News from the coop

Bertha, who joined us in October last, was not long for this world.

Two weeks ago, she was clearly unwell – bleeding from her rear end. On closer inspection it seemed she had a prolapsed vent and that Persephone had pecked at it and caused an injury. I read up on what you have to do, and that was bathe her to get the blood off and see what was going on, gently push the vent back in and isolate her from the attentions of other chickens. Chickens are cannibals. Who knew?

To keep her safe, I cleaned her up and then brought her into the house in a cat carrier we have repurposed for fowl use. She was definitely in a bad way on Saturday night – I put her in the box, closed the door, slightly trapping her tail feathers. She didn’t move for 12 hours.

However, the following morning, she was clearly a bit perkier. Opening the conservatory door she cheeped at us, and when we started to feed her again – she’d been starved so she wouldn’t lay another egg and injure her vent again – she went for the food. Thinking she was well on the mend, I put her back in the run. But not a happy outcome – a few mornings later and she was no longer with us.

So, a few weeks later and I’ve restocked the coop. This time it’s new season birds, very small, and still a month or maybe two from laying.

New hens

They are a Copperhead Maran and a Barred Rock. The Barred Rock reminds P of a falcon and so is probably going to be called Peregrine. Is there a feminine version? Peregrina? No name yet for the copperhead who, we are promised, will iridesce in the sun.

We dropped them into the chicken palace along with some seeds and mealworms and there was vanishingly little squabbling. A little bit of arguing nothing too serious, so I left them to it.

Long after dark I went back down the garden to see how it was going. Persephone has now been used to us for so long that when we go down the garden in the middle of the night, she wakes up and comes to see us. For too long over the winter I’ve not been home in daylight and all of the henwrangling has been done after dark. The new birds know nothing of this and were sleeping peacefully in the hen house.

Rhabarberbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbierbarbärbel

Last year I was obsessed briefly with German words with three repeated letters in them – Flussschifffahrt, Seeelefant, Fussballlandesspiel, etc. Most recently it has occurred to me that my Kollegin who kindly makes me a brew in the mornings as I get into school could be referred to as a Teeengel – tea angel.

I was aided and abetted in my quest for cool German words by German friends I met in my summer choir and who now drop by on Facebook every so often to share a gem.

In my inbox this evening was this most charming video.

There’s a 2007 blog post with a version of the text in it, but it’s not a perfect match for this video.

Ideas for teaching MFL in classes with weak literacy

A plea came through on the MFL Resources mailing list this week for ideas to use for languages teaching in classes with weak literacy skills, for whom sentences are a challenge.

This year, one of my performance management objectives is about improving my teaching across the ability range, so I have been collecting ideas, and I bashed out the following list of things to consider.

Firstly, there is a lot of overlap between KS3 students with weak literacy and the sorts of things primary language teachers do in KS2, so read up on primary languages. I can’t recommend Clare Seccombe highly enough – nearly every week she blogs something useful I can use in my secondary classroom.

Somebody’s blog recently had calligrams made up from parts of the body, so you draw a man out of words, and his feet say “pied pied pied” and his legs “jambe jambe jambe” and so on. Clare wrote about this too

Presenting paradigms of verbs as flowers or spiders – I had a practice on my whiteboard recently, and students liked this.

Practising drawing verb spiders and verb flowers ready for Y7 tomorrow

Half of the battle of teaching verbs in full paradigm is getting students to understand what you are doing, so I start this with personal pronouns in English, with a set of hand gestures (I, you, he, she with a single hand for singular, we you they with both arms for plural) and then an example of a full paradigm English verb, before finally moving on to target language pronouns and verb patterns. Even this is challenging with a room full of students who refuse to accept that “you woz” is not a correct use of English. (Even that I can understand – if everyone you know except teachers says “you woz” why shouldn’t you?)

Washing lines. If you work in a school where the facilities management people are not paranoid about things blowing the breeze and triggering burglar alarms, you can string lines across your classroom and get students to create things to hang from it. This can be bunting, posters, shapes of animals, with target language words on. If you are teaching clothes, it can be a washing line; a few weeks from now we will be celebrating April Fool’s Day which in France means poissons d’avril. They could be attached to a washing / fishing line instead of following children around the school and cluttering up every other classroom. (see also: paper aeroplanes)

Simple magic tricks go down very well with younger classes.

Cootie-catchers / fortune tellers / origami. Fortune tellers get them to practice spelling some simple colours and counting in the TL over and over again. Here are some links with resources and ideas: Dom’s MFL Page and TES.

Wordsearches are sometimes banned in some departments as the students almost always need to be working at a higher level than on individual words. And yet they have their place, especially at the start of the topic, and for getting students to focus carefully on every letter as a task to improve spelling. A nice twist on wordsearches is to make bespoke ones for individual classes and you hide the names of all the students in it as well as the TL words you want them to practice. This is easily done with electronic lists of students names and online serdworch generators. In my files I make sure I keep a list of the words I wanted them to search for and then to change the file from class to class I can add in the students’ names. To get from word level to sentence level, I have in the past got them to search for words in different categories (opinions, connectives, etc) and got them to use the words they find to build sentences.

