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.

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 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.

A crazy thing happened at Creswell Crags

Yesterday, the first Sunday of half term I wanted to do something countryside-y, spurred on by PM’s reporting of autumnal colours and conscious that the trees outside my house had lately been hugely denuded by frost. There can’t be many days of leaf left in 2012.

I decided on Creswell Crags, a prehistoric site on the Notts/Derbyshire border, that I have been meaning to visit since first becoming aware of it, probably by reading about it on Liberal England.

And so we set off. Google Maps told me there were just three different roads between here and there, as I live off the A60 and the site is off the A60 north of Mansfield. The Mansfield bit was a little more complicated than that, but we arrived in good time.

I had prepared the change I would need for the car parking machine. Two pound coins. Once there, the machine ate one of them and refused to return it whilst refusing to recognise the second as a valid coin. When I went inside to ask the ladies at the reception desk in the very swanky new visitor centre, they told me not to worry, said there’d be no clamping today… and asked me if I spoke German.

What a strange, random question in the middle of North Notts. I admitted I did, and that I was actually a German teacher.

And they pointed in the direction of an elderly-looking lady with an awful lot of baggage, and told me she appeared unwell and they weren’t at all sure what to do with her.

I went over to talk to her. At first her speech was mostly English and peppered with the odd German word, but when I persisted with questions in German she switched to German. I didn’t understand all she said. I knew I recognised most of the words but the speed she spoke at and no repetition, I didn’t always have time to understand the meaning before she moved on.

The staff had been concerned because she didn’t appear to have a car, and Creswell Crags is remote, all the more so on a Sunday when the Robin Hood line doesn’t run and the local station is closed.

They were concerned most particularly with what the lady planned to do this evening. How was she going to get away from Creswell and where was she going to sleep? How could she possibly get away? Did she need someone to phone her a taxi?

I pointed out to here there were only two hours before the visitor centre closed and she had to start to make plans. She said she didn’t want to be bothered, she was always surrounded by people making a fuss, she would be fine so long as she could take her heart pills. Yesterday people had phoned the police about her and that was really not necessary, she would be fine. And was there anything she could do at Creswell for free?

So I found out, and told her (a temporary exhibition of a fossilized mammoth tusk on loan from the British Library, a walk around the lake.) And there’s a challenge to my German. I don’t have the words for hyena or mammoth at the front of my mind.

We found out for ourselves when the next cave tour was and went to have a posh cake while we waited. When we came back to buy our tickets and meet our guide, it turned out our cave party was to be us, our guide, and our new German friend.

It seemed during the tour that her understanding of the English guide was pretty good, helped no doubt by a German-language information sheet they had been able to find at the visitor desk.

And the tour was fascinating. Turns out this part of Notts was the most northerly part of Europe which didn’t completely freeze during the summers of the last ice age. Everywhere north of here was under up to a mile of ice and completely frozen. But balmy melted Creswell still had a summer in which vegetation grew, so herbivore animals migrated here, followed closely by hyenas and carnivores, and prehistoric man, who chased and killed the mammoths with flint axes, spears and by basically chasing the mammoths of the edge of a cliff until they splashed in the valley below.

They lived in the mouths of the caves, had fires on the outside, but not inside because the smoke would have been too much, and survived barely into their thirties because of the toll the nomadic lifestyle of chasing mammoths across Europe took on their bodies.

The tour took us into the shallow limestone caves, lit only by torches on our helmets, and the guide got a fascinating hour of information across out of essentially an empty cave and a few props. It was quite expensive, I think, but actually worth the money. And don’t mention the Giant Cave Spiders.

It would have been nice to see the cave with the prehistoric art in, the only discovered in England, and that only in 2003. But at this time of year that particular cave is out of bounds as it is filled with hibernating bats.

During this time, the German lady was mostly listening, occasionally asking questions that showed she wasn’t quite understanding everything but getting some times, and I would occasionally interject in German when I could and when it was necessary for safety, ie, don’t stand up until you get so far because the roof is low.

