5 things to try tomorrow

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Here are 5 things that worked for me this week.


I had forgotten about this website until one of my pupils said “I know the words I just don’t know how to pronounce them when I’m practising at home”.  My internal, unvocalised reaction to this comment – a comment  innocently dropped after 4.5 years of Spanish – is probably best summarised by the picture below:

Image result for anger

In hindsight, my internal monologue should have focused on the positive “when practising at home”.  However, it was at this point that Voki came to mind.  Whilst not perfect, it does offer text to speech conversion.  It also can help occasionally with individual Spanish words.  Once you have set the voice to Spanish and the accent to a relatively clear one (our preference was for Javier).  Just remind the pupils they don’t need to sign up to use it, and also not to get distracted on creating avatars.


For learning answers to questions, this is a particular favourite.  The address is as follows:


It allows students to learn sentences and hide words to check their recall.  The activities are scaffolded quite well.  It would depend on the student who uses it as to how effective it is.

Students used to find this helpful in the days of controlled assessment.  One has also thanked me for “saving” their GCSE drama coursework.

No snakes, no ladders (Idea from Gianfranco Conti / Dylan Viñales)

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Secondary MFL facebook groups such as: Secondary MFL Matters, Secondary MFL in Wales, New GCSE 9-1 resources, Global Innovative Language Teachers and others) have taken over my news-feed.  They allow some superb sharing of resources and ideas.  However, lots of activities appear briefly and then disappear: balloon towers, one pen&one dice.  This is one I want to keep.  It involves speaking, listening, reading and translation.  Students play in threes – 2 players and a referee. This is a refreshing change to the majority of MFL games, which seem to require a partner.  Full instructions for No Snakes, No Ladders can be found here.

Treasure Hunt

Treasure chest

This is a slight variation on the MFL standard of battleships.  Gives students a slightly larger grid (6×6) and tell them to hide some treasure somewhere in the grid.  This variation worked in 98% of the pairs in my class.  Sadly there was a kid who guessed it first time! 36 different squares!  What were the chances?!  I made sure that they had a rematch.

Quick Speaking Feedback

This next suggestion is a little bit embryonic.  It is something I have tried with two classes and am still considering how it might work best.

There is a huge focus in UK schools on feedback, DIRT and responding to marking.  The vast majority of DIRT I have seen on Facebook Groups and the TES relates purely to written work.  I’ve written about that here.

I started to consider how I may give short quick feedback on speaking, a skill I believe to be substantially more important than writing.  With two year 8 classes, I went around asking them to read a longer paragraph from a textbook page (Mira 2 or Listos 2).  Whilst they were reading out loud, I scribbled one quick sentence in their book regarding their pronunciation.  Some of the notes looked like this:

Speaking Feedback

  • Check “ci/ce” in middle of words – should sound like “th”  eg: “vacaciones”, “francia”
  • Remember ll = y
  • Superb today, nothing to correct!
  • Remember silent h when starting a word, otherwise fine.

To save time and workload, I wrote one sentence per student.  It did not take long to go through the class.

For those of you wanting students to respond to it then there were two ways I tried to engender this.  Firstly, I modelled the sentence and then they repeated it back to me.  This helped some to understand how it should sound.  Secondly, I wrote a list of 4-5 words in their book that I wanted them to say containing the same sound.  Lastly, in light of everything I had heard, I planned a lesson around J and G in Spanish.  This youtube clip was helpful in that lesson.  It took the focus off of me and gave them plenty of examples.  In that lesson I read out a list of words and students corrected me if I made a mistake.  We had races of words involving Js and Gs along with trying a few tongue twisters corporately and individually.

What I noticed from this was that some students got a substantial confidence boost.  Their ability to pronounce words was better than they perceived it to be.  Others appreciated the quick feedback.  Some appreciated being able to respond to the feedback without a lengthy redraft of a piece of work.  They also appreciated the lesson working on the J and G.

I’m still mulling over where to take this and what to do to refine the process but it was well received by the students and did appear to have a positive effect.




GCSE: Global Issues & Environment

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This was an ambitious one.  Trying to make the topics of environment and global issues interesting was not the easiest task I have ever set myself.  I’m admit that I am not entirely sure if I have succeeded on this one.  Hopefully there is something for every reader.  Maybe it is an activity, or an idea below reminds you of a great resource or activity you have not used for a while.

