Wugs

The wug test is something you do to prove that young children are internalising the rules of the English language. You show them a wug, and there is a short dialogue: “This is a wug. Now there are two of them. There are two _________ ?” Most children over two or three will know the answer is wugs.

I was just googling this and found there’s a wealth of wug related material.

Firstly, there’s a lovely website with many of the original drawings, from 1958.

This is quoted in the wikipedia page for Jean Gleason, who devised the test and a bunch of others I’d not seen before. “This is a dog with QUIRKS on him. He is all covered in QUIRKS. He is a _________ dog.” and even better, “This is a very tiny wug. What would you call a very tiny wug? This wug lives in a house. What would you call a house a wug lives in?” which prompted the commenters to speculate – wuggery? wug-wam? wugloo?

Then this fabulous cartoon.

breeding wugs

Then this…

wug life

Some lovely comments on Arnold Zwicky’s blog.

I once tried to use wugs as a spring board to talking about German plurals but it proved counter productive. We got a little bit obsessed with wugs and kinda didn’t pay a lot of attention to the actual real point of the lesson.

Oh look, you can even get a wug mug!

Music to learn verbs to

I’ve been doing avoir to the Pink Panther theme since finding this lovely TES resource at the very start of my teaching career.

Last week I found I didn’t really have anything for haben and wasn’t that impressed with my options. I went googling and found some absolutely lovely Mozart songs for both key German verbs that are very catchy, slightly silly, and will be used by me for ages to come.

I even wonder if we can get them into the soundtrack for foreign trips.

(slightly chipmunky, also very reminiscent of Sound of Music – I can imagine curtain-clad pirouetting alpine children singing these)

(This is from the Magic Flute and I’m quite interesting in trying to find sheet music. It’s classic choral harmony and I can’t hear it without trying to busk through all the parts)

This is also a great excuse for singing the Queen of the Night song. Not that I would ever do that in front of a class (ahem!).

Up until now I had been doing both sein and être to the tune of Michael Finnegan. You have to include the English in this to work as well. “Ich bin, I am, du bist you are, er ist he is…” and so on.

Both sein and être also work nicely to the Mission Impossible theme. You can fit versions of the whole verb both to the bass introduction and the treble theme once that kicks in.

There is also this balmy and awesome aller song to complete the trio of vital French irregular verbs.

The images are starting to be dated, and some classes can be obsessed with the visuals whilst not listening to the actual French, but it still plays well with most groups. I generally use it with older classes as we start really working on the near future tense. Using mixed / boy and girl bands to explain ils and elles is inspired and chimes much better with students than “on the day the priest visits the convent, they turn from elles to ils.” (although I still tell that story too)

If you are actually going to sing the songs yourself to your class, you need to practise privately before trying to do it with everyone, so you can be consistent with your underlay (how the words fit the tune.) This is why several bemused colleagues have put their head around my classroom door in the last week to find me singing Pink Panther in a darkened classroom. Even my set of personal pronoun hand gestures isn’t moving enough to turn the occupancy lighting back on.

These wonderful youtube videos mean you can use song to teach verbs even if you are the sort of teacher who does not sing yourself.

Stop press – here’s a version of the Pink Panther powerpoint converted to a youtube video!

My differentiation on this – ALL do the jazz hands on vous allez MOST sing all the words SOME sing in tune.

GCSE results

I’m a little fascinated by the table that Steve Smith has reproduced here which stretches the not inconsiderable period from 1993, including 1994 when I got my A* in French, all the way to today, including a small group of students I taught. Of all the people getting GCSE grades in French in 2014, I taught 0.008% of them for less than half their GCSE! Go me! There were 13,000 of us who got A* when I did and 16,000 this year.

All of this slightly silly numbercrunching led my friend Matthew to produce this graph

french

And I wondered about the relative popularity of French, German, and Spanish, went back to the amazing home of GCSE data tables and produced this graph:

mfl entries graph

Spanish is clearly now more popular than German and is continuing to climb, but is a long way away from “replacing French” as this Independent article claims.

Some other points – you can see why it is hard to get a languages teaching job if you have no French at all. And yet it is increasingly common for strong languages graduates only ever to have had the opportunity to study one language at school.

The Indy article speaks of Spanish as an important world language gaining in popularity but I’d argue this is a very North / South American perspective. German is far more common in Europe as this fascinating Wikipedia paragraph points out:

German is the main language of approximately 95 to 100 million people in Europe, or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian (with 144 million speakers), above French (with 66.5 million) and English (with 64.2 million).

I guess we are not talking European Union languages for the factoid about Russia to be true. Spanish languishes in 5th place in Europe.

I left university in 2000 with a 2:1 in French and German with an equal emphasis on the two languages. French has always been my stronger language and I still have a much wider vocabulary and more comfortable grip on the grammar. By the end of my degree I felt a bit of a failure in German – my language module marks were the lowest, I was very poor at university level translation, and I pretty much made a promise never to become a German teacher.

