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Showing posts from September, 2014

Passé composé

I came across this brilliant little film thanks to @mjosfle (Madame José) on Twitter. It has nothing much to do with grammar, by the way. You may find it touching. I did a worksheet for it on It would work very well with a class of A2 (Upper Sixth) students or perhaps an adult class. See what you think. This is the first time I have embedded a Vimeo video, so I do not know if it will display on an iPad.

Passé composé - court-métrage de Ted Hardy-Carnac from Ted Hardy-Carnac on Vimeo.

Here is the link to the Vimeo page:

Ofqual report: changes to A-level marking and grading

Scroll down for links to a summary and the technical report carried out by Ofqual.

Ofqual have been looking into grading for A-level modern languages, partly in response to concern expressed by subject associations and teachers about the apparent lack of A* grades compared to other subjects. In essence, although MFL gets a reasonable share of A*/A grades (although still tougher than most subjects), of these only a relatively small percentage are A* grades.

As a teacher I was certainly aware of this issue and it is one factor behind the reluctance of students to take up MFL at A-level. When one also bears in mind that a small percentage of candidates are native speakers with, in many cases, a great advantage over their peers, getting an A* has been really tough in MFL.

So what did Ofqual find? Well, firstly they have to be commended for carrying out a very detailed technical report which gets right into the nitty grit…

ALL London branch webinars

If you are outside the UK, the ALL is the Association for Language Learning, an English modern language teaching association.

Helen Myers, from the London branch, has very generously organised and hosted a number of webinars presented by teachers around England. I did my first webinar recently on teaching texts and found it an enjoyable experience. I hope other people did.

This morning I watched John Connor's webinar entitled "It's a guy thing" in which he attempts to look in some detail at what motivates boys in the languages classroom. He begins with some general points about the psychology of boys and girls, before going into detail about why language lessons are a particular challenge to many boys and how we might help make language learning more palatable for them. It's an excellent presentation, full of relevant points based on long experience, a small dose of theory, along with some amusing anec…

Results of the Ofqual GCSE MFL consultation

Ofqual have recently published the results of the consultation they carried out on MFL GCSE. The main finding can be succinctly summarised as follows:
Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing will be equally weighted at 25%reading, writing and listening will be externally assessed examsspeaking assessments will continue to contribute towards the overall student gradespeaking will be assessed by non-exam assessment with further details to followthe specifications will be tiered but the requirement to enter all skills at the same tier is new.  It is worth noting that speaking tests are not classed as exams. They are officially non-exam assessment. That's a technical definition. An exam has to be a paper sat by a group of students at the same time in strict exam conditions.

Nothing has changed in terms of future content of specifications, so we can still expect to see some translation in papers. Oh joy! I have to comment, as I have done before, that although translation both ways ca…

Teaching "literary" texts

For secondary teachers, a significant new focus in the KS2-4 curriculum on "literary texts" - meaning stories, letters, poems and song. (Thankfully Michael Gove's original desire to see "great literature" in the curriculum was ditched.) Expect to see more "literary" material text books and examinations.

Now, I have to say that I have for a long time felt there was a lack of narrative texts in course books. Too many dry articles relating to the GCSE topics, not enough story-telling, not enough human interest. So, in general, I would welcome a better balance of texts. However, the key thing will be how stimulating texts will be. Any target language input is good provided it is meaningful and interesting, or "compelling" as Stephen Krashen would put it. You can have boring literary texts and boring non-literary ones. What we need is material which is meaningful, interesting and suitable for exploitation in the classroom.

I spend a lot…

How to translate common fish in French

Do you ever get confused at the fish market, supermarket or restaurant when it comes to the names of fish? Here is a quick vocabulary list which may help.

Anglais  Français

Anchovy                    anchois (m)Bream                        brème (f)Carp                          carpe (f)Catfish                       barbote (f) mâchoiron (m)Chub                          spirlin (m)Cod                            cabillaud (m), morue (dried and salted) (f)Coley/ pollock           lieu (m)/ colin (m)Eel                              anguille (f)Grayling                     poisson ombre (m)Grey mullet                mulet (m)Gurnard                     grondin (m)Haddock                    églefin/aiglefin (m)Hake                          merlu (m)Halibut                       flétan (m)Herring                      hareng (m)Ling, sea burbot         julienne (f)Ling                           lingue (f)Mackerel                   maquereau (m)Monkfish                   lotte (f)Perch         …

On giving grammar notes to students

I was not a huge fan of spending lesson time on writing up or displaying grammar notes for students to read and copy, but I did it nevertheless. Why?

If you've read my blog before, you'll know that I am a fan of target language teaching, a structured direct method approach. You might even call it an adapted comprehensible input approach. In the school context I worked in, with the type of pupils I taught (generally quite able), I preferred a syllabus based essentially on a grammatical framework taught through the medium of large amounts of oral, aural, reading and writing practice.

