Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Learning to speak dog.

A few years ago I set up a few Google Alerts to keep myself up to date with new ideas, fashions, fads and articles in education and language learning.

Every day I receive a few links in my inbox, most of which I glance at and delete.

Sometimes, one will catch my eye and I will be intrigued.

Today I read "learning to speak canine" a fascinating article from petside by dog trainer, Victoria Schade, in which she tells us that understanding a dog's body language can help to translate its behaviour.

As a dog owner I already knew some of this stuff. But can I really tell how my dogs are feeling?

It got me thinking about my reactions to the behaviour and reactions of the children I teach and asking myself similar questions to those posed by Victoria:

Do I know my students well? Do I know them at all?

Is the yawning student bored? Is it me or the curriculum?

How can I keep the interest of my year 7 students into year 8?

Why do I expect year 12 students to be mature and sensible when they're still 16 years old?

Body language is definitely something I'd like to learn more about.

Although, I've no idea what I'm going to do with the kid with the wet nose who is always scratching himself.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Unbelievable Truth

The Unbelievable Truth is a comedy panel show on BBC Radio 4 presented by comedian David Mitchell.

The object of the game is for the participants to give a lecture on a subject by telling lies and including only 3 true facts. The other panellists have to try to guess which of the pieces of information are true. If they are correct they win points. If they are wrong they lose points.

It really is much better than my explanation.

So my idea is this:

Give the students a text which contains 3 or more errors.

The students have to find the errors.

It's as simple as that.

You needn't create anything new. Just add the lies to any pre-existing text.

If the students are completing reading comprehension, this could be the ideal way to get students to read a text properly and fully before attempting to answer any questions.

It would be ideal for most year groups and definitely for the cultural topics at A level. For example: a summary of a chapter in a book or a scene in a film.

The students could have to explain the errors, highlight them or correct them.

There are lots of possibilities.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Fun with Powerpoint

Many of my colleagues are obsessed with students making powerpoint presentations whenever they go to the ICT rooms.

It's something all staff and students can do and it needs minimal supervision.

There is nothing wrong with this of course, but the problem is what to do with them once they are finished. 

You could put them on the class wiki/blog but you'd need to download each one separately to view them.

I decided therefore that it would be a jolly good wheeze to make Powerpoint presentations and make them into little cartoon strip style movies.

How do we do this?

Step one: Make a powerpoint

Step two: Instead of saving it as a powerpoint presentation save it as a series of jpeg files.

Step three: Go to a gif making website e.g. although other sites are available

Step four: Upload your jpegs and create an animated gif

Step five: Download the finished gif and put it on your wiki or blog

It can take fewer than 20 minutes to create something fairly good.

Like this:


As Clare Seccombe also pointed out, this can also be used as a stop/start animation tool.

I've done something like this in the past with my beginner German students.

It works like this: I give them a powerpoint. They fill in the blanks in German. Then they make it into a gif. Finally they use the ppt as a basic template to create their own.

This is the template made in to a gif:

Monday, 3 December 2012

Headteacher bans mobile phones and improves standards.

If you live in the UK you may have seen this story in the newspapers or on television or radio on Friday.

The headline in the Daily Telegraph was: Headmaster who banned mobile phones makes the right call.

Please read the article and make up your own mind.

From having read the article, it seems to me that this school should not have banned mobile phones, on the contrary, it should have taught its students how to use a mobile phone responsibly.

It claims that since banning mobile phones the attainment of students has "soared".

It could just as easily have been claimed that making the students wear blazers (a rule which came in at the same time) has contributed to the improving academic standards of the school.

Ironically, the school which banned mobile phones is a Media Arts College.

Some people just don't have a clue...

image courtesy of

Thursday, 29 November 2012

1 jour 1 actu - the news for children in French

Des outils pour mieux comprendre l'info

This is my new favourite French website. (I am extremely fickle, as you know.)

1jour1actu is a news website for children and teachers by Milan Presse.

It publishes one news story each day (Monday to Friday) along with accompanying pdf worksheets for teachers, background material for the story and, very often, a video clip, too.

You can sign up to receive daily emails, or follow them on Facebook or twitter.

You can also search through the archives by topic or by date. The topics are: Monde, Culture, France, Insolite, Science, Sport, and Planète. There are also sections called Dossiers and Espace Enseignants.

This is an amazing authentic resource for learners of French of all abilities and some of the topics are relevant to the AS and A2 exams.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

It's independent learning AND it's snot.

On a rare visit to another school yesterday I discovered a different way of getting students to think for themselves and collaborate with their peers.

It's the same as the 4 Bs: Brain, Book, Buddy, Boss but much more memorable and the students love it.

Especially the boys.

It's called SNOT.

It stands for:


Students ask themselves: Have we done this before? When did we do this? What do I know about this? Is it in my book, folder, etc?


If they can't find the information they require students ask the student nearest to them.


Student asks another student for help.


If no other student can help then, and only then, is the student allowed to ask the teacher.

