Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Parent-child scenarios for role playing

Try these with advanced level groups. They should work well. This sheet is from

Imaginez les conversations. Une personne joue le rôle du parent, l’autre de l’adolescent

  1. Le parent vient de recevoir un coup de téléphone du directeur de l’école. Celui-ci a dit que l’adolescent a raté quelques cours et qu’il ne fait pas ses devoirs. Il risque de rater le bac.
  1. En rangeant la chambre de sa fille, le parent a trouvé des pilules contraceptives dans le tiroir d’une table de chevet.
  1. L’adolescent explique au parent qu’il est victime de cyber-intimidation. Un autre élève envoie des SMS offensifs et le prend en photo sans permission.
  1. L’adolescent annonce à son parent qu’il ne veut plus aller à l’université.
  1. L’adolescent veut faire un petit job tous les weekends. Le parent n’est pas d’accord.
  1. Le parent sent l’odeur du cannabis dans la chambre de l’adolescent et décide d’aborder le problème avec son enfant.
  1. Le parent rentre en fin de soirée pour trouver que la maison est très en désordre après une fête.
  1. Le parent et l’adolescent discutent si l’enfant devrait étudier les langues ou les sciences à l’université.
  1. L’adolescent a décidé qu’il veut faire le tour du monde avant d’aller à la fac. Le parent n’est pas d’accord.
10. L’enfant rentre tard dans sa voiture en état d’ivresse. C’est la deuxième fois que cela s’est produit.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Cultural topics on

Some teachers may be in the process of thinking about what cultural topics they intend to teach with their advanced level students next year or beyond. I thought I'd just remind you about some of the areas covered quite well on

In literature there are worksheets, exercises and links for Les Mains Sales by Sartre, L'Etranger and La Peste by Camus, Germinal by Zola, Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roché (a brilliant novel written in a charmingly simple style) and Les Petits Enfants du Siècle by Christiane Rochefort. The latter were produced by my brilliant former colleague Anne Swainston.

Films covered to varying extents are Les 400 Coups, Jules et Jim, Le Dernier Métro, La Nuit Américaine, all by François Truffaut. You will also find four films by Claude Berri: Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Germinal and Lucie Aubrac.

All of these resources were written for A-level classes at Ripon Grammar School. They were all appreciated and, I believe, enjoyed! Worksheets are usually quite detailed and some resources are aimed specifically at England and Wales A-level exams. As well as original resources there are numerous links to useful websites, so the searching has already been done for you.

In addition there are worksheets written by Paul Haywood on Au Revoir les Enfants by Louis Malle.

I should add that another (better) source of excellent A-level cultural topic resources is Steve Glover's A-level French site, which I have reviewed previously here. Steve devotes a good deal of time creating high quality teacher-friendly resources on film, literature and other topics.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Ten ways to exploit a grammar drill worksheet

A worksheet either printed off for students or displayed from the board may seem a dull prospect for a lesson, but if we accept the old adage that "practice makes perfect" they are usually a necessary part of a modern language teacher's armoury. In my experience course books and other resources are often short of examples and do not allow enough opportunities for repetitiver practice. How can we exploit worksheets to the best effect? Here are some approaches, from the blindingly obvious to the more imaginative.

This sort of thing is the "nitty-gritty" of language teaching and is definitely worth thinking through.

1.  Teacher-led approach: teacher reads out prompt, gets an individual to answer, then gets other individuals to repeat, then the whole class to repeat. can be done with hands-up or no hands-up. Former approach allows teacher to pick quicker students as a good role models before weaker ones have a go. Strengths: this approach is very "old-school" but highly effective for attentive classes, supplies lots of target language and allows the teacher to pick out specific students he or she wants to. Good for differentiation. Good for listening. It is easy to maintain class control and the students hear good models i.e. yours. Weaknesses? Demands great attention from weaker classes and only one student speaks at a time, except for group repetition. You need to keep up a brisk pace or attention will quickly wane. many individuals find answering in class embarrassing; does this kind of pressure aid language learning?

2. Pair-work approach. After some whole class practice as above, quickly move to pair work where one partner acts as teacher and the other acts as pupil. Or they can alternate roles. Strengths: students get to say a lot and listen a lot in the target language. They can help each other. there is little embarrassment factor; pressure is off. Weaknesses: class control needs to be good so that students do not speak too much English or waste time. You may insist on a "no English" rule. Students may hear wrong answers and poor models of pronunciation, so do not get optimum comprehensible input.

