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.

Teaching House and Home

Whilst it may not be up there with my preferred topics of food, holidays, media and Christmas, house and home always makes its way on to a year 7 or year 10 course.  Here’s a few of my favourite activities.

Origami houses (massive thanks to Mrs Shepherd and Mrs Cotton on my teacher training course)

This is tricky but kids love it and there are plenty of youtube videos showing how to make morecomplicated ones.  Once you have the technique nailed you can produce it year in year out.

Try this.

  1. Get A4 sheet
  2. Hold it so it is landscape
  3. Fold it in half to make it like a birthday card.
  4. Fold in half to make it like a small birthday card but don’t press all the way down the fold, just make a crease
  5. Open out  6)
  6. Fold from edge into crease on both side and press down the fold.  At this point it should look like a wardrobe.
  7. This is the really tricky bit to explain.
  8. Where the tops of the wardrobe are you need to put your thumbs in and pull down on the paper.  It will make a triangular roof   2mins 30 explains what I am aiming at here.
  9. Students are then free to decorate the outside and inside, label it in French/Spanish/German and you have some excellent display work or a good revision activity.

Luxury House

Independent learning is the order of the day.  After teaching the house topic, students have to produce an A3 brochure page for a luxury house.  One half must be the pictures and students can get these from magazines or the internet.  the other half has to be a description.  Put students in pairs.  You have of course the normal options here

  • Friendship pairings – often produces good results but naff results in other cases as they chat too much
  • Single -sex pairings – same as above
  • Mixed pairings – careful the brighter one does not do all the work.
  • Abiliity pairings – pair together students of similar ability

“I can’t help noticing I am considerably richer than you”

Based on the Harry Enfield sketch.  This is essentially the shops game.  Students try to out compete each other as to the features their house has.  This is great for practising plurals and numbers too.

Student 1: En mi casa hay un baño grande.

Student 2: En mi casa hay tres baños grandes, dos aseos and a partridge in a pear tree  etc…

Chocolate eclairs prepositions mini-plenary

I remember this lesson from when I was in school a long time ago.  Our teacher had taught us the prepositions but to test us, she had glued or placed a number of Cadburys chocolate eccairs in positions around the room.  Any one who could use it in a sentence got one.  The nature of toffee is that it keeps kids quiet for a while.  Genuis!  Make sure your most disruptive student is not lactose intolerant 😉


If you have seen the TV programme of the same name.  You will notice the hero’s ability to remember and remark upon every feature of a room.  Give students a picture and get them to do the same

12 days of House-mas

Great practice of rooms in house, phrases like il y a, numbers and plural endings.  Using the 12 days of Christmas as a model get students to describe a house.  Then get them to draw a floorplan of their partner’s house and label it accurately.

En mi casa hay doce …

En mi casa hay once ..

En mi casa hay nueve…

Before and after. 

Exactly what it says and there is not much of a leap between il y a and il y’avait or es gibt and es gab  Give students  two pictures of the same rooms and get them to comment on before and after.

Spot the difference

Again exactly what it says, try and find two pictures of a similar room on google.  Or compare a double and a single room from a hotel website

Famous houses

Essentially the same as the Sherlock activity above however you can recycle language previously taught by bringing in family vocabulary.

Dans ma maison au premier etage il y a la chambre de mes parents.  Mes parents s’appellent Robert et Carla.

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets

I’ve not quite cracked it with KS4 yet but i’ll have a go at ideas for key stage 3.

Having taught a number of bottom sets in the past 3 years I’ve learnt the following:

1) The next level is quite a big jump in their minds

2) Memorisation, literacy, behaviour and confidence are your main battlegrounds

3) Positive reinforcement has to be relentless – yep even for that kid you just thought of. 🙂

4) Relationships and rules are of equal importance.

5) They are reluctant to use the TL.

Some teaching ideas that regularly work:

1) Writing challenge (adapted from Rachel Hawkes)

Rachel Hawkes’ idea is to give an answer to a question that is exactly … words long 9/11/13.  The idea was to get students extending sentences with ,weil.   I’ve changed it a little.  Get a student to pick a number between 35 and 55 (whatever range you choose).  Then tell them that whoever can write a piece using everything they’ve learnt, the textbook and their exercise book gets a merit or whatever reward system you run with.  80-90% of kids will give it a good shot and be surprised that they can be quite successful.

2) Running dictations

Really good way of practising speaking, listening and writing.  Just make sure the runner does not have a pen or they will write the difficult words on their hand.  Caught a budding tattoo artist the other day.  Another thought: don’t make them too long.  Or if they must be longer put part II on another piece of paper somewhere else in the room and that way it doesn’t look like so much!

3) Bingo/Last man standing bingo

Bingo is exactly what it says.  Last man standing bingo is similar.  Write down four items of vocabulary on topic then stand up.  One student is a caller and goes through words.  If you have all four crossed out then you are out and sit down.  Winners are the last few left standing.  Good mini-test of listening skills and injects some fun into the lesson.  Think it might work well with Queen’s “another one bites the dust” music as they start to be “out”

4) Speaking bingo grid. 

You make a 4×4 grid of phrases you want them to use.  Students then have a time limit to use as many as possible making sure they make sense.  Their partner notes the ones that they use.  The person who uses the most  in the time wins.

5) Points for speaking/writing. 

You make another grid but the top row has various point allocations for what they say.  So depending on what you want them to use then give them various points (keep scores in 2 or 5 times table for easy adding).  Again give a time limit and set them off.  Award winners appropriately.

6) Teams idea (massive thanks to Bill Rogers “tackling the tough class). 

Get the students to write down someone they respect and someone they like.  Put your class into teams and give them points for everything: uniform, presentation, work rate, use of TL in lessons, helping others, helping put out equipment, being kind, answering questions, winning team games etc.  Take off points if they talk when you are or break other rules.  Keep this going over a term with a prize for winners at the end of the term.  Seems laborious at first but can engender really good habits and cooperative/collaborative learning.  Allow students to submit transfer requests at end of term that you will “consider”. Have done this 3 years in a row with tough groups and find I have far less bad behaviour and far less detentions.  Kids, particularly boys are used to team sports and it plays to their sense of competitiveness.

7) Reading reduction paper (thanks to my HoD although he swears he can’t remember having this idea). 

If students with weak literacy are tackling a tough reading text then give them a post-it note or an opaque ruler and encourage them to tackle it line by line.  I have found that the reduction of information bombardment helps and they can then work at their own pace.  It is a simple way of catering to students who find reading difficult.  It is also successful with dyslexics.

I think this post requires a part II sometime.  I’ve enjoyed writing it, hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and have something you can use.