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Showing posts from July, 2016

Teaching the gender of nouns

Having recently read an article about the effectiveness of learning through chunks, I was reminded about an issue which has always struck me as significant. This is a nuts and bolts question for language teachers and it's about teaching grammatical gender.

Getting the gender of nouns right plagues second language learners, even those working at near-native speaker standard. Personally, after years of exposure and practice, I rarely hesitate with French gender, but still get caught out by the occasional word which I already know or which is new to me.

How can we help learners to acquire gender effectively?

My hunch has always been that it is better to present nouns in a list together with an article, rather than indicating the grammatical gender in brackets. Why? Individually learning, memorising and storing in long-term memory the gender of every TL word seems like a boring, cumbersome and ultimately impossible task. Far more successful is to present and practise words with their …

On progressives and traditionalists

I was reading a blog post by Greg Ashman in which he listed six ways to know whether you are a progressive teacher. Among them was this:

"You believe that learning should be natural.

This is probably the fundamental tenet of progressivism and it leads to some of the others. Have you ever noticed how children effortlessly learn to speak or walk? Have you noticed how they figure out how to play with a new toy? Do you think that education should be like that; joyful and natural?

If so, you will be suspicious of activities that look forced and unnatural such as drill and practice. You will be skeptical of phonics instruction in reading, not because you think children shouldn’t learn letter-sound relationships but because you don’t think they should be drilled in them. They should instead pick this up by reading real, authentic books; a more natural method."

This, of course, will ring a bell if you are interested in debates about language teaching approaches. Supporters of natura…

Elodie aide les sans-abri à Lorient

Here is a video listening worksheet I have just written to support the topic of volunteering in the new AQA AS/A-level. It could be used with an excellent Y11 class (high intermediate).

Bénévolat : Elodie aide les sans-abri à Lorient 2m 2s

Ecoutez et remplissez les blancs.

1. Elodie habite à Lorient en ________.
2. Elle a participé à un _________ Jeunes bénévoles.
3. Elle veut que les gens prennent _________ qu’on peut très tôt ________ bénévole.
4. Elle s’est ________ auprès des ____________ de la nuit.
5. Elle pense qu’il est ___________ que les sans-abris ______ qu’il y a des gens qui pensent à ___.
6. L’association est __________ d’élèves et de professeurs d’un ______ à Lorient.
7. Elle _______ deux fois par mois les ____ de Lorient.
8. Elle aide les sans-abris en leur __________ de la nourriture, des __________ et des boissons chaudes.
9. Elle a ___________ l’association par le biais de son lycée qui _________ l’entraide et la _______…

Retirement four years on

Four years have slipped quickly by since I gave up my job at Ripon Grammar School. I only rarely dream of teaching classes now, stress levels are down, but I soon discovered that I couldn't stop thinking about resources, methodology and sharing ideas. "Semi-retired" describes my situation well.

You see, when I began teaching in 1980 I had two possible ambitions: one was to be a Head of Department and the other, more uncertain, was to get into training teachers. I achieved the first ambition by the age of 32 and enjoyed 24 years leading some great teachers at Ripon. The second route really became unrealistic as teacher training moved gradually out of university education departments and into schools. It's also true that I would have missed teaching if I had gone into teacher education.

Since July 2012 I have kept my hand in by writing lots of resources for, which, with over 1400 schools/teachers subscribing, has become more successful than I had envi…

Do your own thing!

At this time of changing exam specifications in England and Wales teachers are particularly focused on the details of syllabus content. Some topics, both at GCSE and A-level, have disappeared, others are new. Of particular concern to me has been the sidelining of the environment topic at A-level. However, whenever I read of teachers (understandably) worrying over these issues I feel the need to point out that they have more freedom to be their own boss than they might think.

True, you have to make sure that students are prepared for assessment and time is severely limited, but if you bear in mind that much language is transferable from topic to topic, you can teach texts and topics which do not feature in the syllabus. My own experience taught me to skip over or pay lip service to topics or tasks which were not motivating for students. For example, I'd happily spend little or no time on going to the post office, visiting the dentist, buying clothes in a shop or asking for leaflets…

A relative pronoun game

Qui and que cause a lot of problems for English-speaking learners of French because of interference problems from English. English uses the relative pronoun which or that (or nothing at all), irrespective of whether the pronoun is the subject or object. In English we have the added complication that who is used as a relative pronoun when the pronoun refers to a person. French uses qui when the referent is the subject of the verb in its clause and que when it's the object. You can explain all this and give examples. You can also say that in most cases qui is followed directly by a verb (intervening object pronouns are the main exception).

My guess is that, in the long run, students get competent with these by practice and having a good feel for them. In other words, by hearing, reading and using them a lot, they will pick them up naturally. Some students will also find the grammatical explanation hard to understand.

Here is a useful game, or "game-like activity" which mak…

Peppa Pig on frenchteacher

This is by way of a reminder that, among the many video listening worksheets I have on frenchteacher, I have some popular ones based on Peppa Pig videos from YouTube. In case you do not know, the principle behind my video listening sheets is that each worksheet links to an online video pitched at an appropriate level. These can be set for homework or done in class, either in a computer room or with tablets, or as a teacher-led activity.

I have just been updating the links on a few of these sheets since some had gone dead. Please do let me know if you find any other dead links. In every case I would urge you to check links before you use a sheet in class or give one out for homework.

In general I like my worksheets to contain lots of French since this provides extra comprehensible input to maximise learning and long-term acquisition.

Here is an example:

Peppa Cochon – Les crêpes   4m 59s
D’abord: du vocabulaire important!du lait – milk          …

Learning strategies

I've put together in one long blog my five blog series on learning strategies. You could use this for departmental discussion or to inform schemes of work/curriculum plans. This is co-authored with Gianfranco Conti of The Language Gym. When we wrote The Language Teacher Toolkit we had to do some pruning in the final edit and this is from a chapter about learning strategies which we did not include.



What makes a good language learner? Can we teach students ways of improving their own learning? ‘Learning strategies’ have come into focus since the 1970s and often feature as add-ons to the latest textbooks. We refer to them a number of times in our book, notably in our chapters about listening and reading. They are about teaching students how to learn and have been described as “a set of actions taken by the learner that will help make language learning more effective – i.e. will help a learner learn, store, retrieve and use information” (Norbert Pachler et al, 2014…