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An hour of language teaching chat

Last Sunday evening I was the guest on Etienne Langlois’s webinar show Shop Talk. Etienne is a Canadian teacher and DJ who runs the French Playground site which organises live, online French activities and events including interviews, French class meet and greets, games of "Devinez le dessin", "Triva", and Kahoot. Etienne nad I talked for an hour about my work and about language teaching in general. I am grateful to Etienne for setting up the interview.
Recent posts

Exploiting a simple drill worksheet

One type of activity which I found useful to do from time to time with students was audio-lingual style grammar drills. A simple cue and response style drill can be exploited in a number of ways. In the example below the exercise is designed to practise perfect tense verbs (avoir auxiliary, regular past participles).

So as not to overload pupils with too much other distracting information, all the (high frequency) vocabulary should already be known to the class so that students are encouraged to notice and focus on the contrast between present and perfect tense.

First of all, the worksheet is meant to be used primarily for whole class and paired oral work so that pupils get to hear multiple uses of the two tenses. Assume that these exercises come late in a sequence of work focusing on the perfect tense with avoir verbs, i.e. pupils already have a good understanding of how the grammar works and the phonology associated with the two tenses. This stress on listening should help build a s…

Games or purposeful tasks?


a form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules. synonyms:match · contest · tournament · meeting · sports meeting · meet · event ·  an activity that one engages in for amusement: "a computer game" synonyms:pastime · diversion · entertainment · amusement · distraction a complete episode or period of play, ending in a final result: "a baseball game" a type of activity or business regarded as a game: "he was in the restaurant game for the glamour"

There’s a good deal of debate around the value of games in the languages classroom. Inexperienced trainees I meet are often strongly encouraged to use games, while others feel "gamification" may devalue the subject and contribute too little to learning. I wonder how you see the role of games...

My own feeling on this is if a game is a purposeful task which enhances learning at least as well as any other, then why not use it to provide an enjoyable and memorable lesson? Take the common whole …

The Google Translate problem

I read on social media groups for language teachers that many teachers have stopped setting written homework to pupils because the latter are resorting to Google Translate so often. Instead these teachers are setting learning homework or exercises with apps such as Memrise. This is, in a way, understandable, but it's also very regrettable.

If written work is done in the classroom it leaves less time for listening and speaking, which it is harder to plan for as homework. Time is already too limited for MFL so to restrict that time for listening and speaking even further is bound to hinder the progress pupils can make. Second language acquisition occurs primarily through receiving understandable messages and communicating, not so much by doing written drills, writing paragraphs or learning individual words from lists of apps. If you do less listening and communication in class you limit the progress students can make. Put simply, if students do not do written homework I believe they…

Helping A-level students become confident essay writers


One of the challenges of the new A-level MFL specifications is that students have to write two target language essays on film or literature in two hours. This is, of course, not new, since in previous version of A-level this was also the practice.

I'd like to share some of my own ideas on how we can help produce confident essay writers. These ideas are coloured by training sessions I have been running for AQA with teachers around the country. See if you go along with my suggestions.

A scaffolded progression

I wouldn't advocate getting students to write essays from early on in their study of the book or film. The danger is that most students will struggle to write well, especially if they have little experience of essay writing. In this regard students of English literature or history, for example, are at an advantage. Although, as teachers have pointed out to me at meetings, many (most? all?) GCSE English literature pupils are used to the acronym PEEL (Point, Evid…

Buckingham Uni slides on conscious and unconscious learning

Here are the slides for my Buckingham University PGCE and IGCSE students. The session was about views on second language learning, with the focus on unconscious acquisition(implicit) and conscious (explicit) instruction. We then considered how classroom tasks reflect these two ends of the acquisition-learning spectrum. Buckingham university pgce from Steve Smith

Nifty ideas from the Buckingham University PGCE trainees

Today I had the pleasure of spending a day training twenty young teaching trainees (nearly all already in post). In one session they and I shared successful lesson ideas. Here is what we described, as curated by Rebekah Thomas (thanks!).

Ideas that work in the language classroom

• Plickers (free) – print out bar codes and stick in exercise books, create quiz, pupils use bar code to answer, poll app, good for assessment for learning, students do not need to have a device, multiple choice, true or false, bar chart can be displayed on the board to show results
• Mini-whiteboards – assessment for learning
• Mexican wave/chain – within a certain time frame, pupils have to say a word from a sequence: numbers, days of the week, months
• Entry routine – pupils count down with you when they come into the classroom e.g. count down from 20 or chant the alphabet song – by the end of it they have to be ready
• Role plays/information gap dialogue (communicative, student-led) – role play cards with corres…