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.

Things I stock up on in French supermarkets

As a frequent traveller to French France there are a bunch of things I try and buy a bunch every time I’m over there.

Our recent school trip had the super wheeze of stopping off in a hypermarket instead of using motorway services, which was a really effective way of exposing the students to an opportunity to use their transactional French, and just have a glimpse of every day French life.

And there was also a chance for teachers to shop.

Some things I always, or nearly always buy in French shops:

Coffee filters. So much cheaper in France than England!

Olive oil. Ditto.

Bonne maman jam. A luxury brand in England, but an every day one in France, so it’s cheaper over there. I have very pedestrian tastes, so I pretty much only buy fraise, and sometimes gelée de mûres, but there is a huge range of fruits available too. P is rather partial to châtaigne – chestnuts – which comes in a jar with a brown gingham top.

Speculoos spread. We found this for the first time last year, but it has since become available in English supermarkets too. See also Dan Lepard’s recipe made with English mixed spice.

Carambars. This is a very recent addition to my lexicon, influenced by Dom’s MFL blog. Delicious sweets, each one with a truly corny French joke on. You can also make them into a tarte. I’m afraid I bought four bags – two fruit flavour, one original, and one pâté de nougat, and I have just sat for days troughing them. I don’t understand all the jokes – the ones based on puns on names of French sportspeople are especially difficult – but it’s fun to see what I do get. If there are any left I could use them as rewards in lessons, or use them with this reading comp resource and this youtube advert:

Classroom tat. The last few years I have a quick look to see if there’s anything I can use for teaching. One of our “ofsted ready” preparations is about use of authentic materials, so things like calendars, maps, exercise books, stationery, etc call all help with that. The last few years, there has been a real trend for American 50s chic amongst the tat in French supermarkets, which has been a bit of a pain. I’m still on the look out for a large French / German perpetual calendar I could use on the board, but ultimately I think I’m just going to have to make one.

Moving on to matters more alcoholic and less suited to school trips…

Pastis. Available in England. A nice refreshing aniseed summer drink with ice and water that goes cloudy when you dilute it. It’s also a super ingredient for cooking fennel as many ways of cooking it lose its gentle aniseed flavour.

Crème de…. Crème de cassis is a blackcurrant liqueur, a little like alcoholic ribena. It’s used with champagne to make a kir royal, or white wine to make a kir. It’s a similar idea to flavoured syrups in American coffees. It makes a lovely simple cocktail, takes the edge of any slightly nasty white wine, and since it’s a liqueur served in a glass of wine, is pretty effective at taking the edge of you too. Crème de cassis is widely available in the UK, but (sing it with me) much cheaper in France. Much more interestingly, though, are the wider varieties of crème de… that you can use in the same way. Pêche is an old favourite, as is framboise, but this time to mix things up a bit I’ve come home with bottles of crème de pamplemousse rose and crème de cérise. One of my favourite drinks of late has been a gin-and-tonic-and-pink-grapefruit-juice, so pink grapefruit is a flavour I use a lot.

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.

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.

French

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!)

German

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.

Teaching through the medium of paper planes

A blogpost on compelling starters suggests getting kids to make paper planes with three facts from the last lesson on it.

Making paper planes is definitely an activity that is very popular with students. One of my own strong memories of school was my last ever geography lesson, which coincided with the last lesson that teacher would teach, as she was retiring. By the end of the lesson, we were in two teams hiding behind desk fortresses throwing planes at each other. And our retiring teaching was flinging them with the best of us.

I have used them to teach past tense in French – and have been really chuffed with answers to the question “what does paper planes have to do with the past tense?” “because we THREW them not THROW them.” The activity came from a “diverse ways of teaching new language” session on PGCE and leads the children through a target language sequence, with overblown gestures so they get what activities to do:

Je prends une feuille de papier >> J’ai pris une feuille de papier
Je signe mon nom >> J’ai signé mon nom
Je dessine une maison >> J’ai dessiné une maison
Je plie un avion >> J’ai plié un avion
Je lance mon avion >> J’ai lancé mon avion
Je ramasse un avion >> J’ai ramassé un avion

This was less than perfectly successful. My students do not have enough of a culture of target language, so activities out of the blue lead to vocal complaining. Also, unbelievably, not all students know how to make a paper plane. (“If you don’t know how, I’m not going to teach you. Make a paper ball instead.”) But the biggest problem using this as a starter is that it winds them up something chronic and it is then very hard to calm them down sufficiently that you can even talk to them, let alone task them with something constructive.