She was occasionally chuntering things in German I half understood, and asking some slightly odd questions. Do berries grow here? Are there witches and voodoo? Do you know the myth of Prometheus and the stealing of fire from the gods? When do you think that was? Was Prometheus here amongst the cave men? (…!)

As we walked back from the cave her chuntering became almost continuous and I started to piece together what had happened to her in the last few days. She had tried to stay at Edwinstowe youth hostel, but couldn’t as the place was booked out by a family all weekend. She’d caught a Stagecoach bus to Creswell and had tried to leave her bags in a pub whilst she wandered around the area on foot, but the pub had not let her. She’d wound up at the visitor centre after that. She was looking for a campsite (but had no tent) or a bunkhouse (as today was warmer than yesterday) but could not afford a hotel or B&B.

Once we got back to the visitor centre it was clear that the staff by now were very anxious about what to do with her. They were ten minutes from closing and she did not have a plan about what to do next. We tried to talk her through her options, and eventually I offered to give her a lift, either to Nottingham or Mansfield, which we had to drive through on the way home.

She was adamant she did not want to return to Nottingham. She had been there before and couldn’t find a bed. She’d visited the backpacker hostel but refused to say there as they didn’t have separate men and women dorms. We wondered whether we could get her to stay at the Gresham, a dismal hotel by the railway station, but one with rooms at a backpacker’s budget – at least I seemed to recall from signage outside. I tried to explain that if she wanted to make onward rail journeys, she would probably have to change in Nottingham anyway as most trains from Mansfield would go there.

But no, she didn’t want to go to Nottingham.

On the car journey away from Creswell she recommenced her talking in German. By now I was driving so my concentration was divided, and her speed and diction were not helpful. But I gleaned some facts of her life. She lived in Germany (but refused to be specific about where). She had been given notice to quit her house and had to find somewhere new from next January. She had come up with the idea of moving to the UK, because all the British people she had ever met in Germany were nice. She had been over here sort of backpacking (but not really with backpackable luggage, we could barely fit it in the car) for several months. She’d been in the Lake District, Norfolk and Lincolnshire and somehow wound up on the coalface in Nottinghamshire. She didn’t seem to have any firm plans for returning to Germany and had no idea where she would sleep. She did have a budget and was reluctant to go over it on any given day, hence refusing offers of hotels and B&Bs. It seems she had spent a lot of her budget for that day on a £6.50 cave tour. Her English was adequate but not great, and it transpired she’d learned it recently at night school as her own school days did not include languages.

Ultimately, we left her at Mansfield bus station, after her repeated insistence that she did not want to go back to Nottingham.

I’m not at all sure that what we did was in general a Good Thing. We did at least take from isolated, cold, woodland location and drop her in a town, but we didn’t really give her the help she needs. Then again she said she’d had previous contact with the police and that hadn’t made any lasting difference. Would help from the German embassy have been a good idea? Ultimately is she in charge of her life, even if she wants to wander alone, aimlessly, with no fixed plans for the evening, alarming she comes into contact with?

One of the questions from the staff at Creswell was, with the ellipsis very much in place, “Is she… alright?” And I don’t know. She didn’t know where she was (although we could fix that when she got out her map, and oriented her with respect to Buxton and Mansfield). She had no plans for the evening and no apparent understanding of the need to make them. She seemed lucid and able to speak, but then again she talked at me in German for about an hour without really wanting to make conversation, and simply refused to answer some of my questions, like where are you from? Do you have a ticket to return to German? Even what is your name…?

And I don’t suppose we will ever hear how this story ends, which is a little unsatisfactory. I hope she does end up all right.

German New Year’s Eve

For the last ten years and more I’ve spent every NYE with the same group of friends. This year, as more of them have children than before, it was hard to arrange something that went to midnight so instead we had our traditional murder party during the day, leaving us free for the evening, and so instead I went and spent the evening with new friends from my teacher training course.