I came across SNOT when I visited a music lesson.

A pupil approached the teacher with a question. 

The teacher asked the pupil, "Have you snotted?"

He then explained to me that that is the system the school uses to try to get the students to take more responsibility for their own learning.

I loved it.

I've already started to use it with my own classes.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Let's not parler franglais.

From the early 1980s until it closed in 1992 I used to read Punch magazine.
One of my favourite features was Miles Kington's Franglais column.

Miles was a bit of a brainbox and a hero of mine. He was regularly heard on BBC radio and this quotation is frequently attributed to him: 

"Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn't belong in a fruit salad."
As a keen student of French I always thought his franglais column and books were very funny and, to Miles (and me) franglais was a joke - playing with the two languages and having fun. 

To many of the French (and my Canadian friend, Sylvie) le franglais n'est pas un joke du tout - c'est très serious indeed. 

It seems the French are so worried that their language is being taken over by techno-English that they have decided that the only way to protect themselves is to invent new words.

So, in future they won't have to put up with the abomination that is le hashtag from Twitter or Facebook's Je like and Je ne like pas.

You can read all about it in Metro's article from last week.

Personally, I love it when the French "adopt" English words.

My current favourites are:

les people (those who are famous for being famous)


les oh my gods (a term for "typical" young american ladies)

I think the Academie Française might be fighting a battle it can't win...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012

Fun with languages - aka suttonhighmfl

In March last year I recommended Sutton Academy's MFL website which is a great place to go for interactive games and exercises in French, German, Russian and Spanish.

Just last week I tried to load up the site but was having no joy.

I have discovered today that the reason is that the site has moved and has a new address.

It is now called Fun With Languages.

I still recommend it.

It is in transition mode at the moment as the files are being copied to the new address but it is ideal for revision purposes for students of all levels.

PS: When I was looking for this site Edmund Ellison recommended a site Down For Everyone Or Just Me which is a great place to go if you are trying to access a site which doesn't appear to be working. You paste in the address of the site you are looking for and it will tell you if the site is working or if the problem is with your computer.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Everybody speaks English, don't they?

One of the problems of trying to teach languages in the UK is that many students "don't see the point because everyone speaks English".

But do they?

I recently arrived home from a short break in Edinburgh.

Whilst I was there I met lots of interesting people from all over the world (and I have the flyers to prove it!)

The European tourists were mainly Spanish, German and French.

One thing I noticed in the various cafés and shops (by which I mean pubs, obviously) I frequented was that many of them didn't even attempt to speak any English.

So, could they speak English, or not?

There was a lot of pointing and hand signalling and financial transactions mainly involved using credit cards or risking handing over the largest denomination note in the customer's wallet.

One morning a couple at the bus stop outside my hotel asked me if I knew what time the bus was due to arrive and how much it would cost.

Nothing strange about that - except that they asked me in French.

Of course, I answered them in French.

They couldn't possibly have known that I spoke their language and weren't in the least surprised that I was able to answer them.

It made me think how important it is, financially speaking, for businesses to employ people with even the most basic language skills. Greetings, prices, directions, food, etc.

When are we, as a nation, going to realize this?

Is it really so hard?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Class Dojo - an update

I discovered ClassDojo almost a year ago. 

I love it and blogged about it here

Now those nice people at ClassDojo have put together a pack of resources so that it is now even easier to explain the concept to your colleagues, pupils and their parents.
The pack can be found on their website here.

It contains everything you could possibly need to spread the word about ClassDojo to colleagues, parents and students.

It contains: a flyer, a poster, a presentation (available as a powerpoint or streamed online), a comprehensive training pack for CPD sessions, a letter to parents, and best of all, an image bank.

You can also contact and receive updates from ClassDojo on twitter, on facebook, or if you have any questions, comments or ideas, you can email them directly at

If you still aren't sure you can read about the experiences of other teachers from around the world on the ClassDojo blog.

That's pretty much everything you need to know and it's still free, so now there is no excuse for not using or sharing.

What are you waiting for? 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Healthy eating and 5 a day.

It's the school holidays. The one time of year when I get to watch television.

A couple of days ago I saw a repeat of QI where the inimitable Stephen Fry asked a question about how many portions of fruit and vegetables we should eat. 

It turns out that 5 a day is a made-up figure. I was both shocked and fascinated by this and put down my Sainsbury's chocolate doughnut and googled "5 a day" almost immediately.

The QI website has links to 2 articles, one from the Guardian: Is five a day enough? (sic) and one from the Times which both claim that the figure is completely different in other countries and that in Japan, people are encouraged to eat 17 portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

One of my tasks for this summer is to put together a "Healthy Eating" topic for year 9 French students.  

I've done some research and found some useful websites with information, not just French, on healthy eating and the "mythical" 5 a day.


One of my favourite sites is It has a lot of information on healthy eating and lifestyle, in particular a section called Fruits et légumes: au moins 5 par jour

I also came across this site which has an amazing wealth of information, recipes and  even quizzes. This site claims we should aim to eat 10 a day!

