Friday, 20 January 2017

GCSE Higher Tier reading gap-fills

Among the many free samples I have on the frenchteacher site there's one you may have overlooked and which you might find very useful when revising for reading exams. This is a set of nine cloze tasks, each of which consists of an adapted authentic text with gaps to be filled. Pupils can choose words from a box which makes the task similar in style to many you see on GCSE papers.

You can find them here (scroll down, bottom left-hand column).

You could copy them and make a booklet for use in class or at home.

Here's an example:

Les ados accros aux écrans

Remplir les blancs en utilisant les mots dans la case

console                 parisiens              projeté                  dire

facile                    collégiens             temps                   devant

quotidienne          passé                    aucun                            demandé

Les ados sont accros aux écrans : une étude réalisée auprès de 8000

_________ parisiens fait le point sur le comportement des jeunes dans

leur vie __________.

3 heures : voilà le temps passé chaque jour par les ados devant un écran

d’ordinateur, de télé ou de _______ ... Résultat, le lendemain matin, en

ils s’endorment en cours. Car ce temps devant l’écran est souvent

pris sur le ________ de sommeil. Ces résultats sont tout droits sortis

d’un questionnaire* adressé à 8000 collégiens_________. Il en ressort

que l’addiction aux écrans est le problème n°1 pour les collégiens,

________ l’alcool ou le tabac.  Les adultes se demandent quoi faire face

à cette situation. Car ________ aux ados « Vous passez trop de temps

sur un écran, ce n’est pas bon pour vous !" n’ a _______ effet ! Les

médecins qui ont piloté l’étude ont alors _________ à certains ados de

plancher sur un scénario puis de tourner un film ou ils se mettraient en

scène face à leurs écrans. Le film est destiné à être _________ pour

lancer la discussion... et ça marche!  Cet effet miroir aide à réaliser le

temps ________ devant la télé, l’ordi, ou la console… Une fois qu’on a

réalisé c’est plus ________ d’agir de manière à s’en passer !


le sommeil – sleep          accro à – addicted to      un écran - screen

plancher – (slang) to work         se passer de – to do without

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

France Bienvenue revisited

This is in the way of a reminder about an excellent website I haven't blogged about for a long time. I'm always impressed when teachers maintain something of a high standard over a long period and this is a good example.

France Bienvenue, with its strapline De vraies conversations pour apprendre le français comme on le parle et tout pour les comprendre is well worth a visit if you teach advanced level French.

The recipe has always been the same. Teacher Anne from the IUT Marseille has, each year since 2008, got a small team of her students to record weekly conversations for the benefit of French learners around the world. Each conversation is accompanied by some sort of video (sometimes just slides which illustrate the topic), a transcript of the conversation and a glossary of language used with explanations in French. The conversations often have a distinct cultural element and give a nice flavour of student life in the Marseilles area.

Anne writes:

Comprendre une langue telle qu’on la parle au quotidien, ce n’est pas toujours facile, surtout si on ne vit pas dans le pays où on parle cette langue!
Alors, nous avons envie de partager avec vous ces petites conversations authentiques que nous enregistrons avec nos amis, nos proches ou d’autres pour que vous puissiez entendre le français tel qu’on le parle ici en France, à Marseille et ailleurs.
Vos suggestions ou vos questions sont les bienvenues. Vous pouvez nous laisser vos commentaires, en français ou dans une autre langue ! (Si c’est en espagnol, en italien ou en allemand, nous nous débrouillerons pour comprendre !)

She also presents the site here.

The topics covered are wide-ranging and, in recent times, have included: holidays, dance, Christmas, horse-riding, food, living together at 19, work placements and the Stade Vélodrome in Marseilles.

The language used is authentic, of course, usually well-paced for A-level and the presence of the transcripts means you can design effective multi-skill lessons centred on listening. You could copy and paste the scripts, creating gap-fills, reading comprehension tasks or retranslation tasks. It's refreshing to have material which isn't textbook-style, artificial-sounding material, necessary though that is. Sound quality is good and the content often interesting.

