Teacher Subject Specific Training

For people in Manchester and surrounding areas, you or colleagues may be interested in this free upskilling course at Loreto Grammar School, Altrincham during this academic year.

Please contact Vicky Atherton vatherton@loretogrammar.co.uk for more information.




Callington TILT event

It was a pleasure to be the keynote speaker for Sanako’s TILT (Technology In Language Teaching) event on 26th June. It was different to be talking about something other than my employer’s stuff for a change!

There are so many excellent ways to use technology in the classroom or for planning lessons, so I decided to limit myself mainly to websites, which are available from just about anywhere.  I also included The Hat, though, as I can’t ever seem to talk about technology for teaching without mentioning The Hat!

If you’d like to see the links I mentioned, you’ll find them all in this link.  I owe a huge debt of thanks to all the #mfltwitterati, through whom I have discovered many of these sites – all mentioned by name at the event if I could recall who introduced me to each particular link 🙂


At #nalasat, an MFL Show and Tell event held in Manchester on 9th November, I shared an idea for helping improve listening skills through reading, making a link between the sound and the look of a word.

In brief, this is the idea:

  • At the start of the lesson, give pupils the text you want them to listen to later on, but don’t tell them that is what is going to happen.
  • Give them a few seconds to look through the text.
  • Tell pupils that you are going to read the text aloud, and they should join in with you when they know what you are doing. Repeat this several times, changing the pattern each time. Suggestions are:
    • Read every other word
    • Read every third/fourth word
    • Start reading from the end of the text
    • Read the first word of each line, then the last word of each line
    • Read the first word of the text, then the last word of the text, then the second word of the text, then the penultimate word of the text etc
  • You can make it as complicated or as simple as your own brain can manage!
  • After a few minutes of fun, put the text away.
  • Later in the lesson, conduct the listening activity, without saying that pupils have already had access to the text.

If you would like a comprehensive overview of everything that happened on the day, you could do worse than read this post by Dominic McGladdery.

It’s Show and Tell time!

If you’re a language teacher in the North West, and you don’t know what a Show and Tell event is, then that means you have to come and find out!

If you do know what one is, then you’ll want to come!

If you want to read about my previous experiences at such gatherings, then there are some posts here.

And if you want to sign up for the Show and Tell event on Saturday 9th November at Instituto Cervantes in Manchester, then you need the link below.

Did I mention it’s free?

Sign up herehttp://nalanwmflsat.pbworks.com/w/page/68992051/FrontPage

#lw2013 Language World 2013: Greg Horton – Motivational Ideas with Song

I was actually at Language World with work this year, but I was able to sneak off and take advantage of a fun and highly useful session given by Greg Horton.

Firstly, it was a delight to be in a session dominated by German for once 🙂 – although most of these ideas would also work with other languages.

Greg made some excellent suggestions as to how music can play a part in language learning, so here are a few of his ideas:

Obviously, some artists have already recorded songs in German, and can be used for scene-setting, a classroom treat, or a means of showing that not all popular music has to be in English.  Examples which Greg gave were: Peter GabrielKraftwerk, and Nena. And of course, David Bowie.

But here are some other ideas which Greg suggested:

  • Pupils choose any tune they currently like, and sing a question in TL.  Their partner answers, also using the same tune.
  • Ich bin dein Gummibär – use to practise masculine adjective endings “Ich bin dein kleiner, grüner, süsser …. Gummibär”
  • Da Da Da – give simple opinions in four syllables: “Ich liebe grün, ich hasse gelb, aha” and sing their own version.  Can also look at how “liebe” becomes shortened to “lieb'”, and so can gain an extra syllable.
  • Sing personal pronouns to karaoke version of “We Will Rock You” – (Ich, du, er ,sie, wir, ihr, Sie, sie).
  • In a similar vein, sing the verb “sein” to the theme of Mission Impossible (actions and movement around the classroom make this very lively and memorable!)
  • Use the song Jeden Tag bin ich bei Facebook drin to reinforce the phrase “gefällt mir”.

  • Pupils can make their own lyrics to express what their mobile phone means to them using the chorus from Mein neues Handy.
  • Timeline Dancing: pupils work in pairs and must ‘waltz’. One partner says a sentence – if it’s in present tense, step sideways; past tense, step back; future tense, step forward. If it also includes an opinion, twirl! This can be scaffolded by having some phrases visible on the board if necessary.

*Gratuitous David Bowie video*

Why you should join NALA

I have just spent my Friday and part of Saturday attending the NALA annual conference in lovely Stratford-upon-Avon.

NALA is the National Association for Language Advisors, and I have been a member for around 10 years now.

