Sunday, 6 March 2016

Helping pupils with challenging reading texts for GCSE

I thought I would share the following resource which I have been using with my year 11s to help them improve their exam technique.  The tendency my students have is to snatch at one word, then build their answer around that one, single word, which inevitably leads to disaster.  Alternatively, they have no idea where to start.  Taking them step-by-step through the process, slowing them down so that they are forced to think about what they are reading - these have been useful.  Especially for AQA GCSE, where obscure answers are part and parcel of preparing for the A-A* type questions,

 I have a golden rule: Show me the evidence!!  You have to be guided by the words in the text.  We have just done a past paper question where the answer to the question, "How do you know the family are despairing of getting Louis to school on time?" was "They are thinking about having breakfast the night before"  Previous attempts at these types of obscure questions has led to blank expressions all round.  Although not all got it, some did because they had taken it step by step.

This template is also good for homework support.  If they have done all of these steps, you know that they have really engaged with the text.

Guided Reading Template
Stage 1.  Look at the clues which could set the scene.
1.  Is there any photo / picture?  What does it show? 
2.  What’s the title of the article?  Translate it here:
3.  What’s this article about?  Which topics might be included in this reading text?
Stage 2.  Skim read – getting the gist of what has been written
List the 3 most important things you have learned from the text.
Stage 3.  Focus on the first line of each paragraph – find the theme of the paragraph.
Translate each first sentence, and then tell me what the probable theme of the paragraph is.
Probable theme


Stage 4.  Find out what the key words are each question – underline them!
Stage 5. Find the section that gives you the answer to the question.
a. Underline the sentence or phrase which gives you the answer.
b. Translate as much as you can from that sentence into your exercise book.
Stage 6.  Answer the question, using your translation to help you!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Using film in MFL lessons - integrating it into the scheme of work

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.  The lesson sequence I'm going to describe came about when it became clear that I really needed a Plan B.  The danger of the spiral curriculum, where topics are revisited, but with increasing difficulty, was laid bare a few months ago by one of my Year 9 French classes.  The textbook we loosely follow is Tricolore, and the not-so-inspiring topic was family, and the grammar covered revision of adjectives for description and reflexive verbs including reciprocal verbs such as "nous nous disputons".  I made the fatal mistake when introducing the new topic of mentioning "family" and the shutters came down." Family? Did that in year 7." and although the phrase, "What's the point?" wasn't actually uttered, the body language said it all.    

Back to the drawing board.  This is when I came upon these fabulous resources by Rachel Hawkes and colleagues on the film "Neuilly sa mère!". I liked these resources, but I wanted to try a different approach.  The joy of this film is that it allows the pupils to comment on the family and characters shown in the film, and that from this, I could also teach them what I needed.  I think there is much to be gained from pupils seeing and experiencing a full film in the foreign language - their ear becomes more attuned, and the cultural references and sights are also often easily absorbed.  I have been less impressed with the overall effect that watching a film over, say, 2 lessons followed by language work. In recent years, I have tended to use short excerpts of films instead.  I decided, therefore to blend the 2 approaches, and show approx. 20 - 30 min clips over a period of lessons and use these as the stimulus for the rest of the lesson.  

This was the sequence that developed.
Aims of unit and the film:
·         revise and extend knowledge of family members
·         revise and extend personality adjectives
·         introduce a wider range of reflexive verbs to be able to talk about who you get on with
·         revise and extend adjectives for describing appearance
·         revise la futur proche to predict the end of the film
·         to develop phrases for introducing your opinion
·         to write about your own family based on the language learnt

