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Tips for target language teaching

Here is a list of tips for using the target language (L2) we included in The Language Teacher Toolkit. Our popular 360 page handbook which includes model lesson plans for French, German and Spanish is available here. We would even dare to suggest that every languages department would benefit from having a copy. One school in England, Oundle School, bought a copy for each of their teachers. How nice of them!

The book is liberally sprinkled with practical tips like those below, along with references to research, advice on pedagogy and discussion of issues in language teaching.

v  Have some sort of sign or signal indicating when only L2 is allowed, e.g. a flag.
v  Apologise to the class for using L1 to set the right tone and show you are one of them.
v  Give rewards to students who never use L1.
v  Make maximum use of gesture, realia and pictures.
v  Set challenges, e.g. "I am going to talk to you for 3 minutes about my weekend in (L2). Write down notes in L1 and I'll see how much you picked up" (then check understanding in L2: “tell me in in (L2) anything I did”).
v  If a student asks you something in L1, give a quizzical look and say you don't understand.
v  Use cognates where possible if you feel the class needs it.
v  Slow down your speech, but not too much.
v  Use plenty of aural gap fill: "I'm going to start a sentence, you finish it" or "I'm going to end a sentence, how would you start it?"
v  Do not be overly concerned with accuracy, except when the task demands it. Decide if the aim of your lesson is to focus on accuracy or general proficiency.
v  Use phonics-style activities to generate a sense of fun by making strange sounds.
v  Use mini-whiteboards to keep all pupils active during L2 work.
v  Use students as interpreters after you have spoken in L2; you could have a chosen student each lesson – ‘interpreter for the day’.
v  You could give points for ‘spontaneous’ L2 talk from pupils.
v  Use L2 talk as students walk in, e.g. counting to 20 (books out by 20), reciting the alphabet, chanting/singing days and months.
v  Try to make focus of computer/tablet work on input (e.g. video listening, interactive grammar and comprehension) rather than devoting too much time to producing ‘digital artefacts’ where non-linguistic concerns can often overwhelm any language learning benefits.
v  Consider testing vocabulary in L2 if possible; this works for some areas where definitions and gesture can be used e.g. kitchen vocabulary, furniture and clothing. Make sure you warn students they are going to be tested this way, or they will think it is unfair. Matching tasks in L2 may work well.
v  When a student makes a mistake, sympathetically ‘recast’ their response in a correct form to provide further input.
v  Use L2 with colleagues in front of the class, perhaps talking about the class itself. Visitors such as the head teacher or principal will often be happy to ‘play the game’.


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What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…