3. "Rally coach" - from Bob McKay's blog:  rather than having students complete practise exercises in the traditional way, working through a worksheet, the worksheet is split in half and students complete the activities in pairs. As they do, they explain what they are doing to their partner who watches and listens, and, if they need to, questions and critiques. This process reinforces the method in both students’ minds. This lends itself particularly well to differentiation because you can pair stronger students with weaker ones for coaching purposes. Strengths: helps build cooperative spirit. Focuses on analysis and explanation. Good "assessment for learning" technique. Weaknesses: may end up with too much English spoken. Students not getting best oral models. Again, control needs to be effective.

4. Student takes the lead and acts as teacher. After a brief demonstration ask a volunteer, preferably an able one, to step up and run the class. Strengths: similar to (1), though models may be less good. Class will listen extra hard and find the process amusing. The volunteer will learn teaching/leadership skills. Weaknesses: as (1) in as far as each pupil may not end up saying that much. Focus is more on listening. Bad thing?

5. Using mini whiteboards. You can adapt approach one to involve more students actively by giving each student a mini whiteboard or coloured marker. As an answer is given all student must hold up their board with true/false or a marker indicating whether they think the response is correct or wrong. Strengths: as (1) plus more involvement from all the class. Weaknesses: largely as (1).

6. Combine skills: use approach (1) but as attention wanes quickly go to oral prompts with written answers. Then the class could simply work quietly or in pairs doing written responses to the written prompts. Strengths: all students are actively engaged with listening to good models, reading and writing. Good for class control. Insist on silence. Weaknesses: hard to check that all students are keeping up and writing accurate answers. Poor differentiation if teacher controls the pace. When students are working alone there is more chance for going at their own pace and asking questions.

7. Give answers, students choose prompt. This is a simple variation which helps vary the lesson and provide a fresh angle for pupils. Let's say you have a sheet with 15 prompts (sentences, questions etc). Don't read the prompt, but give an answer and pupils have to supply the correct prompt from the sheet. This can be done in pairs. Strengths: this may be an easy way in to a worksheet. Students do not have have to create an utterance, just read one already supplied. Focus on comprehension rather than production. adds variety. Weaknesses: often easier therefore less challenging. No need to show syntactic skill.

8. Supply alternative answers, students choose best one. Again, this has the merit of making a worksheet more approachable for less able students. A student could read aloud a prompt, then the teacher supplies two answers (a) and (b). Students then vote for (a) or (b). Strengths: good for listening comprehension. No pressure. All involved. Weaknesses: little production needed; watch out for peer pressure effect if there is voting.

9. Introduce competitive element. Students working in pairs can award points for correct answers. Strengths: students often like competitions, especially boys? Weaknesses: may lead to arguments and too much use of English.

10. Get students to make up their own examples. Once a group seems to have mastered a point allow them to make up their own examples or even write their own worksheet. Strengths: allows students to be creative, show off their use of their new point, be amusing. provides an excellent homework assignment. Allows students to compare work in the next lesson, try out their worksheet on a partner or the teacher, reinforce the language acquired in the previous lesson. Weaknesses: nothing to speak of, but be sure that all students have mastered the point or it could be a disastrous homework.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Listening is the key

I see that in the government's latest version of GCSE modern languages we are returning to an assessment regime based on 25% of marks awarded to each of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. I really do not know why each skill is valued the same; it has that suspicious look of a government target like the one which aimed for 50% of young people going to university.

Although 4 x 25% is better than the current regime it still seriously overvalues writing and undervalues listening. In my perception of language learning (everyone is entitled to their own since science cannot tell us what works best for every person or teacher), listening is at the heart of everything. When we learn our first language we do so by listening and are spared preparing for vocabulary tests, writing essays and doing translation (which would be a bit tricky). When we learn a second language I am happy to go along with the simple and appealing notion that it is a lot like first language acquisition in that we acquire fluency through, above all else, listening to messages we understand. Reading fulfils a similar but less fundamental role.

