Wednesday, 9 April 2014


It must be a primary thing.  I'm sure that when I was a secondary teacher I wasn't drawn to toy shops and toy departments as much as I am now.

This afternoon I took my daughters to a local craft establishment to buy some bits and pieces to make Easter cards with. We weren't very successful on the Easter card front, but I find these. In the Children's department.  In the packet there are three bundles each of five person shapes. They only cost £2.25, and I had to have them.  I didn't know what I was going to do with them but I had to buy them anyway.

When I got home I posted this picture on Twitter and invited suggestions as to what I could do with them.  Here are the suggestions.  Thanks everyone!

The lovely Julie Prince has found somewhere to buy them online if you can't make it to the northeast.

I have a variety of different toys that I use in my lessons:

  • Different coloured balls for playing passing games.  I use them with Year 1, who know colours, to practise por favor and gracias.  They ask for the colour they want and then say "Por favor", then they say "Gracias" when they receive it.
  • A giant foam microphone for speaking practice
  • Giant plastic tweezers for younger children to use to pick up, for example, all the blue minibeasts, five minibeasts.  I have also used them with butter beans masquerading as seeds, and Year 1 had to pick up the right number of seeds.
  • Percussion instruments (pinched from my children) for providing the rhythm section of raps in the classroom.
  • Finger puppets and glove puppets.  I have lots of these!
I also liberate quite a lot of my children's toys, to do activities such as this gender sort for Year 3:

I put all the toys in a bag, then the children took it in turns to take out a toy.  I said the name of the toy in Spanish and they had to put it in the blue basket for masculine, pink basket for feminine.  Thanks to Vicky Cooke for the idea!

I also have a very large box of Playmobil.  My husband keeps threatening to put it in the loft, so my daughters and I defiantly play with it.  I have used it for animation (Madame Poule) and it has been known to appear in some of my resources.

There has been quite a lot of chat on Twitter over the last couple of days about ways to use the plastic fillable eggs that you can buy at the moment.  You can put all sorts of things inside them, and I also like this idea for using them for a matching activity.

What are your favourite toys for using in your lessons?

Monday, 7 April 2014

One light goes out, another switches on

Ten years ago, on April 24th 2004, I uploaded for the first time a little website called MFL Sunderland.  It looked very different in those days, and didn't have many resources on it to start with.

In December 2004, MFL Sunderland welcomed 235 unique visitors.  In December 2013 the figure was 53092.   By the time it came to the end of its life last Friday, it had clocked up 3,450,473 unique visitors and an astounding 13,271,665 page views.

The site began as an evolution of an email resource-sharing group that existed in Sunderland local authority at the time.  Its creation was my first AST target in 2002, when I was a complete website novice.  I was chosen for the task because I had an email address!  I am entirely self taught, and MFL Sunderland was always a one-woman enterprise.

I am very aware how much the website has contributed to my professional career and reputation, and that I owe much of what I now have to it.  Deleting it last Friday evening was a sad and emotional experience.

I had permission to take all my website files and start again elsewhere.  For this reason I have purchased a new domain name and created a new website to house all the MFL Sunderland resources - Light Bulb Languages - which will be supported and maintained by me through my company.

Why Light Bulb Languages?  Well I wanted something that linked the new site to my company name.  Then I looked at my logo and had a flash of inspiration!  When we are planning and preparing our lessons, we all seek that light bulb moment that gives us a clear idea of how we are going to proceed with a certain lesson.  I hope that the resources continue to inspire those light bulb moments!

You will notice that each of the pages of the new site has a Google ad.  This is to cover my domain and hosting bills.  I hope you do not find them intrusive, but it's the only way I have of paying for the site, unless someone fancies sponsoring it!!

So farewell, MFL Sunderland.  You are gone, but you will never be forgotten.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

It all adds up to Languages

Here is the presentation It all adds up to Languages that I gave yesterday at ALL Language World 2014.  Just as useful for Key Stage 3 as for Key Stage 2!

and here is the link to the Pepsi Numbers ad that I showed:

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Apoyo Soutien Unterstützung SUPPORT

Primary languages has hit the headlines again today, following the publication of the 2013/2014 Language Trends Survey.  As usual, it's doom and gloom.  According to the BBC, 23% of schools will not have a teacher more highly qualified than GCSE level, and teachers feel "ill-equipped" to teach statutory languages come September this year.  Add to the mix this article from today's Independent (with a misleading headline) that highlights some of the difficulties presented by the transition from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3.  Thank goodness for the appearance on BBC Breakfast of Catherine Cheater, the voice of reason seeing the positive side and mentioning some of the support that is already out there waiting for primary teachers to access it.

You'll already know that I am very positive about primary languages and that I am determined that it should succeed.  I know that there are a number of schools where teachers are apprehensive not only about teaching the language, but about how they are going to fit it in to their already busy days.  I also know that there are a number of head teachers effectively burying their heads in the sand, not taking proactive steps to ensure that effective teaching will be in place in September.

There is already a huge amount of support available, much of it free.  How do we get the message across to schools about this support and where it is?  Here is the free support that I know about.  Please, if you know of anything else, let me know and I will add it to the list.

Social media

Twitter, especially the PrimaryLanguages UKlist.


Primary Languages forum coordinated by CfBT (email forum).  Email to join


¡Vámonos!  Lisa Stevens’s blog, with an emphasis on Spanish and using technology.

Janet Lloyd Network  All sorts of useful links, information and resources, plus Janet's blog Primary Language Learning Today.

Devon Primary Languages  Lots of resources and information

Bonjour Madame  Emilie Woodroffe’s blog, with practical ideas for the classroom

Zapatito Inglés  Erzsi Culshaw's blog, with lots of practical ideas for Spanish

Spanish Playground  Good for Spanish resources and ideas

Madame Belle Feuille  Shannon Wiebe is a French immersion teacher in Canada.  Lots of good ideas here, especially for teaching French to very little ones.

Zen Kyo Maestro  Jeremy Dean is a British teacher living and working in Spain.  This blog is particularly good for intercultural understanding.

On the web

Getting Started with Primary French project - from the Institut Français, ALL and the Network for Languages, written by Catherine Cheater.

GermanPhonology section (not as comprehensive as French and Spanish) 

MFL Sunderland  Schemes of work and lots of resources for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 French and Spanish
Plus sound files to help teachers with pronunciation and upskilling podcasts for French.

West Sussex Grid for Learning   Schemes of work and a large selection of excellent resources for French and Spanish

MFL Hampshire Wiki   Especially good for intercultural links

East Riding  Key Stage 2 resources from the East Riding of Yorkshire

Languages Online Australia  Download the interactive game makers for fun IWB and computer-based activities for your students.  They also have plenty of ready-made activities for many different languages.

Northern Ireland Curriculum  Resources with sound for French, Spanish and German

Hertfordshire Grid for Learning   Resources and the Primary Languages Toolkit

Languagenut  Interactive resources and scheme of work for Key Stage 2 in ten different languages

Teaching Ideas  Good ideas for games and activities in the languages classroom

EuroClubSchools  Excellent for Intercultural Understanding in French, Spanish and Italian

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Je pièce un pied ballon allumette

I'm a bit of a dictionary geek.  I collect old dictionaries (the picture above is from one of them) and I have been known to read Little Bob for pleasure.  It's all to do with my fascination with words.  I also collect books about words.

I am very pleased that the new curriculum for Key Stage 2 Languages makes explicit mention of dictionary skills:

"Pupils should be taught to.....broaden their vocabulary and develop their ability to understand new words that are introduced into familiar written material, including through using a dictionary"

Bilingual dictionaries can be the language learner's best friend, or, if used badly, their worst enemy.  I taught Key Stages 3 and 4 for 14 years, and have seen more than my fair share of examples of dictionaries being used badly.  The title of this post is one of my all-time favourites (have you worked it out yet?!) and there are plenty more howlers, if you fancy a chuckle, on this TES thread.  A dictionary is only as good as the person using it, so we owe it to our primary language learners to teach them how to use their bilingual dictionaries effectively.

The children to whom I teach Spanish often see me using to check vocabulary, spellings and genders, but they actually start to learn to use a proper paper dictionary in Year 3, when we do our "things in your pencil case, nouns and gender" unit.  Last week I was after a short whole-class activity to help Year 3 to practise using their dictionaries.  The #MFLTwitterati came up with some great ideas, so I thought I would share them here with you, along with the many links that I have for dictionary use.

1.  How many things from a certain category can they find in a minute?  Try red things, foods, animals beginning with c, etc..  From Nieves Sadullah

2.  Say a word, the children look it up and then put the dictionary open at the right page on their heads so that you can check their answer.  Year 3 loved this one - it made us giggle!  This idea also from Nieves.

3.  Sylvie Bartlett-Rawlings suggests giving a short list of words to find in a limited time, like these lists.

4.  Play 'Stop the Bus': give a letter of the alphabet, and get the children to find a certain kind of word beginning with that letter, for example a food beginning with p.  Then they shout "Stop the bus!" when they have found it. Thanks to Terri Dunne for this one.

5.  Jo Rhys Jones suggests races to put words into alphabetical order, and playing Musketeers:  choose a noun to look up -"Un!" - place the dictionary on the table - "Deux!" - then hold it in the air Musketeer-style - "Trois!" - and after "A l'attaque!" race to find the word.

Free resources to go with the Oxford Learner's Spanish Dictionary

Free resources for the Collins First Time Spanish dictionary

Diccionario SMS - Spanish text abbreviation list

Spanish rhyming dictionary - with links to other languages too

Internet Picture Dictionary - Spanish

Spanish picture dictionary

Diccionario de María Moliner - monolingual Spanish dictionary

Diccionario de sinónimos

Lisa Stevens's blogpost about teaching dictionary skills in Spanish

Free resources for Oxford children's French dictionaries

Free resources for the Collins First Time French dictionary

Synonymes - French dictionary of synonyms and antonyms

French slang dictionary

Internet Picture Dictionary - French

Dictionnaire des rimes

Some more dictionary teaching ideas

Ideas for teaching dictionary skills that can be transferred from English

* Je pièce un pied ballon allumette = I play a football match.  Of course.