An article on doctissimo also claims we should aim to eat 10 portions a day. This page also has links to information about healthy living and a page all about fruit and vegetables.

This official Guide alimentaire Canadian site has a chart giving specific information on age and gender and the amount of fruit and vegetables should be eaten.
The Swiss site 5amtag has a page in French entitled 5 par jour which has lots of information and a link to Olympics recipes, too. This site is also available in German.


This site, focus online has 10 pages of healthy eating information including one on 5 a day.

5xamtag is an Austrian site with lots of information and a children's section with interactive activities.

This site Apotheker gives information on what constitutes a portion.


5aldia has a lot of information including pages with games specially for children.

This Mexican site cinqopordia has some good information and games for children to play, too.

This site fruitsandveggiesmorematters has a Spanish downloadable brochure with lots of nutritional information and statistics about the kinds of things we should be eating. 


Yes, I'm still under the illusion that I'm learning Icelandic, so here are some links just for me...

5 á dag a poster with advice on what constitutes 5 a day. I think! has lots of information about organic farming and healthy eating.

Now where did I put those doughnuts....

Monday, 30 July 2012

Venn Diagrams and Thinking Skills

I've used venn diagrams with most of my classes this year. 

I find them a great way to get students thinking about how they might categorise words and phrases.

For example, with my younger students when we learn colours and adjective endings in French we use a venn diagram to separate adjectives which are masculine, feminine or both. 

When describing people and characteristics we had a positive, negative or possibly both diagram to complete. 

I have used them when teaching phonics and got the students to fill in words which contain a certain sound or sounds.

My 6th form students used them to compare and contrast characters from the Maupassant short stories they had read. 

I've even got students to make up their own categories for venn diagrams. Some of these were really good, for example one year 7 student made a "J'adore" and "Je déteste" diagram when we learned words for foods.

They require very little preparation, are very easy to make and can be done on mini-whiteboards rather than using a lot of paper.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Tech for tech's sake!

Even though I am a huge technology nerd (I even own a pocketsurfer!!) I don't believe that, as teachers, we should use technology just for the sake of using technology.

Many of my colleagues, including most of my department, have recently been given ipads.

Now despite what you may think, and despite this earlier post, I don't dislike the ipad. It is, in all honesty, an amazing gadget.

But, at the risk of sounding like a petulant 13 year old, I don't get it.

I just don't see the point.

Before you bombard me with comments, links and lists of wonderful educational apps, you might let me finish.

Having spoken to many of my colleagues who love their ipads, I have only found one department which actually uses them as teaching and learning tools.

For the others it is just a planner or a games console (which they can use to play virtua tennis via bluetooth with each other in the staffroom).

A teacher's planner costs around £6, an ipad costs around £300. If you consider school budgets and the cuts in education recently made by the authorities, these things are far too expensive to be used merely as diaries. 

I firmly, believe that if teachers are to be equipped with new technology they should be given appropriate training specifically to help improve the teaching and learning of students.

Otherwise, don't bother.

Is this too much too ask?


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Authentic links for AS German

You asked for it and here it is: Authentic links for AS German.


From Schattenlichtzine: Pro und Contra Fernsehen für Kinder

From wen-waelen: Das Fernsehen sollte stärker kontrolliert werden

From MPFS: Gewalt und Fernsehen 10 Antworten

From Macht Fernsehen dick?

From Tannheiner-Tal: Fernsehen - Segen oder Fluch?


From Wie gefährlich Werbung für Kinder ist

From Carola Laun Marketing: Wie Jugendliche Werbung verstehen

From Werbung - Vorteile und Gefahren für den Konsumenten

New technology

From Das Handy im Alltag

From Pro und Contra Handy in der Schule

From Soziale Netzwerke - pro und contra

From (a silly quiz) Sind Sie Handysüchtig?


From Kino oder DVD?

Fashion and image

From Sind Markenklamotten wichtig?

From Piercing und Tattoo

From Was ist ein Emo, Punk, Gothic, Skin...?

Sport and exercise

From Sport ist wichtig für die Gesundheit

Lots of information about funsports and extremesports in German at

From Ist Parkour wirklich gefahrlich?

From kristins kinderkiste: Warum ist sport für Kinder wichtig?

Health and wellbeing

From Rauchen bei Kindern und Jugendlichen

From Jugend und Alkohol

From Jugend und Drogen

From spiegel online: Jugendliche trinken und rauchen weniger


From Reisekomplizen: Vorteile und Nachteile von Langzeiturlaub

From Vorteile und Nachteile einer Pauschalreise

From Sanfter Tourismus und Umwelt Tourismus

Family, friendships and relationships

From Heirat oder nichteheliche Partnerschaft?

From Warum heiraten?

From spiegel online: Vorteile des Single-Lebens

From Freundschaft: Was wichtig ist

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Making comics with my year 12 and Toondoo.