Therefore, it seems to me, we should be getting students to listen as much as we can and we should be rewarding this skill as much as possible in our assessment regimes. The more marks we allocate to listening in examinations, the more likely we are to spend time on it in class. If we do more listening, we will not only improve comprehension, but bring about greater oral fluency in our students.

As for writing, as I have written before in this blog, the main reason for doing it in class and for homework is to reinforce the other language skills. In later life very few people will need to write in a foreign language, whereas far more will want to engage in simple conversations. Computer translation is already quite sophisticated and rapidly becoming more so, therefore when the need arises to write in a foreign language people will take advantage of Google Translate or similar. I already use Google Translate to save time when I am adapting material from an English language source. I get a first draft from Google, then correct and adapt it, thus producing more quickly a very acceptable piece of written French. I would need to be a native speaker to do much better.

If I were designing a new GCSE assessment regime and wanted to separate out each skill (we don't have to, by the way), then I would weight the skills roughly as follows:

Listening   30%
Speaking  30%
Reading    25%
Writing     15%

It is worth noting that some ways of assessing oral skills demand some additional assessment of listening as, in the context of a conversation or role play, you have to understand to be able to speak, so marks are bound to be awarded ultimately for listening comprehension.

The truth is that we tend to judge a person's skill in a foreign language by their ability to speak. To do this a person has to be able to listen effectively. Reading has its place in some contexts, writing in fewer.

Is such a devaluation of writing a form of dumbing down? I believe not. Grammatical skill is still assessed as part of speaking assessment and also comes in to listening and reading assessment. One might argue that written papers are the ones some students find hardest and all language teachers have had to endure appalling standards of writing at times. However, many students will also report that speaking and listening are the hardest to do because they require such instant reactions and complex skills.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Retirement one year on

Wow! That year went by quickly. One year ago it was goodbye speeches, presents, emotional farewells and the prospect of being on permanent holiday. What's it been like since then?

I've missed the company of my former colleagues and students and there is no doubt that teaching is one of those jobs which defines you as a person, an activity which furnishes a sense of self-worth, so for me it has been important to continue to keep in touch with education and to be productive. My website and blog have kept me thinking and sharing ideas and resources and these have been default retirement pastimes for me. 

There is a degree of website management needed, dealing with queries and subscriptions. When I was a young teacher I had thought of eventually going into teacher education after being a Head of Department. (Senior management was never of great interest to me.) Sharing ideas and advice through blogging, writing and tweeting has certainly satisfied a need. I really should spend a bit less time checking Twitter, though! I very much enjoyed doing a training session on A-level MFL for the PGCEers at York University and look forward to doing a second one in October.

Beyond that, it has been good to have more time for reading, which was only ever a holiday pastime when I was working - not enough time and energy when I was teaching. The Kindle  has been a great purchase. I've discovered new books and writers, one favourite being Jojo Moyes (romantic fiction, loosely defined), another Peter May (the Isle of Lewis crime trilogy). I've also been enjoying Jo Nesbo's nordic noir crime fiction. I have just read a brilliant, refreshing little novel by R J Palacio called Wonder. Do check it out. Favourite novel read this year? Probably Me Before You, a Richard and Judy recommended book by Jojo Moyes.

There has been more opportunity to travel and be with my wife, with motorhome trips to Scotland and Germany and more time in our French house near La Rochelle. I've also had more time and energy to do some semi-serious exercise at the gym, even managing two or three sessions a week through the winter and spring. Most of us neglect our physical fitness when we are working.

I am a person who has "hobbies" so there has been more time to sing barbershop and play the drums. I joined a second barbershop chorus, took part in the national contest in Bournemouth and improved my singing technique somewhat thanks to some superb musical direction from Sally McLean at the Spirit of Harmony. I also became Chairman of my original barbershop harmony club, the Big County Chorus. We have plans to recruit new members and get better.

I was already playing drums in a pub band called Fischer's Ghost, but I have been devoting a bit more time to improving my moderate drumming skills. I wonder if I should take up another instrument, apart from air guitar.

My gardening skills are improving even if the birds manage to get to a fair proportion of my fruit and veg. If we are not in the garden Elspeth and I like to curl up to DVD box sets or easy TV. This year's obsessions have been Dexter, Homeland, Downton and The Big Bang Theory. We have also enjoyed the blu rays of Start Trek TNG.

