Grammar teaching is an inevitable part of MFL teaching. Whilst there are debates about how much should be taught and how it should be taught; there is no escaping it. Grammar can be tougher to teach in some schools than others. So below are a variety of ways that I have used to try and make it a little bit more memorable and enjoyable.
Verbs and Conjugation
Chocolate can be used to explain a fair number of grammatical principles. Whilst it is ideally suited to the idea of singular and plural, I stumbled across this one a while back.
Chocolate – In Spanish to conjugate any tense, one removes the AR/ER/IR ending on the infinitive and replaces it with a different ending. It is a bit like having a bar of dairy milk (infinitive), ripping off the final third (ending) and replacing it with a piece of Yorkie. The bar is largely still a dairy milk (thankfully) but the ending has changed and so looks slightly different as a result. I have found this can help some students to get the concept in their head. If using this explanation it is best done visually with the chocolate bars themselves. You can offer them to whoever works the hardest that lesson, or simply consume it yourself at lunch.
Throw – Normally this is a plenary activity. I have seen a good number of MFL teachers throw some form of stuffed toy around a room with some differentiated questions to discern the level of understanding their pupils have attained or demonstrate what they have learned. Equally you could use the stuffed toy to explain verbs, pronouns and ending changes. I throw, you throw, he catches, she throws, we catch, they throw etc. When moving into plurals you may need 2 animal toys…
Yo tiro Tu coges El/Ella tira El/ella coge etc
Ich werfe Du wirfst Er wirft Wir fangen Er fängt etc
In AS & A2 German, I had a teacher who insisted that we conjugate verbs as a starter every lesson. It would follow this pattern:
- Class call out verbs – the more varied the better: springen, streichen, schminken, treffen, lesen, lassen, sprengen, pfeiffen etc.
- Verbs listed down side of whiteboard with for weak verbs/regular verbs
- Each verb would be chanted: “pfropfen, pfropft, pfropfte, gepfroft”, “denken, denkt, dachte, gedacht”, “singen, singt, sang, gesungen”.
- She would demand snappy sentences with modal verbs in various tenses “i have to sing”, “i want to sing”, “I wanted to sing”, “I had to sing”
- After that came the recent grammar items eg: relative clauses “the man, who had to sing”.
- After the main part of the lesson began, the challenge was then to use them in written or spoken form later in the lesson.
It worked as I can still do it years after. Admittedly the nature of German tenses makes it easier and rhythmic but maybe there is a way to do it in French and Spanish. I have started to try stages 4 , 5 and 6 with Key Stage 3 and 4 in Spanish to get them combining verbs and infinitives.
Today at Wimbledon. This is a nice one for Mira 1 after the modules on verbs, sports and weather all appear within a short space of time. You will need to recap the verbs, particularly in the third person and then the weather phrases.
Students have to script the Today at Wimbledon programme to explain what is happening today.
eg: Hoy en corte número uno Roger Federer juega contra Bob Marley*. Ahora es la una y media. Esta manana hace sol y hace calor pero a las cuatro llueve.
*most of your class will only know a handful of tennis players but they seem to enjoy it when Roger Federer defeats the Headteacher in straight sets 6-0 6-1 6-0.
To extend them and prepare them for the idea of tenses, you could give them a conversion table for the key verbs for future and past tenses. It might be helpful for them to see how the stem remains largely unaffected but the ending changes to indicate the time-frame.
jugó ¦ juega ¦ va a jugar ¦ jugará
Consequences is a great game whatever age you are. Great for practising past tenses. You give a kid a piece of paper and ask them to put their name at the bottom. This is a really important bit of instruction but you would be amazed how many go on autopilot at this point! The students write a sentence, folder the top of the paper over so it cannot be read and pass it on. You may like to give them a particular verb to use or a time/manner/place phrase to fit into their sentence. This is ideally done at the production phase of your lesson when they have acquired plenty of vocabulary and past-participles.
Anna hat Georg getroffen.
Anna und Georg sind ins Kino gegangen
Anna und Georg haben Krieg der Sterne gesehen
When you are finished with the story the students should be able to locate and return the original piece of paper to its rightful owner. From there you could turn it into a translation task or a comprehension task. You could set homework to produce a corrected or embellished version.
Songs – Songs get stuck in heads. Fact. One for French and one for Spanish below. Enjoy!
Raps – I wish these guys would go slightly slower but they have added subtitles!
Future Tense / Conditional
The following two are definitely more for the practise/production phase of your lesson.
Bucket lists – The idea of making a list of things to do before you kick the bucket has been around for a long time and was popularised by the appropriately named Hollywood feature “the bucket list”. Most students will be asked at some point about things they would like to do later in life, probably in a GCSE oral exam. Depending on the level you teach you may want to warn them not to overcomplicate!
