overall, streaming and setting does not improve achievement, but in languages my strong feeling is that it will benefit the most able.

19. Do not be a slave to the course. Choose activities you know will stimulate.

20. Use the assessment/exam regime to motivate. It seems like a cop-out, but able children are very motivated indeed by exam success and grades.








Friday, 21 June 2013

Battleships game with a twist

Maybe you like to get students to play battleships to practise verb conjugations. It's a simple and enjoyable information gap game which gets students communicating in a structured fashion. Students get to say verb forms repeatedly and improve their language skills as a result. However, you could criticise the game for focusing almost entirely on form at the expense of meaning, so why not try this variation which will get students to produce longer utterances and be creative, with a greater focus on meaning.

Suppose you are working on the perfect tense with a grid made up of pronouns down the left and infinitives along the top. Normally you would get students to play the game by giving just pronoun and verb e.g. tu as dansé. Instead of this require students to add an extra element to the verb, so a students might say tu as dansé avec ton ami. At some point during the game you can then require students to make up sentences with a verb + two elements e.g. tu as dansé dans ta chambre avec ton ami. Some time later you can then tell students to add another element to their sentences.

The challenge of adding extra elements provides a natural progression to the lesson and some fun for students as their creativity is challenged.

If you wanted to take it further you could get them to do negatives for a few moments.

Incidentally, battleships can also work well with vocabulary. With near beginners, for example, they could use their grid to design a simple town with, say, one square for a shop, two for a railway station, two for a swimming pool, three for a shopping centre etc. To make this game more challenging you could require pupils to add a verb to the place, thus practising aller with au/à la/aux e.g. je vais à la gare. In pairs it would work like this: Tu vas à la piscine? Non, je ne vais pas à la piscine. Tu vas au stade? Oui, je vais au stade.

I have quite a few ready-made Battleships grids on frenchteacher.net.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Should MFL teachers show films at the end of term?

I gather that some schools and departments have a policy which forbids teachers from showing films to classes at the end of term.

I used to have slightly mixed feelings about this issue, but on balance I believe that showing a movie in the foreign language with subtitles, even without any attached work, is a valid activity. Pourquoi?

If a class has been working solidly for a year on comprehension, speaking, new vocabulary and grammar, it is quite possible that intercultural understanding may have been a little neglected. A good choice of film provides students with an excellent route into the target language culture as well as a pretty good source of authentic language, spoken at natural speed. I say pretty good, because ideally, the language would be basic enough and spoken at such a pace that students could understand it fairly well. This is not the case with movies, but even so, if the film is well selected, pupils will pick up bits and pieces of language, hear the language in real contexts and, maybe crucially, get the impression that the foreign language is not just a school subject, but a living entity used by real people. In addition, a well chosen film will leave a lasting impression on children and hopefully create a positive association with the language.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, most teachers are on their knees by the end of the year, so they need a bit of enjoyment and relaxation too.

There are copyright implications with showing films, but your school may have purchased a licence to allow it. In reality I suppose not many of us worry too much about showing a film we have paid for.

We all have our favourite movies to show classes. My particular favourites were Les Choristes (usable with all ages, charming, funny and always enjoyed), Au revoir les enfants (better with slightly older children, with language spoken clearly at a reasonable pace) and Etre et avoir (good for older classes, but probably too slow-paced for young ones). With younger learners I would avoid Jean de Florette/Manon des sources because the accents are too hard to follow. I would also, with younger viewers, stay clear of films with too much violence or sexual content - this rules out a terrific film like Amélie.

By the way, if you want some quirky short movies for classes, try this collection:

http://filmstore.bfi.org.uk/acatalog/info_17774.html

I showed this one to Y10 classes:



Monday, 17 June 2013

Au revoir to levels

The DfE announced this week that national curriculum levels are to disappear and it will be for schools to decide how to track the progress of students. There will still be KS2 test scores, GCSE results and A-levels to allow for school accountability and comparison.

