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Showing posts from February, 2016

Resources for new French AS and A-levels

UPDATE: 2nd June 2016

Now uploaded to TES: family (Pearson, AQA) , work (Pearson) and how criminals are treated (AQA)


Just to let you know that Gianfranco and I are working on a set of resources for the new A-levels for first teaching in September of this year. Gianfranco wanted to produce some translation-focused resources which reflect the practice we described in The Language Teacher Handbook (particularly the recycling of grammar and vocabulary).

We are working on the basis of a source text in French with comprehension and grammar tasks (similar to the sort of thing I write for, followed by a set of exercises which lead up to a final translation or graded translations (similar to exercise types which Gianfranco often uses). We would hope these resources would supplement any textbooks soon to be published.

We have mapped out a broad structure of about 20 units of this type (10 for AS-level, 10 for A-le…

AS level French revision links 2016

Here is a handy list of revision links for students preparing for AS level French examinations in England and Wales, though I daresay it would be useful to students preparing for other assessments. I particularly recommend MFL Online from Jim Hall. Nearly all the links are free and some are interactive.

I always felt it was best to give students just a few really good links rather than overwhelm them. I've left the URLs visible in case you want to print this off and edit for students.




(not error-fr…

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2016

It's that time of year again. In England and Wales, when those blessed GCSE controlled assessments are over, you can focus totally on comprehension and vocabulary building for the remaining exams. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

I do recommend the free print-off from (see Reading link below). I designed it for pupils working at the grade A-C level at GCSE. Good for individual work and students like the booklet format.

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices try the Learn French Vocabulary Free. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).


12 principles of second language teaching

This is a short, adapted extract from our book The Language Teacher Toolkit.
"We could not possibly recommend a single overall method for second language teaching, but the growing body of research we now have points to certain provisional broad principles which might guide teachers. Canadian professors Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada (2013), after reviewing a number of studies over the years to see whether it is better to just use meaning-based approaches or to include elements of explicit grammar teaching and practice, conclude:
Classroom data from a number of studies offer support for the view that form-focused instruction and corrective feedback provided within the context of communicative and content-based programmes are more effective in promoting second language learning than programmes that are limited to a virtually exclusive emphasis on comprehension.
As teachers Gianfranco and I would go along with that general view and would like to suggest our own set of general principle…

Behaviour management tips

When we put together the overall structure for The Language Teacher Toolkit we hesitated a bit before deciding to put in a chapter on behaviour management. I was probably a bit keener than Gianfranco to include it. On balance, we decided that since surveys show that it's usually the number one concern of trainee teachers, readers might appreciate some guidance. We drew on our own experience and advice from elsewhere, notably the esteemed Doug Lemov of Teach like a Champion fame and Tom Bennett who some of you will know as England's "behaviour tsar".

Our editor (my wife, Elspeth Jones) thought it was one of the best chapters in the end. Anyway, here is a brief extract from one of our boxes of tips. Old hands will recognise much of this as common sense classroom management technique. Newbies should find it useful advice.

ØAvoid confrontation as far as possible, but when you need to confront do it clearly and unapologetically. Then move on (‘…

Cloud Writer

This is a guest blog by Peter Smith who is keen to promote the Schoolshape Cloud Writer app. It looks useful to me and may appeal to some language teachers, particularly those who like to make use of digital technology..

"This is a new writing activity to improve accuracy through inductive learning: In this post, I suggest an app which give your students a helping hand by writing their answers online at
The new GCSEs feature both translation and composition. These can both be one step too far for students. Teachers can find themselves overwhelmed by written work littered with disastrous errors requiring correction. There is also the question of motivation. Even the most gifted of teachers can fail to infuse enthusiasm for translation and composition exercises. 
Cloud Writer helps students improve their writing accuracy via a hint system, guiding them towards the correct answer. Grammar corrections and annotations help the student with a combination of…

What makes a good text?

The written text in the target language remains the stimulus par excellence for language teachers. It's a source of what eminent ELT writer Michael Swan has called "intensive input-output work". It is the starting point for a whole range of language activities involving all the four skills.

Some teachers worry about whether the texts they use are authentic. In my opinion they should not. What are we looking for in a good text?

It should (ideally) be inherently interesting.It should be at the right level.It should be teachable. 1.  Once you get to intermediate level and above the best texts should have inherent interest value. At this level, whilst still a challenge, you can source stimulating material on all sorts of topics. Authentic texts may be interesting, they may be not. Teacher-adapted or artificial texts may be interesting, they may be not. Authentic does not mean better. Interest in the subject matter of the text should raise motivation and, ultimately, increase …

Exploiting simple pictures for creative language use

This is an extremely simple, zero preparation and fun idea for creating conversation lessons with high intermediate or advanced level classes. You take a simple picture featuring one or more people and use it as the basis for some imaginative storytelling. Here is an example with suggested questions - I'll write them in English so you could adapt them for any language.

