Saturday, 31 January 2015

Time management

I used to spend most of my weekends preparing and planning.

Many teachers do this.

To quote Tom Jones, "It's not unusual".

My New Year's Resolution for 2015 is not to do any school work at the weekend.

A month in and  I'm still sticking to it.

Am I lazy?


Is there a huge pile of planning and marking waiting for me on Monday morning?


Am I a terrible teacher?


Just kidding.


Every teacher knows that it is impossible to do the job properly if you're only prepared to work from 9 until 3:30 each school day but so far I've made a concerted effort to get all of my work done during the week so that I can relax at the weekend.

So, what have I been doing?

  • Working most nights until after 10pm is the honest answer but I've been doing other things, too.

  • I've been trying to be positive. 
Surrounding yourself with real life, or virtual, "Moaning Minnies" won't make you a positive person. Seek out the company of positive people or listen to the radio.

  • I've been working through my lunch breaks. 
I'm not suggesting that everyone does this. I'm merely putting forward the point that 45 minutes is usually more than enough time to eat, enjoy a coffee and mark a set of vocab tests, or enter assessment data, or do some planning or photocopying.

  • I've been getting the students to peer and self assess more. Under my watchful eye, of course.
  • I've been using marking stickers...
These were produced in house and each department uses them.

They say: "Since I last marked your work on _________________ you have made little/some/good/excellent progress with_____________________. To improve you must now____________________________.

The students then respond to the feedback, write what they are going to do improve and give examples.

  • I've been using highlighters to identify all the good things in the students' work. (See my post on effective feedback)  

  • I've been planning ahead.
I don't just plan my lessons, I plan my marking, too. I look at the calendar so I can plan my lessons and my marking weeks in advance. It amazes me when colleagues are surprised to find that it is assessment week or that there is a Parents' Evening that week (or even that day!)

  • I've not been setting writing homework at KS3
I'm not going to spend hours trying to work out what an internet translator was trying to say. I set grammar exercises, learning homework, reading comprehensions, etc. They are just as relevant and take a fraction of the time to mark, too. Written work is done in class where it can be planned and structured, not googled.

Obviously, I'm not saying that everyone should do this and I know for a fact that there are teachers who love spending their lives doing school work at home.

In the long term, if I'm honest with myself, I know that I'm just kidding myself and that at some point I will have to do some school work at the weekend.

But this is going to be the exception, not the rule.

And if I ever do find myself in a situation where I have six sets of books to mark which are all due in the next day, then that's the day I shall give up my job and start looking for my life...

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Christmas resources and links

Here is my list of (free) Christmas links and resources:




Saturday, 15 November 2014

150000 hits.

This week my blog had its 150000th visit.

That's about 149550 more than I ever expected.

Thanks to all of you who've visited, read and commented over the last four and a half years.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

#nalasat2 Show and Tell

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd MFL Show and Tell event organised by Marie O'Sullivan of NALA  and sponsored by those nice people at Sanako.

The event took place in Manchester at the Instituto Cervantes.

During the day we saw 15 presentations and ate our way through dozens of sandwiches, biscuits and Haribos.

The first presenter was Joaquin Bustamente, a primary Spanish teacher in York.
He showed us the Tricky Phonics he does with year 1 and year 2 Spanish.
The pupils have particular trouble with the "R" and "J" sounds and he showed us some actions he does with the students to get them to get the pronunciation correct. He made us join in with the actions and said the best way to get pupils to learn is "don't explain it - just do it."

Next came Suzanne Bryant who showed us a task she has based on the TV game show Perfection.
In the TV version contestants are given 6 sentences and they have to decide whether they are true or false. In Suzanne's version students are given 6 verbs, vocab, or grammar and they have to decide if they are correct or wrong. Her groups work in teams and have to discuss which are the correct ones.


Tom Kelly showed us his code grids.
This is a 5 by 4 grid with bits of sentences on them. Each grid is also numbered. Students are given a series of numbers and have to build that sentence. Similarly, they can be given a sentence and then they have to write the corresponding code. Students can also show progress by adapting the sentences from the grids and adding to them.


After Tom, we heard from Maria Minguez who teaches primary maths in Spanish.
Maria showed us some of the songs and video clips she uses with her students and explained the ways in which she uses youtube videos to explain ordinal numbers to her students.


Jo Hilton teaches primary Italian and showed us how she had adapted English songs into Italian to get the children to learn Spanish sounds.
Shew also showed us "keyhole" cards. These are cards with a keyhole shape cut into them with a picture behind them. Pupils have to guess the object hidden through the keyhole, in the target language.
Jo also shared how she uses cooperative learning structures, in particular the Quiz Quiz Trade activity.


Barbara Cheded then showed us how she uses real and virtual dice in her classroom. 
She uses low tech customisable foam dice and make dice lite an ipad app which lets you customise virtual dice. 

Marie O'Sullivan was the next presenter.
She gave us lots of links to, and ideas how to use, authentic literary texts.
These included: 

Leicht Lesen

Marie also told us that following European sports stars on twitter would also be a good thing as they often tweet in English and their own language.


I did the final presentation of the morning session.

An updated version of "Skinny jeans, baked potatoes and petechial haemorrages", to show where students and teachers can keep up to date with the most current language usage.


The afternoon session started with Soraya Borja and her presentation, érase una vez...
She explained how she used stories to introduce vocabulary and cross curricular themes to improve students' Spanish. She also uses dice activities to get students to add extra details to the stories or even changing them completely by introducing characters from other stories.


