Sunday, 29 December 2019

Your top 10 reads of 2019

Here are the top ten most-read posts on this blog during 2019:

10.  #LW2019 Goosebump Learning - my presentation from Language World 2019.  Don't know what goosebump learning is?  Have a read!

9.  Languages in the news - From the end of February / beginning of March when languages were all over the news thanks to a BBC report.  I also wrote a second news post in July, following the publication of the Language Trends 2019 report.

8.  Spirals and waves (updated) - a post from 2017 all about how to use Festisite to make word spirals, waves, eggs, hearts....  Have a go!

7.  Primary Writing magazine - next steps

6.  Primary Languages Writing Celebration magazine5.  Write Away Paperwork - these three blogposts all deal with the inception, development and publication of Write Away! magazine, of which there are now 3 issues available to read.  Do you fancy seeing what primary children write in their language lessons?  Take a look!

4.  A concertina-ed effort - a post from 2012 which tells you how to make concertina books.

3.  Primary Languages White Paper - a post about the recommendations of the Primary Languages White Paper, which was published in March this year.

2.  Wheel Decide - about the app Wheel Decide, which you can use to make spinning random word or sentence generators for use in class.

1.  #LW2019 Sketchnotes - a post containing my sketchnotes from this year's Language World.  I suspect its popularity is due to the inclusion of a sketchnote about the new Ofsted framework!

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Everything you need to know about Tarsia, calligrams and minibooks

Recently I have added some more free resources to my online shop.  They are a series of pdf "Everything you need to know about..." guides.

You can choose from:
Each resource is a compilation of posts from this blog and other documents that I have made to support these topics.  I thought it would help you to have everything in one place instead of having to search through various sites.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Curriculum map and overhaul

At the end of last month I attended the 4th annual Northern Primary Languages Show (#NPLS19) in York.  The session I was particularly looking forward to was by Dr Rachel Hawkes, who was talking about vocabulary.  This is my sketchnote from her thought-provoking session:

My main takeaways from Rachel's session were:
  1. It's generally acknowledged that by the end of Year 6 children will have reached level A1 on the Common European Framework.  This requires knowledge of 500 items of vocabulary.
  2. The vocabulary taught should be informed by the words' frequency in the language. (I blogged before about high-frequency language in Spanish and in French.)
  3. Key verbs are crucial.
  4. Vocabulary needs to be revisited frequently is it is to stick.
This persuaded me to take a closer look at my curriculum for KS2 Spanish.  I had a feeling that it included considerably more than 500 words, and wanted to look at the inclusion of key verb forms and the thread of the grammar and structures.

I got some pieces of A1 paper and my new Paperchase markers and set to examining my curriculum.


First observations:

  • The red numbers at the bottom of each sheet are the numbers of new words.  I was interested and surprised to see that once I had added up each year group's totals, it only came to 417 words, 472 if you include the music man unit, which I don't always do.  Children may exceed 500 words by using their dictionaries to personalise their work.
  • There is a good coverage of the verb tener (to have) but with the verb ser (one of the verbs to be) I really only cover the third person singular.
  • The grammar and structures are a bit haphazard now I look at them like this.  For a better 'thread' I'm thinking of moving family and pets from Year 5 into Year 3 to replace food and opinions.  This will help to reinforce gender and to introduce plurals, as well as revisiting tener and llamarse.  The food unit is a big jump into some complex concepts.
  • Weather would be better suited to Year 4, as the language involved is much simpler than other Year 5 topics.
  • There aren't enough question forms.
  • The only time I look at regular verb conjugation is in the music man unit, but, as I said earlier, I don't always do this unit - it's one I keep in my pocket just in case. I need to build in a regular -AR verb earlier on.
This is something I'll continue to mull over during the Christmas holidays.  If you use my scheme and resources, I'd love to hear your ideas and comments.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Post-It grids with a twist

Last week I saw this tweet from the Twitter account @Geog_HA:

It occurred to me that this great activity is a twist on Post-It grids, that I've blogged about before and which I use often in the classroom.  In fact today I did the weather one with a Year 5 class.

I had a go at doing this activity with a languages twist with one of my Year 6 classes this morning.

We've been working on infinitives in Spanish - what they are, how to identify them and how to use them.  We read them in school rules, using the book Ya voy a la escuela, sang them in a song ('Ahora vamos a cantar' from Diez Deditos) and last week used them in opinion sentences.

This morning I gave each pair of students a copy of the crowd-sourced texts using opinions and infinitives:
On the board there were 12 questions in a grid:

I gave each pair 12 post-it tabs.  I asked them to read the texts, work out the answers to the questions (using prior knowledge, their books and knowledge of cognates), write their answer (person 1-5) on their post-it tab and stick it on the question.  The board in that classroom is one of the ones like a giant TV, and one of the boys reminded me that it's very sensitive, so instead I drew a big grid on the ordinary whiteboard and we stuck the post-it tabs on there.  This turned out well as the questions weren't obscured.

