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 slew of MFL resources

Earlier in the year our department had language-specific INSET from Barry Smith who left us inspired and attempting some new types of activity.

At the heart of his training were these questions, which form five of seven of his thinking. The full seven are in this blog post.

What do my kids find hard? Why?

How can I teach differently so the hard bits become accessible?

How can I do that without dumbing down?

How can kids hide in my lessons?

How can I pre-empt the most common errors through precise and concise teaching?

Some activities he suggested for that included: vocab sheets with exercises in which you tell them what to write; “Find the French” exercises in which you give them really specific co-ordinates to find the language; and dictionary tasks where you pre-empt the “it’s not in the dictionary!” wail by checking the word is there and giving them the dictionary page number to back it up. Tricky in my classroom where I have a variety of different dictionaries!

Below are links to resources I have made that follow these principles and that I have been using successfully with my classes.

These are resources that expect all children to be working individually in silence; that are really specific about what you want from them, and that they can check carefully to see if they are doing it right. Children can’t hide because they can’t talk, they have no excuse for not completing the work, and simply walking around can show you who is doing it and who is not.

I have tried to include everything on the sheets that is needed to complete the sheets, because in common with many ML classrooms, I have a number of students who despite using a word every week; despite three years of German education, and despite having the word stuck into the front of their books and pasted to the wall, cannot remember that aber is the German for but.

Since they require individual silent work, and minimal expert input once the resource has been made, they are also helpful for meaningful cover lessons and detention work and for sending up as work to excluded children.

I thought my students would hate these tasks, but I have had positive feedback from them. The overwhelming majority produce good language in their books using them. I have had several comments to the effect that they enjoy the structure and clarity of the task. The most vociferous complaints come from the sort of student who turned up with no intention of doing any work anyway and resent not being able to hide idleness for a lesson.

World of Work – French

Job titles – dictionary exercise

Family jobs sheet – what do you parents / siblings do, do they like it. Some past tense but mostly L4 sentences

Reading comprehension crossword

Future plans vocab sheet

(used in combination, family jobs and future plans just about includes enough vocab for students to write a L6 piece.)

World of Work – German

Job titles – dictionary exercise

Family jobs sheet – what do you parents / siblings do, do they like it. Some past tense but mostly L4 sentences

Future plans vocab sheet

(used in combination, family jobs and future plans just about includes enough vocab for students to write a L6 piece.)

Work experience “find German” task

House and home – French

Last weekend at my house – a resource for introducing or reinforcing perfect tense including irregular verbs. With lesson plan ppt and extension task crossword.

My ideal home – vocab sheet with set sentences to write, including some interesting vocab like shark pond, space ship in Mars etc.

Media – French

Writing film reviews in French

Mobile phones and young people – structured approach to authentic material that gets learners to find the language then rebuild it into paragraphs of their own.

TV opinions, my favourite TV show

Media – German

Writing film reviews in German

Review of film Turbo – a highly complex task considering A Level if not degree-level standard authentic German that nevertheless I put in front of my KS3 students without too much whingeing.

Please let me know if you like them / use them / find mistakes!

Please rate and review on TES as that makes it easier for others to find them.

Please share similar things you do!

Especially German as German word order makes some of these tasks much harder.

Annoyingly, TES won’t let me add a link to this blog from each of these resources.

Random snapshots of my whiteboard

I started taking photos of the things I wrote on my whiteboard as a student teacher – it would normally be names of students who needed rewarding or punishment on the school’s computer system, and since I wasn’t in my own room I would have to take a record with me to type up in the staffroom.

A bit later I started taking the occasional snap of things I’d done in lessons I quite liked, or wanted to use again, or needed a record of the vocab I had given one class so that I could use it again with another.

Most of the time, I don’t spend a lot of time writing stuff on the board, because my handwriting isn’t very good, especially if I’m going quickly, and because it’s almost always easier and quicker for me to put my 60WPM typing into practice and make a quick powerpoint slide. Standard advice for new teachers is also not to turn your back on a class for longer than necessary as they might kick off when you’re not looking. Judging by mess in my classroom at the end of most days, there is still a fair bit of chucking stuff around the room going on when I am not looking.

Here’s a random selection:

Snapshots of my whiteboard

Introducing forming the past tense to Y8 in context of sport. We attempt to drip feed past tense phrases in lexically throughout all they learn, but we focus on getting them to understand better early in Y8.