What's her name?
What's his name?
Where are they? What country? What town?
What's their relationship?
Did they meet recently?
Are they work colleagues?
How old are they?
What are they eating?
What are they talking about?
What is she like as a person? What's he like?
What are their interests?
Why do they look so happy?
How did they meet? When? Long ago?
If they are married, have they been married before?
What were they doing before they met at the restaurant?
What are they going to do next?
What do they do for a living?
What do they think of their jobs?
Have they always done that?
What did they used t…

How we wrote The Language Teacher Toolkit

The Language Teacher Toolkit available from Amazon.

I have been blogging about second language learning since 2010 and about a year ago I came across Gianfranco Conti's blog about what research can tell us about language acquisition and classroom practice. I was struck by how informative and interesting Gianfranco's posts are. You very rarely come across teacher blogs which refer to research so explicitly. We made contact via Twitter. Gianfranco mentioned that he had been following my blog for some time and was happy to get to know me. Then, if I recall correctly, someone on Twitter (@mflguru, I think) asked why we didn't write a book together for language teachers.

We both thought this was a good idea, got together on Skype and Twitter and quickly pieced together the general structure and content of a handbook. We were keen to try to maker a strong link between research and classroom practice, but to try to keep the focus mainly on practical advice and classroom techniques…

Developing GCSE speaking skills

This is a PowerPoint presentation I shall be using this Friday at the GwE Global Futures Conference in Llandudno, Wales. The key issues will include:

The new exams mark an evolution, not a revolution (in fact, largely a return to what went before).Greater pupil spontaneity will be required, but smart exam preparation, including rote learning, will still be vital.There are no quick fixes for achieving student autonomy, but a departmental strategy, TL teaching, plenty of input and interaction, spaced learning (including homework), rigorous controlled and free practice will all play their part.
GCSE speaking ppt from 24beforemylove

The importance of recycling language

This post was written in conjunction with Gianfranco Conti  of and is a short extract of our book The Language Teacher Toolkit, which is about to be published. One area we were keen to emphasise was the importance of recycling language, both with a lesson or sequence of lessons and across a whole course.

With the recognised importance of "spaced" or "distributed" learning, there is barely any need to justify recycling vocabulary, grammar, phonology and learning strategies, but there is a danger that it gets neglected, especially in view of the poor timetabling arrangements which exist in many schools which mean you may only see your classes as little as once or twice a week. This is what we wrote in our book (slightly adapted):

Recycling in one lesson or sequences of lessons

In our opinion the best way of  building in recycling opportunities within lessons is by using the same language in different, varied activities. Within the PPP model (Presenta…

Thoughts about GCSE role plays

With the new GCSEs now approaching (first teaching from September 2016) we see the triumphant comeback of the role-play which, since 1987, had been an integral part of the speaking test. I imagine that the justification for their return is based on two things: firstly, they require a degree of spontaneous language on the part of candidates; secondly, they provide for some 'real life' situational tasks.

Role-plays are not without their issues. For example, producing authentic situations is not very easy. AQA, the only awarding body so far to have produced accredited exams, has adopted the approach of mixing up real-life situations with conversational style role-plays with friends. In their specimen Foundation Tier role-plays, for example, they include friends talking about school, talking with a waiter in a restaurant and an employee at a theatre (the latter is far-fetched for a teenager). I believe they are right to maintain an emphasis on conversational language with friends.…

Frenchteacher update

Here are the resources added to the site over the last month.

A second adapted and abridged extract from Le Petit prince, this time with a vocabulary list to complete and questions in English. About the futility of amassing wealth.
Y10-11 (Intermediate)

A short extract from Le Petit prince (adapted) with a true/false/not mentioned exercise and translation. In line with new GCSE content. A good Y9 class could do this.
Y10-11 (Intermediate)

A second set of Higher Tier AQA GCSE photo card practice examples. There are now four sets of photo card stimuli on the site, with a total of about 36 examples. All for the new specification starting next year.
Y10-11 (Intermediate)

A second set of photo card stimuli for oral work. These are based on the AQA speaking test model (first teaching September 2016) and include five questions each. There are three sets of these photos, two Foundation Tier (easier), two Higher Tier. You could include these in your future schemes of work.
Y10-11 (Intermediate…