You could use the recordings from the front of the class or have students listen and read on tablets, laptops or in a computer room. It is possible to listen with only the beginning of the transcript visible. I have over the years designed occasional worksheets for to go with France Bienvenue material.

Do let me know if you know of anything else similar.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Three types of PPP

PPP, in case you don't know, stands for Presentation Practice Production. In language classrooms it's the approach adopted by most teachers when they introduce a new grammatical structure or vocabulary topic. The idea is broadly that you present the structure, give students a chance to practise it within narrow parameters, then finally an opportunity to use the structure in a less controlled context. This approach fits well with the skill acquisition view of second language learning and is akin to the way you might teach other skills in life, e.g. learning how to do a side-step in rugby or play a simple piece of music on the piano.

But PPP can come in different forms and may mean different things to different teachers. Let me offer three different ways of applying it.

1. Deductive approach

In this clearest and simplest approach you would present a new structure on the board with examples, e.g. you might explain and show how the comparative of adjectives functions. This is explicit grammar teaching in its purest form and you could enhance the process with translations, using underlining, highlighting or colour to make the key elements clearer to students. Students might then copy down the notes before moving on to some structured practice. This might be in the form of a cloze exercise, a matching task, a spot-the-error task or similar. Translation into English could be involved along with some tightly structured question and answer or other oral interaction. Once you think the class has mastered the structure you then move on, probably in a subsequent lesson, to some production whereby students get the chance to use comparatives in a less tightly controlled fashion. This could involve an information gap task, general conversation questions featuring comparatives or a written task comparing two people.

2. Inductive approach (1)

This differs somewhat from the above in as far as you do not explain the structure from the very start. In this case you would present a limited number of examples of the structure in a meaningful context, e.g. for comparative of adjectives showing three stick figures of different heights, body shapes and IQ (controversial?) and proceed to describe the differences between the three characters. Fred is taller then John, John is smarter than David etc. At some point in the teaching sequence you would then ask students to notice what is going on, what patterns they can see or hear.

At this point you could then present the structure as above in Section 1 in order to make sure all students have understood. You could call this "inductive-lite" since you have not given a great deal of time for students to pick up the structure. Once you have presented the structure, you could then continue as in Section 1.

3. Inductive approach (2)

This has been described in a recent Gianfranco Conti blog here. In this case, you make sure that students hear and read many, many examples of the structure in context. You avoid any explicit grammar explanation for a long time, allowing plenty of time for the structure to become embedded in students' memories. Indeed, you may choose to avoid any explanation at all, if you think students have mastered the structure for themselves. In this approach, which would be favoured by proponents of the comprehension hypothesis (language is acquired by understanding messages), the emphasis is on meaning, but with much repetition of the target structure.

After a lengthy period of assimilation you would then proceed to do some structured practice examples and freer production as described above. In a sense this third approach is barely PPP at all, especially if you omit the explanation phase.


Which of the above three approaches is best? Research does not help us a great deal since no study has convincingly compared in controlled conditions the effectiveness of each. My own preference was generally for (2) but I varied how I taught grammar depending on the class and the structure being taught.

For example, with the subjunctive in A-level classes I chose approach (1), giving quite detailed handouts summarising the formation and use of the subjunctive, before proceeding to structured practice and freer production. Why? Because the range of forms and uses is too wide to teach by drip-feeding and older students who have opted for the subject can handle detailed explanations better.

On the other hand, when introducing a new tense with younger pupils I would usually use (2), often with pictures to support the presentation phase. I felt more comfortable letting students figure out the patterns for themselves, sensing that they might retain them better if they had noticed the pattern themselves without prompting. In addition, the challenge of working something out independently should inherently be more engaging.

