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Showing posts from August, 2016

Classroom seating arrangements

Through my teaching career I experimented with a number of desk arrangements: rows, cabaret style, horseshoes and double horseshoes. In later years I regularly used rows for large groups and a single horseshoe for groups below about 12 students (most A-level classes).

I think my temptation to used grouped tables, cabaret style, was a vague feeling that it was less formal and that it suited pair and small group work. On reflection I believe it was a bad idea.

What does research say?

This piece of research seems to confirm what common sense suggests.

I have seen this confirmed in other studies. Let me quote from the abstract:

"Seating arrangements are important classroom setting events because they have the potential to help prevent problem behaviours that decrease student attention and diminish available instructional time.... Eight studies that investigated at least two of three common arrangements (i.e., rows, groups or se…

Selling resources or sharing for free?

I come across quite a few teachers on social media unhappy that teachers sell their resources on sites like TES. They say that this is against the spirit of teaching and that we should share freely.

There are a few points I'd like to make about this.

Sharing stuff for free is great. I did it for 10 years via and often still do via my site, my blog or on TES (to a very limited extent). We shared worksheets in our departments for years. But I have no objection at all to teachers earning money for the fruits of their labours.

Teachers are not paid like solicitors, doctors and accountants. If they put in extra time for the benefit of other teachers I see no problem with them being paid.  We are all used to buying from publishers and think nothing of it. A teacher who has written a resource effectively becomes a self-publisher. I, like many teachers, feel a little uncomfortable about being an entrepreneur, but you quickly get used to it. In my case, once I had retired…

L'affaire burkini

Here is a good starter activity for your A-level students this year - maybe even a main course! Perhaps better done sooner than later while the topic is still fresh in minds. It may have a while to run yet. I'm assuming you have been keeping up to date with the French mayors' decision to ban burkinis on some beaches and the French upper court (Conseil d'Etat) deeming it illegal. Well, someone posted this picture on Twitter (I don't know its provenance, but I'll happily remove it if anyone objects). I'll offer you some good questions in French to generate discussion and widen students' knowledge and critical skills.

Some key vocabulary first:

un burkini (burqini) - tenue de bain intégrale
un maillot de bain - swimming costume
un bikini
une combinaison de plongée - wetsuit
un habit de religieuse - nun's habit
une bonne soeur/une religieuse - nun
un symbole - symbol
ostentatatoire- ostentatious, showy
un voile intégral - full body veil
un burqa, un niqab, …

Another look Languages Resources by Samantha Broom

Samantha Broom has had her website online for quite a few years now. It had a refresh some time ago. Many teachers and pupils must have benefited from her work over the years. If you haven't come across it, do take a look. There are resources for five languages, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese. I'll concentrate on the French materials in this post.

From the home page navigate to French from the drop-down menu at the top, not the Babbel "Practise French" advert.

Although there are a few A-level resources on Maupassant and Molière, the bulk of them are for near beginners and intermediates (GCSE). Topics include: personal information, daily life, home and abroad, healthy lifestyle, basics and Christmas.

If we take just one sub-section of the Home and Abroad category, holidays, you see a menu of over 50 resources, principally Word docs, but also some PowerPoints. there is a mixture of worksheets, presentations, games, cue cards, texts, gapped texts, Titl…

On marking and feedback

Ofsted have just given guidance to their inspectors that they should not be evaluating the marking of student work.

In 2013 I wrote a blog about marking and in The Language Teacher Toolkit we included a section about marking, partly based on that blog. I'd like to come back to the issue now.

Marking takes us a very considerable part of language teachers' lives, although, if it's any consolation, perhaps less so than the lives of our colleagues who teach English or history. Why do we mark? How much time should we spend on it? How should we do it?

My starting point is this: the main aim of marking is to make sure that students have done their work. Far more important than feedback is the simple point that students have to do the work in the first place, taking as much time and care as possible. My experience, and it may be yours, was that you could not trust a significant number of students to do their work properly unless they knew you would be checking it, reading it caref…

Review: Penny Ur's 100 Teaching Tips

I have always enjoyed reading Penny Ur's books about language teaching. Penny is well-known in the field of English language teaching (EFL) and has recently retired from full-time teaching. This slim volume, part of the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers, is rich in wisdom, expressed in an informal and lucid fashion.

The 100 tips, one per page, are divided into 18 sections, covering topics such as: starts and ends, using coursebooks, games, grammar, group work, discipline, homework, listening, pronunciation and teacher talk.