I was never a believer when it came to levels. I disliked that they brought out the sceptic in me. In general, the older staff at my last school who had learned their trade without national curriculum levels were non-believers, whilst younger teachers tended to be believers or agnostics. My experience was that science teachers were greater fans than teachers of arts and social science subjects, most likely because scientific subjects lend themselves to clearer definitions of attainment at any point. My colleagues in the history department regularly complained how hard it was define levels in their subject.

If levels had remained, as intended, descriptors of attainment to be used at the end of a key stage, that might have been acceptable, but in recent years schools became too obsessed with using them for grading individual pieces of work and the advent of sub-levels (who invented them?) led to some very creative data production from teachers. What's more, as the DfE point out in their statement, parents did not understand them.

Improvement in most subjects is not linear so it was not always easy to say at what level a child was working. In MFL at least we had the notion of verb tense to latch on to, so we did not have to get too wound up by definitions of what "longer utterances" might have meant, for example. I have no doubt that the use of levels sharpened up the child's ability to know what they had to do to improve and I confess that I would, just occasionally, point out to students what it said on the pupil-friendly level posters we were forced to put on our classroom walls. Overall, however, I really felt that I was paying lip-service and that levels had led to no improvement in standards over the years.

Schools are now very well rehearsed at tracking progress, so will either continue using levels or come up with their own tracking systems. I have read it suggested that there will now be an opportunity for commercial providers to step in and provide assessment packages for schools. I wonder whether schools will need these. As a Head of Department I found that the most useful information was end of year exam percentages and end of unit test scores which we shared as a department. Comparability across departments and schools was largely provided by external exam results and Yellis/FFT data

But what about the role levels played in helping children to assess their own progress? Well, there are other ways of getting children to think about what they have to do to improve. Levels were too crude. Sub-levels were an invention. I would argue that more finely tuned "can-do" statements are preferable, the kind we often see in course books: "I can order a meal at a restaurant"; "I can talk about what I did last weekend" etc. Schools can also do what they used to: use percentages, letters or numbers to help motivate children.

So maybe the history of education in England will view the national system of levels as an aberration as we, hopefully, move away from a highly centralised system, to something more local.

How to ensure grammatical rigour without resorting to translation

So, this post follows on from the previous one about translation.

To recap: in essence, my view is that translation (both from and into the target language) can have a valuable place. Translation into the target language has a particularly beneficial effect on accuracy and can be a concise way of practising and testing a range of grammatical structures. Translation from the target language is a good source of comprehensible input and ensures students look at the detail of a text, but it is, it should be added, too much about the accurate and idiomatic use of the first language.

The cost of translation, particularly into the target language, is that it takes away time from target language input which, I maintain, remains the principal way of bringing about comprehension and fluency. So can we kill two birds with one stone? Can we have foreign language input whilst ensuring grammatical rigour?

I would answer with a clear yes and it involves a tried and tested approach of selecting and grading language, doing controlled practice of all sorts (repetition, question-answer, oral drilling of various types (tense changing, word replacing, gap filling etc), explaining how the language works and allowing for freer practice once a new grammatical structure has been understood and practised. The first language can be largely avoided by recourse to gesture, mime, pictures, film and use of cognates. The rigour comes from repetitive practice and in the insistence on accuracy. The fun and motivation comes from doing it well and allowing for creative activity too. The process of practising and the focus on accurate form are a type, though maybe not the best type, of comprehensible input, so the natural processes of acquisition can go on "in the background", at the sub-concious level. (You would have to read some Stephen Krashen to see this claim refuted - in brief he argues that as soon as you focus on form you are seriously limiting the natural processes of language acquisition.)

Translation (both ways) can come in at some point as a reinforcement activity.

The strong form of the communicative movement, with its focus on functions and notions, with relatively little focus on grammar, has probably got a bad name for target language use. Traditionalists see it as woolly, confusing for students and lacking in rigour. The approach I advocate, which is nothing new and which is, in a sense, a weak form of the communicative approach, works if you give it enough time. It can produce fluent learners with good grammatical control and conscious knowledge.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Is translation making a comeback?

