Sunday, 7 December 2014

Spanish Minibooks for Primary learners


Introducing my new book, Spanish Minibooks for Primary learners.  It contains 94 minibooks which introduce new language and provide reading texts and opportunities for writing.  They go from simple word level, suitable for Year 3, to more complex texts for Year 6.   They tie in with my scheme of work for Key Stage 2 Spanish but would also be useful for Key Stage 3 beginners.  Also provided are an overview of the minibooks, instructions for how to fold them and a comprehensive glossary of vocabulary.

You can purchase the book for £18.99 through my Sellfy store and download a sample from my website.  I am now working on a similar publication in French.



Friday, 5 December 2014

How important is spelling?



If there's one thing that makes a language teacher scream in exasperation and apply lots of red pen to children's work, it's poor spelling.  There is a big emphasis on correct spelling (and punctuation and grammar - SPaG) elsewhere in the curriculum, so we should expect careful spelling in languages too.

However, if we look at the Making and Marking Progress document for Key Stage 2, we read the following:

"Spelling may not always be completely accurate but your meaning will be clear."

So just how important is spelling?

Here are the results of a #mfltwitterati crowd source about common spelling mistakes:

FRENCH:
nerf
neuf
beucoup / beacoup
beaucoup
familie
famille
blue
bleu
souer
soeur
jamie
j’aime
interestant
intéressant
compains
copains
chevaux
cheveux
fréré
frère
collage
collège
je mapple / jem’appele etc
je m’appelle
trios
trois
mecredi
mercredi
jabeet
j’habite
vancances
vacances


SPANISH:
abburido
aburrido
me enchanta
me encanta
anos
años
viente
veinte
mardre
madre


GERMAN
Ich speile
Ich spiele
Wochende
Wochenende
Fruende
Freunde

Some questions:
  • Are there more French examples because French is harder to spell than Spanish and German?
  • What do the exemplified errors tell us about what the students find difficult about the languages?
  • How much is English to blame?
  • How much are spell checkers responsible for?  (see above image!)
I would be interested to hear your thoughts, and of course any other cracking examples.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Android apps


I have purchased a new Android tablet specifically for using at school.  I have a Sony Experia for my own personal use, but this one is a Google Nexus 7.  I chose it for two main reasons.  Firstly, it has a front and rear facing camera, and secondly it is handbag sized!  

I'm intending to use it a lot for taking pictures of the children's work. At the moment I use my little digital camera for this, but using the tablet will not only make the blogging process much quicker, but I will also be able to use Pic Collage and other apps to make the photos more interesting for the blog.  I also want to use it for sound recording, to record the children singing and for the children to be able to record themselves speaking.

A few weeks ago I received from Joe Dale an email about the documents that he has written to support the use of ICT in the Niveau Bleu French materials.  On the above screenshot you can see the apps that I already had and have used, in addition to apps mentioned by Joe in the aforementioned document and Android versions of some of those iPad apps.

I hope this is of use to other Android users.  If there are any Android apps that you have found particularly useful, please let me know!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Adaptable Games


At the most recent meeting of the Sunderland ALL Primary Hub we discussed games that can be adapted to any language that we teach in our Languages lessons.  Here is our list - we hope you find something that you didn't already know about.  Many thanks to the Hub members and to Erzsi Culshaw, whose blog is a rich source of such games.

1.            Which card?
Shuffle your flashcards so the children don’t know what order they are in.  Hold the pile close to you so that the children can’t see them!  The children have to work together, listening and thinking, to find out which card is on the top of your pile.

C'est quelle carte?         Which card is it?
Oui, c'est....                   Yes it is....
Non, ce n'est pas....       No it isn't.....

¿Qué carta es?              Which card is it?
Sí, es...                          Yes it is...
No, no es....                  No it isn't.....

2.            Pelmanism
Children have a pack of small cards, one set of pictures and one set of the corresponding words.  They put them all face down on the desk and take it in turns to turn over two cards, to see if they get a matching pair.  The child with the most pairs wins.  Children can create their own Pelmanism games with sets of blank cards.  You can also make memory games like this with online game makers such as this one.