Before I start, the reader should be aware of the following:

  • AQA refers to “global issues” and refers to “the environment”, “poverty/homelessness”
  • Edexcel/Pearson refers to “international and global dimension” with subheadings of “environmental issues, being green, access to natural resources”
  • WJEC simply refers to “global sustainability”.

I have done my best to put ideas that can be applied to all boards.  There will be a lean towards one in terms of the language used as that is what I am currently teaching.  There is certainly no intent to promote one above the other.

This post will look at a mix of the environment and global issues.  Poverty was covered here as I thought it went well with charity and volunteering.

What can I do with these themes?

Environment is a great opportunity to recycle or introduce previously learnt language.  In the past I have taught “you must” and similar phrases.  It has been used to revise the future (“will” or “going to”).  I have also used it as a means of teaching the conditional (“i could…”).  Lastly, it was a good means of introducing students to the subjunctive with impersonal statements such as “es necesario que”.  They were then introduced to the subjunctive properly with the global issues.  Global issues also became a good way to revise comparatives and superlatives.

Will my students be interested?

I think this is all about the “buy-in” from students.  Some will have an interest in the environment and being environmentally friendly.  They will go along with you on this topic.  I can picture that with other groups, and you know the ones I mean, it might be a tough ask.  I think in this case, any “buy-in” comes from the possibility that this topic could confront them on a roleplay card or photocard and they need to be ready for it.  Some may not engage at all.   I found the global issues topic engaged a mixed ability group, particularly the debate mentioned below.

Match up L2 & L2

Having seen this on a past paper example, I have started to use it more with my GCSE students.  There is a reasonably detailed reading text about a topic.  Opposite the text are 4 text messages from supposed young people that relate to points made in the text.

This infographic from día mundial del medio ambiente would serve just such a purpose.  students would have to write a number based on the alleged text messages sent by 4 supposed teenagers.

I have put links to two French ones below and two German ones as examples, you may be able to find better ones.

French infographic 1

French Infographic 2

German Infographic 1

German Infographic 2

These are simple ways to include some literary texts in your lessons without having to produce too much.  There are other ways to include literary texts in your lessons but that is another blogpost.

You can also create your own infographics if you were looking for a different reading text for recycling vocabulary.  Easel.ly  and Infogram were two I came across on a brief search.  If you know of a great one, put it in the comments section and claim the title of “First Commenter of 2018”.

Fake Whatsapp

I discovered this whatsapp generator.  The disadvantage in using it is that it does mean a bit of work in terms of resource preparation.  However, it will stop the normal glazing over that occurs when students see the textbook displaying a Nokia 3210 with buttons and a green screen (also known as the good old days).  The advantage is that you can produce the language and recycle plenty of vocabulary that you have covered in class.

How does this relate to global issues?  Very simple.  Create a fake group-chat using fakeWhatsapp.  Person 1 in the chat suggests they have a project where they have to ask people what they do to help the environment.  Persons 2,3,4,5 simply answer with what they do.  You could set some comprehension questions.  You could read out some statements that they then match to the people in the conversation.  Students could produce their own groupchat mimicking your one.  Plenty of options here.

How environmentally-friendly are you?

Some textbooks will have these.  However, if you are good with the language then translating this one will not take long.  You can probably find others on the TES website.  Quizzes are a great way to recycle and repeat language, along with revising time adverbs. Partners take turns reading the question and answering them.  If answers are linked to points then students could grade how environmentally friendly they are.

Do you turn out the lights on leaving the house?

  • A. I always turn out the lights on leaving the house
  • B. I often turn out the lights on leaving the house
  • C. I sometimes turn out the lights on leaving the house
  • D. Never.  I’m scared of the dark

The advantage of preparing your own is the recycling of previously learnt language.


9 Lives

Using the quiz above.  Students pre-select an answer for each question.  Their partner then has to get from the start of the quiz to the end of the quiz.  Each time they are wrong, they lose a life.

Person 1 pre-selects answers

Person 1 reads question “Do you turn out the lights on leaving the house?”

Person 2 tries to guess pre-selected answer. “I always turn out the lights on leaving the house”

Person 1: “non/nein/no”

Person 2: now down to 8 lives, tries to guess pre-selected answer  “I sometimes turn out the lights on leaving the house”

Person 1: “oui/ja/si” reads next question “How often do you have a shower?”

and so it goes on…


povAntarctica, Ice, Caps, Mountains, Penguin, Ice Bergs

7 pictures 7 sentences

This was adapted from a commercially produced textbook.  It involved 7 sentences, each was divided in two.  There was also a picture.  The first task was to match the sentence halves and then match the sentences to the pictures underneath.  It would not take much to create your own version of this.

