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
  • 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. 

Monday, 22 October 2018

Silent corridors

Silent Corridors, no, not the 1974 Italian horror film or the late '80s Manchester Indie band of the same name*, but the latest great/terrible idea from Senior Leaders (Twitter almost exploded because of this) to keep students calm during the change-over time between classes.

The school in question (and it isn't the only one with this policy) has been described in the British media as "concentration camp-like" and "a North Korean gulag" a full week before the policy will even be introduced.

Some schools have been doing it for years and their students accept it.

And are all amazingly well behaved!


I imagine.

I'm not a fan of silent corridors but I can understanding the reasoning behind them.

I get that in schools where there are discipline issues, they might be a good idea.

During exam season, they can be a huge help to students, particularly when lesson change-overs and break times might not follow public exam timetables.

If a school has problems with behaviour between lessons, might I suggest that a greater SLT presence would be a better policy?

My problem with silent corridors is that it stops children discussing their learning. I am convinced that a lot of learning and a lot of explaining goes on in corridors on the way to lessons.

I've seen it going on and it would be a terrible shame to lose it...

*I made both of these up

PS: Since I wrote this blog, there has been even more speculation on social media.
I spotted this on Twitter:
I'm not sure how the 10% raise in achievement happened but as soon as I find out and read the data, I'll add it.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

I need the toilet!

 Here's a fact for you:

Children, like adults, sometimes need to go to the toilet.

Unlike teachers, who can avoid using the toilet for days at a time, normal people sometimes get caught short.

How can you tell if someone genuinely does need the toilet? 

Simple answer: you can't. 

Rather like burnt toast, the smell only permeates the room after the fact. 

There are lots of reasons why they might need to go, too!

Here is a list of things teachers have said to students who have asked to avail themselves of the facilities during class:

  • No.
  • You should have gone at break-time/lunchtime. 
  • I'm not surprised; you've just drunk a litre of water/Red Bull/Irn Bru/coffee/Smoothie/etc, etc...
  • Can't you wait?
  • Not again. 
...and I've even heard colleagues humiliate students about their toilet habits... 

This is my solution. I've been doing this for a year or so, now.

At my school, students are only allowed out of lessons if they are in possession of the teacher's "yellow card". Any child wandering the corridors not carrying the card will be stopped and challenged.

My yellow card is stuck on the wall near the door.

If a child needs the toilet, they don't need to ask. They get up, take the card, go to the toilet, come back, put the card back on the wall, and return to their seat.

Occasionally, a child will take advantage of the system.

If I suspect this I put a note in their book with the time they left and then I'll write the time they came back.

It's all about trust. 

So far, so good. 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

J'attendrai le suivant - lesson idea for exploiting a short film

This was the lesson I did this morning with Year 12.

I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary.

It's the end of term, after all.

The first thing we did was watch the short film, J'attendrai le suivant.

If you'd prefer a subtitled version, there are two on youtube here:
English  subtitles
French subtitles

Then I gave the students a copy of the script and we did a series of exercises to exploit the text.

We've been doing a lot of grammar revision recently, so the first task was to identify verb tenses and highlight them in different colours. There are some good examples of past, present, future, the odd conditional, and even a nice, juicy subjunctive!

Then we did some translation from French to English, paying particular attention to some lovely phrases, like pour se faire poser des lapins

Next we did some translation from English into French (looking at tenses again).

Then we watched the film a second time, creating a timeline of emotions which the woman experiences.
A good excuse to revise adjective agreement.

The penultimate task was to write a short paragraph about how the woman might be feeling, using time phrases and the phrases we've learned to structure an essay.

The final task was for the students to give their opinions about the film and how it made them feel.
To do this, they used the kinds of phrases they've been using to describe the characters in the Maupassant short stories we've studied this year and it also acts as a nice introduction to the film (Les 400 Coups) they'll be studying in Year 13.

Not bad for an hour's work...

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Poetry - teaching yourself the past tense.

A while ago, I was asked to plan and deliver an after school French session for some Year 7AGT (Able, Gifted, and Talented) students.

The brief was to get them to do something they wouldn't do in class and something which would be really challenging. 

I had an hour.

I decided to do some poetry. 

Specifically, Jacques Prevert's Déjeuner Du Matin.

So what did I do? 

The first task I gave them was a Tarsia puzzle of the poem. (See Clare Seccombe's Tarsia blogpost here.)

The students had to put the puzzle together. (They had never met the passé composé before.)

The second task was to  explain how to form the passé composé in French.
They had to produce a list of rules. (They did this quite well.)

The third task was "to build" the poem.
The students had never met this poem before. 
They were given the lines of the poem on strips of paper and they had to organise them in the order they thought the lines would appear in the poem.

They then watched Stuart Gorse's Hugo clip to see how close they were:

The final task was to try to work out when the poem was written and what it was about.

They worked really hard and enjoyed themselves.

What more could you want?