Fiddly extra bits is not a technical grammar term, that would be “complement” or “predicate” but I’m not confident enough that those are correct. I’m also focussing on the AU part of jouer AU foot as students often omit this, and those who have learned German first pronounce it wrong. I have countered this with two little classroom games: “I say JOUER, you say AU! Jouer (AU) Jouer (AU)” and “How do we pronounce this? Yes that’s right, as in AU my goodness I can’t believe you’re still getting this wrong!!”

Snapshots of my whiteboard

Don’t know why I took this. Dictionary exercise to stage into better L4 sentences with opinions and reasons. J’aime le fruit parce que c’est sucré. I tell them they need CORN for Level 4 – connectives, opinions, reasons, negatives. Je n’aime pas les croissants parce qu’ils sont dégoûants ticks three of those criteria off straight away.

NB every time I have done this lesson there have been students who have confused the word they are looking up and come up with transpiration, so now I make sure I disambiguate sweet and sweat before we start. There are still some who don’t listen.

Snapshots of my whiteboard

Sport again, but with able Y9 so we add a variety of adverbs of frequency to try and get more sophisticated writing.

“Avec les extra-terrestres” – with aliens – is part of a little bit of fun I’m having trying to motivate boys with weird extra bits of vocab. Happily it works with girls too! The criteria say they have to use connectives, nothing about whether it has to be true. Indeed “It doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be French” is a bit of a mantra of mine. Last year in “describe your ideal house” we added “un bassin de requins” into the things we might have there (a shark pond). This year for sports I’m including avec les extra-terrestres and avec mon ami imaginaire.

We've been doing some maths in tutor time based on numbers in the news this morning

This was turning facts from the morning news bulletin in the car on the commute to school into a numeracy activity for my tutor group.

NB, “how old will you be in 2033?” was a less tricky question than I had envisaged. “Um, sir, we’ll be 33, of course.”

Going to try school subject Cluedo on Y7 in my penultimate lesson this term. #mfltwitterati

This was the first time I tried Cluedo, a speaking activity I got from Dom’s MFL.

It worked really well, so I do it now with all classes that will be quiet enough to let me explain the instructions. It can easily be adapted to use a wholly target language approach. In this case, students love the opportunity to say nasty or nice things about other teachers, although I do stress that we are doing a GRAMMAR exercise about FRENCH and it should not be assumed that they are writing truthful accounts of other real people in school.

On teaching practice, the German textbook Echo 3 got students to compare teachers using comparatives and superlatives. After a gale of laughter and some dictionary use I went over to find “Herr S ist der schwitzigste Lehrer” – Mr S is the sweatiest teacher. Can’t fault the German language skill, and if the task is motivating, go with it!

The Cluedo task above was used several ways in the same lesson – I usually play the game once – this takes 10-15 minutes as a whole class activity – and follow it up with “write two sentences based on this frame.” If students have already done a lot of writing, the extension might be to play the game in groups on tables as further speaking activity. Then, often, we will look at ways to extend the same sentence even further. The task above eventually resulted in this poster, which I still think I should frame and stick to my door:

Hmm mm.

One final thing on Cluedo – there was at least one student last year whose writing was improved by a whole level simply because he memorised a past tense sentence generated by an activity like this, and regurgitated it in his writing test. Brilliant. If some can do that, then it’s worth continuing with the activity.

Most awesome German words

Some awesome German words

It all started with Schifffahrt, a fab word with a ridiculous triple F brought to you by the Neuschreibregeln in the late 90s. Earlier spelling rules said that triple letters that are the logical consequence of joining Schiff to Fahrt, should in fact just have the two, because, you know, that would sensible.

Then, after I did most of my German learning, the orthographic reform came in, throwing everything I knew into confusion and making the difference between long and short vowels crucial into whether you use ß or not, and adding in triple consonants if they are logically there.

For a while I was under the misapprehension that it was Grossstadt, but Duden says it has to be Großstadt.

But talking about Schifffahrt recently has unearthed other German friends’ favourite three-consonant words:

Seeelefant (elephant seals)

Programmmusik (“programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative”)

If one triple consonant just isn’t doing it for you, there’s also Flussschifffahrt.

