MFL revision activities

We just invested in new textbooks, which brings with it opportunities for a highly structured approach: teach chapters from books, assess chapters from books, support both with vocab sheets from the book, and have a revision lesson using the vocab sheet the lesson before you do the assessments.

Here are some activities I’ve been doing for that revision lesson just before the actual test. The emphasis on this has to be students using their vocab sheet in depth in ways that go beyond just looking at it.

My old go-to was a form of snakes and ladders. Students begin by using the vocab sheet to prepare 30 questions, where the questions is a vocab item or sentence from the sheet which someone else will have to translate.  Once four people have 30 questions, they can play snakes and ladders with each other on a basic board with counters and dice. They use their questions for each square they land on – if they can’t answer their team-mate’s question for that square they go back to where they came from.

Obviously the main revision activity here is creating the questions, but the game has a nice fun element as a reward for creating 30 questions. You can be specific about the target, eg 15 word level translations and 15 sentences, or 30 sentences for stronger classes. You can have them create questions in pairs and then two pairs play the end game.

One-pen-one-dice is a great end of unit activity too – as the teacher you write 20 sentences in the target language and print enough sheets for everyone, with enough space to write translations underneath each sentence. Steve Smith gives details on how to play the game.  My end of unit twist was to go back through the text book, look at the listening and reading resources you’ve used over the last few weeks, and get the 20 sentences from there.

I have been using my version of the three column vocab sheet  for a while. Learners have a column of English words, a column of target language words in a different order and a blank column. They then write the correct TL word next to the English.  To help make this more understandable, I’ve started putting the TL words in a box at the bottom. Here’s an example with my layout, revising the spec vocab for charity words in French. You can introduce vocab as well as revise it this way – although I find I do end up using quite a lot of lesson time to go over the answers, and that may not be the best use of time on what is essentially a word level task.

My new revision twist is to get the learners to make their own sheets, again based on the vocab sheet from the topic. I initially created a resource to give them blank sheets to complete  – this particularly helps with counting to make sure they have exactly 20 TL words and 20 English translations – but it is equally possible to just explain what you want and have them create it on blank paper. Once everyone has made a sheet, they can swap with a partner, or, have them make their sheets on a deadline towards the end of the lesson, and photocopy them before the next lesson, so that students have to complete several sheets to complete the task.

You can even combine this with the “red pen/black pen” revision task (NB actual colour of pens not important… could be pen/pencil or your pen/borrowed classroom purple pen).  Students complete all the items they can do from memory in one colour writing implement then switch to another colour so they have a very visual sheet in front of them showing what they know and don’t know.

As with many classroom tasks, both creating and completing these sheets is something that learners will do at very different speeds, so you need something else for fast finishers… I still have many blank 80 Word sheets in my filing cabinet, so that was my go to.


Speedy mini-plenaries and AFL

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On the amazing, but busy, mfl-resources mailing list, someone asked for ideas about how to do assessment for learning (AFL) whilst keeping a lesson pacey. Here were some ideas I gave in an answer. The point of AFL is to check that ALL learners are making the appropriate level of progress, and to test progress against learning objectives. These things should help you to do that.


“Turn to the back of your book. Write the numbers 1-5. Write the French for dog, cat, fish, mouse, tortoise. You should have le chien, le chat, la souris, la tortue. Mark your own work. Show me on the fingers of one hand what you got.”

(even quicker if you have the test and the answers on slides, which you can quickly type up during another activity or have ready before. Ofsted don’t need a lesson plan, just evidence the lesson is planned. Having mini-plenary tests up your sleeve is a clear sign you knew where the lesson was going in advance)

Whole class multiple choice activities

Teach your class the sign language for A B C D – you can do this pretty quickly the first time you do it, and subsequent times they will know it already and only need a little reinforcement. Then you can run through multiple choice questions on the board very fast and see instant feedback whether they are getting it right.

You can generate multiple choice questions on a set of vocab using Task Magic and then use them as a whole class activity this way.

I have seen class sets of coloured laminated cards with A B C D on, held together by treasury tags, which is also a good way to do it, but I still prefer mine with the sign language (it’s also “citizenship”)

Get feedback from routine tasks

For listening exercises out of eg 20, you can get a “numeracy across the curriculum” tick on your observation with “Take your score. Halve it and round up. Halve it and round down. Show me on the fingers of one hand what you got.” (this takes a lot of practice before most of them can do it and an awful lot of niggly questions about basic maths)

How are you feeling?

My PGCE tutor in almost every university session we had would do something along the lines of “show me how you feel – thumbs down if you are not getting it. Thumbs sideways if you are starting to understand, thumbs up if you think it’s time to move on to the next thing. Everyone show me altogether now!

You can also give the thumbs a numerical score: thumb up if you got 15-20, sideways 7-14, down if under 7.

What do the walls think?

I’ve started to do pointing at walls – left wall if you think the food item I mention is gesund, right wall if it is ungesund.

