Monday, 30 June 2014

Need an assembly talk for KS2-3?

I'm a bit off topic here, but I recently shared an assembly talk I wrote with a nephew of mine who teaches. very little to do with languages, but a lot to do with communication. So here it is. You are welcome to copy or adapt.


This morning I’d like to let you into a secret. I suppose all of you sitting here today like to have friends and get on well with people.  Maybe some of you think you don’t have enough friends, or maybe some of you worry that people don’t like you enough. Well, here’s a secret which I read about in a book recently. This is the first secret for making friends and getting on with people and it’s simple: smile!

Other people like it when you smile.  If you smile it shows that you are pleased to see them and we’d all like to think people are pleased to see us. When a dog wags its tail and shows you it’s happy it makes you happy and you want to stroke the dog. Dogs are good like that because they are always happy to see their masters and so their masters are happy to see them.  When the dog wags its tail it’s as though it’s smiling at you! I know a few of my students who always smile when they arrive at the classroom and that makes me happy.  You’d be surprised how little some people smile, but also how far a good smile can get you.

So, what is a smile? Why do we smile? A smile is a facial expression formed by flexing the muscles mainly near both ends of the mouth. Try it! The smile can be also around the eyes.  It is a natural reaction to pleasure, happiness or amusement. People of all cultures and ethnic groups smile, but interestingly, animals don’t.  If an animal bares it teeth, it’s probably not smiling and you should keep your distance. With chimpanzees, apparently, what looks like a smile or baring of the teeth is a sign of fear.

Some people smile more than others of course. 

To show this, a team of 28 psychology students spent a month smiling at passers-by in city centres across the UK and measured whether or not they received a smile back in return.
 Bristol came out top in the survey with a ‘smile rating’ of 70 smiles per hour. Glasgow kept up Scotland’s reputation as a friendly country with a score of 68 smiles per hour, the second best in the UK. Coming in at third place with 54 smiles per hour was Exeter.  The Welsh scored well with Cardiff (41) and Wrexham (42) showing an above average  rating while Londoners only had time for 18 smiles per hour.
  • What else do we know about smiling?
  • Well, the smile is the most frequently used facial expression.  It takes as few as five pairs of facial muscles and as many as all 53 to smile
  • Smiling is easier than frowning if you go by the number of muscles used.
  • Smiling releases endorphins – those chemicals which make us feel better . Laughing releases even more.
  • Even ‘faking’ a smile can lead to feeling happier
  • People are born with the ability to smile, we don’t just learn it by seeing others. Even babies who are born blind, smile
  • Babies reserve special smiles for their loved ones
  • Newborn babies prefer smiling faces to non-smiling ones
  • Women smile more than men
  • Human beings can tell the difference between a genuine smile (of joy and happiness) and a  put-on, social smile.  Apparently a genuine smile uses more muscles around the eyes.
  • And finally, a smiling person is judged to be more pleasant, attractive, sincere, sociable, and competent than a non-smiling person
So we’re back to my book and one  secret of how to make friends with people.
So here’s an idea for today – when you meet your teacher at the start of each lesson give them a good smile. Hopefully they will smile back and you will both feel better for it.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Updates and case studies

I've been fairly bust working on new resources recently, with an empahasis on exam-related intermediate (GCSE/IGCSE) level work.

Papers often include questions where students have to idemtify an attitude, opinion or point of view. I have written a resource on this with 100 statements covering a range of topics. Students could read through these, identify if they are positive, negative or neutral. This would make a very good 20 minute reading task, plus any time for correcting. I have provided an answer key.

Another common format is gap-filling to test comprehension. I have done two separate resources on this, each with a slightly different format. Answer key provided.

I have just uploaded an article with exercises on Sting. Apparently he has said he will not bequeath his fortune to his children. He says it would be an albatross around their necks.  

Other recent additions include a near beginner parallel reading task on vampires. I hope that's not too creepy.

For advanced level I have written something on video surveillance, together with exercises. This would suit 17-18 year-olds. Also for A-level there is a translation from French to English on the topic of integration and multiculturalism, always a favourite with examiners and with good reason.