And triple consonants are just the half of it. There are also the super long words. The UK press was full of the Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz over the summer.

But when I showed some of the stories to German friends on choir week, it was a completely new one to them – and they pointed me in the direction of the Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher. You can see one of those in the video below.

What are your awesomest German words?

Edit 6.x.13

Some more awesome words from this BBC discussion:

Imbissstube (how could I forget that?!)

Fußballländerspiel (international football game)

Balletttänzer (ballet dancer)

Betttuch (as opposed to Handtuch or Taschentuch)

Schusssicher (bullet proof)

Kaffeeernte (coffee harvest)

Useful ML GCSE grammar resources

Googling random French words looking for stuff to teach birthdays and celebrations (*), I found a useful booklet with hundreds of grammar drills, gap fills, copy-and-conjugate, match the sentence starts and ends. They were pitched at able GCSE candidates and had lots of useful vocab. I was a little worried to start with that I’d accidentally found something I wasn’t supposed to be able to have without paying, but on closer inspection it turned out to have come from the Northern Irish curriculum agency.

I imagine there will be areas where the NI GCSE does not quite match the specs of AQA or other English exam boards but there is still plenty of top notch useful information.

There are microsites for French, Italian, Spanish and German, and although I haven’t explored the higher level at all, there are also productive-looking links for GCE A Level materials.

The main useful booklet I found was “Resource Pack Expansion Pack” – I haven’t even looked yet in the Resource pack.

One further source of usefulness, digging back in my memory, was pointed out by Steven Smith of frenchteacher.net. If you have run out of past papers to try (and some schools I know of have a compulsory “we do a past paper every half term in KS4 and 5″ policy) it’s worth crossing the Irish Sea to try the archive of French exams over there.

(*) I just couldn’t stop myself: after we’d done “fêter” in five tenses, I pointed out you could do all the same for “peter” – to fart. Si j’étais poli, je ne peterais pas. Il faut que je pète.

Zentangling Siena

Now that the postcard has finally arrived I can share some patterns I found in the Duomo di Siena.

First some background!

Zentangling is a deceptively simple meditation / doodling crossover that I have been playing with for a few months. I see from searching these pages however, that I haven’t blogged about it yet (although you will find some photos of my art here.)

I started off using the book One Zentangle A Day but have fallen way way by the wayside.

Zentangling’s premise is that you can produce quite complex interesting art “one stroke at a time” – there is a method that helps you build up patterns by following a series of strokes. The various different patterns – called tangles – are “taught” by using diagrams like this one that shows you what order to do the strokes in. Tanglepatterns.com is a brilliant online index of loads of different patterns and places to find their step diagrams.

At the time I found out about these for the first time, it had recently been creativity week at school – a system we use where all the residential trips and work experience placements happen at the same time to avoid lots of small groups of students being out at different times. Those staff and students left in school have a week off timetable doing something completely different. So I half wonder whether I could use this if there ever comes a year when I am in school and not out on a FL visit.

Since starting, I have been intrigued by the patterns I see around me and wonder whether they could inspire new tangles. Re-reading the instructions about the difference between a tangle and any old pattern perhaps not.

Although I have spotted interesting patterns all around, the cathedral in Siena was simply on another planet. Every available surface is completely covered in art, much of it representative, but much also based on recurring patterns. Indeed as an English protestant, used to much plainer places of worship, I kinda felt the Lego cathedral was a little de trop.

In any case, here are the tangles I drew on a postcard to similarly afflicted friends, followed by bad, flashless, cameraphone pictures of the things I saw that were the pattern in the wild, in the cathedral.

Duomo zentangles

Duomo zentangles

Duomo zentangles

Finally the right-hand O came from an illuminated symbol in a beautiful manuscript of plainsong in the crypt.

Duomo zentangles

There are strong resemblances, to my mind, of the official tangle “Mooka” which is explained in this video:

To loop it all back to education – and even to languages – a wonderful post by blogger and primary languages expert Clare Seccombe, who is currently entering a competition inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels (which I failed to go and see whilst in Durham this summer) and European Day of Languages.

GBBO Back!

This little trailer for the new series of GBBO made me chortle out loud.

(Did they really get a choir and orchestra in specially to sing “and he shall bake for ever and ever…” or am I mishearing the start?!)

I shall miss the start because I shall be in Italy (#BOHOF).