At my school year 12 students start their A2 French course in June.

I try to make it nice for them and so we study a nice film (this year it's "le diner de cons") and we start to look at French literature.

As we are studying Maupassant's short stories I thought it would be a nice idea to read a couple of really short stories, un duel and deux amis. These 2 stories are incredibly short and we read each of them in one lesson.

Rather than write a summary of the stories I asked them to create a Mr Men style mini-book with a nice picture and a sentence in French on each page. (Clare Seccombe is the Queen of mini-books. Read her blog.)

They actually thought I had gone mad.

Some of them are quite serious and studious (they think I'm an idiot at the best of times!) and were quite shocked that I asked them to do this.

One of them said, "This is an A level course. What is the educational value in this?"

My reply of course was, "There is educational value in everything we do. Just because something seems like fun, it doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing it."

So, off they went and created their mini-books on an expertly folded piece of A3 paper.

I then decided that it would be lots of fun to use toondoo to make comics.

By this time they had already gone, so I did it myself. Next time I'll get them to do it, too

Here is my version of Guy de Maupassant's Deux Amis.

Deux amis 1
Deux amis 2

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Authentic links for AS French

Here is the AS version. Lots of authentic links.



From La télé pour les bébés: un danger pour leur santé

From La violence à la télé peut influer sur le comportement de l'enfant.

From Violence et pornographie: la télé devra revoir sa copie

From Obésité, enfant et télévision: Pourquoi le télévision fait grossir ?


Blogdefred's arguments for and against advertising

An article entitled Les jeunes et la publicité

From Les avantages et les inconvénients de la publicité

An article on the advantages and disadvantages of billboard advertising

New technology

From advantages and disadvantages of the internet

From advantages ad disadvantages of mobile phones

From le téléphone portable, est-il dangereux pour la santé ? (Quite old, but still relevant)

A collection of articles about mobile phones from

From des élèves accros à leur téléphone portable

From journal des femmes: Protéger ses enfants des réseaux sociaux


From Regarder un film au cinéma: avantages et inconvénients lots of information about all aspects of French cinema

Music the one stop French youth culture site. Music, film, cinema, TV, "celebrities"

French Radio London - a French music station based in London (I blogged about it here)

Fashion and image

Article from Les jeunes et la mode

Everything you wanted to know about les piercings from teemix

From Les tatouages: Quels risques ?

From Pourquoi suivre la mode ? Forum with opinions from real Frenchies

Sport and exercise

Pourquoi l'exercice est essentielle à la santé ? from the Canadaian government.

12 bonnes raisons de faire de l'exercice from

An article on "le zorbing"

A parkour website warning of the dangers of the sport

From e-santé: Sports extrêmes, pourquoi ?

Avantages des sports d'équipes from

From lots of links on individual sports

Health and Well-being

From lots of links on alcohol, binge drinking, eating disorders, smoking and drugs.

Le sida en France

A Swiss site all about la toxicomanie a French site with practical advice


Avantages des voyages organisés from coupdepouce

les vacances augmentent le réchauffement climatique article from

Quiz from Quel genre de vacances est fait pour toi ?

Families, friends and relationships

Les avantages du mariage and Pourquoi se marier ? from in Canada

avantages et inconvénients du mariage from

From Pourquoi l'union libre plutôt que le mariage ?

From teemix 30 bonnes raison d'être célibataire (Funny and very tongue in cheek article)

From Un(e) vrai(e) ami(e) c'est quoi ?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Authentic links for A2 French - updated

I teach AQA French at A level and like to use (and share) authentic materials in my teaching.

I made a list of authentic resources on my blog a few years ago and noticed recently that some of the links no longer existed.

So here is a new list:

Alternative energy

Pour et contre l'éolien

Friends of the earth's French site: Energies et nucléaires and Les éoliens...pour ou contre ?

Développement durable: L'énergie éolienne: pour ou contre ?

Pour et contre la voiture électrique from Le Figaro

Nuclear energy

Nucléaire non merci's site: La nucléaire pour ou contre ?

Doctissimo's environnement forum: Comments from the general public about everything environmental

Suite101's article on nuclear power: Aprés l'accident au Japon: pour ou contre le nucléaire en France

Greenpeace's France site: Nucléaire

Comment protéger la planète

Loads from science citoyen on greenhouse, effect, global warming and our responsabilities.

Effet de serre et Changement climatique (from the French government)

Lots of information about recycling from somergie

A video from the BBC Learning Zone about recycling in Dakar

Les arguments en faveur du recyclage et du tri from recyclage de déchets

Poverty and unemployment

From an article about poverty in France

Article on homelessness in France from

An article from le monde about homeless people and mental illness

La pauvrete dans le monde an article from

An article Pauvreté solutions

Genetically modified organisms

Pour et contre les OGM from espace sciences

Peser le pour et le contre des OGM from

From Pour ou contre les OGM ?

Crime and punishment

From le courrier, La prison: pour qui, pourquoi ?