The recently published subject document for GCSE modern languages includes, as did the KS3 programme of study, a reference to translation, this time specifically translation from English into the assessed language. The KS3 document could arguably be taken with a pinch of salt, since the national curriculum does not apply to academies, free schools and independents, and since there are no high stakes tests at KS3. However, the inclusion of translation in the GCSE document has greater significance as it means that we shall, in all likelihood, see translation into the target language as part of a high stakes assessment, namely GCSE.

Now, it remains to be seen what form, if any, this translation takes. It could be in the form of sentences or a short passage to translate (as in the O-level of the 1950s and 60s). It could be "translation-lite" whereby bullet points in English form the basis of a piece of composition. It could be some form of "retranslation" where students have to use a text in the target language to help them translate a related passage from English.

In all of these cases the aim would be test a student's ability to manipulate grammar and vocabulary accurately. The fact that accuracy is only likely to account for about 10% of marks might suggest that translation will play only a marginal role in final papers.

Why are we seeing this return to translation? Is it some form of political diktat from Michael Gove which assumes that translation is somehow rigorous and the only way to ensure children learn grammar thoroughly? Or, more likely, does it reflect a partial rehabilitation of translation in language teaching theory?

Let's step back a moment. With the virtual demise of the grammar-translation approach translation became discredited in language teaching and many teachers would see it as a point of principle to never use it, because to do so would be to compromise one's direct method or communicative credentials. In ELT translation became a pariah, whilst in foreign language teaching it held on in the classroom to some extent and continued to feature in A-level exams, as it does in the French baccalauréat.

Here are reasons usually mentioned for not using translation:
  • It is radically different from the four skills which define language competence; listening, speaking, reading and writing
  • It takes up valuable time which could be used for the four skills and comprehensible input in the target language
  • It discourages students from thinking in the foreign language
  • It is a bad test of language skills
  • It produces interference from the mother tongue
  • It tends to be text-bound, focusing only on reading and writing
  • It only focuses on form and accuracy
  • It is too hard and boring for many learners
  • It encourages lazy teaching, with teachers being able to practice without fluency
  • It is really only appropriate for training translators
Of these, I would argue that the prime reason for limiting translation is that it takes away valuable time from communication in the target language. In saying this, I am assuming that learning takes place primarily by natural acquisition processes.

On the other hand, some theoreticians argue that translation has a valuable role to play. Some reasons they put forward are as follows:
  • Translation helps expand a learner's vocabulary
  • It helps students understand how the language works
  • It consolidates structures which can then lead to greater comprehension and fluency
  • It takes advantage of students' knowledge of their own language; why not profit from this advantage which very young children do not enjoy?
  • It is the most efficient way to improve grammatical accuracy
  • Many students enjoy it
  • It helps students to monitor their accuracy
  • When done orally it provides opportunities for listening and speaking practice
Needless to say, attempts have been made to provide evidence for and against translation. Some of these can be found by doing an online search. There is, for example, evidence that when parallel groups of students are taught with or without translation into the target language, those who practice translation show improved accuracy. From what I can gather, in the ELT world (from which we have often taken ideas in MFL), translation has regained a degree of acceptance, but only a certain amount.

So what is the teacher at the MFL chalkface to make of these arguments?

As teachers, we bring different personal experiences and prejudices to our practice. I was taught to teach French using a form of controlled direct method espoused by London University from the 1950s. This meant avoiding the mother tongue as much as possible and working on the assumption that comprehension and fluency are developed, above all, by immersing learners in comprehensible language. However, like most teachers, I became aware that students also enjoy explanations and clarity, so I was happy to make judicious use of English and translation. I realised that many students enjoyed the puzzle-solving nature of translation and I was also happy to assume that translation would consolidate accuracy. I remain unconvinced that it does much for comprehension and fluency.

If I were advising a young teacher, I would stick to these principles and suggest that translation be used only occasionally and with a clear view on why it was being used.

