Wednesday, 19 October 2016

1jour1question videos

One of my go-to sources for advanced level video listening is the set of short videos from Milan Presse, made available on YouTube. Each 1jour1question video. If you've never come across this excellent clips you can find them on this YouTube channel:

Each video lasts 1m 43s, an ideal length for doing intensive "input-output" work, including true-false, ticking true sentences, gap-filling, matching and questions in French or English. Many of the videos are a good basis for further discussion or fit well with common themes in your syllabus. Written for French native speakers aged around 10-14, the content remains appropriate for older non-natives, while the language is clearly spoken at a natural (quite fast pace).

The range of topics is huge, many sparked off by current events of the time. This means that some of them have now lost that currency, but many have a good shelf life. (They're the ones I use for

Here are some of the titles to give you a flavour:

Ça sert à quoi, la Palme d'or?
C'est quoi, le terrorisme?
Pas plus de 2 degrés: d'où vient cet objectif pour le climat?
C'est quoi, la dyslexie?
La crise des réfugiés expliquée aux enfants.
C'est quoi, la maladie d'Alzheimer?
Pourquoi des attentats ont-ils eu lieu à Paris?
Pourquoi des ados partent-ils faire le Djihad?
Est-ce vrai que les filles sont meilleures que les garçons à l'école?
Pourquoi y a-t-il plusieurs Bacs ?

Each video features drawn cartoons, some text and a voice-over. Content is interesting, informative and balanced.

All in all, well worth using with your A-level classes and some able Higher Tier (high intermediate) students.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Nifty ways to use a smartphone in class

When I taught I didn't make huge use of tech, though like most teachers I had my favourite activities. I wasn't much of a phone user either, but many teachers do interesting things with smartphones. Schools have rules about phone use, of course, some have. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), some ban them outright or more commonly ban their use in class. Many language teachers find the restrictions on phones a bit frustrating and just ignore no-use rules (I don't blame them really, as long as use is tightly monitored).

The phone or phablet is an amazing resource in your pocket. How can it be used in the languages classroom in productive ways? Thanks to colleagues on Twitter and Facebook for some of the ideas below. All can, of course, be done with a tablet.

I never did most of these and would only say what I usually do about tech: does it give you a good return on investment? Is the task at least as productive as a non-tech alternative?

Conversing with a digital assistant

IPhone has Siri, Android/Google phones have the newly named Google Assistant (hitherto known as Google Now). In case you were unaware, you can ask your phone questions in your chosen language (just use settings) and make a note of the answers, receiving good quality language input in the process. You could set a number of questions which your students have to ask then the students make a note or transcribe the answers they receive.

Listening to podcasts or watching video

You don't need a tablet or computer to do useful listening tasks. If the bandwidth is sufficient, students can watch an online video or listen to an audio podcast while doing a comprehension exercise. The video listening sheets on fit the bill well. Advanced students could use News in Slow French or its equivalents in other languages. Audio Lingua is another great source of listening, as is the brilliant Lyrics Training which allows you to follow song videos and do gap-filling of lyrics.

Some teachers use Google Classroom to share online videos with students.

I've always believed that tech is at its best when it provides great quality language input.

Using instant messaging

As a writing exercise, pupils can send each other messages via a social medium such as Facebook. Instant messaging is one of the main reasons for writing these days, so messaging gives writing a real life purpose in the classroom. You'd just need to be sure your class would do the task properly and be prepared to monitor it carefully.

You can also use SnapChat to have students send recordings of speaking assessments to a central class account. Some teachers report that students are less self-conscious working in this fashion.

Gianfranco Conti has written about "interactional writing" in detail here

Recording audio and video

Students can read aloud, perform dialogues and sketches, then listen back to their performance or upload it to YouTube. The benefits of this hardly need spelling out. They could even send target languages messages to someone else. Some teachers also get pupils to video role-plays and sketches. Students can also record memorable class songs, e.g. simple tunes for verb chanting; these can also be set as ringtones. Audioboo and Spreaker are apps you can use for recording podcasts.

Pupils can record the teacher speaking, then listen at home. This could be a grammar explanation or some target language for summary or some other task.

