Everyday Differentiation

Differentiation is key to developing the abilities of ALL of our learners.  Often you hear about “differentiation by outcome”.  This is the idea that wherever the learners end up is differentiated, as some will inevitably produce more or better quality work than others.  I’ll summarise the types of differentiation I use below and then give you some ideas you can try tomorrow for each.   The graphic above explains what differentiation is.  The picture below explains why we need it.

Differentiation by resource
Resource is often a euphemism for worksheet at this point. It can be effective if you are somebody who rarely uses worksheets. Students like to have things they can go through at their own pace and given that other subjects use them, why not MFL?  However, resource does not have to mean worksheet.

  1. Give more able students some authentic materials to work with on a topic – you may have to go to the country to get these!
  2. Listening – give weaker students multiple choice answers and ask them to highlight
  3. Reading – give weaker students a post-it note and encourage them to tackle the text line by line (covering the rest).  It reduces the amount of visual stimulus.

Differentiation by task/choice

This can take various forms.  I think it is best employed in the production stage of a lesson or equally the practice stage if you are covering a grammar point.

  1. Students could develop their own response to a task eg: podcast, presentation, speech, voki avatar on “things to do in my town”
  2. Students could pick from a selection of tasks that all achieve the same aim.  With lower ability sets I like to do this  when we teach the clothes topic.  The boys can design sports wear (the new United shirt) and the girls respond really well to designing their prom dress.  Some boys also like the opportunity to “suit up” so give them the prom option too; in the same way some girls have a staunch allegiance to a football club so don’t be too restrictive.  It is a great way of teaching clothes, colours and dictionary use (corsage, bow tie, cufflinks, high heels – all words I learnt from this lesson).
  3. In revision lessons, if you have access to a revision guide with graded activities.  Give students a series of activites you want them to work through but with different starting points.  Students who are more confident could start on more advanced activities but make sure wherever they start that the activities gradually increase in difficulty so as to ensure they are pushing themselves.

Differentiation by support (TA)

Whilst I realise that differentiation by support could mean significantly more, I wanted to devote a section of this to the use and direction of TAs.  Here is what the best TAs I have worked with have done:

  1. Focus on the weaker students – get to know them.  They may not all be immediately apparent.
  2. Differentiate tasks for the students they are attached to.
  3. Giving students encouragement but praising their effort never their intelligence.
  4. One TA went and produced clocks with moveable hands to help teach students the time.
  5. Another took a group of students and taught them how to tell the time in English so that they could do it in Spanish.

Check out my post on TAs, unsung heroes of the classroom

Differentiation by interest

Sometimes students want to write or speak about things unique to them.  It may be that comparing modes of transport or the environment hold little interst for them.  Sometimes differentiation is not about ability but about interest.  I find I can get a lot of kids engaged if I can make links to things they are interested in (football is very useful).  The pets topic works for a lot, as do clothes, food and holidays  However, we must be careful to engage all kids, what about the one who reads? Could he/she do their coursework on a book rather than a film?

  1. Quiz your students at the start of the year – ask them about their strengths and weaknesses within MFL, their hopes for the year and their interests.  This will allow you to plan lessons that get them onside immediately.
  2. Make links to real-life situations – if a student has been on holiday recently to a French/Spanish/German speaking country use that in your lesson.
  3. If teaching school subjects to year 9s (mira 3 does this) then rather than just teaching them school subjects, get them to debate their options in Spanish.  What are you going to study?  Why?


Making writing more exciting

I personally feel there is too much of an emphasis on writing in GCSEs.  In spite of this it is a good means of checking understanding, encouraging creativity and developing literacy.

This is a short summary of 5 things that you can try and apply next week. You can judge my maths abilities at the end!

Writing Points.

Give students a grid of phrases with various points for various things.  It is similar to a writing frame but encourage them to use the more complicated material by giving it a higher points score:

5                              10                                                 20

me gusta              reason with porque   es     double reason with porque

me encanta         reason with porque son       use of “en mi opinion”

no me gusta        creo que                              use of connecting word not y/también/pero

odio                     pienso que                          use of negative in reasons given

This works really well with year 8-9 boys and a set time limit.  It also gets numeracy into your lesson.  It is really easy to differentiate by ability.  If you have a top set, stretch them, maybe 20 points should be for another tense.  The example above is for year 7s and links in with last week’s post.

Writing Bingo

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Same as above but the mission is to use everything in the grid whilst still making sense.  Winner is first one to use them all.