I find NALA a great source of CPD, information and updates on all things related to language teaching and learning.  Particularly now that I am out of the classroom, it’s been one of the best ways of keeping right up to date with things.

Organised geographically, each region meets regularly (usually termly or half-termly depending on the region), to share and discuss the latest in language education.

Each year, members from all regions are invited to gather for the national conference (often in Stratford-upon-Avon).  This year’s speakers brought us updates and comment from :

  • John Stephens, NCSL
  • Alison Peacock, on the Cambridge Primary Review
  • Josephine Howarth, DfE
  • Carmel O’Hagan, CfBT and Mike Humphreys, Stourport High, on Teaching Schools
  • Lynn Erler, Department of Education, Oxford University
  • Alex Blagona – The Language Learner of the Future?
  • Hugh Baldry, Teaching Agency
  • Fil Nereo, Higher Education Academy
  • Domini Stone, Network for Languages
  • Nikki Perry, NALA and Speak to the Future

As you can see, wide-ranging topics, and featuring key people and organisations.

Despite the name, you don’t have to be a language advisor to join. If you are involved in any way with supporting the learning and teaching of languages in the UK, no matter which sector or stage of education you work with, I would encourage you to join. As well as the CPD aspect, NALA is also a vehicle for engaging with policy makers on behalf of its members.  For example, NALA is currently collating members’ comments in order to respond to the Call for Evidence on GCSE Controlled Assessment, the A level consultation. It will be doing the same for the Primary curriculum consultation, announced – with perfect timing – on the first day of the conference.

Find out more about NALA here, or you can contact me by leaving a comment below (or on Twitter – @Reesiepie) and I can put you in touch with  the relevant person in your region.

IATEFL – Good at listening, or good at listening tests?

The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) held its annual exhibition and conference in Glasgow this year, from 19th – 23rd March.  My Twitter feed had been building momentum for several weeks before, so this is obviously a big event.

But until I got there, I had no idea how big!

The exhibition was fairly compact, but there were a large number of sessions to choose from, and the rooms in which they were held were quite spread out.  This meant that I spent a lot of the time walking to and fro between sessions, and if I’m honest, it was quite difficult to chat to other delegates, or find people I wanted to meet up with, especially as I was only able to attend for one day.

However, one of the most interesting sessions I attended was by John Field, entitled “Good at listening, or good at listening tests”.

Helping my pupils improve their listening skills is something which I always feel is the weakest area of my teaching, and so I was keen to hear John’s views.  And even though the presentation was for teachers of English as a foreign language, there’s no doubting that the skills are the same, whatever language you’re learning.

So here are my bullet points from the session.

  • Listening is an internal process.  It can only be tested indirectly, by asking questions of the learning to try to establish what they have internalised.  In other words, it is not a real-world experience.
  • To combat this, there are (at least) 2 things which a teacher can do:
    • Ask ourselves “What signal is reaching the learner”?
    • Consider how we ask questions of the learner.
    • When setting tests or test questions which are eliciting information, there should be no possibility of subjectivity; there has to be an obvious answer.
    • The wording of descriptors often contains subjective words, ie normally / usually / generally
    • The descriptors define where students should end up if they have been successful, but do not tell us how they can get there.  A destination, not the journey.
  • Students often employ a ‘key-word’ strategy when listening; but the key word they decide to listen for may well be in the written question, and does not appear in the spoken answer, as the audio often uses a paraphrase.  This strategy is therefore counterproductive.
  • “Provide the task after a first playing of the recording and before a second.  This ensures more natural listening without preconceptions or advance information other than general context.”
  • Instead of asking students to give the required answer to a written question, ask them to report back what they heard.  If not distracted by a written question or prompt, students find reporting back an easier task, as their attention has not been divided.
  • Gap-fill activities.  Not necessarily easy, as students are effectively reading someone else’s notes and trying to fill in the other person’s gaps.
  • Multiple choice questions give the learner more to deal with, instead of making the task easier. 
    • John played an example listening text, and displayed the accompanying question.
    • In this situation, the listener is also trying to eliminate the incorrect answers as well as listen for the correct one.  This makes the task cognitively much more demanding, particularly for a less advance learner.
    • Therefore, may be a good ideas to test orally. Ask questions and get answers in the learners’ first language. That tests their listening, not speaking/writing.
  • Skilled listeners are able to handle information in a particular way [see image 1].  
    • Listener hears information (black box), then information relating to it (grey / blue boxes).  Recognises when topic has moved on (second black box).
    • Unskilled listeners create a more linear structure [see image 2 ] and find it less easy to identify when topic or perception has changed.
    • Therefore, structure-building tasks involving note-taking encourage listeners to identify what’s important, and how the content moves forward.

    Image 2