With other trickier grammatical structures, e.g. the use of the relatives  ce qui and ce que I felt that explanation was more likely to lead to confusion with some intermediate students and felt it was better to let nature take its course, just letting students see and hear them in context. With some classes I would not have taught that structure at all, of course. You have to pick and choose your grammar carefully with lower attaining pupils.

All of this presupposes that we can "teach" grammar at all - some scholars and teachers claim we cannot and that students acquire grammar at their own rate and in their own order. I cannot possibly say for sure, but because of the way I was taught and through my reading, I remain of the opinion that practising structures, as long as you don't do it excessively, is very useful and can, in a school setting, lead to effective acquisition. If I were to hazard a guess at the amount of time I spent focused on grammar I would say that with advanced level students it was less than 10%, and with younger students no more than 30%. And within that 30% the large majority of the practice would have been based on meaningful (if not "compelling") target language.

We discuss these issues in more detail in The Language Teacher Toolkit.

Monday, 9 January 2017

An instant 30 minute listening task

I'm posting an example of some new listening tasks which are appearing on They are pitched at Higher Tier GCSE level (both old and new specs) and can be used instantly for a 20 minute or so activity. For readers outside England and Wales the level is intermediate. In each case there is a teacher script which can be read aloud or recorded if you prefer. This is followed by two exercises with answers provided.

I'd recommend doing the task in the spirit of an exercise rather than a test. You could read the text in short chunks or in their entirety. You can add further tasks if you want, e.g. gap-filling and translation. The one below is on the topic of the environment - no apologies for this!

Talking about the environment

Teacher script 

On ne peut pas parler de l’environnement sans évoquer le problème numéro un de la planète – c’est-à-dire le réchauffement climatique. Malgré les énormes progrès qui ont été faits dans le domaine de l’énergie renouvelable, les voitures électriques etc, à mon avis c’est trop tard pour empêcher des hausses de température dangereuses.
Mais pour le moment ce qui est responsable de milliers de morts dans le monde, c’est la pollution de l’air. Dans les pays plus développés c’est les véhicules et les centrales électriques qui en sont responsables. Je crois qu’on devrait abolir les véhicules diesel le plus vite possible et fermer les centrales qui brûlent du charbon. Savez-vous que les petites particules émises par les voitures diesel causent énormément de maladies différentes ? En Chine il y a tellement de pollution atmosphérique que certains jours on ne peut même pas sortir de la maison. Mais dans les pays en développement, c’est le bois qu’on brûle à l’intérieur des habitations qui provoquent le plus grand nombre de morts.
Personnellement j’essaie de ne pas trop rouler en voiture, je ne prends jamais l’avion et je réduis ma consommation d’énergie le plus possible. J’ai acheté des ampoules LED pour la maison et j’ai fait installer des panneaux solaires sur le toit de la maison. Bien sûr je recycle du papier, du papier carton, du verre, des matières plastiques et métalliques et je vais à la déchetterie de temps en temps.
Mais ça m’embête quand je vois des gens rouler trop vite dans leur voiture ou quand les gens se plaignent quand on fait construire de nouvelles éoliennes. A mon avis, le problème c’est que les gens ne voient pas trop de changements autour d’eux donc ils ne comprennent pas combien la situation est grave pour la planète.
Mon seul espoir est que nous trouverons des solutions technologiques qui limiteront le changement climatique et qui protégeront les populations qui seront les plus touchées par ce changement – c’est-à-dire les habitants des pays pauvres. Mais franchement je ne suis pas optimiste sur la question.