Despite the difficulties I repeated the activity with three different classes and by the end I had a killer top tip for using paper planes.

Since I had heard reports that the planes were leaving my classroom and then getting students into trouble elsewhere in school, the last instruction related to planes that I gave was “throw the planes at me.” (Met with incredulity. Seriously sir? Are you sure? And we’re not going to get in trouble?”)

The reason for doing this is this: one, they are itching to do it anyway, so you might as well give them an excuse. But two, it means all the planes end up at your end of the room and out of their hands, all the better for moving on to the next activity.

School holidays: Gove is doubly wrong

Last week, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove made a speech saying that school hours and holiday plans were based on our agricultural past and that we were being left behind by the work ethic of the East Asian nations who had longer school days and shorter holidays.

Colleagues in teaching may be shocked to hear this, but Mr Gove is wrong on both counts.

Liberal England the TES team up to prove that the pattern of school holidays is not derived from our agrarian heritage.

In fact, schools took their holiday plan from… politicians! In the 1800s, longer summer holidays became a feature of parliament and the courts, and at the time, many in education were the sons of lawyers and politicians so it suited all concerned for the holidays to match.

The TES reports parents have been kvetching about the length of school holidays and how teachers have it easy, since at least the 1890s:

A letter to the Daily News in 1892 noted: “Little by little, the holidays at most of our schools have increased from an average of eight weeks in the year to something like 14. This gradual change has been entirely in the interest of the masters, for the school fees have not decreased in corresponding ratio.”

Another correspondent wrote: “I am convinced young boys, especially those with no real love of learning, lose in the long holidays much of the knowledge and discipline received in the short terms.”

That last complaint from 1892 is the rationale behind Nottingham city’s attempt to introduce a five term year with shorter summer holidays.

Just as Gove is wrong about the reason for school holidays, he is also wrong about the comparison between the English education system and East Asia. A blog post on the Local Schools Network crunches the data available and concludes:

English pupils spend more hours in the classroom than those in Korea and Japan. They spend about the same as those in Singapore, less than in Hong Kong and Shanghai (although pupils in Shanghai get a longer lunch break and more holidays which offset the extra hours).

Indeed, as a commenter later points out, most of the nations that beat the UK in the PISA rankings have less contact time with students than we do.

Of course this latest is just one pronouncement on which Gove is clearly, factually wrong.

Other interesting thought experiments teachers have been trying out on Twitter this week: if performance related pay for teachers is the answer for school improvement, why isn’t it the answer for secretaries of state? If parents are to determine teachers’ pay, perhaps teachers should determine Michael Gove’s remuneration package? And more generally, perhaps constituents should set MPs’ salaries.

Teaching tip – write on the desks!

The student desks in my classroom are fully sealed plastic units with a smooth surface.

Which means you can write on them with a dry wipe marker – a board pen in other words – and it rubs right off.

In fact, doing so makes less of a mess than a whole class activity with the mini whiteboards.

So when a class is settled on a writing activity and they ask for spellings, or “how do you say this in French?”, where before I’d grasp around for a spare pen, or a mini whiteboard from the cupboard, or a piece of paper, or even return to the whiteboard at the front of the room to make a cluttered confusing resource still worse… now, since I am almost always clutching a boardmarker when I am on walkabout anyway, I just write the answer to their question directly on their desk.

The first few times I did it were met with horror, and a bit of pointing and whispering. OMG, sir is writing on the tables. Then it improved engagement – more students asked questions if they thought the answer would get written on their desks.

We have posters in school that say “Stop! What are the rules about this?” and so a common reaction from students is “Sir, are you allowed to do that?” And the next question is “Sir… are WE allowed to do that…?” So you do have to be fairly clear that yes, I can do it, but no, you can’t do it, unless you have permission and you are using the correct type of pen.

I don’t always write an answer. If the question is something I think they should know (differentiated by who they are of course) or something we have laboured recently, I will signpost. Dictionary. Board. Check your book. Here, let me check your book. There. And sometimes it’s bloomin’ obvious – in a glossary on the sheet they are using, for example.

The idea came to me from this article about an English teacher removing barriers to writing and I discussed it further with colleagues this week at an inspiring school literacy training event chock full of ideas. Talk turned to mounting a mini-whiteboard on the classroom door on which to write a hook to catch students’ imaginations on their way in. I wondered whether maybe chalk pens might be the answer – write directly on the door?

Now wondering about writing up some of the common irregular verbs on my classroom windows. Crayola 5 Window Crayons FTW!