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.