A.        Vrai ou faux ?
1.         On ne parle pas du problème principal de la planète.
2.         Peu de progrès ont été faits pour combattre le réchauffement.
3.         On demande si c’est trop tard pour limiter les hausses de température.
4.         C’est la pollution atmosphérique qui tue le plus grand nombre de personnes.
5.         Les véhicules diesel émettent trop de particules nuisibles pour la santé.
6.         Malgré la pollution les Chinois peuvent toujours sortir de la maison.
7.         Dans les pays pauvres l’air est plus pollué à l’intérieur des logements qu’à                 l’extérieur.
8.         Le/la professeur(e) roule trop en voiture malheureusement.
9.         Il/Elle essaie de limiter sa consommation d’énergie le plus possible.
10.       Il/Elle a fait installer des panneaux solaires sur le toit du garage.
11.       Il/Elle va à la déchetterie chaque semaine.
12.       Rien ne l’embête en ce qui concerne ce sujet.
13.       Il/Elle pense que les gens ne sont pas conscients de la gravité du problème.
14.       Des solutions technologiques ne sont pas exclues.
15.       Il/Elle a le plus peur pour les habitants les moins riches de la planète.

B.        Complétez les phrases en utilisant un mot dans la case. Deux mots ne sont       pas utilisés.

1.         Le réchauffement planétaire est une grande ________ d’inquiétude.
2.         Il est ________ de recycler toutes sortes de produits.
3.         Les voitures diesel émettent ________ de produits toxiques.
4.         L’énergie renouvelable ________ considérablement les émissions de CO2.
5.         Des milliers de personnes sont tuées ________ année par la pollution de l’air.
6.         La plupart des gens n’ont ________ idée combien la situation est grave.
7.         On peut réduire son empreinte carbone en ________ moins l’avion.
8.         C’est les gens pauvres de la Terre qui souffriront le ________ du                                    réchauffement.
9.         Je ne ________ pas trop aux questions de l’environnement.
10.       J’essaie de ne pas trop ________ la voiture.

trop             pense             source         rouler         prenant           prendre           chaque                   plus         aucune            réduit           facile          difficile


A. 1. F   2. F    3. V     4. V    5. V     6. F     7. V     8. F     9. V     10. F    11. F    12. F

13. V   14. V    15. V

1. source     2. facile    3. trop   4. réduit   5. chaque   6. aucune  7. prenant

8. plus   9. pense   10. prendre

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Some great social media links for language teachers

When I left the classroom in 2012 I quickly discovered I could not shake off my obsession with language teaching. I have kept in touch with the languages community almost entirely via social media. I use various media to do three things: learn more about teaching around the world, notably the USA and Canada, exchange ideas with other teachers and sell some of the work I write. Social media has allowed me to fulfil the long-held ambition to help train other teachers and I consider that I can reach more teachers online than through any face-to-face course.

Here are the platforms I use:


I make a point of following, almost without exception, teachers and others in education. By doing this I avoid the more unsavoury corners of Twitter. Exchanges are therefore almost always informative and polite. I try to avoid on the whole tweeting political stuff, but I don't always succeed. I decided some time ago to use Twitter for professional reasons and Facebook for social/family affairs. (The exception being professional closed Facebook groups.) I confess to finding Twitter very addictive!

Engaging with Twitter has taught me a huge amount about language teaching and education in general and I have made really useful links with teachers around the world, most notably with my collaborator Gianfranco Conti in Malaysia. Other notable language teachers and trainers I follow are Joe Dale, who oversees the MFL Twitterers list, Helen Myers who is very active in the ALL, Sara-E Cottrell and Martina Bex, both from the USA, José Picardo, and Pauline Galea from Canada. There are many others I could mention. I often use the Buffer app (free version) to post tweets in advance so that they appear at times of the day when teachers are more likely to read them.


There are a number of Facebook groups where teachers meet to share ideas and resources, and ask for help. The ones I contribute to are based in the UK, Canada and Malaysia. If you are on Facebook, just look up the following: Secondary MFL Matters, Secondary MFL in Wales, MFL Teachers' Lounge, Canadian Core French Teachers, Parlez avec Pauline, French Teachers, IGCSE Language Teachers, MFL Resources and Ideas and International Language Teachers in Malaysia. The atmosphere in these various groups is super, very supportive and hardly ever antagonistic.