Les alternatives à la prison from

La peine de mort dans le monde from

From les dossiers du net: Arguments pour et contre la peine de mort

Amnesty International's French website

La criminalité chez les jeunes from

Immigration and Racism L'immigration, pour ou contre ? Thoughts of genuine French people.

From L'immigration est-elle un problème ?

An article from La France, a-t-elle encore besoin d'immigrés ?

sos-racisme has a lot of information, facts and figures

Articles about wearing the burqa from Le Monde, and Le Figaro.

News item from Trois femmes saoudiennes interdires d'entrées en France

Well, that should save you a few hours of planning. If you find anything you think I should add to this list please leave a comment. Thanks.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Graham Davies - an inspiration.

This afternoon I heard the sad news of the death of Graham Davies.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Graham, we would be in touch regularly, mainly via Twitter, Facebook and the TES modern languages forum.

As well as MFL we would discuss the more important things in life: we both had a love of decent beer, most notably Hobgoblin and Old Speckled Hen, and classic cars, he owning a Mercedes and me, a Karmann Ghia.

My first contact with Graham was probably about 10 years ago when I started to use the TES MFL forum. He was always ready to offer advice and post links to articles, resources and webpages and it soon became obvious to me that he was the "go-to-guy" for a lot of things. If Graham didn't know, he always knew someone who did.

Graham, amazingly, happened to be in Berlin when the Wall came down in 1989 and he kindly sent me a link to the blog post he had written about his experiences which I shared with my A Level German students a few years ago. One of my colleagues is sharing Graham's Berlin post with the current Year 12 students this week.  

Graham's website is an Aladdin's Cave of ICT training materials for teaching MFL and contains everything you could possibly wish to know from using a word processor to creating your own website.

I'm also very grateful to Graham as I know for a fact that many of the visitors to this blog come from links posted by him.

Even though Graham was very ill, he was an amazingly positive person and I, and many others, am deeply saddened by his passing.

RIP Graham.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

French Radio London - an A level French resource

My keener 6th form students often ask me what they can do to improve their listening skills. I usually point them in the direction of the video pages on, tv5monde, and even Francophone news clips on youtube.

I've known about French Radio London for a while and sometimes listen whilst marking students' work or planning lessons. Although based in London, France's 6th largest city, it is available everywhere on DAB and on the internet.

I'd never really looked at FRL's website and when I did recently I found that it could be very useful. 

As well as a French music playlist there are "listen again" features and interviews with important French politicians, actors and musicians and also film reviews.

It's ideal for AS and A2 students and teachers who want to keep au courant with all things French.

Later this month there will also be a 60 minute French music podcast. I'm really looking forward to this. 

Friday, 8 June 2012 - Le magazine de l'internet

There are a number of websites dedicated to the teaching of modern languages and I have recommended many of them a number of times over the last few years.

Since I started teaching A level French again in 2009 there is one site which I keep returning to in order to find authentic links and resources.

That site is linternaute. I've posted links to it before but I feel it is so good that it deserves its own post.

It describes itself as "le magazine de l'internet" and it is exactly that.

There are articles about everything you could possibly want for teaching AS and A2 level French from "l'actualité" and "santé" to "les quiz" and "les loisirs" and everything in between.

There are sections on eating out, recipes, sports, film and music reviews, and health and lifestyle sections specifically for men and for women.

There is even a "linternautetv" section which has video clips of news items in French from all over the world.

The best feature, for teachers of French, is a very good search engine which I have used on numerous occasions.

If you are looking for current and authentic French resources you need look no further.

I can thoroughly recommend it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Songify on Android.

Most people who have the misfortune to be acquainted with me know that I'm not a big fan of Apple products.

There's no particular reason for this, by the way. Just irrational dislike.

There was only one thing which could have swayed me into buying an i-pad and that was Songify. Now I don't need any Apple products because Songify is now available for android.

Woo. Hoo.

For those who don't know, Songify is a piece of software (I can't bring myself to say "app") which changes speech into song.

You record your voice saying anything you like and Songify converts it into song. It really is that simple. Once you're happy with your creation you can save it.

If you're not happy you can keep recording and try different "tunes" until you are.

Once you have saved your song, you can email it, or share it on one of those social networks.

It is a fantastic way to motivate students and, as it changes voices beyond recognition, would even allow the least talkative of students to get involved in speaking in the target language. It can be used to make up songs to help remember grammar points, vocabulary, or you could even use it as the soundtrack to those powerpoints some teachers are so fond of.

I first heard of this last year at the Teachmeet at Cramlington Learning Village where the inimitable Steve Bunce demonstrated how songify could be used by getting members of the audience to record themselves reading a script. .

In his presentation, Steve showed us this youtube clip "Reality hits you hard, bro"  and I was really impressed.

Here is the link to one I made earlier.

It really is jolly good fun.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Olympics resources

If you hadn't noticed, it will soon be time for the Olympic Games. This year they will be in London and various other locations dotted around the UK and so we will all be expected to do something "Olympicky" with our classes.