Moving on from the activity above, you could use these as a start of a photo-card discussion.  You could also simply get the pupils to generate sentences relating to the picture.



Recycling container seen in San Sebastian.

Containers Card Sort

Again an adaptation of a commercially produced textbook (the same one in fact).  It was a great way to acquire and use a variety of vocabulary in a meaningful context.  Give students a series of headings in books (such as recycling containers) and a set of vocabulary (that can go in the containers).  You could adapt this to different levels

Easy: put vocabulary in correct container

Medium: Scaffolded sentences explaining where you would put each item

Hard: Use of conditional + direct object.  I would put it in … because



Debate in progress             Photo Credit: Conselho Nacional de Justiça – CNJ Flickr via Compfight cc

Superlative/Comparative Debate

This was an activity that happened after a few lessons, in which we had covered opinion phrases, superlatives, subjunctive and global issues vocabulary.

A few years ago, there were a number of teachers talking about “Grouptalk”.  One of the ideas I saw was the idea of a cyclical discussion.  Students would start a discussion on a table of four and try to keep it going as long as possible.  I tried this last year with a mixed ability year 10 group on the “biggest problem facing the world”.  The conversation was heavily scaffolded with vocabulary help and some prompts on paper.  I have rendered the potential conversation below in English.  Names have been altered.

Ross: “In my opinion, the biggest problem in the world is poverty  What do you think Phoebe?”

Phoebe: “For me, the biggest problem in the world is terrorism.  Joey, in your opinion, between racism and terrorism, which is worse?”

Joey: “I believe that world leaders are the biggest problem.”

Rachel (interrupting) : “Joey you’re completely wrong, it’s global warming.”

Joey: “I disagree.  Ross, what do you think: global warming or terrorism?”

Students were genuinely surprised that they could take part in a relatively tricky debate entirely in the TL.

Debate Round 2: Bingo cards

Were I to do the debate above again, I would give 5×5 grid bingo cards with phrases to use.  Students that complete a line or a row would receive some form of reward.  Something like this could work…

Questions Subjunctives Opinion phrases Fancy Language
I asked someone an opinion me da miedo que exista Desde mi punto de vista aunque quisiera pensar de otra manera
I asked a question with two options es increíble que haya Opino que el problema que nos enfrenta es
Finished statement with a question no creo que sea A mi modo de ver y por si eso fuera poco

If you do not trust the student who is claiming the reward then you have two options:

  1. Students have to tell you one or two of the ways they used the phrases above
  2. Their partner completes it while they talk
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Original Tarsia

Environment Tarsia

Formerly an italian Renaissance design motif, now an educational activity.  The idea of Tarsia puzzles was hotly debated on the GILT Facebook Group a while back.  Some were heavily in favour; others were heavily against.  Arguments for included testing of vocabulary.  Arguments against suggested it was testing of being able to put shapes together.  Both points of view have been put forward by experienced colleagues.  Rather than a simple English-German matchup, I have tried to make them more challenging by doing the following:

  1. Populate it with a mix of seen and unseen vocabulary.
  2. Have the words around the outside edge as well – Maths do this with formulas to great effect.  Students could translate the outside edge vocabulary as an extension task.
  3. Have the tarsia composed entirely of synonyms in TL.
  4. Have the tarsia composed of starts and ends of sentences.
  5. Have the tarsia composed of a mixture of haben/sein verbs in perfect tense or etre/avoir verbs in passé composé.

Tarsia are puzzles I was introduced to by our maths department.  They were used to match up formulas that would give the same result but there are many ways to adapt them for MFL.  A google image search of the word will show you how they look.  How can you make one?  Download the program here.  They are quite heavy on the photocopying and chopping up so you may need your tutor group to do the chopping for you.


GCSE: Social Issues. charity and volunteering.


Photo Credit: mypubliclands Flickr via Compfight cc

The new GCSE confronted teachers with some topics they may not have ever had to deal with in any great depth.  This post looks at ideas for teaching our GCSE students about volunteering, helping charities and good causes.

Before I start, you should be aware of the following:

  • AQA refers to “social issues” and refers to “charity/voluntary work.”
  • Edexcel calls it “bringing the world together” and names this topic “campaigns and good causes.”
  • WJEC simply refers to “social issues”.

I have done my best to put ideas that can be applied to all boards.  There will be a lean towards one in terms of the language used as that is what I am currently teaching.  There is certainly no intent to promote one above the other.