I stopped the activity when all the groups had done most of them and we went through the answers.  I looked at the range of answers in each square on the board while we were going through.

Afterwards I explained to the children that this was the first time doing this activity for me, and asked them if they had enjoyed it.  They said they had - many said, "It was fun!" and added, "It was different!"  One of the boys said that he enjoyed it because he got to be out of his seat.  They were certainly all very engaged with finding the answers, and I overheard some good learning conversations about the answers.

When I do this kind of activity again, I'll find some stickier post-its (these ones had a tendency to flutter off the board!) and will also try having questions that need to be answered with a phrase or sentence rather than a number.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Crowd-sourcing model texts for French

Following the success of the Spanish crowd-source and resulting resource, I'm now crowd-sourcing for French.

I would be very grateful if you could write a sentence or couple of sentences using the highlighted language that you can see at the top of this post.  You can see my example to start you off.  Don't worry about colour highlighting, as I can do that.  If you don't want to add your real name, a pseudonym or nickname would be fine.

You can add your sentences here in a comment, or email them to me.

Merci!  I will, of course, share any resulting resources.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Spot the errors - yes or no?
Last weekend I received via email a link to this article from Teachwire.  The image used in the email was this one, to illustrate a "find the errors" activity:

Over my 25 years in this teaching game I've been told not to do activities like this, as students will see and remember the incorrect words and not the correct ones.  I put out a tweet to gauge current thinking:

Steve Smith put more clearly than I could the main issue with this kind of activity:

My main issue with doing activities of this kind has been ensuring that all students record and correct all errors so that there is no incorrect language in their book, as you could bet your bottom dollar those would be the examples they chose to use later on as a model.  Ms Pickering on Twitter describes a way around this:

I do really like the activity because of the analysis of the language and the learning conversations that it generates.  I think Steve's point of only using well-practiced language is very valid.

Vincent Everett shared an example of a proof-reading activity, where students are finding errors but always have a correct version of the text available:

So: Spot the errors - yes or no?  What do you think?  Do you know of any research for or against it?  I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

A crowd-source resource

On Monday I posted about creating model texts for colleagues to use in their lessons.  I invited blog readers to contribute a text for inclusion in the resource to be used with beginner learners of Spanish who are learning about grammatical gender for the first time.

You can see an image of the contributed texts above, and you can download the resource here.

I introduced my two beginner Year 4 classes to the texts today.  I gave them each a glossary of the 36 nouns that are used in the texts.  Then I gave them a copy of the texts between two, and asked them to work in pairs to find the genders of each noun.  They did really well finding them, using the colours as well as everything they knew about indefinite articles and final -o and -a to help them.

I'm aiming for the children to write their own texts, ultimately.  Next I'm going to get them to help me to write what is in my teacher apron, starting with just a list then adding the starters, conjunctions and so on. When they start writing their own I might let them have an additional glossary for some funny vocabulary.  I might also get them to underline words in the colours or even write the words in colours, as suggested by Vincent Everett.

If there are any resources that you think would be useful in this format, please mention it in the comments.  Spanish or French both fine!

Monday, 4 November 2019

Crowd-sourcing model texts

I was very interested in this tweet when I saw it at lunchtime yesterday. It's from Samara Spielberg, who is a Spanish teacher in the US. She asks colleagues to write short texts which incorporate certain set phrases, verbs and structures. Then her students read and analyse them before using them as a model for their own work. 

I think this is a model we could adapt for Key Stage 2. It would be quite straightforward to provide each other with multiple model texts in this way. 

To get the ball rolling I'm going to try it out for gender in Spanish, something that I have just begun with my Year 4 new starters.

I would be very grateful if you could write a sentence or couple of sentences using the highlighted language that you can see at the top of this post.  You can see my example to start you off.  Don't worry about colour highlighting, as I can do that.  If you don't want to add your real name, a pseudonym or nickname would be fine.

You can add your sentences here in a comment, or email them to me.

I'll be seeing Year 4 on Thursday 7th, so any received before then will be most welcome!

¡Muchas gracias!  I will, of course, share any resulting resources.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Language Links

Personally, I find it difficult to teach another language (Spanish and French in my case) without comparing the words and structures in the new language with English.  For example, colours are often one of the first things that we teach new learners.  With my classes I look for clues, tips and hints that will help us to remember the words.  One of the most common ones is remembering blanco/blanc by thinking of the English word blank.  Quite often these clues, tips and hints lead us to high quality English vocabulary that I recommend to my students that they use.  In recent weeks we have mentioned azure, stupendous and phantom.  

This also links very well with the curriculum for English, where there is a big emphasis at the moment on improving and building English vocabulary.  At the beginning of July I started to make posters to formalise these links and make them available on Light Bulb Languages.  The links are designed to stimulate interest in other languages while building English vocabulary and showing links to help students to remember the new words. 