Writing frames

These can be effective however they need to be tailored to the relationship you have with your group and material you have covered.  I have seen a number of excellent ones on the TES website but sometimes they need altering, correcting or rewriting for another topic as the layout is good but the material doesn’t help you!  If you know of particular interests within the group then consider playing to those.  For a more able group, the key to a good one is how much it forces adaptation and develops creativity.  For a lower ability group the question should be how it helps them to sequence their work and does it help to prevent the phrases such as “me lamo” “me prefiero” or “me juego” and the ubiquitous “me odio”?

Silly sentences

Photo Credit: Marcus E. Thomas via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Marcus E. Thomas via Compfight cc

This works, my old German teacher used to practise grammatical concepts by increasing the difficulty of what we were expected to produce.  Emily’s horse said that it did not want to be eaten (passive, modal verbs and konjunktiv I – she had high expectations).

Pupils love it but it is about practising structure and aiming at automaticity with the structures.  Can students manipulate the language successfully?


Scenes we’d like to see

Borrowed from the popular jocular television show Mock the Week.  This is excellent for future tense or present tense writing.  “Things … will not do at Christmas” (insert name of celebrity or royalty).  “How Katniss Everdeen will spend her weekend.”  It really helps if you use mini-whiteboards as you can check that pupils have grasped the structures.  I made the mistake of allowing the kids to use me for the first one.  The results were interesting to say the least…

Flow Charts


Students are used to these in other subjects such as technology.  So use them to your advantage in structuring an argument.  Say for example you want the pupils to debate the environment, work experience etc.  Start with a variety of opinion phrases so that students make a point, explain it, add a contrasting view with “einige Leute denken, dass” and then add a further opinion and reason.  The exam boards say “express and explain a range of ideas and points of view.”  This is ideal for that very aim.

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets. Part II

In my NQT year I had two hellish groups.  There were some good kids in there but the unmotivated and disruptive outweighed the good kids.  We had to deal with verbal and physical abuse of peers and staff (me), refusals to work, refusals to do anything or be sent anywhere and refusals to listen to you explaining anything.  They would throw things, swear, talk about all manner of unearthly thing and be loud and abrasive.  Some would storm out with a sense of drama befitting an RSC production.  Over the years I’ve got better with these groups.  If you’re a new teacher reading this.  I have three words for you: it gets easier.  The longer you are in a school; the more the kids begin to follow you.

I’ve learnt the following and I have a lot of colleagues to thank for this.

1) Relationship is the most important element of teaching these groups

If you are new to teaching then stick to the rules, follow policy and try to be understanding at the same time.  Most of the students in these groups see little point in languages and therefore you’re an obstacle between them and break/lunch/a more exciting lesson.  In the first few weeks, consider how you can make them want to be there and how they can feel succesful.  Learn their names in the first two lessons and learn things about them.  If the worst behaved kid in the school happens to do kickboxing outside of school, ask him about it.  You might be the first person that day to take an interest in them as a person.

2) Critical mass

Sometimes a few individuals can tip a group.  I remember being told on my PGCE that “the ideal group size is 3 smaller than you already have, and you know which three.”  It is a fair statement most teachers would identify with.  Look at the group.  Who influences behaviour?  Who follows?  Is there a way to get the influencing ones “on-side”?  This does not mean being their pal or mate, rather that you find a way to challenge them and get them involved.  If they are involved others will follow and you will have less to deal with.  Sticking to the rules and following up is crucial in this process.  I had a group where the critical mass was definitely not in my favour and it is really hard work.  The key to not getting into this situation is the first term and sticking to the rules.  Make them accountable to each other.  Explain how you want lessons to be and that it is their job as much as yours to make lessons enjoyable.  Bill Rogers suggests reviewing with a group how you feel lessons are going.  I would take the approach of getting pupils to write in the back of their books the following:

1) What skills or aspects of languages am I finding easy/difficult?  Why?

2) How am I getting better at languages?

3) Complete the sentence – my favourite lessons involve…

With these the students get a chance to “influence” your planning.  You can then say “‘you asked for this activity so that’s why we’re doing it”.  It shows them that 1) you listened  2) you acted on it  3) you want them to enjoy lessons.