My enthusiasm for this topic stems from my year abroad.  I spent a year working in a home in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for kids who had lived on the streets, were orphans or suffered abuse at a young age.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

So how to teach the topic?  I have tried to include a mixture of listening, speaking, reading and writing activities.

Synonyms Match-ups 

Students need to learn a lot of words that they have not come across before.  Two of my go to starters are gap fills and match ups.  This week I came across a match-up of synonyms which was really effective.  Students matched up two sets of words looking for the words with the same meanings.

Narrow Reading: spot the difference

This is a phrase I learnt from Gianfranco Conti’s blog.  The philosophy behind narrow reading can be found here.  The idea I chose to use was called Spot the Differences.  I produced a text about working as a volunteer, copied it, pasted it twice and then made subtle changes.  Students had to say how each text differed from the other ones.  The vocabulary that differed included phrases I want them to know for subsequent lessons.  My experience was that students focused far more closely on the text rather than merely skim-reading it until they found the relevant detail.  Definitely a keeper for future classes.

Find the phrases

This is a stock favourite of all GCSE textbooks.  “Find the French/Spanish in the text for…”  I gave students texts based on some real charities that I had contact with.  The fact that these were real people, that I knew or worked with, seemed to motivate them more.  One website used to help produce this was Manos con Libertad , another was Mosoj Yan.  Both are Christian organisations that work with people in Cochabamba.  Whether you have a faith or none at all, these organisations do some great work with people in tough circumstances.  I used others as well but they don’t have websites!   The excerpts were written from the point of view of someone who worked there and talked about what they do.  Great opportunity to revise daily routine and reflexive verbs.

Textbook Speaking Grids

Questions verbs complement and other
tend quite  lots
to often  of
appear in this  stuff
here bit  here

Many textbooks often give a grid and a few questions and answers to use.  It is not the most exhilarating paired speaking task.  I got thinking about how to spice it up a bit.

Method 1: Points for going beyond the grid.  On your projector screen put a list of things that “go beyond the grid”.  Students work in pairs.

Student 1: Asks questions and notes down a score of anything that goes beyond the grid.

Student 2: Answers questions trying to add other tenses, verbs, conjunctions, adverbs etc

Method 2: Beat your partner.  If you have a tricky class you may wish to change the name here to prevent any wilful misinterpretation!  Every student notes down 5 phrases from the grid without their partner seeing.

Student 1: asks the questions.  This student receives 2 points each time the other uses on of their phrases.  Maximum of 10 but probability of phrases being used is lessened.

Student 2: answers the questions, trying to use their pre-chosen phrases.  This student receives one point per phrase used.  Maximum of 5.

Method 3:  Play a role.   The grid in the textbook involved the questions ¿trabajas como voluntario ahora? and ¿Qué haces exactamente?  along with a few others.  Students were given a card with a role.  They then had to pick answers using this perspective.  The roles included:

  • Charity Shop Assistant
  • Eco-warrior
  • Care Home worker
  • Aid worker in Haiti
  • Aid worker in Sierra Leone.

Ethiopia, Tribe, Africa, Culture, Omo, Tribal

Third World Diary

Mira 3 red does a brilliant diary of life for someone in the developing world.  If you have access to it great.  If not then use this site for inspiration.

You could produce a short diary script and then attempt any of the following:

  • You could display the script and read it out loud.  While you do this, miss out some words.  Make the students write down the ones you miss.
  • Use the desktop version of Imemorize  and enter your own quote.
  • Put your script into Cueprompter and have students read it out loud with you or alone.
  • You could have multiple choice parts put in the script and students have to write down the one you read out.  Por la mañana / tarde / noche me despierto a las siete y media / seis y media / cinco y media.
  • You could remove a whole sentence and have students fill it in as a dictation/transcription exercise.
  • You could even chop the text into pieces and give it to students to rearrange while you read it out loud.
  • Go to Voki.com and put it into their text-to-speech converter, setting the voice to Spanish.  Then challenge your pupils to see who can do a better job than Javier or Carmen!
  • Be creative, there are so many options when it comes to a listening text.

Students could produce their own diary as a homework task.  You could set a list of “ridiculous requirements” to challenge your high-flyers.  For example: 7 lines of text, 6 reflexive verbs, 5 conjunctions, 4 clock times, 3 french hens, 2 higher level phrases and one subjunctive just for good measure.

The website was also tweeted to me at some point.  I have yet to use it yet but it looks good, particularly if you are considering display work.