The L2 word on each poster is a translation of the first English word.  Then the second English word is linked to the L2 word (sometimes they are cognates but not always).  The two English words are always linked in some way.

I post a new link every day to the Light Bulb Languages Twitter page and Facebook page, and then every week or so I upload the new ones to the webpage.  They are available in French, Spanish, German and Italian.

There are 131 links currently on the webpage, and there is a new one ready to post for every day until 9th December so far, with plenty more in the pipeline.  If you can think of any good links, or if you come across a good one in your teaching, please leave it in the comments!

Monday, 28 October 2019

And more Spanish books!

¡Hola desde Sevilla!  A great way to spend half term.  I was allowed a little while in a book shop today, and happened upon these two:

I have to admit I like this one because I have a Nina in my house.  The book is all about Nina starting primary school and everything she encounters there.  It's a great insight into Spanish primary schools.

I was drawn to this one partly by its very topical message, and partly by the fact that it has lots of infinitives, which I am have just started with Year 6!  

Each double page spread has an acetate overlay.  You read what you should do to help the environment, then turn the acetate and it shows you!

My final purchase was a book of Mafalda bookmarks, so here is a topical one for you:


I've just got another one!

It's a pop-up book about jungle animals.  The first one, for example, is a crocodile:

 You can see it says "cocodrilo" down the side, and there's the sound he makes on the left.   But the best is yet to come - you can flip over just half of the page ro mix him with another animal, like a hippo:

And you get a Cocopótamo!  Then why not mix the hippo with something

like a toucan, to make a Hipocán.  There is a great combination of sounds on the left too.

There is also a "La Granja" book in the same series.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Sonidos Españoles

It's finally here!  I've been working on Sonidos Españoles, a new Spanish phonics resource, since July.  Finding all the words and creating the 180+ illustrations has taken a long time! 

There are six PowerPoints, each practising 3 or 4 sounds, and also some resources to support and practise the sounds further:

Part 1: a, o, h, ll
Part 2: ñ, e, i, u
Part 3: ce, ci, z
Part 4: cu, qu, v, b
Part 5: ge, gi, j
Part 6: r-, rr, gue, gui, güe, güi

Each part begins with a sentence which contains all the sounds to be practised in that part.  Then there are 6 words containing each sound to practise with.  Each part also finishes with a little story to practise the sounds in the context of sentences rather than single words.  Audio has been provided by a native speaker - thank you Susi!

I hope you like it and enjoy using it.  I've already been using it with my new Y3s and Y4s and they seemed to like it!

There is a 25% discount with code SONIDOS until Friday 20th September :)

Friday, 16 August 2019


At the beginning of July my elder daughter went to her school prom.  This meant that the time between her GCSEs finishing and the prom was spent purchasing and pampering.  After the event I accompanied her to the nail salon as she wanted to have the nails removed - they were annoying her.  I sat in the "reception area" with another mother and a sister.  The sister was waiting for her sister to have some rather fearsome turquoise nails done, and was amusing herself by drawing on her i-Pad using an Apple pencil.  I had a few crafty looks at what she was doing and was impressed by the effects that she was achieving.

When I first tried sketchnoting I tried using a traditional stylus - one of those ones with the rubbery stopper on the end.  It was impossible to draw or write anything good with it, so hadn't tried writing or drawing on my tablet since.  That was 2015 and of course technology has moved on since then.  I searched the possibilities for a pencil for Android and purchased this one.  

I've been using it most days since then, along with the Autodesk Sketchbook app for Android, which I had tried before but which has had an update.  One of its interesting new functions is the ability to record a time lapse version of a picture that you are drawing.  This could perhaps be used in the classroom for students to draw a picture and then get their partner to narrate what they can see and what is happening.  Here is one of my offerings, for example:

I'm off to doing some more illustrations for my new resource.  The picture at the top is a little taster for you!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

More Spanish books

It seems kind of appropriate that I am writing this during a tropical thunderstorm.  The sky is very dark, thunder is rumbling and torrential rain has just started to fall.

This afternoon I was allowed half an hour in our nearest Barnes and Noble, the US equivalent of Waterstones.  I always head straight for the Libros para Niños, and even on such a short visit I was not disappointed.

I do weather with my Y5s, and so far it's been difficult to find suitable reading material.  This reader is a good level for UKS2, and of an appropriate maturity level too.

One of my Y5 classes read Wonder with their class teacher last year and produced some fantastic English writing about it.  This, by the same author, is beautifully illustrated and told in simple Spanish.  It has the messages of "todos somos únicos" - we are all unique - and "elige ser amable" - choose to be kind.  This book will be great for KS2 children, as they'll be familiar with the novel, and the theme fits in beautifully with the values that we want to instill in the children.

This book, called We're All Wonders in English, is not available in the UK but can be purchased from Amazon Spain.