Sunday, 3 December 2017

Christmas links & resources - Updated

I made a list of links to Christmas resources a few years ago, but most of the links no longer work.

So I've made a new one.

Lightbulb languages has a cornucopia of resources in different languages here.

That's all you need really.

But if you want more:

  • Herts grid for learning has Christmas resources here
and finally,
  • has some interesting ecards you can send. 

Some are animated video cards like this:

Have fun!

Monday, 20 November 2017

The 50 Must Follow Educational Blogs

So, a few days ago I got my 500,000th visitor and today my blog is featured in an article called: The 50 Must Follow Educational Blogs.

This is very nice and will probably send a lot of traffic this way.

The article is featured on Tutora's  website - they are a company which helps students find tutors for almost any subject and key stage.

Their tutors charge varying amounts and are rated by students with a star system.

I'm guessing it's on a value for money basis.

That's all I know about them.

They were nice about me, though...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Half a million hits!

Yesterday afternoon this blog had its 500000th visitor.

If that was you, thank you.

If it wasn't you, thank you for visiting anyway.

When I started this blog in 2009 I had no idea that people would read it.

It now gets more hits in a day than it did in the first 2 years.

I still can't believe anyone reads this rubbish, but thank you!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Knowledge organisers.

There's been a lot of talk about knowledge organisers on those social media recently.

Steve Smith has written a post about them on his blog (with some nice examples).
What are they? 

Mostly, they take the form of one A4 sheet with a list of key information needed for one topic.

What are they used for? 

To help teachers with their planning and to give students a summary of key facts they need to learn.

Do they allow for deep learning as opposed to just facts? 

I'm not sure about this.

It might work in history, geography, or science but I'm not sure it works in MFL.
We don't compartmentalise our knowledge. We revisit grammar and vocabulary constantly. (See my previous post)

Teaching phrases to low ability students might be a good idea under certain circumstances, but if we just taught phrases, it might be enough to pass an exam, but are they really learning the language?

I don't think so.

What's the difference between a knowledge organiser and a vocabulary sheet?

Not a lot, as far as I can make out. Most of them are just a vocabulary menu or a big Cluedo game or trapdoor activity: Pick one phrase from each box and you'll get a grade 5.

There's nothing wrong with this if all you want your students to do is gain a pass at GCSE. However, if you have potential linguists in your groups, (those who may want to study A level or go onto read language at University) then you are doing them a huge disservice.

From what I've seen there are some quite poor ones and some excellent MFL examples being used in schools.

My students create their own personal knowledge organiser sheets before assessments. They use their vocabulary lists and the feedback in their  exercise books to create the own revision tool.

I recently saw some excellent student made knowledge organisers from students at St Robert of Newminster School, Washington  They were made for a homework task and I've been given permission to share them with you.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Soap plots and schemes of work.

I know what you're thinking.

He really has lost the plot this time.

Stay with me on this.

It's brilliant.

As some of you may be aware, as well as teaching, I sometimes write funny things for the radio and internet spoof news sites.

This is one of mine:

and this one, too:

I never said they were funny...

Anyway, I follow lots of comedy industry people on social media and read a lot of blogs.

A while ago I came across a blog written by John Fleming* entitled, How to write, structure and maintain a TV soap opera like Coronation Street.

It's a fascinating read, especially if you know very little about how television works and, even if you do, it's quite an eye-opener.

You're probably not aware that there is a formula used when writing soaps.

According to John's blog it's:

I was looking at this and I thought that it was actually very similar to the way we probably should be writing schemes of work or whatever they're called at your school. (You may even do this already. If you do, you're in the minority....)

Ours are called MTPs.

Medium Term Plans.

Ridiculous, isn't it?

Anyway, back to the meat...

Yes, I'm suggesting that we should use a similar formula to write our schemes of learning.


Because text books don't do it and students tend to unconsciously compartmentalise their knowledge.

For instance if you teach imperfect tense with hobbies, will they automatically realise they can use it to talk about holidays, too?

So how will I/we do it?

Main storylines will be topics and subsidiary storylines could be grammar points.

With me so far?

So how does it work?

OK. I'll give an example.

Year 7 French.

We start with a transition topic: self and others.

The main story line is: Me and my family.

We include the basic vocabulary and the subsidiary stories; numbers, être, avoir, possessive adjectives and ER (s'appeler) verbs.

We also occasionally start to throw in some other phrases which will become main learning later. e.g. ne...pas, ne...jamais

The second topic is: Where I live.
Family is now winding down but still the
re in the background (Ma tante habite à...)

ER verbs are peaking with aimer, détester, préferer, and habiter.

The next subsidiary stories are appearing now: dans, à, en, and other preposisitions.

My town is giving way to my house, inside my house, my dream house.

Adjectives will be the next subsidiary....

Then conditional verbs...


In true soap style all of these stories will reappear at some point although some may return as rather more than a subsidiary.

Of course you, as the writer, will get to decide the main stories, the roles played and the recurring characters.

You can change them to suit your audience and decide how much depth you go into with each one.

So, ignore what the text book says, don't compartmentalise, and make sure their is some fun built into it.

Creativity and practical tasks are your Comic Stories.

You could be animating, creating gifsmini booking, making comics,  acting, or whatever you choose...

If I/we do this, then topics, grammar points, etc, will be constantly revisited and the phrase "but you did this in Year 8" will become extinct...

I hope so anyway...

* Read John's blog about his visit to North Korea here. It's really good!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Teaching and stand up comedy....

In August I spent a few days at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I watched a lot of comedy shows, hung out with some friends (yes, I have friends), made a couple of new friends, chatted with strangers, spoke some Spanish, drank some beer, and ate a lot of junk food.