So here is a selection of links, in no particular order, to resources to help you bluff your way until the end of the school year.

1) MFL Sunderland's Olympics page. Loads of stuff here in French and Spanish created and collated by Clare Seccombe. I can't recommend it highly enough.

2) Madame Abrahams MFL Olympics Projects. A great page with lots of ideas and resources for creating MFL projects from Eleanor Abrahams.

3) Lancashire Grid For Learning has links to Olympics resources in French, German, Spanish and Italian.  

4) The TES website has a huge collection of Olympics resources in different languages.

5) Talkabout Primary MFL has a lot of resources and links for younger students. Although I will be using some of these with KS3 students.

6) The Links into Languages site has resources, ideas and examples of Olympic projects.

7) The blog Jennie n'est plus en France has a link to a list of French Olympics vocabulary and phrases.

8) The site has some vocabulary lists in French from the Beijing Olympics.

9) A good German resource from ilanguages.

10) The German Olympic Committee's website has a lot of information.

11) Kindernetz has a number of good activities in German relating to the Olympics.

12) The official London 2012 site also has resources in English, French and Spanish.

That should keep you going until the end of the year.

If you find any more sites please let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Sorry, your name's not on the list.

I was talking to a French colleague the other day about the names given to babies in France and it surprised me that she wasn't aware of the list. When I told her she was really surprised and had never heard of it.

I guess you didn't either, so I shall explain.

You know when you were at school and your teacher told you that French children celebrated their "saint's day" and their birthday?  You thought that it was unfair because some kids, like Jade, Holly, and Jason weren't named after saints so wouldn't get extra presents.

Well, as far as I understand it, at the end of the 18th century, after the Revolution, a law was passed which allowed parents only to name their children after saints or famous French historical figures. If the name wasn't a day on the calendar, you couldn't call your child that name.

This law, Loi du 11 germinal an XI states that:
"... les noms en usage dans les différents calendriers, et ceux des personnages connus dans l'histoire ancienne pourront seuls être reçus, comme prénoms, sur les registres de l’état civil destinés à constater la naissance des enfants; et il est interdit aux officiers publics d'en admettre aucun autre dans leurs actes.”

This was on the French statute books until 1966 when the law was changed when a limited number of other names were added to the list. These included some foreign names, regional names and even a few mythological names, too.

Or, as the French put it: “la force de la coutume, en la matière, a sensiblement élargi les limites initialement assignées à la recevabilité des prénoms par les prescriptions littérales de la loi du 11 germinal an XI.”

In 1981, this was changed so that parents could more or less call their children anything as long as it was not deemed to be a stupid name: “les parents peuvent notamment choisir comme prénoms, sous la réserve générale que dans l’intérêt de l’enfant ils ne soient jugés ridicules..."

This all came to an end in 1993 when new legislation (article 57 du Code Civile) gave parents the right to call their children pretty much anything they wanted.

That's the reason why in 2011 among the most popular boys' names in France were: Tom, Anthony, Ethan, and Enzo and popular girl's names include: Jade, Lilou, and Eva.
picture from

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Outstanding lesson plans?

There is a thread on the TES MFL forum called "Outstanding lesson plan" in which a GTP student asked for an example of an outstanding lesson plan.

Obviously, this teacher is ambitious and wants to do a good job and I applaud her for this.

The thing I can't quite get my head around is the fact that a trainee teacher is expecting, or being expected by someone, to plan, and teach, outstanding lessons.

Teaching is not something you can just turn up and do and be brilliant at.

I could produce a lesson plan and tell you that I followed it and was deemed outstanding. Another teacher could follow it to the letter and be deemed satisfactory, or worse.

If I follow Jamie Oliver's soufflé recipe to the letter will I become an outstanding chef?

Of course, not.

Can you learn to ride a bike by reading a book called, "How to ride a bike"?


There is no holy grail of lesson plans. There's no quick fix. It's hard work.

Becoming a good teacher takes a lot of time and experience.

On the odd occasion when I have taught an outstanding lesson, there have still been parts of it I have been not too happy about and would change for the next time.

Like many teachers, I am my own worst critic.

Teaching is a vocation in which, I would hope, we are all constantly learning and trying to improve.

Don't try to plan outstanding lessons. Try to plan lessons where the students do the most of the work, prove that they have understood, are showing progression, and enjoying themselves.

If you really want to know if your lesson was OK, ask yourself this: "Would I be happy if my child had been in that lesson?"

Then ask yourself, "Why?"

Monday, 16 April 2012


Blabberize is an online tool which allows you to puppetize photos and give them voices.

To make a "blabber" you upload a picture, record some dialogue (as mp3 or wav) and follow the onscreen instructions. It takes a couple of minutes.

It's a bit like voki meets crazytalk.

It's good because it's free. However, both voki (also free) and crazytalk have many more features.