Newspaper Clipping Generator

Verbs & Infinitives

This chapter is a great way to practise all those verbs that are followed by an infinitive:

  • I’m going to raise money for..
  • I would like to donate to …
  • I can give £1 a month to
  • I’m thinking about going to…
  • I hope to help …
  • I want to work with …

A game of TRAMPA / TRICHER would be a great way to practise this.  Students take a piece of A4 paper and divide it into 8.  In pencil, on 4 or 5 of the sections they write a sentence like the bullet points above.  On the remaining 3 or 4 they write “Trampa” or “Tricher” (cheat).  Cards are then shuffled and dealt out among their table.  Students say what is on the card before putting it face down in the middle.  If the card says trampa they have to convince the other players there is a sentence on the card.  They do this by making a sentence up and placing the card face down.  If a student thinks another is cheating then they can call them on it.  If the student was indeed cheating; the cheater picks up the card.  If the student was falsely and wrongfully accused in a heinous miscarriage of justice; the accuser takes the cards.  Winner is the first person to get rid of all their cards.

If you have had any great ideas then please leave them in the comments section below:



Meeting the challenge of the new GCSE

There has been a lot of chatter on Twitter, various Facebook groups, between schools and within schools on preparing students for the new GCSEs.  Their concerns seem to relate to the following areas:


  • Grade boundaries – there has been a multitude of different percentages suggested.  Some are based on Maths; others are based on previous C grades.  Some would offend my maths colleagues as they did not show their workings out!
  • What does a grade 9 piece of work look like?
  • How to predict grades for data drops, SLT, line managers.
  • Applying mark schemes – some exam boards are beginning to publish exemplar material with mark-scheme applied.
  • Teaching the new elements – translation, literary extracts, roleplays, photocards, spontaneous speech, conversation questions.

I considered my own post, however it would appear that the following people have already covered most of this territory:

Steve Smith – Worried about the new GCSEs

Helen Myers – 9-1 Grading

Both are excellent, well-informed blogs by experienced professionals.

Steve’s post deals with practical ways you can bring about the results you want by what you do in the classroom.  There are also helpful strategies and tips aimed at people who are teaching lower ability learners.

Helen’s post deals more with information that is out there.  She looks at what is within your control and what is out of your control.  She has some helpful links to Ofqual information on grading, predictions and how the grade boundaries will be set.  If you are looking for some grade boundaries to use, this is not it, but it is a very enlightening read.

There are some answers out there, yet there are still a lot of unanswered question when it comes to this new GCSE.  My main message would be to keep teaching as well as you can, focusing on delivering the best you can in the classroom and prepare your students as best as you can.

For those of you already thinking about the next cohort, have you tried EverydayMFL: The Options Lessons


New GCSE – one year in

September 2016 heralded the start of teaching the new old GCSE in MFL.  It was quite a bit to prepare for and necessitated two blog posts: this one and another one. Having taught a mixed ability Spanish group this year, it seemed like a good time to look at what has worked, and what I would like to do next.

Keeping Going

Key Language Sheets

Students have these in the back cover of their exercise books.  They have proven to be invaluable tools and they do use them.  The sheets need some tweaking as my section of fancy language was titled “frases para conseguir 1 o 2”, having completely confused the top and bottom grade boundaries!  These have been regularly used in class and at home.  There is a box at the bottom with key conjugated/modal verbs and infinitives allowing students to take one, follow it with the other and then add an opinion.  I feel a section is required on justifying opinions so a few tweaks to the sheet will be my homework at some point.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/127406279@N06/31460315762/">christopher.czlapka</a> Flickr via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147">cc</a>

Photo Credit: christopher.czlapka Flickr via Compfight cc

100 Most Common Words

Setting these as a vocabulary learning homework was…illuminating.  Even after 3 years of Spanish some of the students did not know the 100 most common words in Spanish. The list on Vistawide is pretty good albeit not authoritative.  I set 25 per week to get through them rather quickly. I told the group it was their new 5-a-day and still left weekends free.  The reaction was muted to say the least!  They were then tested on 20.  I tried to vary the methods of testing to see if they had really learned them.  It did work and the students did find it helpful.

1-5 Gap fill/anagrams

6-15 English –> Spanish

16-20 Spanish –> English

Roleplays & Photocards

Students are seeing at least one roleplay and photocard task with each topic that we cover.  My way of managing to get them into class was to model how the task should be approached, give students some preparation time and then they complete the roleplay or photocard with two different people, with the unpredictable question being varied each time.  They then calculate an average of their scores, thereby reducing any impact by over-generous or overly harsh markers.  A full explanation of how I do this can be found on this post here.