Pupils could keep a photo or video record of an exchange or study trip abroad, then share it via social media. they could also record conversations with an exchange partner.


It's common practice nowadays to photograph things for later reference. Students can therefore take a picture of language on the board to use for revision or pass on to an absent friend. In schools where pupils can't take textbooks home, pages can be photographed for homework. Dyslexic pupils can find this particularly useful. Some teachers get students to write on their tables with felt-tip pens, then photograph their work. Images can be saved on OneDrive, Google Drive or Evernote, for example. Some pupils just like to show their work to family members.

The Office Lens app trims, enhances and makes pictures of whiteboard
Notes and documents more readable. It can convert images to editable Word and PowerPoint documents.

One teacher says she gets her students to take a picture of the view from their bedroom and send it to a friend to be described in the TL. Another has an alternative to the Postit note method of learning vocabulary. Pupils take a picture of a list of words and us it as a lock screen image.

Students can photograph a vocabulary list to be learned and look at it on the way to school.

Using phone as a timer alarm/buzzer

Many paired or small group tasks involve a time limit. Since pupils frequently don't wear watches, the phone becomes the obvious means of counting down tasks.

Assessment for learning

Some teachers enjoy using Plickers. Plickers lets you poll your class, without the need for pupils to have their own device. You give each student a card (a “paper clicker”), and use your smartphone or tablet to scan them to do instant checks-for-understanding, exit tickets, and impromptu polls. The data is automatically saved, student-by-student, at Plickers.

Socrative is also used for interacting with classes in various ways. There are versions for the teacher and pupil.

Behaviour management

ClassDojo is a behaviour management tool. Each pupil has a profile – complete with their own avatar – to which you can attach positive and negative points ('dojos') throughout the lesson. The programme can be operated from a phone, tablet or computer and each time you award a point an (optional) sound plays to alert the class. This information is recorded on students' profiles so that it can be reviewed throughout the year. Parents also have logins so that they can view their child's achievements from home. Class Dojo is quite widely used.

One teacher has written:

"I have so far introduced ClassDojo into MFL lessons in two schools, and the results from both were very positive. All students, including a student with SEN who rarely engages with the classroom activities, have been motivated and actively participating in lessons. During the trial lesson in which I introduced ClassDojo for the first time, every single pupil in the room contributed verbally to the lesson and had put their hand up to volunteer an answer. Disruptive behaviour was reduced considerably and all pupils worked hard to not have points deducted from them. In all of the lessons taught with ClassDojo, pupils were without a doubt more engaged and were focused on constructing complex sentences spontaneously in order to earn the extra bonus points won by using the language independently in class."

Too Noisy is a fun little app which records noise levels and displays them graphically on a phone or on the interactive whiteboard. The app can be programmed to react when noise levels go beyond a certain point. Tech geeks might like this for pair and group work.


Edmodo: "With intuitive features and unlimited storage, quickly create groups, assign homework, schedule quizzes, manage progress, and more. With everything on one platform, Edmodo is designed to give you complete control over your digital classroom." I'll have to take their word for it, but I know many teachers find it very useful.


Kahoot, Memrise, Quizlet, Duolingo, Cramit, Brainscape, Bitsboard, Zondle, StudyStack. Most apps are of the vocabulary/flashcard type which I'm not a huge fan of personally, but some teachers and pupils really like them.

Memrise is one of the most popular vocabulary apps. Some teachers have pupils use it while setting up at the start of a lesson or packing away at the end. Why not encourage students to use it on the bus?

Quizlet Live can be used to pit teams against each other.

QR codes

Aurélie Charles has produced a useful Prezi all about QR codes in MFL.

There are more ideas here

Dictionary work

Probably a marginally quicker way to get the meaning of a word. For advanced students Wordreference provides a wider range of references than any paper dictionary you'd find in a classroom. Teachers also use Larousse and Linguee. Other online French dictionaries are listed on Specific dictionary tasks can be set. How many of us still use paper dictionaries?


I'm told that some advanced level students use their phones for researching topics in class. Maybe their eyesight is better than mine. They could certainly plug in their headphones and watch/listen to film extracts and interviews with actors and directors.