I can see that it would be good to use in the classroom for a 5 minute activity. It would be good for speaking homeworks, too.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Class Dojo - a fantastic behaviour management tool.

I am a huge fan of Class Dojo.

I first heard about it in September last year when Alex Bellars talked about it at the MFL Show and Tell at Cramlington Learning Village. I've since heard other teachers praising the virtues of Class Dojo, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Class Dojo is a web-based application which allows teachers to give points to students for positive behaviour and take points away for negative behaviour.

You can start using it in fewer than 5 minutes and it will have an immediate effect on most students.

To set up a class just paste in your class list and Class Dojo will create avatars, store your classes and keep the students' scores.

To use this app you can use your computer, IWB (this is best as the students can see rewards as they happen) or even your smartphone. just click on the student's name and choose positive (or negative) behaviour and click the reason you gave the points:

Not only will all your scores be saved but you can also get a summary of the percentage of positive to negative points for each class and you can email results to parents should you so wish.
I was sceptical at first but after a few minutes of using it in my class I became hooked. My students think it's a good idea, too. They like to hear the "ping" as points are awarded. 

One of my colleagues, who is a self-confessed technophobe, has started to use it recently on my recommendation (and tuition) and has found that it has had a great effect on some of her most difficult students.

I don't pretend that it is a surefire way to improve the behaviour of unruly pupils but it certainly has helped with my classroom management.

I recommend that you give it a go.

If you do and like it, tell your friends and colleagues. It could make a huge difference to the way they teach and the way their classes respond.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Teachmeet North East 2012

Last Thursday night I attended the long awaited Teachmeet North East.

It took place in the pleasant surroundings of the Town Wall pub in Newcastle and was very well attended.

As with previous teachmeets there were an awful lot of keen teachers lurking and presenting and it was great to catch up with some old friends and some new ones.

The list of attendees and presenters can be found here.

We learned all about birds and bikes, why ICT isn't evil, lots of collaborative projects between departments,  lots of techy stuff eg. ClassDojo, a report on project based learning from High Tech High in San Diego, and all about the Northern Learning Festival, too.

I presented for 2 minutes on how I use Game Show ideas to try to improve students' thinking skills.

My presentation was a synthesis of ideas mentioned in previous blog posts and rather than regurgitate them all here I'll just post links to each one.

My first idea was to use Dave Reed's random letter generator to try to get students to find key words as in Countdown and Catchword.

Next I talked about how Clare Seccombe had blogged about the BBC television programme "Pointless" and its potential use in the classroom.

Then I talked about how I had used another BBC programme "Only Connect" after a discussion with @bonjour_miss on Twitter. I blogged about how it could be used here and my students have really enjoyed the activities we have done based on this.

I finished with links to 2 websites with brilliant sound effects to liven up these types of activity.

Firstly, the drama button and secondly, sad trombone.

These sites are really great because students don't mind giving wrong answers if they are followed by a comedy sound effect.

So, that's it.

There will be another Teachmeet in Newcastle in May and I can't wait.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Why I love Google Translate.

Some of my MFL colleagues will tell you that online translators are the bane of their lives and, to a certain extent and in certain circumstances, I agree.

There is nothing worse than a pupil handing in a piece of work which has been Googley Translated especially if it is in the wrong language.

A colleague recently received a piece of German homework written in Dutch. The child thought it said "Deutsch".

When marking students' work I have google translate open on my computer and if there is anything I'm not sure about I type it in to see what they were trying to say.

Everyone has their own google translate story and I'm sure that many of them are true.

My own personal favourite was this from a year 7 boy only this week:

"JLS sont bouffées."

I'd no idea what he was trying to say, so I used google translate to give me an idea.

It came back with the phrase "JLS are hot."

I asked him about this. He got very embarassed and turned a bright shade of red.

What he'd typed into the translator was "JLS are puffs."

Sweet revenge from the google corporation.

And that's why I love google translate.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Can we make Mothers' Day Cards?

Mothers' Day in the UK and Ireland is tomorrow, the 4th Sunday in Lent. 

This week has been assessment week. So, naturally, some of my pupils asked if they could make Mothers' Day cards instead of doing their exams.

I had anticipated this.

I remembered when I lived in France that Mothers' Day was on a different day so I had prepared myself for their pleas and did some "intercultural understanding research".

They were not impressed that I would not allow them to make cards but I told them that we'd do it when it was  La fête des Mères.

The International Mothers' Day is 13th May 2012. Most countries celebrate this annually on the second Sunday in May.

In most middle eastern countries, Mothers' Day is on the first day of Spring.

The Spanish and Portugese celebrate on the first Sunday in May.

In France, La fête des Mères takes place on the last Sunday in May unless it coincides with Pentecost and then it moves to the first Sunday in June.

So, now you know.

Happy Mother's Day. 

Friday, 9 March 2012

French new wave cinema and Benny Hill.

My A level French students are studying the work of François Truffaut, mainly the 1962 film, Jules et Jim, and the techniques used, so today I showed them a clip from the Benny Hill Show.