For adult learners I have posted an example of an official letter from a bank with questions in English. 


Next, a couple more schools have responded to a request for "case studies", basically how they use in their schools. I am grateful to Katharine Day and Catherine McBride for writing to me.

1.   Paston Sixth Form College, Norfolk, England

I have been using for several years now and have always found it invaluable for my AS and A level teaching – all the more so as I am the only teacher of this subject in our Sixth Form College.

I use the site in many ways including:
  • Using grammar exercises to reinforce points covered in class (not just A level; I use the basic material from Y9 upwards with my Advanced students). 
  • Texts with exercises. I often set these for homework to consolidate A-level topics. I also set one of these per week as extra homework for the most able students. 
  • Some of the slightly more unusual texts are a good basis for work in class. for example, I recently enjoyed using the Stuart Kennedy ‘fait divers’ sheet with my AS group who needed to revise the passive. 
  • The question booklet for the AS oral exam is excellent as a basis for discussing ideas and helping students prepare for the exam. 

2.   Ibstock Place School, London

I am Head of Languages at Ibstock Place School in South West London, where all pupils study at least two languages to IGCSE.  We also have a large A Level cohort and send many pupils on to study langauge at university. ALWAYS provides us with lesson materials for our pupils which are rigorous and well-thought out.  We prepare for CIE IGCSE and we are firm believers in a thorough grammatical grounding.  

We use the various grammar exercises in lessons, particularly year 9 and upwards and your A Level resources are used constantly.   There are plenty of differentiated activities, and we can pick and choose to suit the ability group.  I often use KS3 resources with my PVI groups for revision of basic tenses.

As an example of how I use the resources, I am just planning an A Level induction lesson for the current Y11 pupils who are coming back into school for some pre- A Level lessons next week; they will start A Level French in September.  I have downloaded the worksheet on stereotypes – I’m going to use it before reading an extract from Un Sac de Billes – so I will have all four skills covered in the 50 minutes, and has done all the planning for me!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

What about differentiation and setting?

The newly published TALIS survey from the OECD, who brought you PISA, produced all kinds of interesting results based on questions put to teachers and heads across the world.

As far as England is concerned I was particularly struck by two points: firstly, how little we use textbooks compared with other nations surveyed and secondly (not disconnected) how much English teachers claim to use differentiated work with their pupils.

The report shows that teachers in the "highest performing" nations/jurisdictions - I insist on putting that in quotation marks, as the term refers only to the evidence of OECD PISA tests which only look at maths, science and reading at age 15 - do not use differentiation as much as us.

Now, it is true that differentiation has been a buzzword for quite a few years and shows no immediate signs of going away. Whenever the word was mentioned in my school I had slight feelings of guilt, because all we really did in our MFL department in terms of differentiation, was to set pupils from Y9 (age 13), use skilled AfL techniques in the classroom and what is termed "differentation by outcome". We did not do differentiated worksheets or differentiated task within lessons. We had a "policy" on differentiation on our handbook, but it was there mainly because it had to be. I believe other departments had a similar view and probably paid lip service to any initiatives on differentiation. I should also point out that students at my school came roughly from the top half of the ability range; this certainly colours one's view on differentiation.

Skilled classroom technique is crucial of course and, in my view, effective differentiation involves, for example, the rejection, on the whole, of random questioning. No lolly sticks for us, just some limited sessions of no hands up to keep them on their toes. Differentiation by outcome should also not be underestimated; we would set a lot of open-ended composition work and provide opportunities for extended oral work from a young age, sometimes with minimum word limits. This allowed the most able to stretch themselves.

But it is setting that I want to look at mainly in this longer than usual post.

For us, and for many schools, setting is the main tool used to differentiate by aptitude. It is very common in British schools for languages and for maths (I shall not go into why these subjects are usually chosen). In French schools, incidentally, it is frowned upon, largely for social/political reasons to do with equal opportunity, although colleagues of my acquaintance would have been keen to use it in their school.