To return to the GCSE document, what worries me is that, if we see translation into the target language used as part of the assessment, we will inexorably see a huge backwash effect on teaching and course books. As it stands, many MFL teachers do not use enough foreign language, and if you encourage them to practise for a translation section in the exam, they will use even less.

It appears that translation has been included to ensure that teachers do not neglect grammatical rigour. I support the quest for good grammar, but there are other more fruitful ways of developing grammatical skill which do not require translation. That may be for another post....






Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Commentary on new GCSE subject content document

https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/GCSE%20Modern%20Language_final.pdf

Page 3 Subject aims and learning outcomes

I note the greater emphasis placed on production (speaking and writing) rather than reception (listening and reading). This bias is corrected in later sections. Emphasis on spontaneity, fluency and independence. As at KS3, notable reference to "literary texts", which are subsequently (page 4) defined to include letters, excerpts from literature and essays, poems, short stories, novels or plays. This is a change of emphasis, reflecting the content of KS2 and KS3.  I welcome this in general since it should allow for more imaginative and creative work, but in reality, we can assume that there will be little study of novels or plays at KS4. Intercultural understanding is given some prominence (more so than KS2 and KS3). Bilingual learning is referred to (CLIL).

Page 4 Stress on progression from earlier key stages. I remain unsure quite what "matters, skills and processes" are. I note that purposes should include work and academic-related related language as well as personal interest.

Page 5 Listening and speaking

This is generally uncontroversial, but I would question: "follow and understand clear standard speech at normal speed". Even at AS and A2 students do not currently have to cope with language spoken at "normal speed". This is unrealistic and too demanding. I welcome the reference to "authentic sources, adapted and abridged as appropriate". "Adapted" will mean slowed down and simplified, which somewhat contrasts with the earlier reference to "normal speed".

The statements on speaking seem uncontroversial. Translated into assessment they should mean less memorised learning of chunks.

Page 6-7 Reading and writing

I note the reference to "abridged and adapted literary texts". I have no issue with this and we should end up seeing some more interesting course books as a result.

I also note the reference, as at KS3, to translation of sentences and short texts from English, though not from the target language. As I have previously recorded in this blog, I see the usefulness of some translation of this type, but do not see why it should be included in a programme of study. It is too ideological and could encourage poor practice overall. Teachers do not need to be told to use translation and it is not a necessary part of a course.

Page 8 Assessment

It seems we are to return to equal weighting of the four skills. This is better than what we have now, but I would have preferred to see less emphasis given to writing. This continues to reveal a bias towards the written word in MFL and in education in general. In these days of Google Translate we should not be valuing writing as highly. It will lessen time given over to listening and speaking which most would regard as more important.

I welcome that in Speaking and Writing a minimum of only 10% of marks need be awarded for accuracy. One may have feared that in the search for "rigour", accuracy would play too great a role.

This is important:


"It is the expectation that questions and rubrics for the majority of modern languages will
be set in the assessed language, except where tasks focus on assessing the candidate’s
understanding of the use of the language (grammatical and lexical knowledge) or in tasks
where the candidate is translating from the assessed language into English or from
English into the assessed language. It is more appropriate that the instructions for these
tasks should be set in English."

So, this means a return to mixed skill assessment, which I welcome. However, does this statement also mean that parts of the assessment will include translation into the target language? If this just refers to, say, bullet points in English for composition writing, then I would have no problem. If, on the other hand, it means formal "prose translation" of a passage or sentences, then this would be a seriously retrograde and undesirable step which would have deleterious effects on classroom practice. I hope and trust it is the former.

And that's about it!

We have, therefore, another super slim document which will be fleshed out with grammar and vocabulary in exam board specifications.

Most of it is uncontroversial, but I believe there was a missed opportunity with skill weightings and we need to be wary about how much translation, especially into the target language, ends up in courses and on exam papers. The move towards more imaginative texts is to be welcomed.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Swankers

Here is a nice little filler game for advanced students. It comes from BBC Radio 4's long-running panel show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. They sometimes naughtily call it Swankers. Maybe "boasters" would be clearer to students. In French? 