I much preferred actually using and practising the language than talking about it. My feeling was that students would gradually internalise the rules of morphology and syntax through structured, controlled and less structured practice and that formal instruction in grammar was just an added extra which allowed students to have a conscious grasp of the rules. In Stephen Krashen's terms, this cons…

Decoupling AS level

When it comes to the decoupling of AS level from A-level the press and blogosphere have focused mainly on the reaction of universities to the policy. They have come out against it, arguing that the information they get from AS level results makes it easier for them to select students accurately. This has led, by the way, to some discussion as to whether AS results or GCSEs are a better guide to future university achievement.

But as a former French teacher I am more concerned with the how the new AS level, as currently proposed by Ofqual/DfE, will affect the numbers ready to carry on with modern languages into the sixth form.

As a result of the current structure of AS and A2 level, considerable numbers of students choose to continue with a language for one year. They are often the type of able student who drops a language at the end of AS level to continue with maths and science. They frequently choose a language because they enjoy it and see the value of keeping a practical skill going …


I sometimes come across teachers online who struggle with how to keep lessons in the target language. Circling is an important way of making this happen without losing the class.

I came across the term "circling" with reference to questioning technique some time ago when reading about TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) , the north American language teaching approach closely associated with naturalistic or comprehensible input style teaching. In fact, what they call circling is nothing new. It was used in its most elaborate form in the Marc Gilbert books Cours Illustré de Français back in the 1960s. Circlng is, however, a convenient term to describe that form of artificial questioning language teachers use when practising new structures or vocabulary with classes.

Most of you will know what I mean. If you were teaching prepositions to near beginners it would go something like this:

Is the book on the table?
Is the book on the table or under the table…

Fine tuning the input

I sometimes come across listening material online, for example extracts of French language films or TV which look initially appealing for their content or humour, but which for me, fail the classroom test because they are just to fast or hard to understand.

I am happy to go along, for the sake of this argument, with Stephen Krashen's notion that acquisition will occur if students are presented with language they understand. In practice, what we get students to listen to and read has to include some unknown language for them to make progress, so the skill lies in selecting authentic material, or in designing new material, which follows the knowledge + 1 principle.

This means we present language containing a suitable balance of known and new language, at a pace students can reasonably follow (usually with repetitions as far as listening is concerned). This is what you might call fine-tuning of comprehensible input. (In passing, it is sometimes argued that traditional "lock-step&q…

Frenchteacher updates

After a summer when I spent as much time blogging - largely about the proposed new MFL A-levels - as writing resources, I have got back into the swing recently. Incidentally I am going to be doing some work on resources for AQA with the new specifications in mind, so it will be interesting to see how they grapple with the challenges presented by the new Ofqual GCSE content (slightly anachronistic) and A-level (off the wall anachronistic). Once I start work with them I'll probably be under an oath of silence.

As far as new resources are concerned, I have added some more video listening worksheets, two with a scientific slant (the International Space Station and air pollution) and two songs by Yannick Noah. The latter are easy to understand and catchy. I did look at doing some Stromae songs, but to be honest, it's not my cup of tea and lyrically I was not sure it was the best source of language.

With the new national curriculum in mind and its greater emphasis on "literatu…


In teacher blogs one subject I have never come across is cheating by pupils. You may want to file this one under grandmothers and egg-sucking, but here we go. It is an important aspect of classroom management.

Just as some pupils lie (just ask any head of year how brazenly they do so), some cheat. If they are not tackled about it they will cheat often. Given the chance some will cheat in class if their partner's work is in view. They will also cheat by copying homework wholesale from friends. Some are smart enough to try and disguise their cheating by deliberately leaving some differences between their work and that of the person from whom they have copied. Others cheat by using Google Translate.

My experience was that, in nearly all cases, once the pupil had been tackled quite aggressively over the issue, they did not cheat again. Nice Mr Smith became nasty and abrupt Mr Smith. Furthermore, a firm lecture on the issue to the whole class would largely deal with the issue. My pitch t…

"Bribing" schools to do GCSE MFL

I read that the Conservatives intend to get Ofsted to only award Good and Outstanding grades to schools where all pupils do EBacc subjects to GCSE. This is part of their agenda for all students, whatever their interests and abilities, to have access to an academic curriculum. It has been calculated that only two schools in England would currently get a Good or Outstanding on this basis!

Firstly, there is an issue regarding the independence of Ofsted who are supposed to be immune from political interference, but I shall put that to one side.

Secondly, there is the major issue regarding whether all students should be doing a very similar curriculum up to 16. I understand the argument being made. All students, it is claimed, should have access to what middle class students study and we should not be offering some kind of easier, second class curriculum to some students. It's the old sheep and goats/education versus training argument which has been debated for years.

I happen to lean …