Reconstruct a paragraph (MFL)

A colleague I share a class with set this task for one of my lessons with younger students. They seemed to enjoy it a lot and I have subsequently used it with KS4 students – and added a twist.

It starts with a model answer to a 90 word GCSE question. You can either write your own, or I heartily recommend Kate Jones’s resources – her writing booklets have questions for every AQA theme and sub-topic, every style of question, and a full set of model answers.

Start with your model answer. Remove sentences so that it only answers 3 bullet points.  Add in sentences that are not relevant. Print it big (eg big enough to fit 3 A4 sheets landscape) and cut it into strips*. Get kids to sort back into paragraph order.

My most recent iteration of this task had a double sided worksheet with the mark scheme for a 90 word question on the back, and on the front, the question (in the target language, like in the exam) and a translation of the text they are aiming to build. Most students used this, and recognised at least one word per strip, which they could use to get their bearings through the paragraph, but the most able could hide this support and try to rebuild the sentences without it.

The worksheet also had these tasks:

  1. What do the 4 bullet points mean ?
  2. Reconstruct the text from the strips to form an answer to this question.  (You can use the English translation for support, or hide it if you prefer.)
  3. Assess the response using the markscheme on the back. Are all bullet points answered? What does this mean for the score it can get? Are all sentences relevant to the task?
  4. Redraft an answer to the question, based on the paragraph you have reconstructed. Eliminate anything irrelevant. Add in some sentences to cover any bullet points not already answered.
  5. Higher students – what super structures and fancy phrases could you add to this to improve it to the point where it would be an answer to the 150 word question?
  6. What topic specific vocab is there in this text that you didn’t know? What structures can you find that could be used in lots of different topics?

* To speed up the cutting, you can prep the photocopier with a pile of coloured sheets in the bypass tray, eg 3 yellow, 3 blue, 3 pink, 3 orange. Copy onto those sheets then cut up all 12 in one go and separate  out by colour.


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.”

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.

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 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.

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.

French mnemonics

When I came back to seriously working on my French after many years of neglecting, I found there were some words and phrases I could not get correct without checking every time, and so I started to try making mnemonics for myself to get acceptably consistent.

Of course there are some I was taught that still stick in my mind.

And there are one or two I am trying out to see if it improves my students’ accuracy, especially when it comes to tenses.

Here’s my top five for starters.

je m’appelle

I couldn’t get my head around the spelling of this so made up a rhyme:

When you spell
qui s’appelle
It’s got two Ps
and it’s got two Ls

(My students now always spell it with two Ps and two Ls, but still manage a dazzling array of different combinations of other letters, spaces and apostrophes, so we are not out of the woods yet. Gemappllle!)


Never sure of the spelling of this one, especially the n and the g. You just have to remember you can’t get to 20 without having some vin.

There’s an R in futuRe

Almost universally we teach the futur proche these days instead of the real future tense, and students need to use the correct form of aller along with the infinitive: je vais faire mes devoirs or je vais jouer au foot. There are many ways of getting it wrong but a common one is to use a conjugated form of the verb: je vais joue. So I tell them you can’t have futuRe without R – you need the form of the verb with an R at the end. A little complicated by RE verbs, but if they’re far enough through to be using those as well, they can probably cope.

Where wears a hat

Ou and où get mixed up. They are or and where. But which witch is which? I was taught that the longer word (in English) has the accent but where wears the hat is quite nice too.

I prefer wears a hat too

Je préfère needs accents either side of the F that form a hat. This gets messy when students have both je préfère and ma couleur préférée in their Wortschatz.

Have you got any awesome mnemonics? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Horrible French word of the day

Today I had a first lesson with a whole Y11 French group working up to speaking tests on jobs and future plans, on the theme of “a job I would like to do and why.” Helpfully, I had just seen a similar lesson being delivered in German and was able to draw on the style of presentation quite a lot even if I had to generate the content myself.

Towards the end we moved onto free writing to produce individual sentences and paragraphs as I circulated to help, encourage and keep people on task. One student wanted some vocab as he wanted to talk about becoming a professional rugby player.

Now in these free vocab sessions when I am not in possession of a dictionary things often float into my head that I am not able to check, and I find myself hugely doubting what I say. I first came up with “joueur de rugby” – then the first wave of doubts. When we are talking about free time / sports / music, we learn that it is jouer à (for a sport) and jouer de (for a musical instrument). So should it be joueur à rugby? Grief no, that sounds horrible.

And then my subconscious threw “le rugbyman” at me so I offered it to the student. And the more I said it out loud and showed him how to spell it, the more I thought it couldn’t possibly be correct. Even if it were, would the people marking his speaking test think it was good enough French for an exam? It certainly has the ring of the sort of word of which the Académie Française would not approve. So I backtracked and sent him back to joueur de rugby.

But after the lesson, I checked it with a quick Google. We spend quite a lot of time telling students not to use Google Translate because they don’t have the skill to use it safely, and what they bung through it comes out as garbage. But for an experienced linguist you can use the internet to supplement your knowledge. And I found there were quite a lot of French speakers on the internet using “le rugbyman” as a real word. Why on earth is that even in my head?

Recently I had a debate with a colleague about preparing for lessons. She asked who, these days, sat down with a big dictionary? Everyone just uses the internet now, Wordreference, or Reverso. I’ve also been challenging myself to use Duden for German, although sometimes it’s easier just to get a word translated rather than try to understand the German definition of a German word.

For most of this year’s teaching placements, I have been using online dictionaries, but when my internet got unreliable recently I pulled down the dusty big dictionaries that got me through my degree. And I have been really enjoying using them again. One of the fab things about them is the accidental and continual exposure to new and interesting vocab through the key words and the words surrounding the one you’re actually looking for. So the other week, I found Wetterfrosch, for example, with no translation but an italicised explanation “frog used to predict the weather” (eh!?)

I’ve just thought to try to old big dictionary to see if rugbyman is in it. My Collins Robert troisième édition was published in 1993, and surely the horrible false Anglicism has come into the French language since then? So I flick through (ooh, that’s interesting the dictionary has RSS in it… oh, hang on, it stands for république socialiste soviet) and… there it is. Le rugbyman. Plural, les rugbymen. Don’t it go to show, you never know?