Friday, 1 June 2018

Teach Primary Resource award finalist!

In September 2016 I first published this resource, Box of French: Je suis préhistorique!  It's a series of nine lessons designed for Year 3 children, which teaches greetings, colours, the concept of gender and articles via cave paintings, Stone Age tools and Iron Age jewellery.

I heard today that this resource is a finalist in this year's Teach Primary Resource awards:

Special thanks are due to Nathalie Paris, who suggested I enter some of my resources for the awards.  The winners will be announced in October.  Very exciting!

The Spanish version, Box of Spanish - ¡Soy prehistórico! is also available in my Sellfy shop.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Pointing and Flicking

The Pointing activity is something that students can do individually or in pairs. 

  • They have in front of them a copy of the Pointing sheet (for example the colours one above), and the teacher has a copy on the board.  
  • As the teacher says each word, the students touch the correct image on the sheet.  
  • First of all the teacher says the words in order, then randomly. 
  • Finally, the teacher points to the words without speaking and the students say the words.  
  • Students will be able to think of other ways that they can use the sheet to help each other to practise, for example giving each other sequences to find.
The physical act of finding and pointing to the right image makes students listen, think and focus.  A variation on the Pointing activity is the Flicking activity:

  • Students work in pairs. 
  • Each pair will need a coin or counter, a whiteboard marker and a laminated copy of the Flicking card. 
  • Students take it in turns to put their coin or counter on the black circle and push or flick it onto one of the images. 
  • If they can say the correct word for that image, they can write their initial on the square with the marker. 
  • The winner is the first student to mark his initial on all the images.  (Each image can potentially have both students' initials on.) 

A more challenging version has an extra spider and star:

If students land on the spider, they have to erase their initials on one of the squares they have already 'won'.  If they land on the star, they get another turn. 

All these resources are available here

Monday, 21 May 2018

French and Spanish Art

It's the time of year when schools are having French days or Spanish days and need things to fill them, or when teachers want an artistic activity to fill in a spare lesson here and there.  Here are the ideas previously mentioned on this blog, that may come in handy for such an occasion:

Klee letters - combining art and writing

Vision On!  - creating art out of words

Magical Miró - ideas for exploiting the images of Joan Miró

Decorative Letters - making illuminated texts

The Shape Game - creating an image out of a shape

Imprinting Verbs - creating characters to inspire writing

Moorish Mosaics - making mosaics and exploring symmetry

Gaudí's Mosaics - making mosaic suns inspired by Gaudí

Guatemala - traditional patterns and textiles

Bend it, shape it, any way you want it - using plasticine and play doh

Food flags, informative flags - creating flags out of food, words, images...

Calligrams - converting text into images

Calligrams part 2 - creating calligrams using outlines and stencils

World Cup calligrams

Letter by Letter - make personal calligrams from your initials


Saturday, 19 May 2018

Mi gramática and Ma petite grammaire

Yesterday saw the publication of my grammar resources for Key Stage 2 French and Spanish.

Each resource is a collection of activity sheets and information sheets to support both beginner learners and non-specialist teachers with the grammar named in the Key Stage 2 national curriculum for Languages.  The resource would also suit lower Key Stage 3.  The mind maps in this post show the grammar which is covered in this part 1 (Nouns and Adjectives) and what will be covered in part 2 (Verbs).

Each activity sheet has an explanation of the grammar point in the form of a conversation between children.  It endeavours to include many of the questions that children ask during their language lessons and to answer them!

Find the resources in my Sellfy shop:



You can get 25% discount off the normal price before the end of Sunday 20th May by using the code GRAMMAR.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Grammar in Key Stage 2

I've mentioned before that the national curriculum document for Key Stage 2 Languages doesn't give us much to go on as far as content is concerned.  It's particularly impenetrable for the non-specialist teacher.  The grammar part is the "bit" of the two-and-a bit pages of the document:

"understand basic grammar appropriate to the language being studied, including (where relevant): feminine, masculine and neuter forms and the conjugation of high-frequency verbs; key features and patterns of the language; how to apply these, for instance, to build sentences; and how these differ from or are similar to English."

On the face of it, there doesn't appear to be a great deal to it.  However, if you drill down into these simple statements, such as "the conjugation of high-frequency verbs", there are a lot of grammatical points to be covered if children are to build sentences and longer texts successfully.