Reinforcing the need for effective vocabulary learning

In the book “Why don’t students like school?”  Daniel Willingham makes a number of points that have influenced my approach to students learning vocabulary:

  • “Memory is the residue of thought”
  • “Proficiency requires Practice”

P210 Why don’t students like school? – Daniel Willingham

Our homework is set online so attached with the list of words is a document detailing effective learning techniques, mostly sourced from the above book, personal experiences and The Language Gym website

Students need to understand that learning and memorising does not occur through merely reading or some imagined osmosis process.  The more I can get them actively practising the vocabulary; the better it will be for them long-term.

Moving Forward

Regular Revision lessons

Every month I plan to do a revision lesson of one of the topics covered in year 10.  If I have planned it right then I can do topics 1-7 at least once by February.  This lesson will likely place a strong focus on the listening, reading and translation side of the exam. It will allow a refreshing of vocabulary and also emphasise the need to retain everything as they could be tested on anything.  Previous exams have had questions on guide dogs for the blind, phoneboxes in Spain and nordic walking.  The greater the emphasis on retaining vocabulary from previous topics; the better-prepared they will be for these weird and wonderful question topics.


Schemes of work can be relatively linear, however that does not mean that vocabulary and grammar from before cannot be revisited.  Some advice from Gianfranco Conti’s website was particularly useful:

Problem: “in typical secondary school MFL curriculum design as evidenced by the schemes of work – and the textbooks these are often based on – which in my view seriously undermine the effectiveness of foreign language instruction in many British secondary schools.”

“Solution: include in the schemes of work a section in each unit headed ‘recycling opportunities’ and include activities aiming at consolidating old material.”

To help combat this the revision lesson should help, but I have also added a section on my scheme of work to take the opportunity to revisit certain grammatical elements that are pivotal for students.  Research by Graham Nutall (The Hidden Lives of Learners) suggests that students often need at least 3 exposures to new concepts to start to internalise them properly.

I will also be setting vocabulary learning on units not directly related to what the students are studying.

Vocabulary Championship and/or Ipsative Vocabulary Tests

To add an element of competition and purpose to vocabulary learning, I am considering a championship whereby their scores are noted down.  Some form of reward will be given for the student who attains a high score each week but also the students who maintain an average of 75% or more per half-term.  That figure was just plucked from the air so may change.

Ipsative assessment was a new word learnt from one of our SLT.  It refers to the idea of comparing oneself to previous results.  Athletics taps into this all the time as runners try to equal their personal best.  I have experimented with this in a lower ability year 8 group.  Their aim with each vocabulary test is to equal or better their score.  Students have so far responded really well to this idea but we are only 3 tests in.  It will get tougher later as they will need to maintain higher scores.  I could picture this working well with lower ability GCSE groups as they would have a chance to succeed regularly.

Decipher the Question starters

The reading and writing papers feature target language questions.  Similarly parts of the speaking exam prompts are in the target language.  A starter activity might be to translate the question and some bullet points.  The students may not actually complete the question but it gives them the feeling or working out an exam question in a short space of time.


Photo Credit: Lily Bloom Flickr via Compfight cc

Strengths / Weaknesses Audit via GoogleForm.

Prior to Christmas, I intend to send out a google-form requiring students to submit their responses to a number of statements eg:

I can understand questions in the target language   1   2   3   4   5

I can translate single sentences into English              1   2   3  4  5

I can use the preterite eg: fui, hice, tuve etc

This should give me an idea of their areas of strength and weakness and allow me to target my teaching better, and plan twilight sessions tailored to the individual student.  It will also show me if my teaching has not sufficiently covered any of the challenges presented by the new GCSEs.  The Google-form method allows me to conduct a quick analysis of their areas of strength and weakness as it automatically can produce graphs etc.  If I am feeling really brave, I might add a box for their own comments.


5 Things to try tomorrow

It has been a manic start to term so I have not had much time to write.  There is a post in production on lessons learnt teaching the new GCSE.  It is a while since I have done one of these posts so here are 5 things that have worked in the past month.

Self-reflection questionnaires

Due to a residential, I missed the first few days of term.  One of the bits of cover work I left for my year 8 bottom sets was to answer 3 questions.

  1. What did you enjoy last year in languages?
  2. What did you struggle with most?
  3. If I asked them, what would your last teacher say about you?