Similarly, a series of sentences on the projector: “Many of these sentences have a fundamental mistake. Read the sentence quickly then work out the error. When I say so, altogether, point at the left wall if the mistake is word order. Point at the right wall if the mistake is to do with the verb and point at the ceiling if the verb and time phrase do not match properly. Fold your arms if the sentence is correct.”

(the altogether is key otherwise the weaker ones take their lead from the stronger ones)

(copy where to point onto every slide so they have no excuse for misremembering which wall is which)

(a friend invested in a clicker with a laser pointer so she can do activities like this from the back of the classroom facing in the same direction as the kids for the avoidance of left/right issues.)

Mini whiteboard – les ardoises

Mini whiteboards, obviously, so long as you don’t spend longer distributing resources than you do using them. “I know we haven’t done family members since Y7 so some of you will have forgotten this, but I want you write the French for ‘my dad’ on the mini whiteboards and hold them up. Yours is wrong. Yours is completely wrong. Yours is just missing one teeny tiny accent. Yes, perfect” – for correct answers take a board off a kid and show it to the others.

Le and La on different sides of the mini-whiteboard, then students can just flip them – chat is it le or la, souris is it le or la? Ditto mon and ma. This can also be done with walls.

(you have to be careful with “le on one side, la on the other” or they write the words on different halves of the same side. I now model what I want with an overly dramatic flip of the board.)

Groups or rows in your classroom?

Two colleagues have decided to move from rows to groups this year, mainly because it makes resources easier to deal with. Each group table can have a pile / basket with glue, MWBs and pens, dictionaries. One friend even has a stock of cheap biros with her name stuck onto them so that kids who come without pens don’t even need to tell her, they can just get on with it. Phil Beadle things that if sitting in groups, plan to have higher ability boys paired with slightly less able girls – high girls with low boys will mean the girls do all the work and the boys nick it, the other way around the machismo will mean the boys work and then help the girls.

Do please comment if you find these posts useful. I find it strange to hear that people are sharing my ideas with their departments, when I rarely get any feedback myself.

New language teacher on Twitter

Veteran languages ICT guru Joe Dale retweeted a language teacher new to Twitter asking for interesting teaching and learning links.

I had a quick peek through the last few days worth of social media and responded thusly:

A slightly obfuscated post for sure, so here is a bit more detail.

How Children Learn: Portraits of Classrooms Around the World

Just a fab series of photographs taken around the world, including the UK and on many other continents, of what classrooms and children look like. There are many things the same and some striking differences. What struck me? Several countries’ school uniforms look distinctly military to me. How interesting.

Dom’s MFL: Venn Diagrams and Thinking Skills

I’m a big fan of Dom’s MFL page. He’s a languages teacher with some interesting ideas. He blogs quite infrequently, but when he writes something the post is always worth reading. His idea of using Venn diagrams is awesome. It can be done with very little preparation, can be done on mini whiteboards, (une ardoise (ie a slate, also used in the French phrases around having a tab in bar) in French – what is the German for them?) good for thinking skills and as a plenary in that it gets students to show you what they have understood.


Class Dojo is an awesome website I am itching to try with students. Little monsters represent your class on the board and you can use it to give them positive and negative behaviour points. Pretty cool just like that. For me it will help me learn names; for them it will help reinforce my classroom rules. Best of all? You can log into it simultaneously with your whiteboard and your mobile phone, and allocate points to students as you go around the class. is a website for playing games with vocab lists. You can set a learning homework for students to go and play games. You invite them using their school email addresses and you get a record of how often they have played the game. Once you have taught the website a vocab list, you can play any of a number of games with that one list, so students can choose the games to suit them. There are stereotypically boy games and stereotypically girl games as well as more neutral types, and because the students choose, it’s up to them whether they stick to stereotypes or not.

Ideas for teaching and practising telling the time

This is not from a blog I read, but from a link from the MFL Resources Yahoogroup, a fairly high volume mailing list of MFL teachers with some awesome ideas and a lot of help and support. (In the last few days there has been a great deal of mutual support about GCSE results that have been less than expected, and which is stressing out many practitioners)

The blog post itself has over a dozen ideas for teaching telling the time, which is one of those topics which is important but that isn’t immediately easy to make interesting.

A few wider points

1) I have wasted a lot of time on the internet in my summer holidays. But lots of good teaching ideas are going into my mind too!

2) I think increasingly it isn’t so much about making resources as building up places to look. TES is an obvious one (albeit with lousy search). MFL Twitterati and the MFL Resources list are also great.

3) MFL Twitterati 10 minute challenge. Click the link. Spend ten minutes a day/week looking at what other practitioners are doing. Something there will surely inspire you. If you are inspired, join in the conversation and share your own good practice.

4) There’s no way I will be able to keep up with these groups and soc med practices in term time! Bank your good ideas now.