A traditional English New Year celebration doesn’t really include very much, does it? Auld Lang Syne and fireworks, and is that about it? Because most of the participants are training to be German teachers, and one of us was German and two of us had recently been in Germany for Christmas, we ended up with a German-themed NYE celebration.

Some components of this included:


You start with mulled wine (Glühwein) and you garnish it spectacularly. You take a six inch cone of sugar, soak it in rum and place it on a special grill tray over the pan of mulled wine. You then set fire to the rum-soaked sugar so that the rum burns, there are Christmas-pudding style flames coming off the punch and the sugar caramelizes.

See also my mulled wine blog post.


I half surprised myself by dragging the component parts of that word out of my long-dormant German vocabulary. Gießen means “to pour” and Blei is lead, as in Bleistift (lead) pencil and Bleifrei, lead free as in petrol. So Bleigießen is a fortune telling game where you have a metal spoon and small, hollow lead moulds of things like hearts, coins, etc. You put the lead moulds on the spoon and hold them over a candle until they melt. Then you quickly tip the molten lead into a bowl of water and match the shapes it makes as it quickly sets with a table of shapes on the back of the packet.

Dinner for one

This is a famous English music-hall sketch that is widely watched in Germany on New Year’s Eve. Despite being aware of it and having seen a few clips, and despite it being only short I’d never seen it all the way through before. The version I’ve got above from Youtube is not the one we watched last night, but it will do for elaboration purposes.

German board games

In the last few years there has been an explosion of new “Eurogames” – boardgames that take participants beyond the old traditional range of Monopoly, Cluedo and Mousetrap. Monopoly in particular is a horrible game. It takes ages, it continues after some players have been eliminated, most people play a version of it that isn’t in the actual game rules, and I’m glad I haven’t had to play it for years!

I’ve been playing new German boardgames, ironically with my old English friends, but they made a nice addition to German New Year’s Eve. And they count, because they’re made by Germans, even if they don’t have German names!

One of our friends brought Settlers of Catan, and unfortunately I still have never played it. It has a formidable reputation, but I fear it might be a bit fiddly, and not entirely suited to not entirely sober company (see Feuerzangebowle, qv).

So we played my games: Carcassonne and Nacht der Magier

I can’t rave about Carcassonne enough – it’s a simple game, with only three or four basic rules – but its simplicity belies a complex strategy game with lots of scope for competitiveness. You have a bag of tiles and a small stock of man-shaped wooden pieces called “Meeples”. The tiles depict aspects of mediaeval life: cities, roads, farms and monasteries. Every go, you must play a tile and you can choose to play a meeple. Roads and cities span more than one tile and each tile you play must fully line up with the existing tiles – cities must match to cities, roads to roads. You choose to play a piece, if you have some left, onto the tile you have just played, to claim ownership of a feature, and features are scored once they are complete, so when roads start and end and when cities have walls all around them and when monasteries are surrounded.

Once you have played and enjoyed the base game, there are numerous expansions to make the game just a little bit more interesting still. When I try and introduce this game to other people, I like to play the base game then incorporate the expansions, so that people have a chance to understand the extra simple rules separately to the main game.

We also played Nacht der Magier, a game ideally suited to young and/or drunk people. It has glow-in-the-dark pieces that have be charged under a lamp, and the game itself is played with the lights out. I’ve taken this to a few people to play, and everyone always wants to play it again. You have playing pieces that are witches, red cauldrons with symbols on and a glow in the dark fire. All of the pieces are round, and the playing pieces are surrounded by wooden pieces that replicate trees and discs. All of the pieces sit on an elevated playing board completely filled with the circular pieces. In the dark, you have to push your cauldron into the fire from the edge of the elevated board, but because all of the pieces are circular their movement is unpredictable. Your go ends when a circular piece falls off the board and you can hear it clatter to the table.

I shall now draw this blog post to a conclusion before it goes over 1,000 words, completely unacceptable for a blog!

Happy new year!