Sunday, 15 June 2014

MFL show and tell York 2014 - afternoon sessions

The theme of the afternoon for me was speaking, or rather, getting the kids to speak.

First up, Dominic McGladdery on low-tech ideas for encouraging speaking.
His first, and crucial point was TEACH EM PHONICS.  They need to be able to de-code the letters they have in front of them.  He gave various ideas for places to go for ideas: languages without limits is a great starting point, and I love their strap line

If we fail to teach phonics, we are condemning many of our learners
 to be quasi-dyslexic in the foreign language.
There is also lightbulb languages, previously MFL Sunderland resources.  Suzi Bewell wrote a 10 minute guide to phonics to be found here.

One great tip: 1-15 has most sounds that beginner learners need. After a few years of teaching no French, I will be back teaching French in September, and the thought of tackling French phonics is daunting, but this is something I'm going to follow-up.
Here's a quick list of other things to try:
  • Get the pupils to think about the phonics - how about venn diagrams? For German, one side would be "ie", the other side "ei".
  • How about words that rhyme?
  • Tongue twisters
  • rhyming dictionaries - this website has many different languages - fantastic!
  • Describe the picture
  • Spot the difference
  • puppets - especially for shy pupils, or better still, masks from poundland.  Dom described the fun to be had with Alan Sugar or Simon Cowell masks. Pupils may be reluctant to argue, but once they take on these personas, there's no stopping them!
  • Hats are also great.
  • Dice can also be used in many different ways to select what the pupils talk about
  • Cluedo
  • Dom also told us about blogs by Jose Picardo who sets out how to podcast and use audacity.

Suzi Bewell presented the possibilities for combining both listening, speaking, reading and writing using's Audio Notetaker software. The presentation, which explains it more eloquently than me is here.

Finally an tip for apps, thanks to @misstdunne and @GermanistGLS: Vocab battle. Battle it out on your phones via bluetooth.  The winner gets to put stickers onto your opponent's photo.

Finally, thank you for such a great day. Lots to think about - just as well the summer hols are coming up soon ;-)

MFL show and tell York 2 - 14th June 2014 Just the morning sessions!

Oh wow!  Another day jam-packed with ideas.  60+ teachers and trainees gathered on a Saturday (yes - a Saturday) in Harrogate Grammar School to get a monster-sized chunk of CPD organised by Suzi Bewell from the University of York and William Strange.  My head is still spinning! This is the morning's whirlwind of ideas. I'll do a separate post on the afternoon.

Firstly, if you're on twitter @suzibewell, is beginning to tweet links to the presentations which the presenters gave. has some of the links to the exhibitors and some of the presentations.  Secondly, I must apologise to the presenters whose names I didn't quite catch. I think I had Saturday brainPlease let me know so I can update my blog!

There was a keynote speech shown by Rene Koglbauer, who shared a couple of great links. is a site for German learners and although I've not explored it, it looks like it has lots of useful videos and resources.
The other great website is courtesy of Newcastle's own Tyneside Cinema, which has study guides for lots of foreign language films.

It was great to see so many successful PGCE students presenting the results of some of their work.  It just goes to prove the valuable work universities are still doing in teacher training, and long may that last!

Lucy presented an introductory lesson on sport in Spanish.  This was one of the activities she got them to do combining a sport (choosing between hago or juego) and a time phrase.

I liked the plenary where there was enough prompts and support for the weaker ones, but there was room for the more able to expand.

Jan McCann (@biscuitsmccann) talked about how to use a full day when the timetable is collapsed and you have a whole year group for the day. As we come close to the end of term, this may be of interest to some colleagues! She gave examples of simple projects, such as making board games, up to weekend trip to Normandy. I was impressed by the way they had made the most of the days to really enrich the learning.  I loved the idea of the joint project with the art dept about the film Kirikou, where the pupils learned about Senegal and then make lolly-stick puppets and write a dialogue to perform with them.  The stop-motion filmed commentary of football matches also really appealed.
My favourite idea was an idea for Year 10, where they learned advertising language to plan and film an advert for a German product.  She also had some valuable advice:
1.  Pace yourself- they are long days
2.  Consider using form groups, as the more able can help the less able
3.  Get ex-pupils to support
4.  Make sure the pupils have something to show for it at the end, and do a celebration show and tell at the end

The next presention (sorry - I think it was @MFLCanonLee but I'm not sure!) had a topical world cup theme.  Find "sticker" images, make a fantasy team, setting them out like the in the coverage on the TV before the game and then use as a basis for talking about the players.

William Strange (@GermanGLS) demonstrated something for all busy teachers - the joys of mail merge. I liked the way it could work for giving pupils good feedback from CAs without having to write everything out again and again.

The next presenter had us in giggles as she presented some cultural knowledge of Switzerland she had done with her pupils before setting up a penpal exchange.  Getting us to say Chäschueche (cheese cake). The serious point about cultural awareness, however, was really important.

Dominic McGladdery (@dominic_mcg) showed us how to reanimate a corpse..or rather how to get pupils to convert a powerpoint into animated gifs. Save the powerpoint as JPEGS, find a website such as, upload the images and create create et voila!

Barbara Gleave demonstrated some lovely ideas for songs to do with primary schools. My favourite was a song called ou est pere noel set to the tune of frere jacques to teach prepositions:

Ella talked about a fascinating E-twinning project on the topic of school set up by her mentor in the school in Wetherby.  The pupils took photos of their meals in their respective cantines and of the contents of their school bags and used that as a basis for work ranging from labelling contents to writing recipes and comparing the contents.  They then made questionnaires about the school day which they sent to their partners.  These are great ways of getting really rich cultural knowledge as well as linguistic knowledge from what can be a very dry topic. We are just coming to the end of blogging project with our partner school, and I think it would be great when we re-run it to include some of these ideas.