It reminds me nonetheless that our Y9 first language courses start with a media module, and that last year I wrote some reading comps in French and German which I shall copy below should anyone care to use them or highlight the howlers in my TL.


Je regarde très peu la télévision – environs 3 heures par semaine. En regardant la télé je mange souvent mon repas. En ce moment il y a deux émissions par semaine qui me sont importants. Tous les lundis à 20.30, je regarde Only Connect. C’est un jeu télévisé où les questions sont tous très difficiles et les joueurs sont très intelligents. Chaque mardi, le soir, je regarde Great British Bakeoff, qui est un programme de télé-réalité et aussi une émission de cuisine. C’est sur chaine BBC2 et l’émission dure une heure. C’est plus longue que Only Connect. Le programme cherche le meilleur chef de cuisine de Grande Bretagne. Ça commence avec douze candidats et on en perd un chaque semaine. J’aime bien tous les deux émissions, mais Only Connect, c’est mon émission préférée en ce moment.

(I especially liked “on en perd un”, I hope that’s not wrong!)


Ich sehe nur selten fern, nur etwas 3 Stunden pro Woche. Während des Fernsehens, esse ich oft mein Abendessen. Neulich gibt es zwei Fernsehsendungen, die mir wichtig sind. Jeden Montag um 20.30 sehe ich gern Only Connect. Das ist eine Quizsendung mit Victoria Coren. Die Fragen sind schwierig und die Mitspieler sind sehr intelligent. Ich gucke auch Great British Bakeoff, eine Realityshow und eine Kochsendung. Sie läuft Dienstags um 20.00 Uhr im zweiten Programm. Die Sendung sucht der beste Bäcker des Vereinigten Königreich. Am Anfang gab es sechzehn Mitspieler und jede Woche verlieren wir einen davon. Beide Sendungen sind toll, aber Only Connect ist meine Lieblingssendung im Moment.

Comp questions

How much TV do I watch each week ?
What do I often do whilst watching TV?
What are the questions and the players like on Only Connect?
How many contestants did they start off with on Great British Bakeoff?
Which of the two programmes is my favourite right now?

I also had an extension task with Find the French for… and work out genders for (which was very revealing on the students’ ability to understand how un/une related to le/la.)

After this I pretty much stopped writing blocks of text for fear of the faults I make. It’s got to be better, most times, to find where someone else has already written something, and nick it and simplify it for the classroom.

Alex Foster and the impossible summer projects

As part of the school trip to Germany we watched a bit of a Harry Potter film marathon and I disclosed to a colleague that I have never read the Harry Potter books. I was promptly given the task of reading them all over the summer holidays. On Kindle, they’re quite expensive – The Complete Harry Potter Collection will set you back almost forty quid, as will a set of paperbacks. Harry Potter – The Complete 8-Film Collection [DVD] [2011] is, however, much more affordable.

Fortunately I have friends who were more than happy to lend me the complete set and last night, the first night of the holidays, I finished Philosopher’s Stone and a bottle of pale cream sweet sherry.

In a way, it is a shame to have seen the films before reading the books. Knowing all the plot points in advance it’s fun to spot the red herrings and the seeds of what’s going on (eg Quirrell’s turban). I find it a shame that I cannot picture any of the characters without having the famous movie actors in my head. Still, I’ve seen at most three of the films so the later books will still be new to me.

It struck me as I read the first parts, in which Harry finds out who he is, that he is a celebrity in the magic world and the muggles are oblivious, how much the world has changed in the sixteen years since HP was first published. There can only be a very few people picking up HP books now who don’t already know who Harry is – in fact, they know Harry is a wizard before Harry does, if you see what I mean.

In addition to Harry Potter, the usual ton of “ain’t nobody got time for that” household chores to do, I also have to learn at least one, preferably two of the Japanese alphabets – hiragana for sure, maybe also katakana. Memrise is brilliant for hiragana – I am using this course which has some brilliant mems, including ke as a keg and na as a naughty nun praying in front of a cross.

ke hiragana - looks like a keg

na hiragana - looks like a naughty nun praying to a cross

The Android app Hiragana Learn Experiment is also incredibly helpful, with three ways of getting you to learn the symbols – choose symbol for sound; type sound for symbol; and an incredibly picky draw the symbol task.