The next wodge of 8×5 cards for my Zentangle card index

Over the last month in quiet moments I have made more cards for my index box. The children are beginning to use them and occasionally contribute cards themselves. We had a session where they tried to create a tangle, with varying degrees of success.

The popularity of my club varies wildly, with a classroom full of children on, erm, lunchtimes when it rains and when it is close to freezing outside. Presumably by the summer term I will have no students at all.

An initial thought when starting to make these cards was that when I had enough it might be interesting to scan them and turn them into a deck of cards. There are printers on the internet that can take a set of artwork and print them as 52 playing cards, with or without suits and numbers, for a small sum – the more you print, the less it costs per deck. I think one of the famous blogging CZTs sold a deck of cards in her Etsy store, but didn’t ship to the UK. I think this would be fine for personal use but if I wanted to sell them (eg to other UK teachers interested in the idea of a Zentangle club) it would be awfully complicated from a copyright point of view.

One final set of info before we progress to the tangle designs: here are some sources of information for people wanting to find out more, including the students who come to Zentangle class. – where it all began. Now you can buy equipment, sign up for the newsletter, read the blogs, and learn new tangles as soon as they are published. You can be inspired by the worldwide community of tanglers. – the most comprehensive and organised list of tangles on the internet, along with regular updates and a huge list of suggested string patterns. Well worth the couple of dollars to pay for the PDF index to all of the patterns the author knows. You can use this index for inspiration (eg she suggests printing on card and cutting out all the tangles and putting them into a scrabble bag) or as a reference when you have seen something and are trying to work out its name and how to draw it. – As I write, the main website is suspended. Hopefully it will be back soon. But their youtube channel is still going strong. They have a hundred or so videos showing you how to make the patterns. Perhaps this will make it easier for some people to understand how to make one of the tangles, rather than the step-by-step instructions? I do like the speeded up, machine drawn versions – some of the other hand drawn ones lead me to getting a bit distracted by the state of the manicure. The main website includes a random machine which produces three tangles to use today, if you are struggling to make your choice. I particularly like the sort of stalagmites in their header image, and I can’t work out a name for that pattern, although I think I can see how to draw it.

The Diva’s weekly challenge – The Diva is a CZT with a blog. Every week, she makes a suggestion for people to use in their own tangling, and over the week, a hundred or so people draw a tile to her suggestion. Full instructions are always given, including on how to publish on the internet, and it is fascinating to see how people interpret the same thing differently. I showed the challenge to my students one week, and we all learned how to do “Unbatz” (see below); the following week they asked to see what the current week’s challenge was too. AS yet, no-one has completed a tile within the week that can be shared.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the new cards for my index box:










Knightsbridge variations






Strings - ideas





Zentangle Club

I started a Zentangle club at school on a Monday lunchtime so students can learn about creating Zentangle doodles, edging into mindfulness occasionally, but also just sitting quietly and drawing of a lunchtime.

I started by making a poster and offering lunch passes so people could get through the dinner hall quickly.

My other extra curricula club -  mindfulness and doodling with Zentangle.

The first two weeks, we watched the videos that came with the Zentangle Apprentice kit, all the way from America!

The week after that I made this card to show all that we had learned. The third week, loads more people came, so this card was really useful! I will have to photocopy more when we get back to school.

Summary of what we have learned so far in Zentangle Club.

I think after half term I will go back to basics and show the videos again for the new people.

My only criticism of the Zentangle Apprentice materials is what to do after the children have learned the first 8 tangles. There is clearly lots of potential from just the first ones, but what do we do after that?

At first I thought I would show some more of the Zentangle videos on Youtube in subsequent weeks, and I wondered about borrowing the departmental visualiser and projecting live images of me making tangles.

Then I wondered about making a few cards like this to project in subsequent weeks which give a bunch of new tangles with instructions.

Seven tangles for tomorrow's club. So much more fun than marking.

This didn’t work massively well – perhaps we just need a bit of time working on how to understand the instructions?

Ultimately, I would like to have a huge selection of tangles, each one drawn on a blank 8×5 index card, so that students can pick and choose from the instructions and see what they would like to draw today. Before long, the students should be able to help make the cards themselves, but until then, I’ve had a very happy half term making designs of my own. Each card I have made has the step-by-step instructions and then a sample completed tile using the new tangle.

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

8x5 cards for Zentangle Club index card box

PHSE: three fantastic resources for a lesson about consent

Here are three fantastic resources for a PHSE lesson in sex education on the topic of consent. Definitely something we should be teaching in my view! Some of the material is a little explicit and so this is intended for older teenagers. Of course we can’t teach sex ed without being explicit.

For a starter, here are some quotes from the Aqua song “Barbie Girl” as reimagined by LOLCATS. Barbie Girl dates back to my university days, but it is definitely a song today’s teens still know.

For a detailed, but easy to read exploration of consent, there is a fantastic cartoon on OhJoySexToy. Much of the rest of the website – not at all suitable for the classroom! Even this cartoon may be well outside the comfort zone of many teachers, so review it carefully before introducing it in yours.

Finally a letter from the Guardian “To the girl who accused me of rape“. This is a very tough read – and on the evidence presented, a deeply unfair scenario. However, it touches on some issues that are important to talk about and touch on the themes that we use as our bedrock in sex ed: people who have sex early regret it and that sex is supposed to be between two people who are in a committed long term relationship who love and trust each other, and who are open and honest and able to talk to each other about sex before they actually start trying to do it!

This letter would also be a useful reinforcement to the fact that underage sex is actually illegal, a notion which has been responded to with disbelief from young people. Of course it’s not illegal, everyone is doing it. Erm, a) yes it is illegal, and as the letter shows there are some very serious consequences to consider and b) it’s really, really not the case that everyone is doing it.

All three of these resources are things that crossed my browser from adults saying “I wish this had been part of sex ed when I was at school.” For those of us charged with teaching sex ed, it can be a part of it in our classrooms.


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


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 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.)