It is generally felt, and research bears this out, I believe, that setting benefits the most able and may have a slightly negative effect on less able pupils. Ofsted report that mixed ability grouping often holds back the most able. For what it is worth our top sets always easily exceeded their Yellis/FFT prediction, whilst our lower sets performed slightly below them. This may confirm the general view of setting, or may be due to other factors, such as work ethic and general motivation.

We were aware that, although setting seemed important for our best students, it did have a demotivating effect on the less able. Whilst some students were much happier once they went into a lower set, feeling that the pace of the work suited them better, others certainly felt that they were being labelled also-rans. This negative perception needed countering with reassuring pep talks, explaining that we had the highest expectations for them (we did) and that it was better to working at the right pace.

To avoid this "sink set" mentality we altered our setting system over time. We originally began setting in Y8 and had four sets going from "Alpha" to "Delta". We soon decided to delay setting as long as possible and began setting in Y9. This was workable in a selective school, but would not work elsewhere, I think.

Subsequently, when we had some behaviour issues with one or two bottom sets we decided to do away with them and run two parallel lower sets. Thus we had a top set, a second set and two parallel lower sets. This countered the sink set mentality to a degree, though the feeling probably remained for some students that they were still in the bottom set. Each year I was also careful to make sure that the right teachers were working with the top sets and lower groups. If certain colleagues did great work with lower sets, I would lean towards using them in that way, making sure that they had a good balance of teaching overall across the age range.

We could have simply had a top set and three parallel second sets. This may have been more motivational, but would have meant that the work would have been too fast for some or held back others.

On reflection I am still of the view that setting is the best solution in languages. Each school has its own issues, so the system should be adaptable, aiming to find that balance of meeting every pupil's needs without demotivating them or creating a "fixed mindset", as it is fashionably termed.

In general terms, I am pleased that teachers in England try to differentiate more that average. I am also happy that they do not stick too closely to imperfect textbooks. To my mind this shows that they are creative people, trying to meet the needs of individual pupils. High expectations are vital, but this does not mean force-feeding the same diet to every student, whatever their aptitudes.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Lionel Messi resource

Having just watched the best footballer in the world Lionel Messi score two goals against Nigeria, I thought I'd update a resource I made. It's a text with exercise aimed at intermediate level (GCSE or very good Year 9 in England and Wales). Here it is:

Lionel Messi, ou Leo Messi, est un footballeur international argentin qui joue comme attaquant au FC Barcelone. C’est le capitaine de l’équipe internationale argentine. Lionel Andrés Messi est né le 24 juin 1987 à Rosario en Argentine. En 2007, il a obtenu la 3e place au Ballon d'or et la 2e au joueur FIFA de l'année. Depuis il a gagné le ballon d’or quatre années de suite.

Son jeu de rapidité s'inspire de son grand modèle de toujours, l’Argentin Diego Maradona. Messi a commencé sa carrière chez les jeunes de Newell's Old Boys. Il avait 13 ans lorsque sa famille a émigré en Espagne pour fuir la crise économique en Argentine à cette époque-là. 

Les Messi se sont installés à Barcelone, où Leo a été vite invité à faire un essai au Barça. C'est là qu'il a été remarqué par Carles Rexach, responsable du centre de formation. 

Au début, Messi était tellement petit qu'il a été surnommé la Pulga (la puce*).  Il a gardé ce surnom depuis. Pour compenser sa petite taille, Barcelone lui a fait suivre un traitement médical destiné à stimuler ses hormones de croissance**.

Messi a fait ses débuts en Liga fin 2004, mais c'est en 2005 qu'il a été connu par le grand public. Grâce à son premier but, marqué  le 1er mai face à Albacete, il est devenu le plus jeune buteur du club, titre qu'il a cédé*** en 2008 à son coéquipier espagnol Bojan Krkić sur une de ses passes décisives.

A l’âge de 25 and il est devenu le plus jeune joueur à marquer 200 buts dans la ligue espagnole. Pendant la saison 2011-12 il a battu le record du nombre de buts marqués dans une saison (73). En mars 2013 avait marqué des buts dans 19 matchs consécutifs et il est devenu le premier footballeur qui a marqué contre toutes les équipes de la ligue.