MFL Yahoo Groups Forum

This has been around a while and still has hundreds of members even though messages have become rarer of late. Members stay in touch via email and, as with the Facebook groups, teachers ate helpful ad supportive. You can find the group easily enough by doing a google search. You can set up your account to have email messages sent to your inbox if you want. I am one of the moderators of the group which, for me at least, just means lightly vetting any new requests for members.


There are many useful teacher blogs out there from which I learn a great deal.
I keep a list of these on Most teachers don't have the time to update these regularly, but the best ones share great practice, tell you about how technology can be used and discuss methodological issues. You could start with Gianfranco Conti's detailed blogs ( which marry research and classroom practice, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell's Musicuentos blog or Martina Bex's The Comprehensible Classroom. Again, there are many others you might find interesting. I have been running my own blog since 2009.

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Monday, 2 January 2017

An Amazon Echo in the classroom?

We succumbed over Christmas and bought an Amazon Echo Dot (the little sister of Alexa with the much smaller speaker). It's a fun digital assistant which will answer simple questions, play music from the radio, Spotify and Amazon, set alarms for you in the kitchen, make lists and more. Its speech recognition is great, even from a distance or when whispering to it close up. The default wake up call is Alexa, so you just say Alexa and then speak away. Its LED spinning light tells you she's listening.

So you can see where I am going with this. For a small outlay, an Amazon account and with a wifi classroom connection, you could set Alexa to your chosen language (only German so far)  and use her as a language learning aid. Note that Alexa is always on and needs no other devices to function apart from the teacher's smartphone with the Alexa app.

When the app is set up you can add specific "skills" (like mini-apps) which allow Alexa to perform further functions. Thee can be accessed via the app.

What could you do? Most of these can be done at intermediate level or above. All of these tasks involve careful listening, sometimes combined with note-taking, translating or summarising.

1. Ask Alexa factual questions in TL and get students to note down or transcribe her answers, e.g. "what is the longest, second longest, what is the highest, how long is..."
2. Practise weather expressions by asking her for the forecast in different locations, e.g. towns in France.
3. Practise distances/measurements by asking her the distance between locations in the chosen country.
4. Set alerts for timed classroom activities.
5. Say good morning to her (she responds with interesting facts about the day). Students can listen and note down what they hear.
6. Set up a news flash briefing (for advanced students only).You can customise news briefings, choosing from a range of sources. Students take notes.
7. Ask for spellings of words. This would work with near-beginners too. Alexa spells put words clearly for you.
8. Ask for definitions of words. Alexa has access to a dictionary. This could be useful when you are stuck for a meaning or could be done as a combined listening/vocab task
9. Ask for biographical information about famous people. Alexa gives brief answers which could be summarised, translated or transcribed.
10. Practise times by setting up a specific skill. These depend on the country and language, but you could search for something like train times.

Note that the Echo with the larger speaker would be better for a large classroom, but you can connect the Dot to an external speaker either by wire or bluetooth. The language delivery is very clear, but with some minor intonation issues.

If you ask Alexa for a translation of a word she says she cannot pronounce but it is recorded in the app (as all answers are).

Am I in the realms of gimmickry here? I'm not sure. Once the Echo is set up it is always on and can be consulted at any time. You'd also have to have clear protocols about its use with students so they don't set it off for amusement or ask dodgy questions if you are out if the room. In addition, the Echo has to be set up through an Amazon account, so you don't want students ordering you things without your knowledge! You might find a copy of The Language Teacher Toolkit waiting for you at home!

The Echo is the best digital assistant you can use from a distance in a room, with Google Home on its way to the UK at some time. In time, when they become more sophisticated, I can imagine them being used routinely in classrooms.

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Two fun listening games

I've begun posting new listening resources on the Y10-11 page of frenchteacher. Up to now I have only ever posted video listening exercises (worksheets linked to online video clips), but for a while I have wanted to publish some instantly usable listening tasks which can be read aloud by the teacher or recorded, e.g. by a native speaker. (Posting my own recordings is problematic since only teachers have login access to my site, not students.)