3) Don’t pitch your lesson too high

Low ability sets are fighting weak literacy/numeracy, low self-esteem and being written off as a “bottom set”, “sink group” or “nurture group”.  In their minds, they have already lost.  You have to give them manageable challenges and praise them when they do it or when they don’t quite manage it but have tried really hard.  For some kids a sentence using a verb and an infinitive correctly is a huge challenge but if they can manage it, great.  Then stretch them further.  “You’ve done that, bet you can’t …” – some boys will really respond to this.  If they decide they can’t, then find a way to appeal to their competitive side or stretch them on that aspect next lesson.

4) Relentless positivity

Bottom sets are used to being bottom sets.  They are known as being the groups that no teacher looks forward to.  For one difficult girl I taught last year, all she needed to have a good lesson was the belief that I was happy to see her and wanted her there.  That meant finding something nice to say at the start of a lesson or asking how her day was.  It meant finding activities the group could do well early on and making things fun.  It also meant being honest when a less fun bit was coming.

5) ICT room

Every now and again I will take a group to the ICT room.  Kids enjoy ICT and websites such as www.linguascope.com or www.languagesonline.org.uk have excellent resources and cater well to all abilities.  Make sure they are clear on what needs to be done and don’t allow them to run out of activities.

6) Have a plethora of redirection phrases at your disposal.

Lower sets go off task quicker than most.  “Bradley, whilst your pet turtle’s mating habits are really interesting, can you get on with what you’re meant to be doing, thanks”  “That’s a really good question, ask me at the end.”  Praise the ones on task from the front, sometimes this will provoke the others around to action

7) Have a routine (Michaell Marland – Craft of the Classroom – massive help with ideas for this)

  • Date title and starter on board as they walk in.  Students get books out, write date and title and attempt starter.  First finishers can be helpful in giving out books etc.
  • Register while they do starter
  • Go through starter.
  • Explain objectives
  • Present something
  • Practise it in some way (L/S/R)
  • Check their understanding so far (mini-plenary)
  • Produce something – what can you do with it (S/W)?  What understanding needs to be practised (L/R)?
  • Plenary – an activity that shows you and them that they have managed to achieve the goal set at the start.

8) Reward effort (Carol Dweck – Mindset)

We spend a lot of time in our schools awarding achievement.  We celebrate who can run fastest, act best, sing well, play well and much more.  Effort is something that needs to be praised.  The end result may not be great but the effort that went in was.  If you show you value effort then you will eventually get attainment.  If you show you value only attainment then the rest that missed it will not try.  How could you deal with the situation below?

Teacher: “You put a lot of effort in there Tyler i’m really pleased”

Tyler: “But I didn’t finish it”


Teaching the present tense

I’ve had to do this with my German and Spanish groups recently.  Here is a selection of activities I have tried.  The main idea behind this blog is things that you can use easily without having to upload a powerpoint or extra resources.

Generally I will introduce the present tense from the whiteboard with colour coding for endings.  I have used powerpoints but students stare at powerpoints about 4 hours a day so sometimes the change is nice.

1) MM Paired Speaking (it’s called MM after the lady I learnt it from)

Students divide page into 3 columns with about 14 lines needed in their books.

  • In the first column students write either time phrases or days of week
  • In the second column they write activities (or could draw pictures to force more spontaneous language)
  • They leave the third column blank.  Eg:      Am Montag  |  spiele ich Fussball  |
  • Students then take it in turns to read out what they have written and their partner has to write down the sentences.

I find it practises speaking, listening and word order at the same time.  The year 10s seemed to enjoy it.  You can produce your own with clipart etc but that costs time and photocopying.  Get the students to do it for you in the lesson or prepare it as a homework.

2) http://www.languagesonline.org.uk  I cannot recommend this website enough.  It is excellent.

3) Cheat

Students get given 10 cards each and write sentences in the present tense on 8.  On the remaining two they write Schwindler.  They then get into groups of 4, shuffle the cards and play “cheat” (the card game)

  • Read out phrase on card and put into middle facedown
  • If they have a Schwindler card they have to make up a phrase similar to the ones they have been putting down.
  • If they are accused of being a cheat and the accuser is right, the cheater must pick up the cards.
  • If they are accused of being a cheat and were innocent, the accuser must pick up the cards.
  • Winner is the first to get rid of all their cards.

4) Translations / gap fills / correct the mistakes

All three of these are useful in fixing rules in learners heads and getting them to think through why they are putting particular endings on words.  They make great starters, mini-plenaries and plenary activities.  You can also differentiate them by having two sets of activities with different difficulty levels.