Penny is at pains to say that she is not prescriptive about the points she makes, but almost everything she writes makes great sense to me as a fellow teacher of long experience. She is clearly a methodological pragmatist, noting, for instance, that you need not be dogmatic about target language use - translating a word can be far more efficient that spending ages trying to explain it with definitions and synonyms.

I like her claim that "vocabulary…

Falling modern languages entries at A-level 2016

This is an update of previous blogs following yet another year of decline in A-level modern language entries....

Once again in 2016 the number of students taking A-level languages has declined overall. Even Spanish has failed to buck the trend.

In 1993 nearly 30,000 students entered for A-level French. In 2016 the figure was 9672, down a few hundred from 2015. Just compare with a few other common A-level subjects (I am grateful to Brian Stubbs and JCQ for these figures, which I have rounded up or down in some cases - apologies for formatting):


Maths                   66,000                         86,000
History                 46,000                         52,000
Geography           46,000                         32,000
Physics                38,000                         34,500 (fell, but rising since 2006)
Biology                48,000                         63,000
Chemistry            41,000                         49,000 (fell, but rising since 2003)
Psychology   …

Review: Ici on parle français

I've been sent three spiral-bound books of resources from MLG Publishing for review. These resource-packed, photocopiable books have been recently published and are written by Susan Thomas with Hilary McColl, illustrated by Heather Clarke. All entitled Ici on parle français and with the general theme of generating spontaneous talk, each book has a different emphasis:

1. Classroom talk for real purpsoes
2. Grammar and communication games
3. Primary version

So let's look at each in turn.

1. Classroom talk for real purposes (£25)

After a general introduction about the value of spontaneous talk in the classroom and the difficulty of achieving it, the book is divided into three parts: 1) an introduction about the resources, engaging learners, using language for real purposes, teaching and planning; 2) 32 tasks which emphasise pupil language and 3) 20 tasks which focus more on teacher input, plus ideas for games and activities.

The introduction stresses the importance of speaking wh…

Environment resources on frenchteacher

I thought it was a great shame when the exam boards in England decided to drop the environment from their A-level specifications. Their argument was that it was hard to make the topic fit with the DfE's aim of making topics firmly rooted in the target language culture. They must have thought Ofqual wouldn't wear it. Of note is that the topic still appears in AQA's GCSE specification, as part of the global issues theme.

Maybe it was a marginal decision, but I don't see why teachers couldn't relate environmental issues to individual countries. Just think of France and the areas where the topic could have been worked in:  the use of pesticides in farming, organic food, nuclear energy policy, banning glyphosate weed killers (Roundup), renewable energy, air and water pollution, biodiversity, the growth of solar, electric vehicle production.

At one meeting I led for AQA a dismayed teacher made the point very strongly that the number one issue facing the planet, man-made…

In the mood... for the subjunctive

I am hugely grateful to Sarah Shaw for sending me this guest blog. Sarah's background is in advanced level French teaching in England. It's a lesson plan for teaching the subjunctive to advanced level students.


Being conscious that students enrolling onto the A-level French course have all had very different experiences of grammar instruction and perhaps more importantly, have very different feelings about their own ability to use previously taught structures and to tackle new structures, has strongly influenced how I approach the ‘teaching’ of grammar.

I have always enjoyed exploring creative strategies to do this in a way that not only aims to develop the students’ use of a wide range of structures, but also endeavours to break down the anxiety that some students have about grammar, to build confidence around understanding and application, to spark curiosity and develop instinct.

I have found an effective way to…

Tackling the MFL teacher shortage

If you are teaching in England you may well be aware that the government intention is for nearly all young people to study a language as part of the Ebacc suite of qualifications. That means GCSE MFL for nearly all by 2020. The "nearly all" is not yet totally clear. Some are saying that about 90% of pupils will be expected to do a language to GCSE level. Bear in mind, however, that most schools are under no obligation to follow this directive and the evidence seems to be that many will not. Schools who do not enter enough pupils for the Ebacc have been told they cannot be graded "outstanding" by Ofsted, but even this powerful inducement may not have the desired effect.

To achieve the 90%-plus rate of GCSE entry schools will need to recruit many more language teachers. By one estimate this means 2000 new teachers. There is already a shortage of MFL staff, more noticeable in some areas than others. The government is aware of the issue. It knows that the supply of uni…