So far I've uploaded two scripts - a description of a movie (Interstellar) and a TV series (Mr Robot). Apart from the read-aloud script there are accompanying exercises, all in the target language. I'm calling these resources "20 minute listening tasks".

While on the topic of listening, here are two gun games you can use with intermediate students or above:

Would I lie?

For intermediate to advanced level. Students try to work out which three of six statements are not true by asking you questions. You prepare five statements about yourself, three true and two false, and write them on the board. For example:
• My brother has twin sons.
• I have three cats.
• If I’d been a boy, I would’ve been called George.
• My family was brought up in Spain.
• My favourite movie is The Sound of Music.
• My father was an extra in Star Wars.
You can ask the class how many of the statements they think are false. Then tell them there are three. Tell them they have to work out which by asking you questions, listening to your answers and watching your reaction. You can embroider your answers as much as possible, giving the right number of hints depending on how fast you think your class is.

Let the students ask questions until they have decided which ones they believe (by a show of hands). Give them the real answer. You could add an element of competition by putting the class into pairs or small groups, with each grouping coming up with their chosen two false statements.

An extension to this task is to ask students to write down similar statements for themselves – three true and three false. Divide them into groups and repeat as above with one person from the group being questioned by the others.

One lie

While on the theme of lying, here is another game for intermediate level students and which can be played in pairs. Give each student about five minutes to write down a set of statements about themselves, all of which are true except one. In turn, each student reads their sentences and their partner has to identify the false statement.You can make this fit a particular grammar point you have been working on, e.g. to practice the past (preterite) tense you could set the them What I did last summer? Or, to practice the future tense My plans for the future.
A simple variation would be for each partner to have to discover how many lies their partner uttered, rather than just find one.

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Thursday, 29 December 2016

My five most viewed blogs of 2016

It's gratifying to me that this blog has been read more and more this year with the total number of page views exceeding 1 million in December. Content has ranged from reviews, information and reflections to resources and marketing blogs. The blog has been a continued focus for me, along with, The Language Teacher Toolkit, my new soon-to-be-published handbook and the TES units of work co-written with Gianfranco Conti.

The five most read posts of 2016 are listed below.

1. Learning strategies.

This was actually the third in a series of five posts about Learning Strategies, based on material which we could not fit into The Language Teacher Toolkit. This post was shared by the British Council so picked up over 22,000 views.

2. What about natural aptitude for second language learning?

With over 14,000 views, this post looked at the background and history of research into language learning aptitude. All teachers know how much variation there is between pupils, but how much is down to ability, how much sheer hard work? Research into aptitude has become rather neglected, but occasionally surfaces, with some scholars even suggesting a strong genetic element in language learning capability.

3. What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit.

This was a marketing blog which listed many of the complimentary reviews Gianfranco and I have received about our handbook. We are delighted that the book has sold over 1500 copies around the world in nine months. If you haven't got it yet, check out the reviews!

4. Three AQA A-level courses compared.

This post combined three individual reviews of new A-level French courses from OUP, Hodder and Steve Glover (online). The two books are a good deal better than the previous crop of A-level courses, while more teachers have been moving to Steve's Attitudes 16 downloadable course. I enjoy reviewing text books and books on language teaching methodology.

5. New GCSE resources on

This one had 4500 views and was just a summary of the resources I had written at that stage in the year for the new GCSE (intermediate) French course. This, along with A-level, was the main focus for the website this year. For GCSE I added my own example exam papers, speaking and translation material.

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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Book progress report

I blogged a while ago about the book I'm working on for Routledge. It's to be called Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher. Following the success of The Language Teacher Toolkit written with Gianfranco, Routledge approached me out of the blue to write a book in their series "Becoming an Outstanding...". I had not been intending to write a second handbook, but on reflection I did see how I could put together something which would be distinctive from the first book and original in its own way. The target readership is teacher trainees and other interested teachers aiming to refine their practice. Since most of the examples I use are in English, so as not to confuse teachers of particular languages, the book may appeal to ESL/EFL teachers too.