On the way into teaching, however, I was made to feel that my German skills were vitally important, and that anyone who could vaguely pronounce Staatsangehörigkeit or spell Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher had a moral responsibility to wade into the modern languages battle and staunch the flood of candidates away from German.

My students regularly ask why they can’t learn Spanish and I only have flippant answers. There’s no-one in school who could teach it, for starters. If you want to learn Spanish, the school would have to fire all the current language teachers and hire new ones. My favourite flippant response to “Why can’t I learn Spanish?” is “I’m not stopping you. Feel free.”

Checklists in MFL – building on marking

Frenchteacher.net has a post about checklists which is helpful, taking Mr H’s idea and running with it.

Here’s a way I’ve been using something similar to raise achievement in all my KS3 classes this year.

Our assessment scheme means all KS3 students do two or three pieces of formal, levelled writing which contributes to their termly reports. Last year I found they were too happy to keep making the same mistakes and not make any progress in their writing, so this year my idea to prevent this was to get them to look at their previous piece of writing before planning the next.

Since we are trying to help them prepare for GCSE controlled assessment the KS3 writing they do is planned and prepared in class, learned off by heart and then regurgitated under test conditions with maybe a cue card to help.

Our school has the Purple Pens of Progress as this year’s Ofsted gimmick – we mark in green and they respond in purple. So at the start of every planning lesson I make them write, in purple pen in their book:

My target level is ___.
This time I am aiming for ___.
To achieve this I must write __ sentences and include
____________________
____________________
____________________
My feedback from last time was
____________________
____________________
____________________

This makes them engage with the marking feedback I spent hours writing on their last assessment (which is copied by them to a sheet in APP folders which they carry around with them at all times, so they should always have a copy). It makes them engage with the marking criteria to preempt conversations like “But I wrote LOADS!! Why didn’t I get a L6?” They know before they begin what features they need to include and a minimum length for their writing piece.

The most common things I tell them they need to include are

* three sentences in French learned off by heart (for people going L2 -> L3)

* five sentences and CORN (L3 -> L4)

(Corn is connectives, opinions, reasons and negatives – they have sheets in their book and I have a display – the CORNwall – that helps with this.)

* 7 – 10 sentences, CORN and another tense (L4 -> L5)

* 10 – 12 sentences, CORN, two other tenses, “very few mistaks”.

(The Y9 helpsheet talks about tenses and accuracy and has “very few mistaks” in it as my little joke to amuse myself. It was a loooooong time through the year before any student noticed.)

Food topic in MFL

We’re just moving into a food topic with Y8 at the minute and with my five classes last year and four this year, it’s now something I’ve had a bit of practice in.

My first lesson is about breakfast food and opinions, so it starts with a textbook vocab list and pictures – students have to match the target language words with the pictures and then write a vocab list in their books.

Then I get them to generate English words to fit the sentences “I like bread because it’s _____” and “I don’t like cheese because it’s _____” and they go off to the dictionaries to find the words they need. They need to be able write sentences like this – opinions and reasons – to get through level 4 in the National Curriculum for modern foreign languages and do well in their end of term exams.

I like doing it this way because it means each different class has a slightly different word bank and when I’m marking 250 versions of the same thing there is enough variety to keep it interesting for me.

They have to run the words by me at first so that I can advise and guide a little – they will need delicious and disgusting, so they have to have those. If they want to look up “sweet” I make very sure they know the difference between “sweet” and “sweat”. I can point them in the right direction to make sure they are looking for adjectives and not nouns, and that they know that the squiggle represents the headword again and so on. I can stop them trying to find dialect or youth speak words that I know won’t be in the dictionary as well as talking them down from things that are too complicated. (“mouth-watering” last year turned out to be “qui met l’eau à la bouche” which didn’t fit properly with parce que c’est and so meant an awful lot of corrections in one set of books)

This year’s students have all wanted to know the word “bland” which caught me a bit on the hop. Happily our native speaker teaching assistant could tell me the French is “fade” without me having to resort to Wordreference.com. I didn’t know that word as a 12-year-old, but learned it a little later on at a very memorable family dinner. It turns out they have all learned it in food technology, so it’s nice to have a bit of cross-curricular working.

I’m currently avoiding marking a set of books where some of the words they went for were mouldy, divine, and rank, so I am getting sentences like j’adore les croissants, parce qu’ils sont divins, and je déteste le fromage parce que c’est nauséabond.

Which is nice.

A little later on to get them using connectives more creatively, and get them practising future and past tenses for levels 5 and 6, I will be getting them to do these Barry-Smith-style sheets which I have put on the TES.

Writing about Food (French)

Writing about Food (German)

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…