I have been thinking about exactly what grammar we need to cover in Key Stage 2 to enable this part of the curriculum to be met, to enable children to write longer texts confidently and coherently and, of course, to lay a solid basis for Key Stage 3.  I have used Mindomo to mindmap the grammar that I think we need for French and Spanish.  Please feel free to use these mindmaps to help you in your work and to show your English co-ordinator what you do!  Very many thanks to members of the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group for their input and lively discussions about what should be included and what we should call it!



Friday, 27 April 2018

5 in a row

Yesterday afternoon I had an enjoyable lesson with my new Year 6 Spanish class.  At the moment we are learning about sports, mainly to introduce opinions which they haven't done before, being new to Spanish in September. 

The whole-class speaking and listening, and the individual writing, was followed by this 5 in a row activity, which is from this lesson pack

  • The children played in pairs, and there was one group of three.
  • The 5 in a row grid has 64 squares, and the aim of the game is to win by getting 5 squares in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.  
  • Each team member will need a different coloured pen or pencil.
  • The children take it in turns to point to the square that they want and then say the right sentence to go with it.  
  • If their partner agrees that they are correct, they colour in the square with their colour.  Alternatively they could write their initials in the square.
  • The winner is the one who has five squares in a row in their colour.
To say it got a little competitive is an understatement!  There was plenty of target language being used and they were very good at playing tactically to block their opponents.  The group of three found it especially hard to get a line of 5 and had to use nearly all the squares.

This grid could also be used for a Blockbusters-style game, with one student moving vertically and the other horizontally.

It could also be used for a Knights game.  Students move in an L-shape, like the knight in chess, colouring in the square that they reach, as long as they can say the word or phrase correctly.  The student with the most squares coloured in their colour before both players get stuck wins.

If you would like to have a go at 5 in a row, there are quite a few games to try on Light Bulb Languages:

If there is a 5 in a row game that you think would be useful to your classes and which isn't already mentioned here, please get in touch.  I already have the grid made and it's easy to adapt for a new game.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Story Dice

Yesterday morning I found in my Inbox an email alert containing this post from Richard Byrne.  It mentions Story Dice for Android.  This afternoon I downloaded the app to have a play.

You get three vertical rows of dice, which roll when you tap on them, to display sets of images like this:
Once students have rolled the dice, they could take a screenshot and then annotate it in Screen Master.  I have done this example, where I have used each image as a stimulus for a sentence in the target language.  This might work as a revision activity for older learners.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Words and Pictures?

When I was preparing my presentation about writing for Language World, I re-read Patterns and procedures: focus on phonics and grammar by Heather Rendall.  Those who attended the presentation will remember that I quoted Heather a couple of times.

Heather says that learners will store an image of what a new L2 word looks like as soon as they hear it, and, especially if they are beginner learners, they are likely to use their pre-learned system of English phonics to do so.  It is likely that English will interfere with learners storing an accurate image of this new word.  

Heather goes on to say that:
"Every word has three attributes: a meaning, a sound and a spelling.  Target language nouns will also have a gender.  All four attributes should be presented immediately and simultaneously and repeatedly."

I trained as a teacher in the mid-1990s, when the communicative method was all the rage.  The thinking at the time was that you should introduce learners to the spoken word first, and to the written word considerably later.  Seeing the written word too soon apparently confused the learner.  In addition, phonics was something they apparently absorbed by some kind of osmosis.  This proved to be largely impractical and unsuccessful, and at the turn of the century I was part of a local working group who looked at the systematic teaching of phonics and much more focussed attention on the written word.

As a primary practitioner, I always present new language using a visual focus, which enables me to present the new language without the need for English until we spend a little time checking understanding.  This image shows one of the A5 flashcards that I use:
The picture indicates the meaning of the word, learners will hear the sound of the word when I say it, and the pink stripe at the bottom of the card indicates its gender.  Of Heather Rendall's four attributes, it is therefore missing the spelling.  This flashcard is for una plaza - a word with a phoneme/grapheme that is specific to Spanish.  It's likely that, despite some extensive work on phonics over three years, the Year 6 learners who hear this word will store the image platha in their heads.

An alternative is to keep the image but add the written word:
The fourth attribute is now present at the expense of the gender, which could, I think go somewhere else on the card as a coloured dot.  I wouldn't want to colour-code the words as that would make them less visible from the back of the room.  The image has to be smaller if the text is present and ideally I would like the text to be bigger too.  If I presented the words via PowerPoint slides then the words and images would both be bigger, but I really prefer the versatility and immediacy of low-tech flashcards.  So the exact design of a flashcard with all four attributes leaves me in a quandry - what to include and how?  It's possible that I would want two sets of flashcards - one with text to present the new words and a second with picture only to aid recall.