In addition I have managed to design a website for our village thanks to Wordpress and an excellent Youtube video. My site has grown considerably and is about to be relooké thanks to my IT man Harry Green, a former student at Ripon Grammar School.

I would say this much: when you retire it's a good idea to keep feeling productive, especially after 33 years of one's daily life being guided by a bell and timetable. It's easy to feel a bit rudderless on occasion, but, that said, I feel I have more energy now, more time to do other things and no regrets about stopping work at 55. I was still enjoying teaching, but, truth be told, I was feeling tired, just a shade bored now and again, and more than a shade irritated by inspections, accountability and targets.

Future plans? I've toyed with the idea of writing something for language teachers, maybe a general guide/manual, drawing on material I have built up over the years on We'll see. I enjoy writing resources so maybe that will keep me satisfied.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Task-centred discussions

The communicative movement taught us one very useful thing: if you give students a real reason to talk, they generally will. Whilst structured, controlled question-answer and pair work have a deserved place, especially at the presentation and practice stage of acquiring new language, they are not what one would call authentic communication. They represent a stylised, artificial form of interchange, a kind of game playing which most students will go along with, though not all.

Pair work activities based on the information gap are a great way of getting learners to talk at any level. With groups it is also possible to use what are called "task-centred" or "task-oriented" discussions, where a pair or group is given a problem to solve, a task to achieve, through the medium of the target language. Penny Ur's book Discussions That Work provided a range of examples of such oral activities.

Here is one which I adapted from her book a long time ago and which works well with groups of advanced students.

Before you you try the activity supply students with some useful negotiating phrases such as:

A mon avis, on pourrait placer..., je ne suis pas d'accord, c'est une mauvaise idée car.., on devrait mettre... etc

Once underway the task should need relatively little support from the teacher. You may intervene if things are flagging a bit. Insist on the use of French at all times. It's when students get enthusiastic about a task that they can relapse into English.

The task is good for practising character adjectives and modal verb expressions such as on devrait and on pourrait.

When the groups have finished their discussions they can each present their solution to the rest of the class.

UN DINER CHEZ LES LAVISSE  Durée: une heure. Groupes de trois ou quatre élèves.

Monsieur et Madame Lavisse organisent un grand dîner d’amis chez eux. Ils veulent que cette soirée soit réussie, mais les personnages qu’ils ont invités sont très divers quant à leur âge, leur personnalité et leurs opinions politiques. Vous travaillez pour une compagnie qui se spécialise dans les relations sociales et vous devez placer les personnages autour de la table pour que le dîner se passe bien. Il faut respecter les consignes que Mme Lavisse vous a imposées.

Il y a 12 invités: M. et Mme Dupont, leur fille Emma, Maître Lachaise (le juge d’instruction), le Père Paneloux (prêtre catholique), le Rabbin Simon, Mme Leblanc, Marie Lavisse (fille des Lavisse), Jean-Jacques Lucas (politicien socialiste), Elisabeth Bonneval, Annette Roche (collègue de M. Lavisse) et Jérome Godard.

Les consignes: 

1. M. et Mme Lavisse doivent être assis l’un en face de l’autre à chaque extrémité de la table rectangulaire. 2. Chaque homme doit être assis à côté d’une femme.
3. Emma Dupont et Jérome Godard sont de jeunes amoureux.
4. Annette Roche est professeur d’université, collègue de M. Lavisse. Elle raconte des histoires drôles, mais elle est antisémite
5. Elisabeth Bonneval est très polie, mais très ennuyeuse.
6. Maître Lachaise, le juge, a beaucoup de tacte; il préfère écouter plutôt que parler.
7. Le Père Paneloux adore donner des conseils à tout le monde.
8. Le Rabbin Simon adore des disputes sur la politique et la religion, mais il n’est jamais offensif.
9. La vieille Mme Leblanc est bavarde, mais elle n’est pas très intellectuelle et elle est un peu sourde.
10. M. Dupont est politiquement de droite et il a des idées extrémistes.
11. Mme Dupont manque de bonnes manières à table et se plaint tout le temps.
12. Marie Lavisse est impatiente et gâtée; elle a seize ans et elle est impolie envers ses parents.
13. Jean-Jacques Lucas est un politicien de gauche qui s’intéresse beaucoup aux droits des travailleurs.
14. Mme Lavisse n’aime pas M. Dupont.
15. M. Lavisse déteste Elisabeth Bonneval. Travaillez en groupes de trois ou quatre pour trouver la meilleure position de chaque personne autour de la table.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The new KS2/3 MFL curriculum

The KS2/3 MFL curriculum was published this morning after a consultation period.