This is something I do each year and, for the first time in many years, every show I saw this year was at least Good and most of them were Outstanding.

I've just read that sentence back and I know that it sounded like an Ofsted rating but, as a student (and often writer) of comedy, I can tell you that there are many similarities between teaching and performing stand up comedy.

Admittedly there are many differences:
...a teacher's audience is usually sober.
...a teacher keeps regular hours and gets paid regularly.
...teachers get paid during the holidays.
...teachers can get away with using other teachers' material and resources.
...for a comic, every set is an Ofsted inspection.

So, let's take a look at some of the similarities:

Anybody could do it.

Many people think they could probably do both simply by turning up. Both professions are incredibly difficult.

You're only in it for the adulation, money, holidays, etc...

Most teachers, and comics, do their jobs because they love them, not to be famous, rich or popular. Both jobs, in my opinion are a vocation (and a form of therapy!). The majority of working stand ups in the UK are not on megabucks. A jobbing comic will probably earn less than a teacher.


This is important for success in any profession but paramount for teachers and comics.
I'm always quite surprised that punters/pupils think the material they're presented with is being made up on the spot.

Anecdote: As I was leaving an Edinburgh Fringe show, the couple in front of me were discussing the performance. One said, "That was really good." His friend replied, "I'm disappointed. It was exactly the same as when I saw it on Tuesday with Tony."

Differentiation (or Know your audience)

Your lesson with 7A1 will be the same topic as you did with 7A5 (and you may use the same resources) but you'll take them to their destination by a different path.

If you don't you're not very good. (link to my differentiation post)

Every class is different. Every audience is different.
Bottom set Y10 on a Monday morning is a different group than bottom set Y10 last period on a Friday.

The audience at the Stand in Newcastle for the Thursday Show is quite often nothing like the audience for the Saturday can probably guess why...

Tailor your material to fit your class/audience.

and always have a plan B

and a plan C...

Delivery (Finding your own style)

You are you.
Be you.
Find your own teaching/stand up style that you're comfortable with.
You've probably seen the video of the teacher who greets each of his students with a different, personalised handshake. (You haven't? it's here.)

That isn't you!

Don't even try it.

Find your own "thing".

I try to inject a lot of humour into my lessons - Happy students do well, in my experience.

Over the years I've seen many stand ups and teachers who have tried to imitate the style of another established person they've seen in their profession. This is not necessarily a bad thing at the beginning of your career but these people are never going to reach their potential if they spend their professional life trying to be someone else.

The most successful comics (and teachers) are, in my opinion, inimitable.

For comics and teachers feedback comes in different forms.

Instant feedback happens in both professions:
If your audience is laughing or your students are taking part and on task, you're doing OK.
If your audience is not laughing, or your students have switched off, you'll know straight away that there's a problem.

However, comedy and teaching are both subjective. Not everyone will laugh at the same jokes and not all students will understand immediately. Everyone learns differently and laughs at differently things.

Both comics and teachers will  be heckled at some point. However, this can be a good thing, depending on the comments made and how they are presented. Dealing with this is a skill which needs to be learned and perfected to be successful.

I've seen stand ups and teachers ignore this feedback and try to carry on regardless. In both cases it rarely ends well.

As well as receiving feedback both jobs involve giving feedback: for a teacher different types of  assessment and for a stand up it's the reactions, pauses, words and body language shared with the audience.

A comic I saw this summer, mentioned that she was once chased from a venue through the car park and half way across the town... Not the best kind of feedback, you'd probably agree.

You can't please everybody all of the time.

Long term feedback (Reputation)

A teacher who has a good rapport with students and helps them make progress will get a good reputation and be a success. Records of this are kept via appraisal. This is how careers move on. The same thing happens in comedy. A comic with a good reputation will get work and eventually headline, play to bigger audiences and, hopefully, earn more


Continuing Professional Development - three words that strike fear into most teachers' hearts (those who have a heart!). Without CPD or a Personal Learning Network (PLN) or observing others, there is little opportunity for a teacher to improve his/her practice.

Similarly, a lot of comics will regularly attend comedy shows in order to see what their peers are doing and will watch new comics' acts to see what type of things audiences like, what works and what doesn't work.

In both professions a critical friend is always an asset.


Both professions involve a lot of work "out of hours" for which there is no pay.

Many writer/performers will start writing material for next summer's Edinburgh Fringe within the next few weeks.Constantly chopping and changing, trying out new material in their club sets, and in the case of political or satirical comics, hoping that nothing Trump-y or Brexit-y happens in the meantime.

This happens in teaching all the time and more so when new specifications are introduced or schools decide to change their assessment weeks, calendar, marking policy, etc...

Friends who aren't comics/teachers
In order to keep sane I rarely socialise with teachers.
Don't get me wrong I have lots of friends who are teachers but I need to have friends who don't just talk about marking, assessment and playing Naughtiest Child Top Trumps...

Whichever profession you are in you must do something else just to keep your sanity.

Finally...'re in a room full of people and you're the only one facing the wrong way.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Laughing with Hitler

Laughing with Hitler is a 2007 BBC documentary about humour (and later the suppression of humour) in the Third Reich.

The reason I'm sharing this is because recent events, predominantly but not exclusively in the USA, reminded me of this film, in particular this quote:

"Germany in January of 1933 a motley crew of petit bourgeois thugs seize power, until then no-one had really taken them seriously..."

You have to remember that many, if not most, Germans were not fans of Hitler, his ideas, his oppression, or his cronies.

The documentary does contain some very good jokes, like this one:

Hitler visits a lunatic asylum, where he is dutifully saluted by the usual line-up.
With one exception.
Hitler asks, "Why are you not saluting like the others?"
The man replies, "Mein Führer, I'm the nurse. I'm not crazy!"