Students can create their own blogs and update them with their phones. I am writing this post lying in my bed with the radio on on my iPad using BlogPress, an app which works with Blogger. (Too much information?)

Interactive grammar

Languages Online, Language Gym and Conjugemos are widely used. Textivate is also used for grammar as well as all sorts of comprehension and text manipulation tasks. A tablet may suit these sites a bit better than a phone, though.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Parallel texts on frenchteacher

Many teachers and pupils have enjoyed using the parallel texts on frenchteacher. In case you don't know what they are, I'm talking about two texts, presented side by side, one in the target language, the other in English. Texts if this sort can be found on the Y7-10/11 pages of my site. I confess that I was never a huge fan of parallel texts when I taught. They went against my instinct and training which were to avoid using English as far as possible. Why would students bother to decipher or discover a new text if they can simply glance across at its English translation?

However, there are solid reasons for making use of parallel texts. Firstly, you can get pupils to read texts closer to their maturity level than many you find in text books. You can use more complex language than you might have done without a translation. This should make texts more interesting to students.

Secondly, showing the English translation leaves pupils in no doubt at all what the text means. Despite our best efforts at making target language transparent to students, many remain confused and welcome a clear translation. Some teachers believe that we should always make sure that all language is understood, that all input is comprehensible. Translation makes this possible. We should not, they argue, be so dogmatic about TL use that we sacrifice students' understanding.

That said, showing English does potentially discourage students from engaging carefully with the source text. There is value is forcing students to go through the process of decoding a text whose meaning is not at first apparent.

If you are a fan of the parallel text, there are plenty to choose from on On the Y7 page you can print off a whole booklet of parallel texts featuring topics I thought might interest beginners: dolphins, spiders, meerkats, sharks, vampires, the Channel Tunnel, the Eiffel Tower and many more. On the Y8 page you'll find slightly longer texts on robots, the Tour de France, Cinderella and the game Minecraft.

The Y9 page has articles about migration to Europe, fair trade, a heroic charity walk and two 'faits divers', a man who falls from a balcony and a girl abandoned at a motorway service station. On the Y10-11 page you'll find zombies, Islamic State, Maglev trains, superheroes, phobias and more.

Along with each pair of texts there are exercises which force students to engage with the text in the TL: true/false, ticking correct sentences, completing vocab lists and so on. This means that you and the pupils can remain largely in the target language, while having the benefit of seeing the Menai g of the source text.

Finding interesting reading for younger students is always a challenge. Parallel texts are one way of providing material which might tickle their fancy.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 7 October 2016

AQA teacher support materials for AS and A-level

Just in case you were unaware of these, AQA has been posting support resources for MFL teachers. I worked on the French ones on their behalf. You'll find a number of useful resources. Navigate from this address:

They are:

- Model AS-level French, German and Spanish translations with mark schemes. There are five English to TL and five TL to English. These give a clear idea of the level and how they are marked.

- Guides to teaching literature and film. These were produced partly for the benefit teachers who have never taught literature or film, but should provide some fresh ideas to experienced practitioners. You'll find comprehensive checklists of types of activity you could do with texts and films, along with a suggested timetable of tasks.

- An Individual Research Project guide. This may already be on your radar if you teach A-level. It should prove useful next year. This is probably the area which teachers will have most questions about, particularly regarding the amount of support teachers are allowed to offer.

- A comprehensive list of resource links for the set texts and films. We scoured the internet to find out what resources exist to support the teaching of the books and films. It is AQA's intention to provide extra resources for works where existing support is thin. Just to remind you, however, that your first stop for all the books and films should be Steve Glover's site.

- A webcast giving general information about the AQA courses.

- Information about recommended textbooks.

- A suggested scheme of work which teachers may find of use.

- A limited selection of other individual teaching resources. There are plenty more on the Teachit Languages site, which is in the AQA stable.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Should you change your method for some classes?

You may know that I often blog about the two ends of the second language learning spectrum: comprehensible input (learning seen to be similar to child language acquisition) and skill-acquisition (learning seen as the automatisation of skills where learning a language is likened to any sort of learning of a complex skill). I find myself sitting somewhere in the middle of that spectrum since my hunch is that both ideas have their merits.