3.            Kim's game
Show, for example, the 11 colours on the IWB.  Using either custom animations or the duplicate screen function on PowerPoint, you can make one disappear when you press the button.  The children have to say which one is missing each time.  To increase the challenge, all the others change position when one disappears.  You can also use this as a class vs teacher game.  One of the children has to predict which one they think will disappear.  If they are right then the class gets a point.  If they are wrong, the teacher gets the point.  I have never been beaten!

Qu'est-ce qui manque?          What is missing?

¿Qué falta?                             What is missing?

4.            Fly past
You can use the motion path animation on PowerPoint to make pictures etc fly from one side of the screen to the other.  The children have to watch very closely to see which one it is, and then call out the answer.  Increase the challenge by having two fly across the screen together.  There are some French examples with numbers here (scroll down a little).

5.            Slaps
Stick your flashcards to the board or display the images on the IWB if you are feeling brave.  Two children come up to the board and stand one at each side.  You say one of the words and the children have to be the first to slap it.  Injuries are less likely if each child has a fly swat to slap the word with.

6.            Noughts and Crosses
This is a great team game that takes no time at all to set up.  Draw the noughts and crosses grid on the board, and number the squares.  I usually use 1-9, but of course if the children know higher numbers you can use those too.  I don't order number the squares in order, so they have to think more about the number they are choosing.  Divide the class into two teams.  I usually nominate a team captain, who has to give me the team's answers.  They can discuss the answer, but I will only listen to the team captain.  The team captains choose which team will be the O and which will be the X.  The first team tells you in the target language which number square they are going to go for.  You show them a flashcard or ask a question and the team has to come up with the answer.  If they are right, they get their O or X in their chosen square.  Three in a row wins, of course.

Quel numéro?                                          What number?
Pour le numéro...., comment dit-on...?    For number...., how do you say...?

¿Qué número?                                         What number?
Para el número...., ¿cómo se dice.....?     For number..., how do you say....?

7.            Snakes and ladders
Use a standard snakes and ladders boardgame.  It can be played in teams or pairs.  The children throw the dice, but can only move their counter to the appropriate square if they answer a question correctly.

8.            Parachute games
All the games that you usually play with the parachute can be adapted for languages.  Fruit Salad, for example, works well.  You can also use the coloured sections and a toy on top of the parachute to practise colours - simply tilt the parachute so that the toy rolls onto the right colour.  This document will give you lots more ideas.

9.            Dance mats
Clear a space on the floor and lay down one flashcard. Your volunteer stands behind it.  Say the word and they jump to the card.  Add another card and say the two words, and they have to jump to the two words in the right order.  Add more cards and continue to build up the sequence.  They have to jump in the right order each time.  This could easily be played in pairs, where the children give each other the instructions.

10.          Heads down thumbs up
Played in the normal way, but each of the children touching the thumbs has a flashcard.  When they are ready, the children sitting down use the flashcard words instead of the children's names to find out who 'got' them.

11.          Chef d'orchestre / Secret signal
This is excellent for practising the same words, sounds, phrases, sentences or question forms over and over again.  One or two children leave the room.  Meanwhile, you choose someone to be the secret signaller.  They show what signal they will give to get the class to change what they are saying.  The one or two children come back in, and it is their job to spot who is giving the signal.  The whole class chants the same thing over and over again until they see the signal, then they change to the next thing. This keeps going until the signaller is spotted.  You will need to have on the board the sequence of words or phrases that they are going to say.

12.          Bingo
This can be played with any words or numbers, and there are many ready made grids that you can use.  For a really quick game, the children can choose their own words and write them in a list.  Bingo with a twist is:

13.          Strip Bingo
Not as exciting as it sounds!   Each child has a strip of paper and on it they write or draw probably about 6 of the words that you are practising.  You begin to call the words.  The idea is to tear off the words when they hear them, but they can only tear one off if it is on the end of their strip.  They may have to wait to hear a certain word again before they can tear it off.  The advantage of this over normal bingo is that they will hear the words several times.  It does, however, create more litter than normal bingo!

14.          Pass the parcel
You will need a bag or similar receptacle and some objects or flashcards to put in it. For example, if you are practising colours you can put in some coloured pencils.  Play some music, or all sing a song together, while the bag is passed around.  The person who is holding the bag or when the music stops or when the song finishes gets to take something out.  Either they say the word or they put it in the middle for everyone to see, and everyone works together to say the word.  