I was predominantly interested in question 2.  The three most common answers were:

  • Memorisation of vocabulary, verbs etc
  • Speaking and pronunciation
  • Writing

It was a really worthwhile exercise as each student wrote down their biggest obstacle to being successful in languages.  It also gave an indication as to how they viewed the subject.  My planning for my first 8-9 lessons with them was largely influenced by the above three things and will continue to be.  I have kept their answer to the struggle question and will revisit it later in the year.

Core Language Sheets

Schools will have different names for these: knowledge organisers, language mats, helpsheets etc.  I have given each of my lower year 8 sets a A5 sheet with everything I want them to know by the end of the year.  Every other week between now and Christmas they will learn the vocabulary on this sheet and be tested on it in a variety of ways.  The sheet has been divided into 4 sections A,B,C,D.  This means homework can be “learn section B” and they will know which bit to focus on.  They are regularly encouraged to use it in their work and I believe that over time it will make a difference.  The year 9s,10s,11 have a similar sheet.  I have my own design based on material from Rachel Hawkes website but would rather not see it end up on the TES with a charge attached.  They are relatively easy to create, just pick all the things from the year that you deem to be important and condense on to a single page.

Phonics from the start

This came after a bit of reading of Rachel Hawkes’ website.  I spent the first lessons of the year with year 7 teaching phonics and pronunciation using resources from the website above.  I think it had a positive effect.  My personal favourite activity was one involving saying a word and students using parts of the words to spell it.  We did this with Spanish cities and also Spanish Mr Men.  This really had an palpable effect on confidence as pupils started to rely on the rules they had learned.  The downside is that year 7 classes get really giggly with “Don Pupas” (Mr Bump).

Find your match*

Puzzle, Cooperation, Together, Connection, Match

Reinforcing grammar through listening and speaking is infinitely more exciting than a standard gap-fill task or book work.  This idea came from Gianfranco Conti’s website.  I used this activity twice this week, once for the past and once for the future.  Once you have made a template in Word then the replace feature makes it really easy to change the phrases.  Gianfranco Conti’s original on the site has 12 boxes.  To adapt it to a class of 32, I simply printed it 3 times.  I told the students that if someone had the same name as them then they were not allowed to talk to them.  They were also not allowed to show their card to anyone.  Once they had found their match, they returned to their seats and translated their statements.  The students seemed to enjoy it.  ¡Gracias Gianfranco!

Android Game

Android, Cellular, Iphone, Mobile, Phone, Screen

This came from the aforementioned residential.  It is easy to get stuck in a rut with vocabulary and repetition activities but this was a new one.  It was based on students trying to cross an obstacle course.

Put 9 new items of vocabulary in a 3×3 grid on your projector screen.  Students draw 9 dots on a mini- whiteboard.  Then draw 5 consecutive lines like an unlock code on an android phone (see work of art below).  Their partner tries to crack their pin-code by saying the vocabulary.  The student with the code can only respond with “correcto” or “incorrecto”.  They then swap around.


Further reading:

Alphabet, numbers, days of the week  It’s that time of year again!

OFSTED handbook – If you’re facing it this year then it is always good to know what they are looking for.  Pages 47-49 should help most teachers.  Please look at the bit preceding the descriptors where it says the grade descriptors are not a checklist.







Making marking work

Photo Credit: BenjaminCookDesigns Flickr via Compfight cc

Time to get out the red pen

This post should probably start with a disclaimer.  My marking is not perfect.  I do my absolute best to make sure the pupils get the best feedback on their work but it will not always yield the seismic improvements that one might hope.

Before we discuss marking and feedback, I think it is worth pointing the reader towards this document produced by Sean Harford HMI.  Yes, he does work for “they-who-shall-not-be-named” but you really do need to read it.  You could also follow him on Twitter as he is quite good at busting the various OFSTED myths that fly around.

Over the past few years, I have seen a variety of marking policies in my own school and in visiting others.  Out there, there is a plethora of feedback and marking styles such as “comment only” marking, highlighter marking, DIRT time, group feedback, whole class feedback, flipped learning, self-marking online assessments, self-assessment, peer-assessment, raw scores, averages, levels, flightpaths, progress indicators, RAG etc.  Don’t worry, this post is not going to cover all of those!  Instead, here are three that have really worked for me, and my students, in the classroom:

Whole class feedback & Individual Feedback.