Minibooks are something we spent a little time on in PGCE year and I have found there is a huge variety of different templates you can create reasonably easily. I can’t praise Clare Seccombe’s minibooks enough – this term we have done “row of shops” minibooks with older students who promised me they were not in fact too old for that kind of thing and hexagon minibooks to practice time, and for school subjects – pictures one side, sentences on other. The row of shops mini-books are now on display and getting lots of jealous comments from the classes who didn’t get to do them.

Treasure or Trash sorting exercises work with all sorts of vocab – you give them a pile of cards of words and they have to get the ones that meet your criteria into one pile and discard the rest.

Triptico resources – find 10 and word magnets are the ones I use most, and they’re free to all. It’s a beautiful and flexible set of apps to use on a smartboard, but that will work with any projector / computer combo. (I don’t have a smartboard and I’m not sure I want one! I do appreciate a large whiteboard and would love to have more than one in my classroom.)

Tarsia jigsaws – a free app from – it’s a pair matching activity that was designed for maths but awesome for languages too. The app gets you to make your own, but you can find somepremade examples here. I tend to give them to students on sheets and they cut them out then make them into puzzles; the first few pairs to finish stick them down on a sheet of paper and use that to help other pairs to complete it. It’s helpful to have a version of the completed puzzle yourself or at least the list of pairs you came up with to use as help, to project as an optional scaffold for the weaker ones. You can make the matching pairs numbers in figures and TL words; words in TL and in English; or for an additional level of challenge, concepts that link (eg les gants / les mains. la voiture / le gaz d’échappement) OK, that last bit is moving away from weak literacy classes somewhat.

There’s an amazing “minimum preparation, maximum effectiveness” games in MFL document on the TES here. This did the rounds on our PGCE year, and I found it again this week. We were doing animals in a class this week, and we ended up with some time at the end so we played “animals heads down thumbs up” – a game I did not know how to play last year, but all classes I’ve tried it with seem to know how to do it already from primary school. For animals, four people had an A4 sheet with an animal name written on it, and the students had to say “Je crois que c’est le (poisson / chien / chat)” (which was on the board as a support) – The class really enjoyed the game. It could be done with any vocab items.

Several lovely ideas in the document above relate to chanting – eg days of week written on board, class chants through over and over, teacher rubs days off one at a time until class can chant days of week from memory. Whole class chanting as one student tries to find hidden object – quietly when student is far away, loudly when student is near. “Chef d’orchestre” – student goes out, class decides on able student whose job it is to change the word that is chanted. When that person changes the word, the people near them change too, until the whole class is chanting the new word. The student who went out has to guess who it is who is changing. You can give them a TL phrase for the guess, or you can just be happy the whole class is chanting French words…

A little note on Viking River Cruises

About a year ago, I gave my contact details to Viking River Cruises. They advertise on TV on something I watch, I disunremember exactly what right now.

I also saw their rather lovely looking boats when we were on a school trip to the Rhineland last summer – there is no question their boats were the swankiest on the river.

Their itineraries also look outstanding. Their most recent mailing details an 8 day rail tour where you go from St Pancras to either Strasbourg or Amsterdam, and for all the of the rest of the time they feed and entertain you. It’s full board on boat. There are excursions to a bunch of World Heritage Sites I’d be thrilled to visit, and the whole trip looks awesome.

Since I signed up for a bit more information, though, they have bombarded me with direct mail – two or three emails a week and at least three glossy brochures in the post every month.

Every so often they send emails designed to allay any fears you might have. What is life like on board? Is the food designed with English people in mind? Don’t tell me I have to eat that foreign muck or talk to the boat staff in anything other than the Queen’s English?

After a while they even sent me a survey with the subtext WE’VE SENT YOU A MILLION BOOKLETS, WHY OH WHY HAVEN’T YOU BOOKED ANYTHING YET YOU INGRATE????

Well, there’s a few reasons.

One, all the beautiful stuff they send make it clear that their target market is heterosexual married couples in their 70s. While, to be honest, quite a lot of our holidays have been surrounded by people like this, with whom we have had quite nice times, I’m slightly less convinced I’d want to be shut up on a boat with then what appears to be precious little respite for 192 hours. Seriously, it looks like you do everything together. Eat together, day trip together, German lessons together.

Two, the lowest possible cost – for a broom cupboard with a porthole below the water line in November – starts at £1500 per person. I’ve never had a package holiday so I don’t quite know what it is we spend on going away. But I’m pretty certain even our most lavish excesses have never amounted to a three grand holiday and we certainly can’t afford it. If we were to spend that much, we’d have to save up a bit more and spring for a slightly nicer room where we have a chance to hide from the monoglot septuagenarians for at least a few hours a day without bumping our knees on the wardrobe when we got up to make tea. And, of course, we’d have to go in school holidays which bumps up the price considerably.

Whilst I’d love to take P on holiday to Germany, I don’t think it’s going to be with Viking any time soon.