·         to write a review of the film

      Lesson 1 start – 17:00
      We introduced the characters.  Using grouptalk and with a support sheet with personality words, they discussed which characters they liked and why, and compared them.  Who was more spoilt? Who was funnier / nicer?  They also worked out who was related to whom.  After they had completed exercises about the fictional family, I got no complaints about applying that language to a description of their own families for homework.
L  Lessons 2/3 17:00 – 39:00
      After watching the relationships between the characters develop, I used this section to teach "s'entendre bien avec" with other reflexive verbs e.g. se disputer.  We used a tarsia game to get to know the key verbs and structures, and they were then able to say who got on with whom.  They then applied it to their own families.
      Lesson 4 39:00 – 1:00
       This section allowed more use of reflexive verbs e.g. ils se moquent de lui.  And, as Sami doubted whether he would ever get his girl because he thought he wasn't her type, this seemed a good time to revise appearances, as it fitted with the plot. 
      Lesson 5  1:00 – 1:15
      Something a bit different this time.  We watched the party scene and then used the near future to predict what would happen for the end of the film.  I taught them a few phrases to introduce their opinion.
      Lesson 6 watch to the end
       We found out which of our predictions were right!  We then did some work to review the film.  Who was the favourite character?  Which was the favourite scene etc.
       The class really enjoyed this sequence of lessons, and they were willing to use more challenging French because they were motivated.  I prefer this way of watching a whole film.  We still got through all of the language for the scheme of work, and it felt much more organic.  

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Preparing for the new GCSE - some of the nitty gritty

The last couple of posts have been about Big Ideas and Principles, but the nuts and bolts stuff also needs looking at, and certainly we need to be getting our pupils used to the question formats in KS3.  I wanted to share our initial to-do list. This is with AQA in mind.

What needs to be looked at:       

1.  Getting used to literary texts and more authentic materials

2.  Answering in more detail in reading questions  -finish the sentence

3.  Transcribing – spelling to be taken into account in the new listening  -also part of the NC

4.  Photo-cards – starters with “what can you see in the picture”?

5.  Role-plays – situational and talking with a friend – bolster these in Y8 & 9 especially, but also in Y7

6.  Forming questions – make sure this is given more priority

7.  Intensive practice of key verbs – “emergency kit” in 3 tenses

8.  What does a good model essay look like? Preparing pupils for this – key phrases needed

9.  How assessment will change – making sure the teaching prepares pupils well for this

10.  How to keep language fresh so they don’t forget (Homer Simpson syndrome)

11.  Translation both ways.

To do list:

1.  Identify good transcribing resources (for use with micro-listening tasks (The language gym))

2.  Join the ALL wiki for good sources of material

3.  Identify a minimum of one literary/authentic text (song / poem / letter) for each module

4.  Identify a time once a month where material from other units/topics is either incorporated or used in a cross-themed writing activity to keep language active

5.  Embed grouptalk / roleplay opportunities into the scheme of work à how to progress with it?

6.  Review reference material for pupils – to support question formation / grammar aspects for correcting own work (à support feedback ticksheet)

7.  Review assessment formats in all 4 skills (roleplay should be easy to implement, even for peer assessment)   The writing assessment to mirror the format of the writing exam, including not giving advance notice of the extended writing and giving a choice.

8.  Translation – we do a lot of it in drills, but maybe not a little paragraph as often into English.  Needs to be done monthly

Preparing for the new GCSE - literature in KS3

This is the second post about KS3 and literature. The previous one has various links including to the wonderful ALL wiki on literature. in this post, I want to continue looking at the literature aspect of preparing for the new GCSE. Ks3 should be about enjoying the language, and songs and poems so far figure more prominently than prose. As far as prose is concerned, the priorities need to be:
  • Getting pupils used to texts which combine language from lots of diffrerent topics and to dealing with a manageable amount of new words
  • Coping with unfamiliar words
  • Capturing pupils' interest
  • Opening the world out to them

Letters can be an excellent way to get them to experience prose.  I have a rather battered letter which describes Christmas and the pupils enjoy reading it - real person their age, and real experience.  It doesn't need to be just such "normal" letters. There are other ideas which could prove a rich vein of material. There has been lots of work this year on WW1. I found this collection of soldier's letters. Seeing the WW1 from the "other side" could be very powerful. For the French teachers reading this, Liz Black recommended "Lulu et la Grande Guerre" by Fabian Grégoire. Some vivid writing which is accessible with some adaptations.

Other prose - stories, newspapers

We do a project week after the January exams and read a simplified version of "Aschenputtel" using the Grimm's rather bloodthirsty original. It has lots for beginners to get their teeth into, phrases such as "schwarz von Herzen" ("black of heart") - what's not to like?  Vivid phrases but also well within the capability of pupils to work out with access to a glossary or dictionary. It also gives pupils lots to think about - why the difference between the now well-established Disney version and this?  The boys enjoy reading it out loud and working with the text.