I know what you're thinking, but bear with me.

I don't mean the late 1970s early 1980s Benny Hill Show where our hero is chased around the streets of Teddington by scantily clad nurses, police women, nuns, and the occasional, fully clothed, old lady.

Or vicar.

Oh no.

I mean the late 1960s early 1970s Benny Hill Show which contained some very clever parodies and pastiche sketches, the likes of which we don't tend to see these days.

Unless you're me and have the DVD.

And you're not.

And don't.


So, here it is, Benny Hill as French New Wave director, Pierre de Terre, discussing his new avant garde film with Henry McGee in a brilliant parody of everything Truffaut.

(The sketch starts at 15m48)


Saturday, 25 February 2012

I ain't no holla back girl.

holla back girl. (noun) a member of a cheerleading squad who repeats – hollers back - words that the squad leader shouts out to them.

No, I haven't gone mad. (I did that years ago!)

A colleague of mine was recently observed by a local authority inspector. The objective of the lesson was to introduce vocabulary for sports and activities to a first year beginners' French class.

What she did was introduce the vocabulary by showing pictures on her interactive whiteboard and the students repeated.

As a class. In groups. Individually. 

The students were clearly enjoying themselves but were they learning anything? 

They clearly weren't using their brains very much. 

And did they actually understand what they were doing?

How was their understanding being checked?

By the end of the lesson the students were able to name sports and give opinions about them: J'adore le tennis. Je déteste la natation. etc.

She thought the lesson had gone really well and was disappointed to find that the inspector did not agree. 

There was no challenge.

A couple of years ago I was advised by a specialist MFL inspector that I should give my students 3 items of vocabulary and a dictionary or glossary when introducing new vocabulary. Once they have mastered phonics the students can then take charge of their own learning and work individually and collaboratively, in pairs and in groups, to find, learn and share their own vocabulary lists.

I've been doing this ever since and have seen some good results. 

I have created independent learners out of holla back girls (and boys).

You should try it.
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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ofsted - What do they want? When do they want it?

There's an old joke,

"What's the difference between a plastic surgeon and an Ofsted inspection? The surgeon tucks up features and the Ofsted inspection...."

A couple of weeks ago my school had a visit from Ofsted.

They told us on Friday that they would be coming in on the following Tuesday.

Everybody was rushing around like crazy and the queue for the photocopier (there are 2 but one broke as if by Ofsted magic) was longer than ever, well since the last inspection anyway.

We were told that each teacher would be seen twice. This didn't happen. Some people were seen twice. Others, including me, were not seen at all.

So what did they want?

The inspectors requested a chair in each classroom with a lesson plan and a detailed seating plan. By detailed, of course, I mean including any special needs information details, children receiving free school meals, the number of looked after children, any gifted and talented children and any children with English as an additional language. Each of these groups of students needs to be taught in different ways, of course.

What did they want to see?

They wanted to see that we are as good as we claim we are in our SEF.

They wanted to see teaching and learning. Obviously. Teacher-led learning is not a good thing. More specifically, they wanted to see evidence of students learning independently and evidence of teachers facilitating this learning by recapping every few minutes. Progress.

The formula for this is: Bell activity, Starter, Task, Mini-plenary, Task, Mini-plenary, Task, Mini-plenary, Task, Mini-plenary,Task, Mini-plenary, ad nauseum, Final activity, Plenary.

Lots of mini-plenaries to show progress as most inspectors spent fewer than 10 minutes in each classroom. If they don't see progress in the time they are there, the best you can hope for is "Satisfactory", which we all know isn't good enough.

If you work in a school where students are not used to working independently, now is a good time to start.

What did they do?

As well as observing and judging lessons they spoke to students: "Do you normally do this kind of thing? Do you like this class? Do you know what you need to do to improve? Can you tell me what you need to do to reach your targets? etc."

They sent out questionnaires to staff, pupils, parents and other stakeholders.

 They did a work scrutiny. Some of my books were included in this. They were looking for evidence of effective feedback (I've blogged about effective feedback here). Not marking. Feedback. All kinds. If your Schemes of Work include this, even better. Teacher feedback, self assessment, peer assessment. Comments of ways in which students can improve. If you are a "page ticker" then you need to change your ways.

They were very friendly and courteous. They seemed like nice people. But, remember, nothing you tell an inspector is "off the record", so be very careful before opening your mouth. Don't try to be funny. Like SLT, they don't like it, their sense of humour (if they ever had one) has been removed. One of the conditions of the job, apparently.

What can you do to be ready for them?

Ideally, teach as if every day is an inspection.

Realistically, keep on top of paperwork, marking and feedback, annotate your seating plans, make sure you know the needs of your students, allow opportunities for peer and self assessment, if you are a "teach-from-the-front-teacher" slowly start to change your ways. The teachers who were prepared, the ones not running around like headless chickens,  were the ones who came out best.

Remember why you became a teacher in the first place - to help children learn.