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.

Back from the Rhineland

Just finished an awesome week on the banks of the Rhine with 41 12-year-olds. I hope a glorious time was had by all.

One of the activities we asked the students to do was draw a postcard to send home to their families. It was something I joined in with, having newly received my incredibly fancy Japanese drawing pens, as recommended by Zentangle(tm).

The fancy pens really do add something in where any actual drawing talent was lacking.

Despite my worries about the flimsiness of the card, mine arrived safely home shortly before I did.

Here’s my picture

Study visit to Rheinland

And a photo of the scene I was trying for

Study visit to Rheinland

And an album of all the photos from the trip that can be shared on the internet.

School trip(s) to Germany

Next week I head off with school to the Rheinland in the valley of the Loreley, to a town that has seen both flooding (Hochwasser) and heatwave (Hitzewelle) in the last few weeks. I’m looking forward to it immensely and it’s hard to remember I have a full week’s worth of teaching to get through first.

I have always found German harder than French. Although I love the language very much, speaking German accurately and getting the ton of inflected endings anywhere near correct is a bit of a challenge. In class, when people ask me for a French phrase I can almost always do it off the top of my head, checking later in the dictionary to see if my instinct was right. In German I just don’t have anything like the range of language immediately to mind.

Part of this is just that I have not been to Germany nearly as often as France. If (and it’s a big if) you count my six months on my year abroad in Magdeburg as a single trip, you can count my trips over there more or less on the fingers of a single hand.

I was fortunate enough to do two school trips to Germany with school. (Interestingly, never did a French trip with school and as a family we only ever went once.) I was on exchange with a boy in Nürnberg in 1992 or 1993. I have only dim recollections now of most of my school years and the people in them, but can still remember my Austauschpartner’s name. I was probably rude and sullen during the trip and spent a lot of it learning my lines for the Crucible. He spent a lot of time playing on his computer. The exchange was the first time I had been on a plane, and it messed with my ears something chronic. The first stop on arrival was the loo, where I encountered for the first time German inspection platforms, continental hot/cold swivel taps, and where it took me aaaages to figure out how to turn on the water or flush the toilet, and I didn’t anything like the language skills to ask for help. The only food I can remember was a very exciting night when we all sat round some sort of table top stove called a Raclette and grilled our own cheese. On the return trip, we all went to the cinema to see Jurassic Park, newly released, and I found it more than a little scary and had to have time shortly (spoiler alert) after the lawyer got eaten.

The following year school took a drama trip to Germany. We learned a play about a disastrous mediaeval crusade of children, performed it in school, then the entire company got on a bus, drove to Germany, had a bit of a stay in a hotel somewhere and performed the play again to a German audience, whose thoughts on the show are lost in the mists of time. I don’t remember where in Germany this was, and the most memorable bit of the whole trip was the very exciting purchase of a six foot inflatable dinosaur. Somewhere in the house I still have the very simple, and now quite rusty, beer bottle opener we bought over there. Why on earth did I need that at 15? It was long before I learned to like beer.

A family friend helped us organise another semi-exchange during my sixth form years when I went, alone this time, to stay with a family with a daughter my age in the Ruhrgebiet, in response to my concern that my German was far below my French and my fear for my A Level result. Although we cast it as an exchange, it was pretty clear from the get-go that my Partnerin was not going to be unduly concerned if she didn’t get to come back to the UK.

During my university years I spent half of my year abroad at the Otto von Guericke Universität Magdeburg, where I wasted rather too much of my time doing internet stuff in English in the computer lab rather than making any real effort to improve my German. I beat Civilisation II on my laptop in my room whilst drinking home made margheritas in preference to socialising with the other foreign students on my corridor. (If Germany was a bust, my year abroad time in Paris was, however, awesome.)

Here’s a couple of photos to show what Magdeburg was like in 1999, ten years into what many appeared to consider West German occupation of the former glorious Socialist East Germany:


This is Breiter Weg (wide street) – which had been Karl Marx Allee until very recently.


This was the Hotel am Theater. I’ve no idea why it was in this state.

After 1999, I didn’t go to Germany again for nearly a decade, when an opportunity presented itself to leave P at home and go on a weekend for like-minded gentleman in the beautiful city of Munich. I stayed in a gay B&B thanks to EBAB and had a fantastic time. Photos here. This was in the period when I tweeted and when my blog archived my tweets, so my days are documented. 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8. There are also subsequent posts on Lederhosen (I tried some on in C&A, but didn’t buy, which I now regret) and travelling my sleeper train – my plans and my experience.

My final day there I spent at Dachau concentration camp, which was a really moving experience that I have never really managed to process or write about.

And really, that’s it.

I really need to spend more time in Germany.

Perhaps next summer, WWOOF Deutschland?

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.

Cartoons for feedback #mfltwitterati

I’m planning a series of lessons feeding back on performance from recent assessments, and I’m wondering about how to get my students to pay attention to what I say.

I read a recent blogpost (but didn’t save the link, sorry!) that suggested cartoons might be a fun way to do it.

After a bit of googling, I’ve spent half an hour on ToonDoo creating a series of fun ways of looking at National Curriculum levels.

Level 4 in MFL ii

This is turning into a series of worksheets! Shout if you want me to share the completed work.

NB the “Check the box for examples” is so that I can do one set of cartoons for both languages. I can lay these onto an A4 sheet and then amend the surrounding boxes.

Here are two PDFs – one for L3 and on the second page for L4.

I’ve also created a CORN display – I now have a CORNwall in my classroom. Here is the Word document of the words I have up now.