15.          Corners
Put a different word, picture or phrase in each corner of the room.  Call out one of the words and the children have to run to the correct corner.  The children in the wrong corners are out.  Alternatively, the children choose a corner to run to and then you call out the corner that is out.

16.          Round the World
Select a child to start the game.  They stand behind the chair of their next door neighbour.  The teacher asks a question to both of them.  The first one to answer correctly goes to stand behind the chair of the next child.  If the original child is not the one to get the correct answer, they sit in the second child’s seat.  The aim of the game for each child is to get as far around the classroom as they can, answering as many questions as they can.

17.          I went shopping and I bought
The first child says one word or phrase, for example “Rojo”.  The second child says that word and then adds a second, for example “Rojo, azul”.  The third child says those two colours and then adds a third, and so on.  The challenge is to remember as long a chain of language as possible.

18.          Chinese Whispers
Divide the children into two teams, and put your flashcards or words at one end of the classroom.  Whisper one of the words or phrases to the first children in each line, who then have to pass it down the line in the usual Chinese Whispers way.  The last child in each team goes to the flashcards or words and shows which one they heard, and therefore which one their team has been whispering.  The children will need to concentrate on their speaking and their listening for their team to win this game.

19.          Mystery Voice
One child is blindfolded.  A second is chosen to say a word or phrase, but they disguise their voice.  The blindfolded child has to guess who is speaking.  They could be asked to repeat their word or phrase, and could disguise their voice in a different way.

20.          Hide and Seek
One child leaves the room.  They will be the seeker.  Meanwhile you and the rest of the class decide where to hide a toy.  The child comes back into the room and begins to look for the toy.  Instead of saying “cold”, “warm” and “hot”, the children chant a word or phrase, whispering it when the seeker is “cold” and getting louder as they get "warmer".

21.          Detectives
One or two children leave the room.  They will be the detectives.  Meanwhile, the teacher gives out 6 small toys to other members of the class, who hide them in their hands.  All the children put their hands under the tables.  The detectives come back in, and must question 6 members of the class in total to see if they have the toys.  When the 6 suspects give their the answers, they hold up their hands, and the detectives will be able to see if they have one of the toys.

22.          Pictionary
A useful game for practising vocabulary, particularly nouns and verbs.  

A particularly useful game for intercultural understanding.  Read more about it here.

24.          Cluedo

The teacher thinks of a sentence, choosing one of the options from the columns each time.  The children then need to work together, listening carefully to others’ answers and thinking hard, to find out what the sentence is.  Each time one of them gives an answer, they must give the whole sentence.  The teacher can tell them how many parts they have correct, but nothing more.

It’s up to you how closely you want to follow the format of the original TV programme, but there’s a lot you can do with a sentence with a gap in it.

J’ai un chien ___________________.       I have a __________ dog.

Mi perro es ____________________.      My dog is ___________.

26.          Board games
A homemade boardgame will help children to practise the words and phrases from a certain unit.  Put words or pictures on some of the squares, and the children will have to say those words or a sentence containing those words to be able to move on in the game.

27.          Drawing Game
Say one of your words in the language and give the children 10 seconds to draw it. Then say a second and give them 9 seconds to draw it.  Then a third, and they have 8 seconds to draw it, and so on until they have 2 seconds to draw something.  Then they have to tell you all the things that they have drawn.  The hastily done drawings may well be difficult to decipher!

28.          Sit down quickly!
All the children stand up.  You show one flashcard at a time.  If you say the correct word to go with it, the children stay standing.  If, however, you say the wrong word, they have to sit down as quickly as possible.  The last ones to sit could be out.




If we have missed any of your favourites, please feel free to add them in a comment!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Let's work together!


I am honoured to have been asked to be the keynote speaker at the Network for Languages East Midlands Primary Languages Conference, which took place today.  Here is the script for those of you who missed it.  I also did my mini-book thing in one of the workshops.


Let’s Work Together

My languages journey

I am a Languages teacher.  I'm in my twentieth year as a Languages teacher.  I spent fourteen of those years in secondary schools, flogging away with French and Spanish at GCSE level.  The last six of those years have been in primary schools, altogether a very different experience. 