I have also suggested elsewhere that it is quite possible to incorporate aspects of both approaches in a course, killing two birds with one stone, if you like. So-called comprehensible input practitioners include a large amount of recycling of high frequency language in their lessons. Who is to say if acquisition is occurring unconsciously or by the repetition of a skill? I don't think we can know the answer to that at present.

But what if one approach is more suitable than another for different categories of student?

You see, proponents of comprehensible input argue that their approach is appropriate for students of all abilities. They argue that because every young child picks up a language at a broadly similar rate, second language learners at school should be able to do the same if the conditions are right, i.e. if they are exposed to interesting, meaningful, controlled input. Acquisition is easy, they say. They also claim that traditional methods ("legacy methods", they might call them) are biased towards students who succeed academically, since they prioritise pattern-spotting, memorising, explicit teaching of grammar, puzzle-solving and so on.

On the other hand, those who argue for a more cognitive, skill-building approach might say: yes, but we have a duty to all children to let them learn in the most efficient way, by focusing a fair degree on form, doing structured practice, making rules transparent and so on. Comprehensible input takes too long. Input alone is too woolly and doesn't give sufficient priority to output practice and explanation. Acquisition is actually hard and time-consuming, they say. Skill-acquisition lets you take short-cuts.

As an aside, it's worth recalling what the academic SLA scholar Michael Long has written about this apparent dichotomy. When you go into most classrooms teachers are often doing similar things. CI teachers are explaining some grammar and doing structured practice, while skill-building teachers are providing plenty of comprehensible input. Things aren't as clear-cut as they might appear.

So, in a school setting, is there any merit in adjusting the approach depending on  certain factors. these might be:

The ability profile of the students

If you have a class of lower ability, possibly poorly motivated students, would you persist with so-called legacy methods which may not have worked in the past and which the pupils find boring? Or was it that the traditional approach was just badly done by many teachers whose expectations were too low? On the other hand, if you teach well-motivated, relatively able pupils, would you prioritise a skill-acquisition approach because it has worked in the past and gets results?

The longer term goals of the students

If you know that most of your students will stop doing a language at the age of 14 would you reject skill-building approaches the benefit of which might take a long time to be seen? Would you focus on simply maximising the interest value of your lessons and not bother much if the students cannot conjugate verbs or make adjectives agree?

Alternatively, if you know that a percentage of your pupils are in it for the long haul and may become quite fluent linguists, would you focus to a greater extent on grammatical form, automatising skills and so on, aware that a small percentage of your students will become proficient and accurate language-users?

The timetable

What if you only see your classes once a week for an hour or two? Will your pupils have enough time to build up skills, or might you prefer to abandon this unattainable goal and focus more on some situational language and cultural input which may benefit them for future study or just give them a broader vision of the world?

If you see your class four times a week you have a much greater chance of getting skills to stick. For many pupils they do.

The exams they will ultimately do

If you know that nearly all your students will enter for GCSE and some will take the language further this will alter your ambitions straight away. But does this necessarily mean prioritising skill-acquisition over comprehensible input, meaning-driven approaches? Again, I would be tempted to take a middle-ground view, in the absence of any really convincing research evidence.

If you know that your pupils will end up doing no high-stakes exam, you may be tempted to focus, as above, on meaning, culture and enjoyable activity. You may want to get students looking at short-term, attainable goals, rather than offering the promise of long-term achievement.

One problem is that when we start working with students we cannot be sure where their path will end. But you may have a fair idea based on your own school's context.

It's a quandary.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Murder Mystery Game

This is for advanced students and is adapted from an example I used to use from a file of activities called Drama in Language Teaching (no longer published). You spend at least 30 minutes in non-stop target language discussion.

You explain to your group that the head teacher of a school has been murdered. You then hand out some slips of paper which contain clues to what happened. The students have to work out between themselves who committed the murder, how and why. This works best when you almost completely withdraw from the task, letting the students themselves work out who committed the crime. Here are the clues (imagine them in the target language) which you would cut out and hand out, two or three to each students depending on the size of the group.

