Skip to main content

Three ways to help A-level students enrich their spoken language

One of the benefits of leading exam board training sessions is that you get to pick up new ideas from the attending teachers. In this case, while leading a session for AQA with teachers in York today, I was talking about ways to get A-level students to produce more sophisticated language in their speaking assessments.

I suggested that one way of varying pair work practice on an A-level sub-theme was to interrupt pairs of conversing students after, say, four minutes, then to display on the board five idiomatic phrases or complex syntactic structures which the students have to include in their conversations with a new partner for the next four minutes. Then, four minutes later, you add another five phrases or structures and ask students to include all ten chunks of new language into their next conversation with a new partner. And so on until the task runs out of steam.

Example phrases could be:

Ce que je trouve intéressant, c'est...
Il va sans dire que...
J'aurais plutôt l'impression que...
Qu'on le veuille ou non...
J'estime que...
Ça ne m'étonne pas que... (+ subjonctif)
D'un côté... en revanche...
Un argument clé à mon avis, c'est...

This is a good example of giving a "twist" to a lesson, getting pairs of students to repeat a task with a slight variation with a new partner. It's a bit like classic speed-dating with an extra element. The result is that students repeat and recycle language, adding new elements as they go along.

One of the teachers present then suggested a variation on this. Instead of writing up new phrases for pairs to work on, you can get students to work in small groups around a table and place cards (about a dozen) with structures and phrases in the middle. Each time a student uses a structure on a card they get to keep the card. The winner is the student with the most cards when they have all been used. (You could keep supplying new cards while they are conversing.)

A third variation suggested by another delegate was to give each student the equivalent of a bingo card with at least a dozen phrases and structures on. Each time a student uses a phrase on the card they get to cross it out until all the phrases are used. After each "round" you could hand out a new bingo card.

You could probably come up with other variations. In all the above cases you get to "gamify" conversation and to make it a little more engaging while broadening the students' repertoire of language. I have found that students enjoy the extra little challenge of artificially working in new language. It is quite likely that the phrases they have deliberately included will become. a permanent part of their conversational repertoire.

In all these cases you would be wise to model the use of each new phrase at some point.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…