Do you introduce the written word at the same time as the sound and meaning?  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Word Classes

Recently there has been a discussion in the Secondary MFL Matters Facebook group about students not knowing enough about word classes in English.  Students are quoted as not understanding, for example, why they can't say joli grand for "pretty big".  This points as much to dictionary skills, I think, and the importance of looking at all the meanings of a word and not just accepting the first on the list.

Personally, I have noticed a significant difference in children's knowledge and understanding of grammar since "enhanced SPaG" came into being with the latest incarnation of the national curriculum.  When a middle-ability Year 4 child can tell you about relative pronouns, you know things are changing.  However this has all made me think that, even though I use, for example, the words "noun", "verb" and "adjective" frequently in my lessons, I don't draw explicit attention to them and practise differentiating one from the other.

Last term I saw my Year 2s doing a colouring activity to practise word classes in one of their English lessons.  It looked a bit like this one.  A variation on the theme is this activity.

As a response I have made this activity for French and Spanish.  The idea is that children select three colours, and then colour in the boxes at the top of the sheet to provide their "key".  Each child having a different combination of colours will hopefully lessen the probability of them copying from each other!  The activity will also involve some dictionary practice as they check the word classes of the words that they do not yet know.

How do you study and practise word classes?

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Language World 2018: Putting pen to paper

Here's my presentation from this year's Language World conference, which took place yesterday and the day before.

Starting to write in another language isn't as easy as simply picking up a pen or pencil, especially for younger learners.  This presentation looks at the difficulties they may face and how we can best support learners as they begin to write in their new language.

These blogposts explore some of the points further:

Trace the letter: learning to write new letters and characters

The Interference of English: How mother tongue and other languages affect spelling in the new language

Phrase du jour

Practising spelling and structure

Kagan Rally Table: for peer supported writing

Writing without a pen

Starting to write in a new language

Don't forget your PIN: writing frames with numbers

How important is spelling?

Short, sharp repetition

Monday, 12 March 2018

Trace the letter

For the last few weeks I have been researching and reading about how best to support beginner learners as they start to write in the new language.  You'll be able to hear about my findings at Language World in a couple of weeks!

One of the things that learners need to practise if they are to write confidently are the letters and characters that the new language has and which English does not have.  I have found a useful French website which has handwriting resources for primary children.  There is one worksheet for each letter.  The worksheets begin with a large version of the letter for children to trace with their finger in order to learn the shape of the letter before they have a go at writing it with their pencil:
When I work with my students to support them as they start to write these new letters and characters, I give them a worksheet (for Spanish, and for French) where they copy the characters with their pencil straightaway.  Tracing the letters with their finger first seems a preferable way to start, as it will build confidence before they actually write.

To that end, I have created some cards (see the image at the top of this post) which children can use to trace the letters with their finger.  I have used a typical handwriting font as this is how the children will be writing the letters eventually.  I have added red arrows to the new and unfamiliar parts of the characters to help them to see how to form the shapes.

You can download the Spanish card from here, and the French one from here.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Gender and number: Trash or Treasure?

This year I inherited a Year 6 class who have done three years of French but no Spanish.  As they have done lots of French I am able to move them on pretty quickly, showing them how the grammatical notions that they know from English and French - number and gender - work in Spanish.

At the moment we are working on adjectival agreement with plural nouns.  So we know how to identify a masculine noun and a feminine noun and how we need to change some of our adjectives when describing something feminine.  We have read Los limones no son rojos which has lots of examples of plural adjectival agreement in action.  The children can explain to me why there is an extra s on some of the adjectives and why some of them also have an a instead of an o on the end.

I have designed the above Trash or Treasure? activity for the first lesson back after half term to make them think about what exactly shows that a word is masculine or feminine, singular or plural.  The words are a collection of nouns, adjectives and articles/determiners.  It’s not vital for students to understand the meanings of all the words - you are training them here to look for the clues that tell you about a word’s gender and number.

Each pair of students will need a set of the words and a Trash or Treasure board.  The following sorts are suggested:
  • Words that are definitely masculine
  • Words that are definitely feminine
  • Words that could potentially be either masculine or feminine
  • Words that are singular
  • Words that are plural
  • Masculine singular words
  • Feminine singular words
  • Masculine plural words
  • Feminine plural words
Which words would you put in these different groups?  Can you think of any other sorts that could be done using these words?