Dr Jones the physics teacher thinks he’s a cowboy and plays with a lasso in the lab
Mrs Jay the secretary is making more and more mistakes and is worried she will get fired
Mr Davies the deputy principal is highly ambitious and would like to take over the head’s job
Miss Broom, the Spanish teacher, recently met a Colombian man who is in a drug-smuggling ring
The head teacher has learned about Miss Broom’s relationship and is going to report it to the police
The deputy principal was in the Head’s office at 11.55 for a meeting
The Head was found murdered in his office at 12.15
The secretary made a cup of coffee for the head at 11.00
The police discovered traces of a slow-acting poison in a waste paper bin in the secretary’s office
The secretary took in a cup of coffee to the Head at 11.05
The Head was suffering from a heart condition which made him susceptible to chemical stimulants
At 11.20 the PE teacher, Mr Casey, was seen in the gym carrying a knife with something red on it
When the Head’s body was discovered his finger had a cut on it and he was bleeding slightly
The PE teacher went to see the Head at 11.45 to tell him about the latest sports results
The Spanish teacher learned from the geography teacher that the head knew about her new boyfriend
The physics teacher learned that he was soon to be fired because of his mental problems
When Mr Davies met the Head in his office he did not have any coffee
The PE teacher asked to borrow a knife from the technology teacher at 10.00
At 12.05 the Head received a telephone call from his board of governors to tell him that he would be losing his job in the summer
My Casey had a conversation with Miss Broom at 11.30. He said he had just had a row with the head about his salary
The physics teacher had a heated conversation with the head in his office at 11.40
When the Head’s body was found there were red marks around his neck
Miss Broom kept a small gun in her handbag
The Italian teacher was asked by the secretary to go and see the Head at 12.00
At 11.20 the deputy principal went to see the Head. They had an argument about the new uniform rules
Mr Mackenzie, the technology teacher, gave a woodworking knife to Mr Casey during break at 11.10
Mr Mackenzie didn’t get on the head teacher very well, but he respected him
The secretary opened a letter at 10.00 addressed to the Head. It was about her imminent dismissal
Miss Broom often visited Italy where she had some friends in the Mafia
During the morning he physics teacher was seen by some students in a corridor. He was carrying some rope
During his meeting with the deputy principal the head complained of indigestion
Miss Broom went to the secretary’s office at 11.00. She left with a smile on her face.

The solution is as follows: having learned that she was about to be dismissed for her incompetence, the secretary poured some slow-acting poison into the head teacher’s coffee. He died of a heart attack at 12.10 as a result of the poison. The Head had cut his neck while shaving that morning and cut his finger on the sharp edge of some paper. . The PE teacher had found the knife on the school field.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Looking for case studies

As part of a book I am writing about becoming an outstanding languages teacher, I'm considering including a section featuring case studies of teachers who are using approaches which might be considered out of the mainstream. By "mainstream" I mean methods rooted in the communicative approach supported by a good deal grammar teaching, practice and vocab learning, for example.

The point I hope to make is that there is no one way of being "outstanding", even if successful teachers follow certain essential principles, primarily the one of exposing pupils to lots of recycled target language. (I can't imagine a successful approach which did not do that.)

The TPRS approach is an example of a non-mainstream approach, since it apparently lays so little emphasis on grammar practice, so I'd be particularly keen to hear from a TPRS practitioner with a strong track record of success. No need to be modest!

AIMlang is another popular, but non-mainstream approach, which could be good to hear about. Again, I'd need to hear from a teacher whose classes do particularly well and who has a reputation for excellence in their school.

There may even good old-fashioned grammar-translation supporters who, contrary to popular opinion, manage to produce successful communicators!

I would hope to provide a general rationale for the approach, followed by a description of typical classroom activities or even a model lesson plan. I must stress again that any approach must be one which produces noticeably excellent results. This could be with pupils of any ability.

If you'd be interested in helping me out or would like more detail (it's also a chance to showcase your approach), contact me at

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Review of Teach Now! Modern Foreign Languages

Teach Now! Modern Foreign Languages (Becoming a Great Modern Foreign languages Teacher) is written by teacher Sally Allan and was published by Routledge in 2015. It's a practical handbook aimed fairly and squarely at MFL teacher trainees in England and Wales. It's one of the Teach Now series of handbooks edited by Geoff Barton. Sally is Assistant Head Teacher at the Forest Hall School, Stansted Mountfitchet, England.