En 2012 Barcelone a signé un contrat qui gardera Messi jusqu’en 2018 avec un salaire de base de €16 million. En juin 2014 pendant la Coupe du Monde au Brésil sa page Facebook avait presque 60 millions de likes.

* puce = flea                 ** croissance = growth              *** cédé = handed over

A.  Corrigez ces phrases fausses

1.         Lionel Messi joue pour l’Espagne.
2.         Il joue en défense.
3.         Il est né en Espagne.
4.         En 2007 il a gagné son premier ballon d’Or.
5.         Il a quitté l’Argentine à l’âge de 12 ans.
6.         Sa famille a émigré et s’est installée à Madrid.
7.         Physiquement il est assez grand.
8.         Il a fait son début dans la ligue espagnole en 2005.
9.         Il teint le record pour le plus jeune buteur (goalscorer) du club.
10.       En 2011-12 il a marqué 200 buts.
11.       Il est très pauvre.
12.       Il n’utilise pas les réseaux (networks) sociaux.

B.  Traduisez en anglais les deux premiers paragraphes de l’article

C.  Complétez les phrases suivantes

1.         Messi est _______ en Argentine.
2.         Il est le _________ footballeur à marquer contre toutes les équipes de la ligue.
3.         Il a le surnom « la Pulga » à cause de sa _________.
4.         Il a __________ son premier but en 2005.
5.         Il est le ___________ de son équipe internationale.
6.         Sa famille a quitté l’Argentine à cause de la __________ économique.
7.         Il a ___________ sa carrière à Newell’s Old Boys.

D.  Underline or highlight any words you still do not understand. Find out what they
      mean with a dictionary or ask the teacher.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Identifying attitudes, opinions and points of view

Intermediate level (GCSE/IGCSE) exam often feature questions in the reading comprehension paper which get students to identify attitudes, opinions and points of view in statements. You know the routine: students mark down P, N or PN, depending on whether the statement is positive, negative or presents a mixed view. We tell students to look out for words like "mais" or "par contre" if they are trying to spot mixed views.

I've written 100 such statements for the Y10-11 page of They cover 16 different topics. If I were to use the resource I would simply get the class to go through them in about 20 minutes, then give answers. Students would have a percentage score - this usually provide an added motivation. The task provides lots of reading comprehension input. You could extend it by getting students to produce their own sets of opinions as a writing task.

Here are some samples from the resource:

1.        Les devoirs

1.         A mon avis les devoirs ne servent à rien. J’apprends tout ce qu’il faut en cours.

2.         Cela dépend des matières. Quelquefois c’est pratique, mais en français je trouve que c’est moins utile.

3.         Les devoirs vous aident à mémoriser et pratiquer ce qu’on a appris en cours.

4.         Les élèves de familles aisées ont un avantage, donc je trouve que ce n’est pas juste.

5.         Sans les devoirs je n’arriverais pas à comprendre les cours.

6.         Les devoirs c’est important pour les élèves plus âgés, moins pour les petits enfants qui ont besoin de jouer en famille.

3.         Les cigarettes électroniques

1.         Cela peut encourager les enfants à commencer à fumer.

2.         Les e cigs aident les fumeurs à abandonner leur mauvaise habitude.

3.         Je suis pour le « vapotage » mais pas dans les lieux publics.

4.         Je trouve que c’est la meilleure solution pour les fumeurs.

5.         C’est bien, mais on reste accro à la nicotine.

6.         Tout ce qui encourage la dépendance n’est pas souhaitable.

4.         La télé-réalité

1.         Je trouve ces émissions très divertissantes.

2.         Certaines émissions sont amusantes, d’autres complètement nulles.

3.         Ces émissions sont très populaires et les gens ont raison de les aimer.

4.         Je ne comprends pas du tout pourquoi les gens regardent des émissions comme ça.

5.         C’est la télé poubelle !

6.         Tout dépend de l’émission dont on parle.