My searches so far haven't found any contemporary short stories yet that would fit the bill, although I remain hopeful that I might get some inspiration from the DaF (the German equivalent of EAL) community in Germany. It seems to me that letters and brief, adapted newspaper stories would be suitable at this stage of  learning. Which brings me to...

Bild newspaper. This tabloid paper does a great line in punchy daft stories. Search for "dümmster Einbrecher" (most stupid burglar) or similar (bank robbers is another favourite) and you find what are, in effect, mini-stories. They will still need to be adapted. It is also good for human interest stories. I found an interview with a refugee who survived the hell of the Mediterranean. Great for helping pupils understand the world.

Now to share another great tip from the training by Liz Black: Der Spiegel does a monthly news magazine aimed at 8-14 yr olds called "Dein Spiegel".  It has stories aimed at our age range, even if you will have to adapt them. And for my French teaching colleagues, there is Le petit quotidien for young people. These are going in my reading corner next year.

Breaking out of the box

One of the reasons I think we may be hesitant to use literature sources is the fact that there are inevitably words beyond what we usually teach, and certainly beyond just the topic we are trying to focus on at the minute.  That has to be a good thing, but does need approaching carefully. It must be said, however, that if we don't want pupils to compartmentalise their language, then we need to model that in our lessons.  Language (and life) is not neat and closed off into little boxes, and we need to reflect this. Still, look at this poem for Nikolaustag:

Nikolaus, du guter Mann,
hast einen schönen Mantel an.
Die Knöpfe sind so blank geputzt,
dein weißer Bart ist gut gestutzt,
die Stiefel sind so spiegelblank,
die Zipfelmütze fein und lang,
die Augenbrauen sind so dicht,
so lieb und gut ist dein Gesicht.
Du kamst den weiten Weg von fern,
und deine Hände geben gern.
Du weißt, wie alle Kinder sind:
Ich glaub, ich war ein braves Kind.
Sonst wärst du ja nicht hier
und kämest nicht zu mir.
Du musst dich sicher plagen,
den schweren Sack zu tragen.


By December, we have just done descriptions, and  this fits in very well - lots lines with words on description and clothes, and that's where we concentrate our work.  Liz Black made the point that it depends on what you want the pupils to do with it and the support you give. We shouldn't be afraid of tackling these texts with them.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Preparing for the New GCSE - Carpe Diem! Part 1

In our languages department, we are beginning to make preparations and changes to our Y9 schemes of work in preparation for the new GCSE.  There is trepidation, but as @spsmith45 points out in this blog, there is no need to start completely from scratch.  Good teaching remains good teaching. If you want a good summary of key things to consider when preparing to teach, then that is a very good place to start.

I want to talk about opportunities. Yes, opportunities.  Opportunities to open the door to other worlds, opportunities to really revel in the language.  On a more prosaic note, opportunities to help our pupils get to grips with how the language sounds.  As languages teachers, we know that a great song, poem or prose piece can transport the readers, and what better way to give pupils a glimpse of what we all fell in love with? The number of genres that can be defined as "literature" is only as limited (limitless?) as your imagination.  If you need a helping hand, look at ALL's wiki on the subject. Whilst I'm talking about inspiration, this blog is my initial response to some great training on Literature and the use of authentic texts which took place at Newcastle University on 23rd June, led by the ever knowledgeable @rene_koglbauer and @LizblackMFL, and as you can see has many links to what other people are doing.

I teach German, which we start in Y9 as an express course, so time is short.  In terms of our schemes of work, this shouldn't be yet another extra, but a vehicle for teaching.  I'm a strong believer that whichever resource is used should do the heavy lifting, and be used in multiple ways, and should be integrated into the learning. It should give pupils an opportunity not just for comprehension, but also performance of the text and use of the language they have found, either in a creative writing response.

Opportunity no 1 - reinforcing phonics work
Think about this song from the Prinzen "ich wär so gern Millionär".  Here is the chorus:

Ich wär' so gerne Millionär
dann wär mein Konto niemals leer.
Ich wär' so gerne Millionär - millionenschwer.
Ich wär' so gerne Millionär

I love die Prinzen because they sing so clearly, and they have really singable tunes, and this chorus has lots of potential. You can get the pupils to think about the sound of the "ä" because of the strong rhyme. And then you can test your knowledge on the lyricstraining website, a new and exciting discovery, which was recommended to me recently .  This could also then lead to some creative work using "wäre" to speculate on what could happen and be applied to different situations.