The typescript is almost complete now. There are fourteen chapters covering areas such as running a classroom, teaching texts, listening, vocabulary, task-based teaching, writing and speaking, as well as a final chapter featuring case studies of unorthodox approaches which can achieve success. Reference is made to aspects of particular current interest: translation and advanced level essay writing. In that last chapter I focus on the work being done at the Michaela Community School (a strongly bilingual approach) the TPRS (storytelling) method and AIM, the mainly Canadian approach, with its emphasis on gesture, plays and acting out.

The unique aspect of this book is the way I give detailed descriptions of lesson sequences. Some chapters offer blow-by-blow accounts of sequences based on the oral-situational/communicative approach which was my own bread and butter. I describe, with inexperienced teachers in mind, how to run specific lessons based on visuals, tasks, aural and written texts, and games. I concentrate on the very specific interactions which occur between teachers and students, and between students themselves. The subtleties of such interactions are at the heart of good teaching, I would suggest.

This book is barely referenced at all, being based largely on personal experience and observation over many years. The general approach will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I do emphasise that there is no one best method. I hope my case studies chapter reinforces that point.

Readers familiar with the Toolkit book and my blog won't be surprised to find that the lessons reflect my belief in those two strands of thought in second language acquisition research: the key role of comprehensible input and the importance of acquiring skills through meaningful presentation and practice.

Once again I have to stress that the book is not about theory and research, but about what you actually do in the classroom to make lessons work, maximising input, practice and motivation. This includes, by the way, references to technology. Most of the chapters will include a number of tech tips for beginners (as well as experienced teachers less familiar with digital tools. Most of these tips are not from my own practical experience, but from what I have seen recommended by many teachers in their blogs and on their websites.

After more proofing the typescript goes off to Routledge and, if all goes well, the book will be published sometime later in the year.
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Sunday, 11 December 2016

Which skill is most neglected in languages classrooms?

Out of interest I posted a poll on Twitter with the question "Which skill do you think is most neglected in MFL/WL classrooms?" The four options were listening, reading, speaking and writing.

The responses (320 of them) were interesting and as follows:

Listening 47%
Reading 7%
Speaking 40%
Writing 6%

I have usually written that listening is the most neglected skill and this accords with what the respondents to the poll thought. I wonder if this is because of the way we perceive "listening" in language teaching and the way it is assessed.

One of the unfortunate by-products of the GCSE exam system in England and Wales, introduced around 1987, is that listening is seen as a separate skill, assessed separately and therefore to be taught separately. (For readers outside England and Wales, about half of our 15-16 year-olds do a high-stakes, national exam called GCSE which has always assessed (reasonably discretely) listening, reading, speaking and writing.)

This had tended to encourage teachers to divide up planning and lessons into these four skills. As a consequence, listening sometimes (by no means always) ends up being practised in the form of separate exercises or tests which typically consist of short snippets or longer extracts of recorded speech accompanied by various question types - true/false/not mentioned, matching, gap-fill, ticking correct statements and questions in English or TL.
In addition, teachers wisely spend a good deal of time doing practice exam papers to help their students prepare for exams. This reinforces the notion of listening as a test.

As Gianfranco has written in his blog, and as we wrote in The Language Teacher Toolkit, teaching listening therefore becomes testing with the emphasis on right/wrong answers and a certain degree of resultant stress for students. Students often express dislike for listening.

But actually, when you think about it, much of the listening students do takes place during classroom interactions when they hear either the teacher or a partner speaking. This can be enhanced by the use of well-chosen recorded extracts involving manageable, scaffolded tasks which need not be in the form of testing questions.