I will go to Disneyland – Ich werde nach Disneyland fahren
If you are going beyond the simple then insist on reasons with subordinate clauses or a new clause bringing in a third person “my friend will…”
Scenes we’d like to see – This was borrowed from a mixture of Frenchteacher.net and popular comedy TV show Mock the Week. The TV show has a final round where comedians give short comments on topics they are given. Here are some “topics” you could use in class:
- Things the queen will do at the weekend
- Things <insert teacher here> will never do – this one is dangerous in the wrong hands!
- Things that will never happen – expect England team related comments here!
- The new school uniform will be..
- <insert teacher here>’s new years resolutions.
In French this is largely easy to teach. The “tu” form for informal commands and the “vous” form for more formal. If you have presented and practised the rules then you could do the following:
- Blindfolded directions – set your classroom up in a bit of a maze shape and get students to direct a blindfolded partner through the maze. Teach them the word “step” so they can take two, three, four steps forward etc.
- School trail – give students directions to follow around the school. They probably need a sound warning about behaviour. You can get very creative with this. Here is how:
- When students arrive at the location, they collect a new set of directions from the room of that particular member of staff. Give another member of staff an envelope containing a second set of directions back to your room. Alternatively blue-tac the envelope to the door
- If students study two languages then use both!
- Have an expert in your group. Give one student an idea of the route they will take and have them occasionally advise the group on the right way to go.
- On their return the group composes a new set of directions. It is then given to another group to test out!
- Make paper aeroplanes/swans etc – give the students a set of instructions and a piece of paper. Using their knowledge of conjugation and translation, students have to follow the instructions to make whatever paper creation you have decided upon.
In German these are trickier as they involve cases. Most students do not struggle with accusative and dative ones. The struggle is for the ones that could be either. Explaining the rule of movement vs position helps massively. My university professor once took great delight in telling a class that my translation had me driving my car “into the doctor”. He did miss a teaching opportunity for further practice with sentences such as “mein Arzt liegt auf dem Boden” or “jetzt bin ich direkt vor dem Richter”. I find the following flowchart helpful:
Feel free to use this resource in your own teaching. To alter a well-worn teacher cliche I would be “angry and disappointed” to find it on TES with a charge attached.
Eclairs – My old German teacher finished a lesson on prepositions by positioning chocolate eclairs (the little ones, not the cream filled ones) around her classroom as a plenary task. If you could explain where it was in German, you got it. Instant engagement and a bit of a challenge. Strangely, the class wanted to practise prepositions every week after that…
Frog – there is a really good powerpoint somewhere out there where a frog appears in different places in a room. Students then have to produce the sentence on mini-whiteboards. As I cannot find it anywhere then here is a link to a worksheet on the topic. For those who are au fait with Powerpoint, it should not take too long to produce a powerpoint with a picture of a room and a frog that appears in different locations. With the mini-whiteboards you do gain an idea of who simply knows the vocabulary and who can manipulate it.
I would assume most MFL teachers would introduce this with a few rounds of Simon says and a comic strip for homework. My boss looked worried when I told a class to use a website called Strip Generator. I really have no idea what was going through his mind… Reflexive verbs are almost always introduced in this context. One thing I will absolutely hammer throughout the lesson is that “me” only precedes the verb if it is “an action you do to yourself”. When, or if, they start to giggle you can pretend to have no idea why they are laughing. This is one way to get them out of the misunderstanding that me = I. Sometimes I wonder if we teach me gusta etc too early and to our detriment.
There are probably a limited number of ways to make daily routine more interesting. However, one way I have done it is this:
Third World Daily Routine. Mira 3 does this quite well with a comic strip of life in a developing country. Having lived there I will give pupils a text based on the experiences of a child I worked with. You could give the text on paper or have it appearing in short chunks on a slide with pictures to illustrate. Students could then produce their own text, produce a script for a Tear Fund video that explains a little bit about the life of someone in a third world country or even do the old comic strip.
Definitely one of the times i can get boys engaged in working on their grammar. For more details, read on…
Adjectival agreements are mostly introduced in the context of clothes and colours. For Spanish, my lesson would have multiple present/practise/produce sections. I divide the colours and other adjectives into 3 groups.
Group 1: O/A/OS/AS
Group 2: +ES
Group 3: + S
I will explain the first group, pointing out they are the trickiest and if they can handle that then they can manage the rest. I show them some examples, do a couple of gap-fills and then with mini-whiteboards I ask them to describe a football shirt that fits the colours in group one. We then do the same with groups 2 and 3 to embed the rules. At this point I then give the class a health warning regarding the next few football shirts. Type into google “truly awful football shirts” and what will greet you is aesthetic anarchy. The great thing is that they allow you the students to practise the rules they have been working on with both masculine (un jersey) and feminine (una camiseta) nouns. The starter for the next lesson will likely be another fashion disaster to see if they can still apply the rules a few days on.