Silly rhymes such as the following are also perfect for beginners and reinforce key German phonics:
Eins, zwei, Polizei
drei, vier, Offizier
fünf, sechs, alte Hex'
sieben, acht, gute Nacht!
neun, zehn, auf Wiedersehen!

If you are about to tackle a longer text, it is worth laying the groundwork and making sure pupils can decode the words in front of them. This post from @gianfrancocont9 has some great warm-up ideas for listening, and is well worth a look.

One tip which came from the CPD session to help find sources for quick transcribing which also doubles as something more interesting than simply sentences from last lesson are dictation resources for primary school.  Liz Black gave an example from a Duden book, and I have found a book called "100 lustige Diktate"  which also includes little riddles (one "guess what"? riddle is about a mouse).  I have yet to get my mitts on that little number, so I will follow up and let you know what that is like.  Watch this space!

Well, this was just going to be one post, but it looks like I need another post to finish..

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Revision - making it stick

This is the first of a couple of posts about revision.  This has been inspired (if that's the word) by my need to help my pupils understand what revision looks like, because between you and me, I'm shocked at how vague many of them are about how to learn.  My holiday reading has therefore been "Make it stick" by Peter C. Brown. Reading this book made me think about how I can make the process of revision explicit for my pupils. This is not a review of the book, but is my attempt at thinking through how I want to get the pupils to apply the principles in their MFL revision in the coming weeks (apologies to my colleagues teaching French GCSE, who don't have the luxury of time).

The goal
To recognise and understand all of those words IN A FLASH in the exam - that means you need FAST RETRIEVAL from your LONG-TERM MEMORY
The principles
1. Use it or lose it
Done your revision on Healthy Living? Lovely. Well done,you. But if you want it to stick, you've got to return to it and practise it again for it become part of your long-term memory. The more you return, and the more defined the path will become.
2.  Mix it up
Switch between topics, switch between skills.  You don't get bored, your brain doesn't get bored, and the effort you have to put in to remember different topics strengthens your long-term memory.
3.  Get your learning spaced out!
Don't bunch everything from one topic up in one session or week.  Space your revision of the topic out, so you have to dig the knowledge back up again
4.  No pain, no gain
Maybe not pain, but definitely effort, but that doesn't rhyme. The more effort you need to remember something during your revision, the better you remember it.
5.  Don't assume - it makes an ass out of u and me
You've done a whole hour's revision! Woo-hoo! But have you tested yourself to see what's gone in?

Making it manageable AND effective

So - what should their revision look like at home? We still have quite a lot of lessons ahead of us, so this is in addition to what they are doing in class. Asking pupils to do 20-25 minutes a day sounds much more manageable to them. They may not always do it, but if they can sign up to the principle of it, then we are getting somewhere.

1.  Every day – 5 minutes quiz on what you did yesterday

                        - 15 minutes active learning new topic with flashcards (
                           Learn difficult words/irregular verbs in a phrase or sentence
                       - 5 minutes make yourself a quiz to re-use tomorrow and later on
                          Good types of quiz questions:

                         1.  Fill in the gap
                         2.  find the opposites
                         3.  word association games

2.  Once a week (MINIMUM) – skills practice. 
Either a past paper or listening/reading exercise from kerboodle from last week’s topics.
Make a quiz out of the questions you got wrong.

3.  Once a week – do the quiz you made from things you got wrong

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Stretch and challenge in MFL

" Stretch and challenge" - one of Ofsted's obsessions, and rightly so - who wants pupils who aren't learning to the best of their ability?  As linguists, we want pupils to be adventurous and to use their knowledge to express themselves.  After all, it's what helped us fall in love with language learning. The way I see it, stretch and challenge is not just for the most able; it is about how we set the learning climate in our classroom. Of course,it will look different depending on which pupils you have in front of you, but this is not about an add-on. So - how do we achieve this in class?