Younger children ask lots more questions.  “Can I go to the toilet?” “Is it lunchtime?” and let’s not forget “Are you from France?”  My particular favourite question was “Madame, you know the Eiffel Tower, is it in Sunderland?”  One of the most common questions, however, is "How do you know Spanish?"  

My answer is that I learned at school, the same as them, and then went to university to learn some more and lived in Spain for a while to learn even more.  I tell them that they have a head start on me as I didn't start learning Spanish till I was 16.  They are lucky to start learning when they are 5.  But then I also say that I am still learning.  I learn new things about my languages and other languages every day.  Languages adapt and morph on a daily basis, and you never finish learning them.
So I am not only a Languages teacher.  I am also a language learner.  I would say that I am in my 38th year as a formal language learner.

I started to learn French when I was seven, at middle school.  I grew up in Surrey, where there was at the time a three-tier system.  We changed schools at the end of what are now Years 3 and 7.  My learning of French in the first year of middle school (equivalent to Year 4) comprised writing out lists of things like numbers and months and colours, and sticking them on the inside of our wooden desk lid so that we could see them each time we lifted it up to get something out or put something away.  We were given a French name and a number.  I was Denise and my number was dix-neuf.

Then in the second year (Y5 equivalent) we went to the new building and were allowed access to the specialist French teacher, who we shared with the private girls’ school in the next village.  I can't remember exactly what we did, but there was a lot of chalk and talk and grammar drills, and the filling in of the little booklets which I think were Éclair.   There was certainly no technology involved.  In fact, there wasn’t any technology to be involved!   We only learned one song - Savez-vous planter les choux? - and didn't play any games.  There was no role play and certainly no pair or group activities.  

However when I left middle school in 1981, aged nearly 12, I knew avoir and être, the present tense of regular verbs, and had started the passé composé.  I knew and could explain why boys said ma cravate and girls said mon chemisier. 

Then I went to secondary school, which in this three tier system we started in Y8, and started French again, from scratch.  After half a term we moved house, to the other side of Guildford.  I arrived at my new school after the October half term holiday.  My year group was coming to the end of a carousel of second language tasters.  I did 2 lessons of Spanish and had missed the German and Latin.  The following week we had to choose our second language.  I opted for Spanish as I'd tried it and because I have a Spanish godmother. 

I was put in the Latin group.  Initially I was disappointed, but in retrospect it’s the best thing that could have happened!  Latin has been immensely helpful to my knowledge about language, to my French, my Spanish and my English.  It also helps to make me unbeatable at certain quiz games. 
Meanwhile I was continuing with French and another new teacher with whom, again, the class was starting again, but at least this time it was with Le français d'aujourd'hui and the Bertillon family. 



I remember telling my mum that I found French boring.  I fell out of love with languages for a while. 

I kept the same teacher all the way through secondary school, for all of the four years.  Gradually it dawned on me that, far from being boring, she was amazing, and had us (admittedly the top group) ready for O level at the end of the 3rd Year (Year 9).  We spent the next two years practising, learning the past historic and writing countless 100 word essays (we did the AEB board), enjoying the challenge of trying to cram in all the great structures we'd learned.  I have spent many an idle moment trying to pin down exactly what her secret was. 

So that's my language learning journey from the late 70s to the mid 80s.  Very traditional, but it suited me and I learned a huge amount.  I went to France for the first time – on a school day trip - when I was 14 and was quite happy to have a go with the speaking.  However this way of learning didn't suit everyone. 

One of my friends was in the same set as me for French, and she also was the recipient of an A grade at O level.  She also had done Latin and so had a fair understanding of how language worked.  She should have done A level French but the thought of having to speak the language terrified her.  It was something we had hardly done in 4 years, apart from answering the odd question in class, and so the O level speaking exam with a visiting examiner was a bit of an eye opener.

Your language learning journey will have been different, and it may or may not have suited you.  Many methods have come and gone, and in some cases come again, since then.  The way languages are taught in primary schools now is worlds apart from the way I was taught in 1978.  The methods we use now suit the many different learners that we have in our classrooms, and we have many more exciting tools with which to bring the language alive.

Children learning together

One of our main aims is to get the children involved in their learning.  They are no longer the passive recipients who sit silently in rows and then complete pages of exercises in their books.  We know that children learn best when they have the opportunity to help, support and explain to each other.  They learn best when they take part in an activity that they perceive to be fun, interesting or different.  They learn best when they have the opportunity to do the things that young children like to do: singing, dancing around, playing and laughing.

