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Showing posts from October, 2013

What does teaching "literary texts" mean in the new national curriculum?

So here we are, in limbo, with the previous national curriculum for modern languages "disapplied" as we wait for the next, really slim one to come into force in September 2014. Curious, that, isn't it? The national curriculum can be ignored by half of English secondary schools and the large majority of primaries, whilst in 2013-14 we don't even have one anyway. Will teachers survive this academic year without a national curriculum? It makes you wonder. In the meantime, Ofqual and the examination boards will use the new national curriculum to guide their next generation of exams, which is ultimately what teachers will focus on, as they always have done. So maybe we have a de facto national curriculum anyway. It all seems, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, "a tad askew".

However, in short, teachers will need to be aware of what's in this new curriculum and to understand why course books will change their focus somewhat.

For secondary teachers, a significant …

So where do you stand on the learning/acquisition continuum?

You can choose to look at approaches to second language learning in any number of ways, but it is common to view them as placed somewhere on a continuum:

learning    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> acquisition

conscious  <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> unconscious

formal  <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  natural

Fans of explicit grammar teaching, grammar-translation and structured skill practice would lean towards the left and fans of comprehension based work, with little explanation of…

Creative speaking and writing prompts

This is a sheet I posted recently on It would work well with a good advanced level class. You could do these at any time as a change from your usual topics.

Creative speaking and writing prompts

1. Si vous pouviez changer une chose dans votre vie, cela serait quoi et pourquoi ? Est-ce que votre vie serait différente aujourd’hui ?
2. Quel est votre plus grand exploit dans la vie ? Pourquoi était-ce important ?
3. Si vous aviez un superpouvoir cela serait quoi ? Que feriez-vous avec ?
 4. Si les scientifiques découvraient qu’un astéroïde allait entrer en collision avec la terre dans un mois, que feriez-vous pendant ce temps ?
5. Si vous pouviez changer ou inventer une loi, ça serait quoi ? Comment cela changerait-il le monde ?
6. Qui est la personne la plus sage que vous ayez jamais rencontrée ? Pourquoi ?
7. Si vous étiez un personnage de dessin animé, vous seriez qui ? Pourquoi ?
8. Si on pouvait lire dans les pensées des autres, est-ce que le monde serait meilleur…


This blog has been fermenting for a little while now. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on marking. They may go against the current grain a touch, but see what you think.

Why mark? Here is a list of reasons which I deliberately put in order of importance.

1.  To check pupils have done the work
2.  To show pupils you care about their work
3.  To check that they have understood the work
4.  To show them where they have gone wrong and done well
5.  To build your personal relationship with the pupil
6.  To give them more detailed feedback

You will note that I have put feedback last. The caveat I would add is that this varies with the age of the learner. Detailed feedback makes more sense with advanced students.

Let me elaborate.

Points 1 and 2 are key. the most important thing about homework is that it is done and that it is done with care and attention. Improvement in language skills comes with practice. The more practice pupils do, the more confident they become. If they know you a…

Do children have a natural aptitude for second language learning?

Language teachers may be surprised by the title of this post, since, in my experience, it is self-evident that some students are much better at learning languages than others and this, I have always assumed, is down to something different within their brain which (I mention this in view of Dominic Cummings recent paper which referred to genetics) I assume has an inherited factor behind it.
The current vogue, encouraged by hypotheses such as Carol Dweck's mindsets, the claim that IQ is flexible and the idea that anyone can become skilled at an activity with 10 000 hours of practice, is that all children can achieve highly. I may be wrong, but in some educational circles, to suggest that some children are naturally more gifted than others has begun to sound like heresy.
A friend who knows much more about educational theory than me doubts that natural ability exists and would claim that competence derives from self-belief, motivation and practice.
I understand why one would want to valu…

A word about national curriculum levels

The previous National Curriculum for England and Wales in Modern Foreign Languages is now"disapplied", as the DfE puts it. Academies and Free Schools may now do their own thing and maintained schools have a new, slimmed down curriculum with no level descriptors. My impression from forums and Twitter is that most schools are continuing to use their well established systems for tracking students which employ the existing levels. They have good reasons for doing this. The elaborate systems which schools have set up required an enormous amount of time and energy and they do, for all their unintended consequences, allow for adequate and quite detailed tracking.

But how accurate is the allocation of levels? When levels were first introduced departments were asked to keep marked portfolios of student work and exemplar materials were provided by the DfE to help schools get their levelling right. My departmnt did this carefully and we established a pretty good grasp of what levels me…

Handy guide to language teaching approaches

This post is from the Teachers' Guide of where you'll find plenty of other guides for MFL teachers.

The oral-situational approach

Originating in the 1920s and 1930s when linguists such as Harold Palmer and A.S Hornby took the direct method and from it developed a more scientific approach for teaching languages through an oral approach. It was well-established in Britain by the 1950s, although many teachers were still relying mainly on grammar-translation well beyond then. With the oral approach vocabulary is limited and based on frequency counts from the language being studied. Grammar is also selected and graded by difficulty and presented and practised principally through question and answer. It remains at the core of many courses which are structured primarily on the basis of structural complexity, beginning with the simplest and working through to the most complex.

In this approach, which became by the 1960s closely related to the situational …

My top 40 intermediate French errors

An interesting conundrum for language teachers: do you expose students to incorrect forms of language to help them be more accurate? Or does this just reinforce error? If you believe the former, then you might want to print this off for your class.

I am really not sure! What do you think?

Here are 40 common mistakes I have come across over the years in written work. They are commonly made by students and, in a few cases, even by native speakers.

Version incorrecteVersion correcte
Je suis visitéJ’ai visité Je suis quinze ans                                                                  J'ai dix ans J'ai intelligent                                                                         Je suis intelligent J’ai restéJe suis resté J’ai retournéJe suis retourné(e) J’ai tombéJe suis tombé(e) J’étéJ’étais/J’ai été Je joue le footballJe joue au football (sport) Je joue le pianoJe joue du piano (musique) J’ai joué depuis 5 ansJe joue depuis 5 ans Je suis allé en France pour une s…