Students work in small groups or pairs. One person boasts about something they have done recently. The next person, or partner, then engages in one-upmanship, and so it goes on around the group or between partners. It might go something like this:

Je suis allé en Australie en vacances l'année dernière.
Ah bon? Moi, je vais en Australie tous les ans.
Moi, je ne vais plus en Australie. J'en ai marre. Nous allons faire un voyage en Antarctique l'année prochaine.
Moi, je suis déjà allé au pôle sud; je vais faire un voyage dans l'espace. Nous allons à la Lune l'été prochain.
La lune? Nous, on va aller à Mars.
Mars? C'était beau quand on y est allés, mais on aime mieux Jupiter.
Toit ça, c'est bien, mais nous, on préfère voyager dans le temps dans notre Tardis.

etc

It would probably best to give an example first before providing some starter statements to get things going. How about:

Mes parents m'ont acheté un iPad pour Noël.
On m'a demandé d'être figurant dans un petit film local.
Quand j'étais petit on avait si peu d'argent qu'on ne sortait jamais au restaurant (merci Monty Python)
Pendant mes vacances de ski je me suis cassé la cheville après une chute.
Je suis très content. J'ai fait les 100m en 11 secondes.
J'ai appris qu'on va faire construire un nouveau cinéma en ville.
Notre chien est très intelligent. Il aboie quand je lui demande de le faire.
Génial! Je vais dîner au nouveau restaurant de Jamie Oliver.


Saturday, 8 June 2013

Frenchteacher updates

Following the recent survey I did with users of the site, I have added quite a few new answer sheets to go with A-level grammar exercises. I shall add some more in due course.

Other recent additions to the site:
  • Some silly Tommy Cooper jokes to translate back into English from French. (To save time I used Google Translate for my first shot, then imporved the translations myself. This usually saves time.) See Y10-11 section.
  • A place mat with beginners' phrases for the classroom. Teachers could edit it if they have other expressions they prefer. There are two columns: phrases the teacher will use and phrases the pupil will need to use. See Y7 section. This was also offered as a free sample.
  • A near-beginners' worksheet to practise time expressions with je vais/tu vas and au/à la/aux etc. I like sheets like this. You can use them for repetitive oral practice, then students can make up their own examples and write some up. This sheet could be displayed on the board.
  • A crossword with rugby terminology. This could be given out to boys or girls particularly keen on rugby. See Y10-11 section.
  • For A-level, a passage from Les petits enfants du siècle to translate into English.
  • Some paragraphs with various exercises on teenage fashions. A-level.
  • A number of intermediate reading tasks using the Taskmagic worksheet facility. I have used jigsaw reading and gap fill for these texts. See Y10-11 section.
Remember this terrible classic?

Je suis allé chez le médecin l'autre jour.
J'ai dit " Quand je fais ça, ça fait mal."
Il a répondu "Ne le faites pas alors."


Thursday, 6 June 2013

All about linguistics

Allaboutlinguistics

Back in the 1970s I did my first degree in French and Linguistic Science at Reading University, at that time the leading institution for the study of linguistics. Staff there included some big names in the field, such as David Crystal, Frank Palmer, Peter Matthews and Peter Trudgill. During my teaching career I would do a session on linguistics almost every year with Lower Sixth students. They were pretty enthusiastic about it and a few were even inspired enough to choose to study it at university.

When I did my degree linguistics was pretty much a fringe subject and we had the impression we were studying something different which would perhaps become more mainstream. Well, my impression is that this never really happened. Whilst you will find linguistics frequently offered as an adjunct to other courses, usually modern languages, it remains a relatively obscure corner of academia.

One reason for this is that school students rarely get a chance to engage with the subject. It is still associated with modern languages, itself a declining area of study in Britain, and in the school setting only a small number of enthusiastic teachers will introduce it to pupils. A-level English Language is the one discipline which covers the field to any extent.

