Sunday, 17 May 2020

Concept Mapping

Concept maps are organisations and visual representations of knowledge.  They show the relationships between concepts or ideas, or rather in the case of language learning, between the lexical items that you have chosen.  Each word or phrase has a shape drawn around it, and then the shapes are joined with arrows.  The nature of the link is often written on the arrow.

Concept mapping obliges students to think about the characteristics of a word or phrase and how it might be related to other words or phrases. Like with the other Thinking Skills strategies mentioned, it is intended to go beyond just the meaning of the word and requires students to use grammatical terminology to explain and justify the links that they have made.  It has elements of both classification and odd one out in that students are looking for the links between words. 

Concept mapping is ideal for pair or group work, and is useful for checking students' understanding of grammar and structure, and any misunderstandings they might have.

Have a look at the group of words at the top of this post.  How would you link them together in a concept map?  This is a possible arrangement:

Saturday, 16 May 2020


Classification, sometimes also known as Categorisation, is another Thinking Skills strategy that I used to use back at the turn of the century.

It works best with students working in pairs or groups.  They need a collection of words or other lexical items, ideally cut up so that they can move them around the table.  They then work collaboratively to sort the words into categories, where each category contains words that have some characteristic in common.  Like with Odd One Out, it obliges students to think beyond just the meaning of the words and to discuss their choices using grammatical terminology.  Different groups of students may have different categories, but it's the explanation and justification of the categories that is the important thing - as with all Thinking Skills strategies there is more than one possible correct answer.

If you were given the words above to classify, how would you do it?  How many categories would you have and what would the category titles be?

The classification can provide a useful starting point for grammar teaching or written work.  The words above, for example, can also be used for teaching adjectival position and agreement.

A variation on this theme is Trash or Treasure, which I have written about before.  The difference here is that you tell the students which category to look for each time.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Odd One Out

Yesterday I was reminded about the Thinking Skills strategies that I used to use in the secondary classroom (here are some Spanish examples, and here some French ones).

In the very early years of this century (!) I was part of a local authority working group which investigated how to use thinking skills strategies in the language classroom.  Thinking Skills were to become part of the Key Stage 3 Strategy and were used effectively in the humanities at the time.

The strategies encourage students to look for patterns and rules in the language, and to articulate their understanding and their findings using "technical" terminology.  When I first started to use these strategies, the expectation was that language lessons should be carried out in the target language, but the resulting discussions of these strategies really has to happen in English.  It seemed like cheating almost to be using English in the classroom, but the students were discussing the language so it could be justified.

One of my favourites of these strategies is Odd One Out, of which you can see an example at the top of this post.  Odd One Out encourages students to examine the characteristics of words, to think about the meanings, similarities and differences.  Students are expected to use grammatical, technical language to explain and justify the choice that they have made.  It's also ideal for pair or group work.  One of the best lessons I ever had was a thinking skills lesson.  A group of four Year 9 girls had a stand-up argument about the solution to the thinking skills mystery we were working on in the lesson.  (It was better than I've maybe made it sound!)

Odd One Out activities are easy to produce, although to make a really good one you need to make it so that there is more than one possible answer.  Encourage students to look beyond the "it's the only one without an A" or "it's the only one with an accent on" type of answer.  Sometimes they manage to find an odd one out that you hadn't even seen, but as long as they can explain why it's an odd one out, they're right!  I always include the "why?" box for students to write in their reasoning.

Odd One Out can be set up using pictures, single words, sentences.....  There is a possibility to suit all learners.

Can you find the odd ones out here?  Why are they the odd ones out?  There is often more than one correct answer!

Thursday, 14 May 2020

How many words?

Yesterday I watch two episodes of Steve Smith's series of videos about second language teaching.  (Have you watched them?  You should!)  I watched the two about vocabulary.  For Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 learners, Steve recommends introducing 10-15 lexical items in one go.  These lexical items may be single words, but they could also be short sentences or other chunks of text.

When introducing new lexical items, I've always kept to the maxim "the magic number 7 plus or minus 2".  Generally speaking, primary learners are in the "minus 2" bracket, and I consider 5 or 6 words to be a good number to introduce to them at once.  With the list of 11 main colours, for example, I split them into a group of 6 and a group of 5 and introduce and practise the two groups separately.  If the words or phrases comprise a considerable number of cognates, it's possible to introduce more than 6.

It's occurred to me that this significant difference between expectations in Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 could create difficulties for Year 6 children going into Year 7 and what they are used to.

What do you think?

Monday, 11 May 2020

Messing around with text!

In the past I have written about practising word and sentence structure by mixing it up in some way and asking students to sort it back out into the correct order.  I have done this most often with missing out the spaces and making anagrams.

I have also asked my students to rearranged jumbled sentences into the right order so that they make sense, one of the ideas in my search for ideas for translation.  When I was preparing resources for Studio 1 (French Key Stage 3 course book) I put together worksheets like this one where I had jumbled up the sentence myself.

I was really pleased to see this tweet from@EClaire71247211 recently:
The Scramblinator is so easy to use - type in or paste in your sentence, hit the "Scramblinatorize" button, and it does all the work for you!  Resources are quicker and easier to put together.

It reminded of the Reverse Text Generator which is useful for messing around with text.  It also has a "Disemvowel" tool, which you can use to remove vowels or any other letters from your text quickly and easily (and which makes your sentences look like they belong in Only Connect) and a Word Scrambler / Descrambler amongst its Obfuscation tools.

Here are some of the effects you can get:

Je joue au foot avec mes amis.
joue / foot / au / Je / amis. / mes / avec
J j  ft vc ms ms.
Word Scrambler
Je euoj au ootf vaec mes asim.
Il fait chaud aujourd’hui.
iuh'druojua duahc tiaf li
Reverse the wording
hui'aujourd chaud fait il
Reverse each word’s lettering
li tiaf duahc druojua'iuh
Upside down
ınɥ,pɹnoɾnɐ pnɐɥɔ ʇıɐɟ ןı

UPDATE 13.5.20:  I've found some more sites which can do similar things to your text:

To create word shapes, click here

NimbleText does disemvowelling and reverse text among other things (scroll down the list)

LingoJam puts your text upside down for you

The LingoJam Number Generator makes a number code out of your words

LingoJam will also disemvowel your words

Spellbackwards will reverse your text in various different ways