Chapter titles include curriculum (what are the key components and challenges in teaching MFL?), essentials of pedagogy, planning and assessing, differentiation chapters dedicated to behaviour, dealing with pressure and applying for a new post.

At around 150 pages the book is brief and to the point. Experienced teachers would find it lacking in analytical detail, but for trainees it gives a decent account of major issues. The longest chapter is the first one about curriculum matters. It is sub-divided into sections on target language, the communicative approach, the four skills (including checklists of suggested activity types), teaching grammar and vocabulary and developing a 'have-a-go' culture.

There is little dogmatic here; for example, Sally does not try to make a case for target language at any cost and she has clearly had experience working with students of varying abilities. You'll find a good deal of common sense advice, along with a fair number of teaching ideas, usually glossed over quickly. I would have thought young trainees would find the chapters on job applications, dealing with pressure and interview advice particularly relevant.

The book is very lightly referenced, as befits a handbook of this type, but has a useful, if selective, further reading list including. The only general handbook referred to are the ones by David Nunan from 1991 and Gill Ramage's slim but useful handbook from 2012.

Overall Sally has produced a very clear, concise and straightforward handbook, appropriate for its target readership, written in an easy and personal style and which introduces novices to a good range of aspects of modern language teaching in England and Wales.

Question types and circling

In recent years there has been a focus in schools on using questioning effectively. In professional development sessions question types are analysed, teachers learn about interesting things such as Bloom’s taxonomy and teachers are urged to employ deeper levels of questioning whenever possible.
In language lessons, however, questions are used in a different way. In most cases we don’t use questions to explore concepts and help students get to deeper levels of meaning. In our field questions and other interactions are used mainly as a device to provide TL input and opportunities to practise. 

This means that questions may be quite shallow and even artificial (where is the pen?), but have the important goal of getting students to learn and practise the language.  Exceptions to this might be when we question students about grammatical concepts in English or, with advanced students, when we talk about issues at a higher level, using the TL as a means of communication as we would in English.
Let’s look at different types of questions you can use and how you can do effective question-answer or ‘circling’ (a term mainly used in North America). Below is a hierarchy of questions moving from least to most demanding for students.

Question type
True/false statement.
Tom is a cat. True or false?
Students simply process a statement rather than a question form where the sentence structure varies. Students just have to produce true or false.
Yes/no question through intonation.
Tom’s a cat?
Students just say yes or no. there is no question form to decode. The pitch shows it’s a question.
Yes/no question.
Is Tom a cat?
Students have to do a little more decoding here, but still only have to say yes or no.
Either/or question.
Is Tom a cat or a dog?
A little more decoding required, but students only have to choose between two options they are given.
Multiple-choice question.
Is Tom a dog, cat, elephant or crocodile?
Slightly harder than the above because of added options.
Question word question.
What is Tom?
Hardest question type since the students can’t use much in the input to help them produce their answer.

In doing question-answer work with beginners you can use these questions in order of difficulty, reusing vocabulary repeatedly. Students are happy to go along with the artificiality of the exchange. With higher level students you could choose question types to differentiate between students, saving the highest order questions for the most able.

This type of circling can be used to work on a single statement.

e.g. Donald arrived with his friends at the party at 10 o’clock.

Donald arrived at a party. True or false?
Did Donald arrive at the cinema?
Did Donald arrive with his friends or on his own?
Did Donald arrive at 9.00, 10.00 or 11.00?
When did Donald arrive?
Where did he go?
Who did he go with?
What time did he arrive?
Have you been to a party recently?
Who did you go with?
What did you do there?
What did you eat and drink?

Note how it’s useful to personalise questions whenever possible to raise interest. It’s often said that adolescents are quite self-focused and that teachers can use this fact to their advantage when planning topics and lessons. Now, there are clearly limits to what you can do with this technique. You don’t want to be too repetitive, but having a clear awareness of your full range of question types is valuable while the technique allows you to recycle a great deal of high frequency language, which is fundamental for acquisition.

For more about questioning and, in particular, Bloom's Taxonomy, see this by Gianfranco Conti: