Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Word puzzles: valuable or a waste of precious time?

all puzzles from this resource
If, like me, you used to spend a lot of time on the TES Modern Languages forum in the good old days, you'll remember the pretty frequent mention of "TWALT", where the T, W and A stood for Time Wasting Activities.  These activities were things like Making a Poster, and Colouring In.  Anything easy for the teacher to plan and that students would get on with without fuss while still looking busy to the casual observer.

Do wordsearches, crosswords and other word puzzles fit into this category?  Are they time-wasting activities or do they serve a valuable educational purpose within the lesson?

Here are my thoughts, and along with some ideas for how to use them.  Admittedly I am coming at this from a primary point of view.  If your learners are older you may have a different opinion.

  • Puzzles can be used to reinforce vocabulary and structures.
  • Puzzles are a useful addition to the repertoire of Repetition activities.
  • It is easy to customise puzzles to the class or to individual children.
  • You can't use them too often or the novelty will wear off.
  • You need to have a meaningful reason within your sequence of planned activities for using the puzzles.
  • Puzzles help to develop visual acuity for recognising words in the new language.
  • Wordsearches encourage children to think about and notice aspects of the written words that will help them, such as written accents and unusual letters.
  • Learners feel a sense of achievement when they complete a puzzle.
  • The ability to complete a crossword is a useful lifelong skill.
  • Completing a puzzle is good exercise for the brain.
  • Puzzles like this are associated with recreation and so are perceived by children as a less threatening activity.
  • Crosswords need exact spelling and so children are obliged to write accurately.
  • Puzzles are useful as a five-minute activity.
  • With crosswords, clues can be given in sentence form with a word or words missing.  The missing word or words are the answer.
  • With wordsearches, the word list can be given in English and the children have to find the words in the second language, or vice versa.
  • When matching up new vocabulary, children can use a crossword puzzle to test their hypotheses, like in this activity.
  • Crosswords can be completed in teams in the style of the quiz game Crosswits.
  • Crossword grids can also be used as "grid fills", where a word list is given and the children needs to fit the words in the right place on the grid.  They need to look at the letters they already have and count the number of letters in each word.  Like this one.
  • Word spirals and waves using Festisite can be used as an alternative to a traditional wordsearch.

I make my puzzles with a program called Crossword Compiler, which I have had for years.  You have to pay for it, but it produces professional-looking results quickly and easily.  There are online, free puzzle makers available, such as Armored Penguin.

Monday, 22 May 2017

What's in a name?

It won't have escaped your attention that I make a lot of resources.  You might even have used some of them!  When creating a resource, I want it to be as authentic as possible, and so choose carefully the names that I am going to use.

My favourite website for choosing appropriate names is Meilleurs Prénoms.  I particularly like it because you can select a year to see the most popular boys' and girls' names for that year.  For example, let's say I'm making a new resource for Year 4.  They are 8 or 9 years old, and so are likely to have been born in 2008.  So I click on "Tendances" on the homepage of the website, then "Prénoms par année".  Underneath the lists of names there is a box where you can enter your "Autre année". I have entered 2008:

The lack of a name in the no.1 position on each list is a fault that I've noticed the last few times I've used the site.  Hopefully it'll be put right soon.  So if I'm making a resource for Year 4, I'll use some of the names from this list.  If they were to go to France, the children their age would more than likely have these names.  Similarly, if I'm making a resource about family members, I'll choose appropriate names for the parents and grandparents.

Here's the list for 1970.  I recognise quite a few penpals and exchange partners!

Some other name-related websites that I like:



This Spanish website allows you to see the most popular names in recent years (scroll down to below the lists to see the years to select)

Calendar of Saints' names, month by month


This German website also shows you the list of the most popular names for a given year.

And finally, an interesting graphic which shows how the names of countries, continents and oceans translate in their native languages.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Generation Game

Here are some websites that you might like to try for making resources:

SEN Teacher Maths Printables: Add coin worksheets:  Tell the generator which currency you want to use, how many of the coins you want to be included, which level of difficulty you require, and it'll give you a sheet showing piles of coins that need adding up.  Euros are one of the currencies available, so it's great for doing numbers in a different way and for some cultural input.

Classtools SMS Generator:   Use this generator to create authentic-looking SMS dialogues.  Something to make dialogues a bit more interesting!

Festisite is still one of my favourites, for making word spirals, hearts and waves.  I use the wave setting for word snakes.  Since I last wrote about the site, it's undergone some changes:
Type in the words that you want to be in the spiral, heart or wave, then select "Printable Document". This means that it will generate a PDF of your finished word shape.  I select 26pt font, and A3 size paper. This means that you'll get a large word shape which will be nice and clear when you paste it into your document.  Then click on "Download" and you'll get the PDF with your word shape in the middle.  You can then screen-capture it and paste it into your resource as required.

The Tools for Educators Board Game generator is mentioned frequently on social media.  There are various different kinds of games, and you can use images and text or just images.  Here's one with fruits and vegetables:
I also like the AtoZ teacher stuff Word Shape worksheets generator.  I like to use these word shapes as a step towards memorising spelling.  The only slight downfall is that it doesn't recognise accented characters:

Do you know of any other good resource generators?

Saturday, 20 May 2017


A member of the LiPS (Languages in Primary Schools) Facebook group, Ana Woodward, shared her find of this website yesterday.

FlipQuiz can be used to make interactive, "Jeopardy" style quizzes for children to play in class in teams.  You need to sign up for an account, which is free, and then you can start to make your quizzes.  You enter pairs of questions and answers, or it could be English and target language / target language and English.  You can also add an image to each pair as well.  FlipQuiz then generates the game board for you, which you can also customise with different colours and images.

If you sign up for the free account, you have to keep the scores yourself.  The Pro account will keep score for you.

My first flip quiz is about opinions of fruits and vegetables, which I am doing with Year 3 Spanish at the moment:

I think this would be a good alternative to Blue Numbers for reviewing a topic.  It can be used for single items of vocabulary, for short phrases and for longer sentences.  It would also be useful practising translation in Key Stages 3 and 4.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Vocabulary Maps

If you've read my posts over the last few months, you'll know about my passion for Sketchnoting.  I was very interested to see pop into my Inbox last weekend an email about Vocabulary Maps.

Vocabulary Maps are the brainchild of Tom and Susi in the Czech Republic.  They are mind maps which show the links between nouns, adjectives, verbs, phrases and idioms within a certain topic.  The pictures are a very important part of each map, and they help to embed the vocabulary via the visual memory.

If we look at the Vocabulary Map for bird, for example, it links to nouns such as eye, tail and feather, and also phrases and idioms such as bird's eye view, the early bird catches the worm and to take somebody under your wing.  Egg links to nouns, verbs such as whisk, fry and scramble as well as sayings and idioms.

I have been in touch with Tom this week to find out more about the Vocabulary Maps.  He says:
"...vocabulary maps are suitable for VISUAL LEARNERS - learners of a second language, a teacher's aid, homeschooling parents, young native speakers, special education students or even just brushing up on vocabulary in a foreign language.. pretty much everyone, it just depends on how you choose to use the maps and that you like visual learning."

At the moment the maps are available in English, German, Czech and Spanish, with French in development.

Tom and Susi are crowd-funding via Kickstarter at the moment.  Why not back them and have a go at using the vocabulary maps.  I have!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Enriching English vocabulary

Our curriculum for Languages in Key Stage 2 says that through learning a new language, children should:

  • broaden their vocabulary
  • know how (key features and patterns) differ from English
I don't know about you, but I find it very difficult to teach new words in French or Spanish without (a) linking them to English cognates and (b) thinking of English words that are linked to the new words that aren't necessarily cognate.

For example, last week I was working on the -er sound with Year 5.  Our picture was a chevalier and so when we heard the -er sound, we held up our lance.  I asked the children if they knew an English word that sounded a bit like chevalier and described a knight perfectly.  I was alluding to 'chivalrous', and it wasn't a word they had come across.  We discussed the meaning, and I suggested they used it in their next piece of English writing when instead of 'courteous' or 'polite'.

I do this a lot.  We use the new words that we are learning to enrich our English vocabulary.  We are building bridges between the new language and English (all the time talking about why they are often similar) and using knowledge of one to help the other.  This is another weapon in our arsenal for those headteachers who do not value language learning in their primary schools.

I have started to make a list of the links like this that we can make with French and Spanish.

These are open Google documents.  Please feel free to add any words that you mention to your classes!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

French festivals and celebrations

Festivals and Celebrations are a part of the new GCSE syllabus, and we are always looking for cultural aspects to include in our French lessons in Key Stage 2.  Yesterday's post had a list of Spanish special days, so today here is the list for French.  Again, if I have missed any, please let me know in the comments.

You can download my French Festivals and Celebrations Tarsia and dominoes here.

1st January
New Year's Day
6th January
2nd February
14th February
Valentine's Day
February, leading up to Lent
Tuesday in February
Shrove Tuesday
The Lemon Festival
Easter Monday
20th March
International Francophonie Day
1st April
April Fool’s Day
1st May
Labour Day
8th May
VE Day
last Sunday in May
Mother’s Day
3rd Sunday in June
Father’s Day
21st June
Music Day
the Tour de France
14th July
Bastille Day
15th August
Assumption of Mary
beginning of September
the return to school
1st November
All Saints' Day
11th November
the Armistice, Remembrance Day
24th December
Christmas Eve
25th December
31st December
New Year's Eve

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Spanish fiestas and festivals

A member of the Languages in Primary Schools (LiPS) Facebook group was asking yesterday which special Spanish days are commonly taught as part of the cultural element of the Key Stage 2 curriculum.  Celebrations and festivals are also a part of the new GCSE course in Languages.

Here is a list of all the popular fiestas and días festivos.  If I have missed any that are celebrated widely or across the country, or that are popular fiestas from elsewhere in the Hispanic world, please put it in a comment and I'll add it to the list.

You can download my Días Festivos Tarsia and dominoes from here.

1st January
New Year
5th January
Parade of the Three Kings
6th January
Day of the Three Kings / Epiphany
el Día de San Valentín
14th February
Valentine’s Day
14th February
Friendship Day
Carnivals (take place Thursday before Shrove Tuesday to Shrove Tuesday)
15th-19th March
The Falles
19th March
St Joseph’s Day / Father’s Day
Holy Week
23rd April
St George's Day
23rd April
Book Day
April / May
Seville April Fair (takes place in the 3rd week after Semana Santa)
1st May
Labour Day
1st Sunday in May
Mother’s Day
10th June
Corpus Christi
last week of June
St John festivals
7th July
St Fermin’s Day
15th August
Assumption of Mary
last Wednesday in August
Tomato-throwing festival
12th October
Spain’s national day
12th October
Day of the Spanish-speaking world / Columbus Day
31st October – 2nd November
Day of the Dead (not Spain)
1st November
All Saints' Day
6th December
Constitution Day
8th December
Day of the Immaculate Conception
24th December
Christmas Eve
25th December
Christmas Day
28th December
Day of the Holy Innocents (like April Fools’ Day)
31st December
New Year’s Eve