Don't forget (if you did) that teacher-fronted question-answer work and other forms of interaction are as much, if not more, about developing listening skill as oral skill. If we neglect such teacher-led work we deny students the chance to develop their confidence with listening skill and confidence over time.

Poor practice would be to teach some grammar, teach some vocabulary, do a few practice tasks then move straight to an audio recording of paragraph-length speech. Better would be to engage in lots if interactional activities, all carefully scaffolded, using the teacher's voice as much as possible, along with the voices of fellow students, before moving to short recorded snippets, then longer recorded sections which link with previously learned material.

Over several years this type of approach will produce more confident listeners. Of course, you'll never remove the stress of doing listening exams altogether. By their very nature (total concentration is needed, you only hear the material twice) listening tests will always cause difficulty. But if you let listening become a very large part of every listen by doing "multi-modal" tasks, to use the jargon, listening skill will develop more organically.

So I would argue that you should not worry about talking a good deal in TL to classes, as long as your talk is supported by all the aids needed to make your self understood. Similarly, allowing students to do well-constructed pair or group tasks and combining listening with reading and writing via transcription, gap-fill, reading aloud, note-taking, writing answers to oral questions and so on, will help develop confident listeners.

Do have a look at Gianfranco's blog for some great ideas on developing grammar through listening:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Peppa Pig - la Visite du Père Noël

Here is a nice video listening task from The video lasts just over 5 minutes. You could use this with a very good Y9 class, or more likely a Y10-ll group for a bit of useful listening fun and vocabulary building. The class could do the task independently in a computer room or on tablets (if you have the bandwidth).

The URL of the video is below, but you can find it elsewhere, e.g. on Dailymotion, with a Google video search.

Apologies for any formatting issues - you could copy and paste into Word.

Regardez, écoutez et complétez cette liste de vocabulaire que vous entendez

Christmas Day - __ _____ __ ____              nanny and grandad - ______ __ ______

Father Christmas has been! - __ ____ _____ ___ p_____

bubbles - b_____ (f)                                      cartoon book - b____ d________ (f)

too early - t___ t__                            all hands on deck! – t___ __ m____ s_ __ p__

plate - a________ (f)                                     glass - ______ (m)    

empty – v____                                              has disappeared - __ d_______

a few crumbs – q_____ m______                doll – p_______ (f)

to unwrap – d________                                 crackers – p________ s________ (f)

crown – c_________ (f)                                whistle – s______ (m)

riddle – d___________ (f)                             a “helibike” - ___________ (m)

to make a wish – f_____ __ v____               yippee! – y_____!

race – c_____ (f)                                           logically – l___________

the only one left - __ s____ q__ r______      she cries - ____ p_____

must have forgotten me - _ d_ m’o___  my round is finished – m_ t______ e__ t____

last toy – d______ j______ (m)                     my sack - m_ h______

chimney = c_________ (f)                            delay – r______ (m)

to taste – g______                                         fulfilled – exauc_


Christmas Day – le jour de Noël                   nanny and grandad – mami et papi

Father Christmas has been! – le père Noël est passé

bubbles - bulles (f)                                         cartoon book – bande dessinée (f)

too early – trop tôt                                         all hands on deck! – tout le monde sur le pont

plate - assiette (f)                                           glass - verre (m)        

empty – vide                                                  has disappeared – a disparu

a few crumbs – quelques miettes                   doll – poupée (f)

to unwrap – déballer                                      crackers – pochettes surprises (f)

crown – couronne (f)                                     whistle – sifflet (m) (serpentin sifflet)

riddle – devinette (f)                                      a “helibike” - vélicoptère (m)

to make a wish – faire un voeu                     yippee! – youpi!

race – course (f)                                            logically – logiquement

the only one left – le seul qui restait             she cries – elle pleure

must have forgotten me – a dû m’oublier     my round is finished – ma tour est terminée

last toy – dernier jouet (m)                            my sack – ma hotte

chimney = cheminée (f)                                delay – retard (m)

to taste – goûter