The key document is here. See page 213 onwards.

Clare Seccombe has done a summary of some key issues

The only significant change to the document I summarised and commented on here is that there will be a free choice of modern or ancient language at KS2 and a free choice of modern language at KS3. This seems to be in response to criticism that the original draft may have been unfair to non-native English speakers, minority languages and other modern languages which had not featured in the original list of seven. It remains a curiosity that ancient languages are acceptable at KS2, but not KS3. I would have been happier to see them out of the equation completely as they usually occupy a place in the timetable where children could be learning a modern language.

So, in essence, we still have a slim document, short on content (in striking contrast to the "pub quiz" style lists of other subjects) and effectively laying out the type of activities children would be expected to carry out. At KS2 children will be expected to write more and have a more sophisticated grasp of grammar. KS3 should build on the foundations of KS2; considerable local cooperation will be needed for this to happen. Will it? At KS3 references to grammar and topics are broad brush, but the references to literary texts, letters, poems, songs and culture are welcome. Current topics can be too dry and functional. Ultimately, the new GCSE examination will dictate what teachers do. Expect a big backwash effect, but little fundamental change in the content of courses, apart from the end of controlled assessments.

There remains the peculiar Govian reference to "great literature" (but not, for example, film). This will be sensibly ignored by teachers. There also remain the references to translation into and from the target language, which I consider to be an unnecessary, ideological inclusion which is too prescriptive for teachers. I thought that teachers were not going to be told how to teach, but I was apparently wrong. It has also been pointed out that there is almost no reference to intercultural understanding at KS2 - this seems like a serious omission which should have been addressed.

But these are details. The most fundamental point is surely that the national curriculum now enshrines the place of modern languages at KS2. Even though over half of publicly funded secondary schools, almost all primaries and all independents can choose to ignore the national curriculum (a totally bizarre state of affairs), it is likely that primary schools will, by hook or by crook - and certainly not with any financial help to train teachers or supply resources -  implement or enhance provision of languages. It will occupy a small amount of curriculum time and be a success where teachers are skilled and motivated, a reluctant duty elsewhere.

Monday, 1 July 2013

frenchteacher updates

This is one of my regular updates so you know what's been happening at Frenchteacher Towers recently.

Although I never used dominoes as an activity as a teacher, I am told that pupils and teachers enjoy the game so I have started to produce some sets of dominoes at various levels. So far, you'll find three sets in the Y10-11 section (health, holidays and free time) and three sets in the Y7 (beginners) section (classroom objects, family and numbers). If you haven't done the activity before, you need to cut out the dominoes and then pupils work in pairs or small groups, following the usual rules.

In the A-level section there are three new resources since my last update. The first is based on a leaflet we got through our letter box in France about how the local village is applying the new school week in France. The phrase rythmes scolaires is not easy to render in English, but it is about how the week is organised in terms of days and hours. The authentic resource has text, true/false/not mentioned in French and discussion questions. You could use it in a sequence on education or just as a one-off lesson.

Next, in the A-level section, is an adapted and translated (by me with help from Google Translate - a real time-saver!) extract from a book written by a 13 year-old Japanese autistic boy. It should be an interesting ("compelling" - wink at Stephen Krashen!) read. I have added questions in English, nothing more.

There is also a text with exercises on how climate change will affect poorer countries in particular. I have a lot of material on climate change on the site and I do not apologise for this. I would argue that we need to keep hammering this issue home with young people. They might do a bit more about it than we have managed to so far.

For the Y8 section I have created quite a few new Battleships grids for use with Y8s or above. They cover various aspects of the perfect tense. Battleships works great and don't forget, you can make it more communicative by getting pupils to make sentences up from their verbs.

And finally... I have reorganised the Y7 page to make it easier to see how resources are categorised. Coming soon there will be a new look to the site with an enhanced search facility. There are so many resources now, with more to come, that a smarter search method will make sense.

Enjoy the wind-down to the end of term!