You can find out more about Trash or Treasure here and the board can be found here

After this activity we will do the Spanish version of this French adjectival agreement activity, which I have also prepared and which is available here.

UPDATE 23.2.18:  I used both these resources in my Year 6 lesson yesterday.  We re-read Los limones no son rojos first, talking about why the colours are spelt differently to the ones we originally learned.  The Trash or Treasure? activity consolidated their knowledge about gender and number, and I enjoyed hearing them saying things to each other like "We need to find anything with an s on" or "Find all the words with an a on the end".  They then found the sentence-building activity quite straightforward, and were able to put right independently any errors.  Some pairs chose to use the "son" cards to extend their sentences in the same way as the book had, for example "Las fresas no son negras, son rojas."
Looking for feminine singular nouns

Looking for masculine singular nouns

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Interference of English

Some time ago I wrote about the importance of spelling.  I asked if it was more important to spell accurately or to get your message across with some errors.  I included a list of the words in French, Spanish and German that are commonly misspelled by students.

Over the last few weeks I have been looking more closely at the issue of spelling in the new language.  While it's true that a considerable number of spelling errors are a result of carelessness, many others can be ascribed to the interference of English.

By the time students start to learn a new language in Year 3, they have undergone four years of rigorous training in English spelling and phonics.  The new language has different letter clusters and sequences, but the students can, often unconsciously, replace these patterns with more familiar English spelling patterns.  The four formative years of learning English spelling is enough to build a muscle memory, so that it feels more natural, for example, for a student to write rough than rouge, as the -ough letter cluster occurs in some frequently-used English words and the -ouge cluster is unfamiliar to English native speakers.

Spelling errors of any kind are exasperating for the languages teacher, especially when they are of the je m'apple variety which turn up again and again.  A systematic learning of phonics is one of the keys to ensuring more accurate spelling in the new language, but do we also owe it to our students to anticipate the sorts of errors that they are likely to make due to the interference of English and practise these words in a more focussed way?  

It is worth noting that this interference may also come from other languages that the student has learned, for example if they are in Year 7 and starting a language that is not the one they studied in Key Stage 2.  Any new language will have combinations of letters that are entirely unfamiliar to the beginner student and which they will need to practise in order to build their confidence and to start to build the new muscle memory.

We already draw direct comparisons with English in order to teach grammatical structures such as adjectival word order and the genitive, so should we now extend this to spelling?

Many thanks to the members of the Secondary MFL Matters Facebook group who joined in the discussion about this recently and who also provided many of the examples below:

French word
often misspelled as
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English ‘amusement’
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English ‘anniversary’
students remember the meaning of blanc by associating it with the English ‘blank’ but this in turn means that the word is often written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English.
-m- probably added because of the influence of the English ‘companion’
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
the word is obviously unusual looking (and hard to spell/say for an English-speaking learner) so it is corrected to the nearest known English word
-ue- is much more common in English than -eu-
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
the nearest known English word
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
je m’appelle
je m’apple
the nearest known English word
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
the nearest known English word
-gne words often cause problems for English-speaking learners, as -nge is a much more common letter sequence in English than -gne.
the nearest known English word
apart from the obvious phonic influence, some of the influence will come from the well known Nerf guns….
these three vowels are never seen together in English.  It’s much more common to have q+u and then another vowel. 
English words ending -ough are quite common, hence the change to the nearest known English word.
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
-gt is not an English word ending, but there are quite a few words (eight, knight etc) that end with -ght, hence the correction

Spanish word
often misspelled as
centro comercial
centro commercial
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
me encanta
me enchanta
the nearest known English word
rigorous application of the “i before e except after c” rule!
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
few English words end with -os, so this is often written with an -ous ending, which is more familiar, from words such as famous
rigorous application of the “i before e except after c” rule!

German word
often misspelled as
es ist windig
es ist winding
-ig as a word ending is not seen in English, so it is corrected to resemble the much more common -ing ending
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
-ig as a word ending is not seen in English, so it is corrected to resemble the much more common -ing ending
written to make the word look more like the more familiar English
the nearest known English word
the extra -en- is added to make it resemble more closely the English ‘swimming pool’.
rigorous application of the “i before e except after c” rule!