Anyway, I recommend the above website, produced by students at Sheffield University in northern England. It offers a lively introduction to the field with some further references. Teachers could easily refer intermediate level (GCSE) and A-level students to the site as a way in to the subject. Don't forget that, whilst linguistics is likely to appeal to young people with an interest in languages, it also has branches which will appeal to students interested in mathematics, computing, psychology, sociology, anthropology and child development. It may have a particular appeal to young linguists who, like me, loved language learning without necessarily being fully committed at that stage to other cultural areas such as literature and history.

Other introductions to linguistics include Peter Matthews' Very Short Introduction to Linguistics and this series of online lectures from the Virtual Linguistics Campus.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Skill building versus comprehensible input

In what Krashen calls the "skill building hypothesis" a language is viewed as a complex system which has to be gradually mastered by learning and practising all its complex elements. Emphasis is placed on conscious knowledge of how the system works, cognitive analysis and repetitive practice. There is a strong focus on form. It was the basis of most language learning approaches of the past, including grammar-translation, audio-lingualism and the oral-situational approach.

On the other hand what he calls the "comprehension hypothesis" assumes that language acquisition occurs best when learners are presented with language they understand. In this view second language learning is likened to child language acquisition. The focus is on meaning and much less on analysis, repetitive practice and form.

The terms learning and acquisition have often been used as shorthand descriptions of the above two hypotheses.

It is hard, maybe impossible, to prove which model fits best in the context of school foreign language learning, but I don't believe we have to view these two hypotheses as mutually exclusive. It is quite possible to run a language course which incorporates strong elements of both skill building and comprehensible input. We all, as teachers, have an implicit or explicit view of how language learning best takes place, and it is often borne out of experience as much as theory.

A British Ofsted languages inspector recently commented that achievement appears to be highest when a sensible mix of traditional activities are done very well. Ofsted get to see thousands of lessons, have a huge database of evidence and therefore tend to know what they are talking about. So, an eclectic approach including large amounts of target language input, a structured, graded approach to grammar (including explanation), repetitive drill-style practice, bits of translation, question-answer and communicative tasks of all types, including games, should provide a suitable diet for progress to occur. The needs of comprehensible input supporters and skill-building apologists should be largely satisfied. We may well be in the area of false dichotomies here. When we add to this the fact that children vary in their learning styles and teachers have their own preferences, all the more reason to provide an eclectic approach.

In practice, I would not be surprised if the majority of teachers employ the broad approach I have just described. I am sure most "skill builders" provide lots of meaningful comprehensible input, whilst CI fans sometimes use explanation and structured practice. Most teachers accept the need for input and motivation, but they also recognise that most learners appreciate explanations and structured practice. I also suspect that where things may go wrong, in the school context, it is (other things being equal, such as teacher skill, relationships, extrinsic motivation etc) when lessons become too form based or too pure meaning based.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Recorded sounds lesson

Here's a simple idea for a lesson, or part of a lesson for intermediate or advanced students. You could possibly combine it with the tired daily routine topic. Get a digital recorder or use your phone and record as many sounds as you can around the house. Here are a few you could easily record:
  • running a tap
  • flushing the toilet
  • boiling a kettle
  • using a can opener
  • pouring a drink
  • opening a bottle of fizzy drink
  • pulling a wine cork
  • running the washing machine or dishwasher
  • opening the fridge door
  • opening and closing doors
  • hoovering
  • using the microwave
  • closing the oven door
  • laying the table
  • scraping a chair across the floor
  • switching the radio on or off
  • typing on the PC
  • switching on a light
  • using a whisk
  • cracking an egg
  • opening a packet
  • cutting with scissors
  • dropping ice into a glass
  • blowing your nose
  • chopping or peeling vegetables
  • climbing stairs
  • dropping an object (e.g. cutlery or unwanted crockery!)
You could play the sounds in sequence whilst students note down in the target language what is being done. They should always attempt an answer. Then students could compare answers orally in pairs.

An alternative, to make the exercise accessible to less advanced learners, would be to produce a set of sentences for a matching task: match sentence with each sound.

You could build in some grammar practice by describing in present and past tenses. I'm sure imaginative teachers could come up with other, better ways for exploiting such sounds.