Adam (I think it was Adam - I can't quite make it out!) talked about a joint history and French mini-series of lessons on the French Revolution.  The first lesson set out the background and how it affected France today.  The next lesson got the pupils to work out the theme of the lesson from the following key words hidden round the classroom.  Can you guess what it is?

The guillotine and the Reign of Terror.  This next part I thought was inspired.  The class had to decide which of the following people would have been "coupable" or "non-coupable".  There was then a panel of judges selected from the class - complete with false moustaches who then decided the fate of the accused, also represented by class members. If they were executed then had to eat a sour sweet ("poison").  Of course, if the judges got it wrong, they were traitors to the cause, and were themselves coupable.  Have a go yourself.

Who was spared?  Only Sophie!

Frances presented 2 activities to encourage co-operation and speaking.  The first, below, is Rally Robin, put I just know it as test your partner, but is a great way of reinforcing language and getting them involved quickly.

The next created much amusement: "would you rather.." - a good starter activity.  She demonstrated on us, getting us to respond to the questions "Would you rather live by the beach or in the mountains/ be a snake or an elephant?" and then asked those who would like to live by the beach to stand up.  We then had to justify our reasons, and believe me they were very revealing!

Diana Keszler (@Diana_Keszler) entertained us greatly presenting a lesson getting the pupils to learn about places in the town using what looked like a bbc french clip about Guadeloupe. The clip was great and had a few bits that are great for mimicking. She then got them to compare Basse-Terre and Paris - a great way to get some "il n'y a pas de" practice in. This gave them a great base for writing work.

Martin talked how to approach the use of literature. 
1.  Using poetry to reinforce a tense. Rather than asking pupils to do gapfill from a listening exercise, he suggested asking the pupils to predict which verbs go in which gaps.  He used a poem which I'm not familiar with, not being Spanish,  but it looked a perfect one.  It was called "Instantes" by Jorge Luis Borges, but it can apply to many others.  He then said that listening to a clip from Youtube would make it much more pleasurable and the pupils would get more out of it.

2.  A poetry reading competition.  They chose "Maripose del aire" by Lorca because it emphasises the rhythm of Spanish well, and is good for adjective variety.

3.  Use songs - use the same technique as number 1. The song for practising the preterite in Spanish was "La historia de Juan".

4.  How about translation from English to the TL?  How about Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" because it's full of the present continuous. I think it might well work in German, and it's great for emphasising that the present tense is both "I play" and "I am playing".

Get connected! Connectives and slow writing

I've been on a mission this year - to try and coax my pupils out of their tiny comfort zone, where the reason for everything is "parce que c'est super" or "Weil es lustig ist". I swear,  a little piece of me dies when I see that. Now, I'm not talking about the pupils for whom these sentences are a real achievement, I'm talking about the pupils who hang onto the their one "weil" phrase and refuse to venture beyond them.

So, what to do?

Step 1: colour-code my connectives learning wall - I mainly teach German, and so the perfect way to order them was as follows:

This in itself has had a big impact. Firstly, my previously ignored display was suddenly noticed by the pupils.  I had beginner pupils asking how to use the red connectives.  My GCSE groups, even more reluctant learners would give them a go. Why? In part, the clarity of the display made it so much easier to use and the colour-coding scheme showed clear progression.  I also used the display regularly as a teaching tool. And it became a means of feeding back to pupils on their variety of word order. Self-assessment of variety was also made easier. It has also become a short-hand way of referring to the different word-order rules, and less of a mouthful than "subordinating conjunctions"

Of course, it doesn't happen by magic, and the usual regular teaching / reinforcement has to happen. This has also been in conjunction with a big push on group talk this year. I use speaking bingo grids like the one below quite often for ensuring that a range of language is used in the course of the group discussion.

I really felt that I needed to push things further.  Some pupils reluctantly and begrudgingly stuck in a red connective to stop me nagging them, but I felt that the quality of ideas hadn't really improved for those pupils. This is where the wonder of twitter and the blogosphere played its part.

David Didau (@learningspy) has devoted several blogs and now a book on improving writing.  Some of his ideas really resonated with me.  One of the things he writes about in his chapter on writing is the idea of producing more sophisticated responses to exam questions, and the use of discourse markers. As linguists, we know the power of words, and words can unlock ideas as well as framing them.

Take a typical starter - picture prompts to help pupils discuss their opinions of maths.  What happens if we then ask them to use obwohl (although) or deshalb (therefore) to answer the question? 

 I tried this with and without the prompts with my year 10 class, and the difference in the sophistication of the ideas expressed pleasantly surprised me. During the task, some pupils hunted out phrases that we had talked about from a reading comprehension so that they could say what they wanted to say. We discussed the difference as a class, and one pupil's remark I found interesting - it was like I can given them permission to use things they do in English.

And this brings to another point.  Ask your pupils about their opinions about, for example, school rules and they are opinionated and often funny and perceptive.  So, we need to harness this, rather than limit them to the "weil es ungerecht ist".

Another David Didau idea is that of Slow Writing - getting the pupils to slow down, appreciate every word, and produce beautifully crafted sentences. This is one example from a lesson on school rules.  I told the pupils we were going to play with the language we'd been learning and I was setting them a challenge. On A4 paper I asked them to create the following sentences:

They then worked in pairs either to produce a combined version, or to improve their own.  I then asked them if they wanted to re-order the sentences, and use them to produce a paragraph. The rhetorical question and the 3 word sentences produced some real crackers, and of course the boys argued over the 22-word sentences. The pupils seemed to enjoy the exercise, and it did allow them to play with the language, and got them out of the rut.  Anything that helps them do that is a good thing.