Tuesday, 2 July 2019

7 Quick MFL Ideas to Boost Secondary Students’ Word Power

This is an article I wrote for Teach Secondary magazine:


7 Quick MFL Ideas to Boost Secondary Students’ Word Power

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Zipi 7 Zape y el club de la canica - teaching a Spanish film

I'm not a Spanish specialist but, due to me obviously upsetting someone in a previous life and being cursed for all eternity, I currently teach it to KS3 (11-13 year old) students.

At the end of each year, after all the assessments, for a few weeks we study a film.

When I say study I really mean it.

This year we are studying "Zipi y Zape y el club de la canica" in Spanish and Le Petit Nicolas in French.
I got the Zipi y Zape  DVD from ebay.

This is the first time I've taught a Spanish film but I've done lots of French films with students in the past.

Zipi y Zape are twins, famous for appearing in a Spanish comic strip, and in cartoons, and the live action film (I refuse to use the word "movie") didn't disappoint.

Most of my students loved it. "You forget it's in Spanish" was one comment I heard from a student.

They've seen the film and now are working through activities based on the film but which also use skills they will need to be successful in KS4.

I used (and adapted) resources from here:

Into Film https://www.intofilm.org/resources/1368 (you need to sign up for this free resource)

Discovery Film Festival https://ifi.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Zip__Zap_Resource_Pack-2.pdf

TES (user myrtille) https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/zipi-y-zape-photo-cards-11931220

TES (user jrcrawleynz) https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/zipe-y-zape-y-el-club-de-la-canica-exercises-to-accompany-dvd-11175691 (These involve using the preterite)

I also used vocabulary for describing a photo which we use for GCSE.
TES (user C-Marie) https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/describing-a-photo-photocard-help-mat-for-new-gcse-spanish-11389517

It's a good opportunity for revising/learning physical descriptions and personality, using adjective agreement, tenses, opinions, and improving speaking skills.

Not bad for something the students think is end of term fun.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

MFL on a need to know basis...

It's the holidays and my brain has gone into overdrive...

I'm just thinking aloud....

(Is thinking allowed?)

Last week, I taught my one of my year 8 French classes the imperfect tense.

But I didn't really. I never mentioned the imperfect tense once.

I thought I was doing OK.

The broad objective of the lesson was to say what you did and didn't used to like at school.

A little "grammar note", some examples (je, tu, il, elle, and on) and some scaffolded exercises comparing then and now:

J'aimais le français, mais maintenant c'est barbant.

Then, a speaking activitity.

Job done.

Or so I thought...

One student raised a hand:

"This is wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"There's more to it. You've missed loads out. Look."

I was handed a tatty "grammar booklet" from this student's last school, which contained pretty much all the grammar needed for a grade 9 at GCSE.

The student was correct. I had, indeed, missed out loads.

On purpose.

Does this group (none of whom has chosen to study languages next year!) really need the stress of learning the full paradigm of regular imperfect tense verbs just because?

What would they do with it?

Isn't it better to teach them how to communicate a little in French rather than hammer them with grammar that most French people don't need to know?

Am I doing them a disservice?

I don't think so....

...but I've been wrong before...

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Updating resources and keeping it relevant.

One of the reasons I've never been a fan of MFL text books is that they date so quickly.

Even the most recent text books we have in school have almost ancient photos of sports stars, actors, and singers, and don't even get me started on the technology and cultural references...

This was made clear to me this week when a Year 7 student (12 years old) asked what an "internet café" was. There was one on a map of a town they had to describe in Spanish.

Remember, these students don't remember a time without smart phones, let alone the internet...and also have no idea who Thierry Henry is...or Robbie Williams (so it's not all bad!).

I update my resources regularly, but I'm now a very old man and I'm a little out of touch with what goes on in the real world...

The people who make text books and the exam boards, too, are also so out of touch...

...nobody watches TV any more, so asking students "What's your favourite TV programme?" is a redundant task you could have got 2 lessons out of three years ago.

"What's your favourite youtube channel?" would probably be a better task.

Mine is "Don't Trust the Rabbit" by the way...
It's the best place on the web to learn about German culture and language, but not always suitable for school use....

Young people these days don't have favourite singers or bands, either. They listen to play lists and don't even know the names of most of the artists filling their airbuds.

Why would they? They only listen to the first 12 seconds of a song before touching a virtual button and getting their next fix...

So the old "keeping it relevant" line is more important now than ever before.

How do we do this?

Speak to the students.

Find out what they like.

Who are the "celebrities" they admire?
Even if you're in your 20s, you won't know any of them!
And you'll hate them all!

What types of music are they listening to?
It's probably K-pop and you have no idea what that is!

My advice to you?

Keep it relevant.

Keep it real...

...and remember that google is your friend, youtube is your enemy's enemy and wikipedia might just save your life.

Good luck!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

How to Introduce Gendered Nouns in KS3 French

As well as teaching, and cobbling together this nonsense, I often do other things.

One thing I do is write funny things for satirical websites and occasionally the radio.

Another thing I do, once every Preston Guild, is write articles about teaching languages.

Here is my latest offering on Teachwire, the snappily named: How to Introduce Gendered Nouns in KS3 French.


Saturday, 8 December 2018

Learning and retaining vocabulary...

My Year 7 students have just had exams.

The majority have done well and their hard work has paid off.

They scored fewer marks in their writing papers, though.

Their spelling really let them down

So, this is my plan to improve spelling and vocabulary retention:

When setting vocabulary learning homework make them write it out a number of times and then hand in proof that they have done it. 

I've just started to do this so there's no proof it has improved their work yet. 

Watch this space though, I'm sure that their test results and retention are going to get better...

Sunday, 2 December 2018


Proverbialists and fans of mid-80s pop music would have you believe that Curiosity Killed The Cat. 

NASA would prefer you to believe that Curiosity is currently exploring the Gale Crater on the planet Mars. 

Or is it? 

Yes, it is. 


Curiosity is also the title of a programme at my school in which students are given the opportunity to work with teachers and guests to find out more about the subjects they study and how they can be linked to real life. 

Curious students tend to do better than their less curious classmates. 

A few weeks ago I planned and delivered a Curiosity session (based on an article I wrote for Teach Secondary about gender and adjectives in French).

My session started with me asking the students a question: 

Why is a French pencil case feminine and a Spanish pencil case masculine? 

The inevitable answer came: 

          You told us they were

The truth is that students, generally speaking, just accept everything their teachers tell them as Gospel and rarely question anything. 

To my mind, Curiosity sessions are the ideal place to question anything and everything. 

In a controlled environment, obviously. 

I'm not a hippy!

So, I set the young explorers away on a (laptop) mission to discover why some words are masculine and feminine and even neuter! 

The important things they discovered were:
  • Most Latin-based languages have different genders of nouns and some others but not all.
  • "gender" has nothing to do with sex and is closely linked to the word "genre"
  • physical characteristics often dictate the gender of a noun
  • Abstract nouns tend to be feminine in many languages (they tested it on wordreference.com
  • Sometimes the same word can have 2 different genders depending on its meaning.
  • Nobody really knows why.  
  • and my favourite, it is important to ask questions and research answers even though there is not always a clear answer.

They really enjoyed themselves and I'd love to do it again.