Confucius said:
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.”

which is further clarified in the words of this Native American proverb:
“Tell me and I’ll forget.
Show me and I may not remember.
Involve me and I’ll understand.”

Both sayings emphasise the importance of children’s participation and involvement in their learning.
 
When I was a secondary teacher, my colleagues and I had preconceptions about primary classrooms.  We thought that children were always up and down and out of their seats and unable to sit and listen.  It’s how we used to account for Year 7’s fidgeting and neediness.  But now I know differently. 
Primary children work collaboratively, in pairs and in groups.  They change activities frequently to keep the pace going and to maintain interest.  Seating patterns are important and there is also a strong culture of helping others.  Much primary learning is characterised by active learning.  Children read, talk, write, describe, touch, interact, listen and reflect.  They learn by doing, thinking and exploring through planned and quality interactions.  The child is not a passive observer, like these ones.

So what sort of activities and materials should we be aiming to include in our language lessons?  The learning set-up is a bit different to other subjects as the children rely more on the teacher as the source of knowledge than maybe they do elsewhere.

Let’s start with flashcards.  Of course they are very useful for the teacher when presenting new language to the class, but once the teacher has finished with them, they can be handed over to the children to help them to practise the new words and phrases.  Children are very good at thinking of ways to practise new language in pairs or groups with sets of small cards.

Dominoes are a pair or group activity ideal for revising prior learning or indeed for practising new language.   There is the possibility of matching up words with pictures, words with words or even words with numbers.  How about matching up the two halves of a sentence?  There are many possibilities, all of which require the children to discuss the answer together and arrive at a decision.

Moving on one step from dominoes are shape puzzles, or Tarsias, as they are now more commonly known.  Each side of each shape has a word or picture that needs to be matched with another word or picture so as to create the final shape.  When the Tarsia is finished, it can be used as a reference tool, stuck down on sugar paper and added to.

Sorting activities like Trash or Treasure or Venn diagrams oblige children to work together to find the links between words and phrases.

For practising structure in writing try a game of Showdown.  Each group of children has a set of cards with phrases or sentences in English or in picture form that need to be written in the target language.   The group captain chooses a card and puts it on the table for the rest of the children to see.  They each write on their own mini whiteboard the phrase or sentence that the card requires.  When they have all finished, the captain says “Showdown” and all members of the group show what they have written.  They discuss, looking at the evidence they now have, what the correct answer is.

For another way to practise structure, use dice, multi-link, Lego or paper chains.  Each number or colour relates to a part of a sentence or an individual word.

There is even something as simple as giving each child a post-it and asking them to test each other on the words you have been learning.  Everyone will be busy, it will only be a short activity, and there won’t be lots of children sitting bored while the teacher has to go round testing individuals.  When the class is playing a game like Chef d’Orchestre or Hide and Seek they will be enthusiastically speaking the language, but not thinking about it – the language is the means of winning the game or helping a classmate to find the answer.  And going right back to basics, every time the children repeat a word and perform an action to go with it, they are being active learners and involving themselves in the learning.

We can't underestimate the impact on children of learning alongside children in another school, whether that other school is in the UK or in another country where the language is spoken.  It is motivating and makes them feel important.  Currently the children I take for Spanish are working collaboratively with a school in the east of Madrid, but also with one of our nearest primary schools in Sunderland.

Teachers helping teachers

We know that it’s important for children to help each other and to learn collaboratively.  It’s equally important for their teachers to do the same.  For many primary teachers, Languages is a new subject. 
They are going to need help and support to assist them in their day-to-day teaching of languages. 
But let’s not forget that they also have something to give. 
I am willing to share my language expertise.  In return the primary teachers can share their expertise as classroom practitioners.  We all have something to offer and we all have something to learn.

I have already described my language learning journey.  I also have a sharing journey. 

In 2004 I uploaded for the first time a little website called MFL Sunderland, which I had put together as one of my targets as an Advanced Skills Teacher. 