Whilst marking a set of books I will formulate a series of targets to be placed on a PowerPoint.  In the book, I will simply write something that the student did well along with T1, T7, T8.  There is an example below.  The following lesson will probably follow this pattern:

1) Whole class feedback or starter activity relating to an issue most struggled with.

2) DIRT time – students have opportunity to act upon individual targets.  Extension tasks available for those who finish.

3) Remaining time refreshing material from previous lesson or preparing for subsequent lesson.

The activities in part 1 above could be…

  1. Grammar exercises
  2. Spot the errors / Correct the errors (anonymously lifted or amalgamated from work marked)
  3. Match present and past tense verbs so that students are clear which is which.
  4. Spot the correct sentence from a choice of 3.

An example of what students will see in part 2 above is below.  I have found that the “what it means” and “what to do” leaves no room for excuses of “I don’t get what I have to do”.


Feedback needs to be about improvement and development, not simply error correction. That is my hope behind targets 2,4,6.  However, where some heavy error correction is needed, then I still want them thinking about it (see T1,T3).

T5 allows me to challenge, and insist on improvement of, any poorly presented pieces that I may not notice from across the room during the lesson.

T7 allowed me to work with one to one with a student who was miles ahead of the rest of the class and teach them something they can add to their work.

T9 was to give a student time to catch up on work missed through no fault of their own.

This approach massively shortened the time I spent marking and still allowed me to deal with misconceptions and give specific, personalised feedback that led to definite, visible improvements.

Highlighter Marking

Mentioned in a full length post  a while back, I still think this is one of the best ways for boosting confidence of students.

Underline an entire piece of work in two highlighter pens.  Green if it’s good.  Yellow if it needs work.  Immediately a student can see what is good and what is not.  If the overwhelming picture is green then it can be a massive confidence boost.  If they realise that the yellow is a repeated error, then we are on the road to eradicating it.  If there is a substantial amount of yellow then maybe a rewrite is in order.  Sometimes the yellow would not be underlining anything, to demonstrate that there was a need to add something.  To show students bits of their work that were particularly good such as a wenn clause (German), a reflexive verb in the passé composé (French), or use of the imperfect subjunctive (Spanish), I simply double-ticked those parts.  

I have tried to demonstrate the visual impact below:

Gestern Abend habe ich mit meiner Famille ins Kino gegangen.  Dort wir haben “Fast and Furious 14” gesehen.  Es war toll.  Ich mag Actionfilmen, weil sie sind spannend

Advantages include how well it combines with marking codes and it is speedy. Disadvantages include that one needs a constant supply of highlighter pens or felt-tips!

Self/Peer Assessment

Peer assessment is something I struggle with in MFL.  Sometimes I find that the students do not have enough knowledge to effectively assess the work of another.  You find comments such as “great use of connectives”, when there were none in the work at all.  I think it works best when the students have sufficient knowledge to draw upon, or with a reasonably restrictive mark-scheme. 

I have tried a little bit with the new GCSE roleplays.  The following pattern yielded some success.

  • Teacher shows students mark scheme and script for roleplay.
  • One student is selected to conduct the roleplay.  Teacher plays role of student
  • Roleplay is then performed by teacher and student (in reversed roles).
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that can be described as a shambles full of mistakes, hesitation, use of English, use of Spanglish, use of French, adding O to any English word to make it sound Spanish.   
    • Teacher (as student) produces a half-decent roleplay that ticks some boxes but not all.
    • Teacher (as student) produces a roleplay that would knock the socks off the most examiners.
  • After each the students are asked to give numerical scores.  The AQA mark-scheme is extremely helpful in this as for each element of the roleplay there is a score of 0, 1 or 2.  Their language says “message conveyed without ambiguity” or “message partially conveyed or conveyed with some ambiguity”.  In short:  2 = job done   1 = partly done  0 = was it done?   Students are then asked to give a score out of 5 for quality of language.  The teacher can guide them towards this one a bit more.
  • Students then have silent prep time for a roleplay on the same theme but with different bullet points.  10-12mins.
  • Students conduct the roleplay in pairs with script on projector screen.  After which, they assess their partner’s performance.  When they switch over, you need to switch the unpredictable question to something else!  Or generate a new task for the other.  
  • They need to repeat this so that they have two sets of scores.  They can then calculate an average.  By doing so, hopefully any overly generous or overly harsh marking is minimised.


Joe gives Martina   2+2+1+1+1   /10   +3   /5     = 10/15

Kelsey gives Martina 1+2+1+2+2  / 10      4/5     =12/15

Average = 11/15