Deploying some very prosaic (but effective) basics can help us.  The most fundamental basic is to know your pupils, and their prior learning. This, however, allows us to be creative with how we introduce vocabulary. This week, I was able to introduce the perfect tense in French to a weaker set of pupils through an account of a weekend in Paris using regular "er" verbs.  I knew that they were already familiar with the verbs in the text, although not in the perfect tense, and within the context of the passage, they were able to show understanding, and then mine it for key verbs in the perfect tense.  Parallel texts (one side in the Target Language (TL), the other in English) also give pupils the change to understand texts that little bit beyond their current level. Equally, using a text with lots of cognates/familiar vocabulary which support pupils in working out the meaning of new language is a very effective technique. Give one/get one or quiz/quiz/trade can also be a good way of reinforcing independent use of phonics by pupils, as well as reinforcing other co-operative language. These strategies not only get beyond the sterile listen/repeat chorus and its single-word stranglehold, but they get pupils engaging with longer texts, which is far more satisfying for the learners, and already gives them that sense of progress.

The use of target language is something repeatedly raised by Ofsted as an issue. Some things are more difficult in the TL however, there is much which can be done in the TL. If I fall off the TL waggon, I run a competition in class for the best use of the TL - this boosts the pupils' awareness, and mine. We have a speaking mat to support this, and it is part of our routine to get them out at the beginning of the lesson.  Progressing with it is often tricky, and much of it comes down to teaching questions, and revising them at regular intervals. Having the question words displayed prominently in the classroom helps to prompt and support.  Then, when you ask your pupil where their book is, they can understand and respond, if you have been able to point at the relevant question word on the board. If not all the lesson is possible in the TL, it is better to "chunk" it - so there are clear segments in English, clear segments in the TL.  Swapping between the 2 just encourages the pupils to wait for the English translation.

Speaking is not just confined to classroom routine.  In topic-related work, it is important that pupils have the opportunity to work beyond tightly-scripted dialogues, although these clearly have a place in familiarising pupils with new language.  This is where Group talk comes into its own.  Having an unscripted conversation that is still supported allows pupils the freedom to express themselves and try things out for themselves, and gives them the feeling of having "real" conversations, and can really boost confidence. It also means they have to listen carefully to each other, and more able pupils can be encouraged to extend their responses.

Speaking also includes reading out loud, which helps with phonics.  A favourite game in my classes is "rhubarb".  In a group, one person starts reading.  If they make a mistake spotted by someone else, the challenger says "rhubarb" and says what it should be. If the group agree it is right, they get to continue the reading.  Points are awarded for every sentence read successfully, one point if they are challenged unsuccessfully, one point if they have challenged successfully and are going to take on the reading.

Here's a question: how often do your classes (even your beginners) do extended writing as opposed to drills and sentences?  This is one very obvious stretch and challenge opportunity which should be done regularly. If the most talented are shown how to use dictionaries and verb tables, they can really fly with regular practice.  Remember all those strategies you use with GCSE classes?  Are you using them in KS3 to promote a range of language.  If not, why not? Our learners often feel very constrained by what they feel they can say, but a learning mat with prompts and suggestions can help them develop and extend their ideas.  Most pupils don't want to say that everything is "super", it's just that it's the only thing that occurs to them. Creative writing and poems also give pupils a change to experiment and learn to love the language.

Translation is going to become ever more present, given the changes to KS3 and GCSE, and it's true that it does help pupils do some detailed work, and can be an opportunity to meet new language.  It is important, however, that the pupils then get to use some of that new language in their own work.  One of the best pieces of advice I was given as a young teacher was to exploit one text in as many different ways as possible. Too often I have seen opportunities wasted to help pupils build on their knowledge by not doing that final additional step where they produce something of their own based on the language. As linguists, we are magpies, nicking lovely shiny expressions and using them for ourselves.  We should help the next generation do that too!


There can be more to stretch and challenge for listening than simply giving out a differentiated worksheet, although that still has its place. Songs are a rewarding place to start, and give some cultural flavour too.  If you are working with a textbook's recording, why not get pupils to make shorthand notes/ draw symbols, then use the language to report back to a partner? Rachel Hawkes suggests giving pupils a transcript, then saying it out loud to the class with some changes.  Pupils then need to identify where the differences are, transcribe the new words and then they can use them for themselves. Listening is often a bolt-on task or a task to see if they have retained the new vocabulary.  Why not integrate it into the lesson more completely?

I have to admit to feeling a bit exhausted after writing all this. This is not a tick-list for every lesson, but using some of these ideas some of the time can help you provide challenge for all.