Just about every resource that I have made since then has gone onto the website.  Over the past 10 years it has undergone many changes, not least, most recently, a change of name.  From small beginnings it has become one of the well-known languages websites, and it remains free of charge to users.  It has over 5000 resources and is nearly 2GB in size.  It has its own blog, its own Twitter account and its own Facebook page.  All of this was inconceivable to me 10 years ago.

I am committed to sharing, not only to sharing resources but to sharing ideas and knowledge as well.  I blog and tweet as a professional, to share what I know with other professionals.  But I wouldn’t do it if I couldn’t take as well as give.

Why should we as teachers share what we have and what we can do? 

Let’s say I make a resource or have an idea.  I think “Mr X in the class next door is doing the same thing at the moment.  He might like this to save a bit of work.”  So I give it to him and to other colleagues, actual and virtual, who might find it useful.  Then I have another idea, and share it in the same way and for the same reasons.  And so it goes on.  The others end up with a pile of new resources, and I have none until I have another idea or make a new resource.  So I get drained and annoyed and sad.

This would be better.   I have a resource or an idea.  I think “Mr X in the class next door is doing the same thing at the moment.  He might like this to save a bit of work.”  So I give it to him and to other colleagues, actual and virtual, who might find it useful.   The other colleagues have a resource or an idea, and they give it to me as they think I might find it useful.  And so it goes on.  Everyone ends up with a big pile of resources and ideas to help them to move onwards and upwards, and to make their working lives easier.

This is my definition of sharing in this context.  It might still need a little tweak, but that’s the essence.



The day-to-day life of a teacher is not an easy one.  Particularly if you’re a teacher who has to add another subject to their already busy planning and teaching schedule.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut where there are no fresh ideas, where you can’t think round a problem to find a new way of doing it that is just right for your class.  And how many times have you spent ages on a resource only to find later that you have in fact reinvented the wheel?

Remember - as they said in High School Musical, we’re all in this together.  Whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared to admit it or not, we all face the same challenges and the same pulls on our time.  We’re working towards a common goal but we all have different tools at our disposal.  We have to support and help each other.


The year before I became an AST I did a “Becoming a subject leader” course.  It taught me that I didn’t want to be a subject leader, but it did teach me some useful things too.  Like how important it is to create a culture of sharing and networking amongst your colleagues. 

Start small.  Schedule meetings where each colleague brings along a resource or an idea that has worked well for them, or a web link that they think is particularly interesting.  It may be hard to win people round.  For some reason some colleagues are very protective of what they create and are very reluctant to share.  Is this insecurity?  It’s worth stressing again that everyone will have something worth contributing, whoever they are and however much experience they have.  I have learned as much from NQTs and Foreign Language Assistants as I have from more senior colleagues.  Everyone has their own ideas which will stimulate an idea in or interest someone else. 



Share resources or links informally via email, or via the school VLE or a shared Dropbox folder.  Create some folders on the school network where everyone can save a copy of each resource that they make or use.  That way everyone will know what’s available and won’t spend ages making something new when they could have adapted something that was already there.  Set up a blog or wiki to serve as a central point that you can all access from home and from school, and that you can all contribute to and put ideas on.  It takes a bit of effort on everybody’s part, but the rewards are more than worth it.

If you want to share with a wider audience, there are different forums and other online “outlets” that you can access.  For example there is the TES Forum, where you can discuss languages and their teaching, although the Modern Languages forum isn’t half as busy as it used to be.  If you prefer an email forum, sign up to the CfBT Primary Languages forum.  I can’t recommend Twitter highly enough for keeping you up to date with the cutting-edge ideas and for the camaraderie.  If you follow my Primary Languages UK Twitter list, you can keep in touch with and get information from over a hundred primary languages teachers (specialist and non-specialist) as well as organisations, publishers and suppliers.  If you are a Facebooker, there is the Languages in Primary Schools group, which has over 700 members.

There has not been much money forthcoming for the majority of primary teachers who require upskilling, so the arrival of the Association for Language Learning’s network of Primary Hubs has been a godsend.  They exist all over the country so find one near you.  They are free of charge and allow you to link up and meet with other professionals who are in the same boat as you. 


We need to work together to ensure that Languages in KS2 works this time round.  And we need to ensure that the children are involved in high quality learning experiences to further their knowledge and understanding, as they begin their language learning journey.  Build your network, get sharing - Let’s Work Together!