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.”

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.)

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.