Six new teaching activities I think worked #mfl

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Here is a short list of six types of teaching activities that I tried for the first time last term that I think worked for me and my classes and that I will definitely be doing again.

Quiz quiz trade

I found out about this from this blogpost by MonsieurM and immediately thought it was an ace idea and put it into some of my lessons. I’ve used it in observed lessons and those who saw it liked it to, and awesomely I’ve started to hear about it being used in other MFL teachers’ lessons at school now too. If anything I might have used it a bit too much last term, and I have to rein it in a bit.

The idea is simple. You make a set of cards. Each student has their own card with a French phrase and the English translation. Students need to be familiar with the vocab before starting. Students stand up and find a partner. A reads the French phrase, B has to respond with what that means in English. A uses the English on her card to verify and to nudge B in the right direction. Once guessed, B reads her French phrase and A responds with English. Once both have done this, they swap their cards and go off and find another partner to begin again.

The activity lasts 8-10 minutes and you can then ease them into writing sentences of their own, starting with the last card they had, and then putting the vocab together themselves.

An example set of cards is here on the TES for teaching “In my bedroom” in French. It’s easy to make up the phrases you need – if you have 10 items of vocab in a lesson, plus 3 sentence stems such as “In my room I have”, “In my room I don’t have”, “In my room I would like” you can easily get to 30 unique cards.

You can also play quiz quiz trade getting the students to start off by writing their own cards, but you have to accept that not all of the cards will be perfect…

Dice writing

There’s something about giving dice to students that makes them suddenly more interested. If you gave them a vocab sheet and said, “randomly pick a sentence from each category and write it in your book,” sure, some would do it, and most would not settle to it. But if you give them a vocab sheet where the items are numbered and let the dice choose how to put the paragraphs together, somehow they are magically sucked into the activity, calm descends, the room goes quiet, and you can walk around the class watching children who definitely do not yet know how to write in the past tense in French, magically putting down perfect paragraphs into their exercise book. Once you remove the dice and support again, no-one will ever know from looking in their books, that they didn’t come up with the paragraphs themselves!

An example sheet is here on the TES – we were doing “describe a past weekend in town”. There are 1-5 items to choose from – if they threw a 6 they had a free choice of what to write.

There is a tiny danger that completely random selection of sentences meant slightly nonsensical paragraphs, for example: last weekend it rained so I went to the beach and sunbathed. The kids were delighted at some of the combinations and quite aware of the nonsense.

Differentiate up by giving a selection of mid-to higher level connectives and asking able students to include them in their paragraph.

I followed this activity with a paragraph of their choosing after the random one, and a homework where, having written the paragraph, they had to learn it off by heart to reproduce it under test conditions in the next lesson, as a skills practice for both their end of term assessment, and longer term, the sort of controlled assessment currently done at GCSE. (Although by the time these students reach KS4, who knows?!)

This idea was something I got and simplified from Vincent Everett. I can’t now find the exact resource, but he had a writing activity about a murder mystery, and who had killed whom with what was decided by dice.

Crossword reading comps

This came to our department from an NVQ languages training course and all of us have used it since. You take a text, and set the language teacher’s staple activity of “Find the French for…” Then you make a crossword out of the answers. The students will know they have got the answers right if the crossword works, so the activity is essentially self marking.

I have uploaded one I did – again from the KS3 topic of describing a past weekend. This one, I think, was pitched wrong – this was much too difficult to use to introduce the past tense, and even my most able students struggled to complete the activity.

You can make the crosswords using Puzzlemaker – once you have the grid, you can copy and paste it into a Word document. If the answer is a multi-word phrase, you have to delete the spaces when you input it into the crossword compiler: jemesuislevé I got up

Snakes and ladders

Another example of giving them dice… There are tons and tons of snakes and ladders grids on the TES, and using them in a language context is fairly easy. Groups of four students play snakes and ladders, and the squares without either snakes or ladders have pictures which they have to turn into a TL phrase.


Another idea I got from Monsieur M that I first thought would be limited to able older students, but realised could be used with younger, less experienced students too so long as the topic was strictly constrained.

You have a deck of cards some of which have French phrases on them, and a few have “Trichez!” (Cheat!) on them. Students draw a card. If they have a phrase, they read it out and place the card face down on the discard pile. If they have “Trichez!” they have to make up a phrase and say it and place the card etc etc. The challenge of the game is that they have to make up the phrase and say it without the other players spotting what they are doing. I gave them plastic counters as a way of keeping score, and played this with year 7 as part of a series of lessons on telling the time.

You can see how if you were doing this as part of revising ready for a speaking assessment you’d use a wide variety of different phrases from the topic. If you doing it with younger students, you just need to use only a very narrow set of phrases. Time telling was ideal. You might want to explicitly model strategies for playing with them, eg explain most people will get a trichez card at some point, so before you start playing, have a time phrase in your head and use that when the trichez card comes up.

Simple dice game

Having decided to use dice, I had been borrowing them from a colleague. I thought a needed a set for my own classroom to avoid having to borrow them too often, and bought a set on Amazon. The day they arrived, I didn’t have a lesson planned to use them, but I did have a lesson that ran short so I quickly invented a simple game.

As it happened, I had vocab lists on the board divided between four boxes, so I numbered the boxes 2, 3, 4 and 5 and set the rules. Throw the dice. If you get 2-5, you have a say a German phrase from that box, and your partner has to say what it means in English. If you throw a 1 you have to stand up, if you throw a 6 you get to sit down. (and then, to clarify – if you throw a 1 when you are already standing up you stay standing up; if you throw a 6 but you are already sitting down, you stay sitting down.)

Now all I need to do is think of some strategies to make them be more careful about not throwing the dice stupidly so that they fall off the table.

Oh, and they love the dice and there seems to be a tendency for them to go missing, so I have to be careful to count them out and count them in so I am not losing them.

And finally…

So here are some lovely activities I did last term that I enjoyed and I think my students did. They were new to me, but they might be old hat to you.

Strangely there are a bunch of things I did on teaching practice last year that I assumed I would use regularly and have just fallen out of my routines. Must bring them back! Battleships is the obvious one.


One comment on “Six new teaching activities I think worked #mfl

  1. […] – gulp – five years ago I wrote this blog about things I’d tried in the classroom and enjoyed, or felt beneficial.  Most of them I no […]

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