Next came Alison Lindsay who showed us some primary games to get students speaking in the target language. These included: qui a la clé?, le facteur and le balai. 
Alison also uses jigsaw puzzles to help practise vocabulary.
Alison's final idea was a cultural & food based exercise. Students are given a map of the French départements and some food packaging. The aim of the activity is to get students to read the packaging and identify which département the food comes from. The students then have an idea as to what the area is like based on the kind of food which is produced there.

Alberto Nunez Garcia showed us some examples of the CLIL he uses in Liverpool to teach history and geography in Spanish. He uses pictures of Anglosaxon Britain and compares it with modern Britain and the paces where the students live. For example: comparing "pueblo" with "cuidad".


Barbara Gleave teaches preschool languages and shared with us a song, "J'aime les éléphants" (to the tune of the cancan). She made us all sing. It was extremely good fun. I can't find a link to the song but if I ever do I'll post it here.


Ana Castillo was up next. She shared a few ideas with us. 
Firstly, a Y7 Scheme of work based on "El Quijote" which included a "Facebook" page and a time line.

Secondly, Ana shared some ideas where students design their own learning mats, exercises using writing frames and she also recommended memrise to help with remembering texts.


The penultimate speaker was Nikki Perry. Nikki shared PRET with us.
PRET stand for Practise, Recall, Extend and Think. 
It is used in her school for homework tasks.
Here is an example:

She also showed us the 1 jour 1 question videos on


The final presentation was by Natalio Ormeno.
Natalio shared with us his experience of living in New Mexico and in particular Christmas in New Mexico. His idea was to get students to research, and present, the customs, traditions, songs and food of a particular Spanish speaking country or area. 

He also shared with us a spanglish version of the Night Before Christmas poem:

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa, not a creature was stirring - ¡Caramba! ¿Qué pasa?   Los niños were tucked away in their camas, some in long underwear, some in pijamas, while hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado, in hopes that old Santa would feelobligado, to bring all children, both buenos and malos, a nice batch ofdulces and other regalos. Outside in the yard there arose un gran grito, and I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito. I ran to the window and looked out afuera, and who in the world do you think that he era? Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero, came dashing along like aloco bombero. And pulling his sleigh instead of venados, were eight littleburros approaching volando. I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre, was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre: ''Ay Pancho, ay Pepe, ay Cuco, ay Beto, ay Chato, ay Chopo, Maruco, y Nieto!'' Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho, he flew to the top of our very own techo, with his round little belly like a bowl of jalea, he struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea. Then huffing and puffing at last in our sala, with soot smeared all over his suit de gala, he filled all the stockings with lively regalos, none for the ninos that had been very malos. Then chuckling aloud, seeming very contento, he turned like a flash and was gone como el viento,  and I heard him exclaim, y ¡esto es verdad!  Merry Christmas to all, ¡y Feliz Navidad!


I really enjoyed this Show and Tell and I'm already looking forward to next year's.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Many teachers, parents and students can see no educational value in wordsearch puzzles.

As a teacher of languages I often find that they can be quite useful.

I use them:
  • as a bell activity to remind students of the key words from last lesson. 
  • for translation purposes (find the French for the following words).
  • to engage students who struggle to read.
  • for competitions.
  • to improve spelling.
  • to help students to learn to cooperate with each other.
I was recently made aware of this site, teachers-direct which has a great wordsearch creator tool.

It's ideal for languages as it allows you to include characters with accents.

The word list is always given in alphabetical order but I sometimes don't give the students the words to find.

I'll say for example 9 of the 10 words we learned last lesson can be found in the grid, which one is missing? 

The site is full of ready made puzzles but I usually prefer to make my own.

They can be printed or made into interactive whiteboard versions.

Personally, I'm not that keen on the interactive whiteboard wordsearch. It means that many of the students can't see, some won't be watching or working at all and the poor kid trying to do the interactive version is prevented from doing so by his or her own shadow.

You can make wordsearch grids of different sizes from 5 x 5 to 25 x 25 (ideal for differentiation) and you can make a traditional basic puzzle or a puzzle with a cloze passage. 

The cloze passages can be copied and pasted from an existing text of up to 100 words. This could then be the basis of some follow up comprehension questions.

Here is one I made earlier:


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

audio-lingua - authentic listening resources

I came across this site a while ago via Steve Smith's pages.

It has authentic listening resources in 10 different European languages at different levels from A1-C2.

You can search for files by length, level of difficulty, by male or female voice, and by target audience ie. children, young people, adults and seniors.

Files can be downloaded too, this is especially good if you have problems connecting to the internet in school.

I've started to use these clips with my A level class to try to get them to practise listening to the target language at native speaker speed.

I, and they, have been amazed at how much they actually did understand.

You can even embed them into your blog, or website. This is the clip about the i-phone 6 I used last week:

I'm also going to start to use the clips with my GCSE groups next half term.

Friday, 17 October 2014

WTF: A game for the 6th form.

Here's an idea for a fun starter or bell activity for the 6th form (or able KS4):

I want to call it: WTF (as in "What's the French?" or "Weirdly translated French" or even "Wow, that's funny") but it seems that that acronym is already taken.

So it has no name.


If you follow me on twitter, you'll have seen me posting strange translations form my younger students who "didn't use google translate, honest".

So this is the game: give a strange translation to the 6th formers (advanced level students),

get them to work out what it should have said,

and then get them to correct it.

Today they quickly managed to work out that "je voudrais un pièce gare quatre" was actually "I would like a play station 4".

They also uinderstood that "noir piscine" was "Blackpool", too.

It's a lot of fun and a great way to get them to think.