Speaking and Listening – rising to the challenge

Since leaving the classroom just under a year ago, I find that when I am in contact with teachers now, it’s generally from the front of the room, with the teachers as my audience.

So I was delighted and privileged a few days ago to be at a presentation given by Rachel Hawkes – and anyone who has ever been in one of her sessions will know what an inspiration she is!

Her theme was “Creative speaking and listening ideas for the languages classroom”, and as someone who has always found it the most difficult thing to develop my pupils’ listening skills, I was keen to hear what she had to say.

Even from the second slide in, I knew I was going to learn something.


Rachel’s notes say:

Listening is vital for language learning.  It is a source of language input, the decoding of which is believed by most to account to a large extent for language acquisition.  But for learners it is often the activity that causes most anxiety.  You can often detect a powerful change in the atmosphere in a languages classroom when a listening activity is announced and then in progress.  So often students ask ‘is it a test?’ when you start a listening activity, presumably because this is how it feels to them.  I’ve never been asked that about a reading activity.

Rachel shared some wonderful ideas and links, which you can access from this page on her website (the June 2012 entry).  Definitely worth a peep!


Back to Basics

This all started because I was compiling some simple classroom activities from my own archives for a project for work.  Then I realised that it would be even better if I crowd-sourced some ideas and as ever, the #mfltwitterati were magnificent in sharing.

The main aim was to collect those basic, no props required, vocabulary drilling activities.  In collecting them, other simple ideas snuck in, but I decided that was absolutely fine – who’s going to complain!

I’ve separated them into four different categories to make it a little bit more manageable.  There will be errors, I’m sure, and you’ll have your own versions.  In fact, @langwitch has a Lingo Bingo all of her own and she has explained it far better than I can, so hop over to her blog and have a look yourself.

Then there’s always the issue of what to call these activities – I call it one thing in German, another in French, and that’s without regional variations!

But call them what ever you like, you’re more than welcome to them!

No props required list

Board activities list

Flash card activities list

Little prep required list

More fakery …

I learned about the brilliant Fakebook (fake Facebook pages) and Twister (fake Twitter messages) at the MFLSAT meeting at Cramlington Learning Village last month.  I have just this evening (thanks to @nikpeachey) discovered ifaketext.com, which will reproduce a screenshot of a text conversation on an iPhone.  I just tested it out – the foreign characters appear in the image which is generated, but disappeared into nonsense when I embedded the result in my blog (which may indicate an issues with WordPress – perhaps you could tell me?).  But I took a Jing screenshot below.

Not the most imaginative conversation, but I hope it illustrates the point.

Numbered Heads Together

Some people have been dropping hints lately that I should share a few more of my favourite co-operative learning strategies.

OK, OK I can take a hint!

Here’s one called Numbered Heads Together.  To get the most out of it, you need to seat pupils in groups of 4 and of mixed ability.  Each pupil will need a mini-whiteboard, and a pen that works 😉

  • Pupils numbers themselves 1-4 round their table, then teacher asks the question.
  • Using mini-whiteboards, pupils work individually at first to write down their best response.
  • When ready, each pupil gives a thumbs up, then all stand up.  They huddle together, discuss and decide upon the group’s best answer, then sit down.
  • Teacher rolls a die, and which ever number it lands on (1-4), that person from each group must share their answer with the class.
  • Teacher can see errors, ask pupils to explain how they reached their conclusion, ask pupils to explain errors to other groups.

Some examples of how I use this activity:

  • Give the infinitive of an unknown regular verb and ask pupils to give a particular conjugation (ie getting them to apply the rule)
  • Give a sentence in the present tense and ask pupils to put it into the past/future tense
  • Give pupils all the words required to make a sentence, and ask them to unjumble it (very good for practising correct word order in German)
  • Give four or five words or phrases, ask which is the odd one out and why (could be gender, irregular verbs, phrases in different tenses)
  • Give four or five words in the target language (the dafter the better!) and ask pupils to create a grammatically correct sentence using all of the words (they can add other words, but must still use the words you supply) eg Jupiter, hatstand, monkey, George Bush.
  • Ask pupils to write rules for a particular grammar point they have learned (good for starter or plenary).
To help me with classroom organisation, I will often prepare the questions on PowerPoint first, but it’s not necessary to do this everytime.

MFLSAT – the place to share

Following on from other successful events, the North East became the latest region to host a meeting for MFL teachers to share good practice.  Hosted at Cramlington Learning Village and organised by the most wonderful Chris Harte, the day brought together colleagues from up and down the country, who brought some examples of tricks and tips to enhance language teaching and learning.

I can’t begin to do full justice to all of the presentations here, but I’ll share the highlights, and where possible, link to people’s own blogs or presentations of their own work so that the information comes straight from the horse’s mouth.

First up was Mark Purves.  Mark is an enthusiastic advocate of singing as a tool for learning, and he got the day off to a rousing start by sharing some strategies for just that.  Music lifts the mood, and singing helps with controlling breathing – warm up exercises for voice,which is the instrument of languages.

Samantha Lunn was next, with some fabulous  suggestions for routines in the language classroom – she explains it all – and posts links to relevant documents – on her blog, so head on over and see what she has to say!

Thinking skills were the feature of Lynn Smith’s presentation, and she shared with us a multitude of ideas for developing these in MFL teaching and learning:

  • Odd one out
  • Give a selection of words, use each word once only to make 8 phrases in past tense
  • Almost encouraging pupils to be confused, part of the learning and thinking process
  • Memory map – a house is described on page outside classroom – pupils must take it in turns to read description, return to group and draw what they have read
  • DeBonos hats to promote discussions
  • Plenary- create mind-map ( = synthesising)
Clare Seccombe (whose article was recently published in TES) spoke to us about reading books for use in language learning.  Her presentation, including audio, can be found here, because she will explain it better than I ever could!  Oh, and she blogs here!
Emma Bains talked about some changes which she is in the process of introducing to her department’s curriculum.  They sound fabulous, and really imaginative.  Here’s a taster:
  • Pupils become a SatNav when learning to describe their town
  • Cluedo-type activity to encourage pupils to repeat several phrases whilst trying to guess the correct response
  • Rights and responsibilities
I had been looking forward to meeting Simon McLoughlin, as I am a huge admirer of the work he has been doing with his primary pupils.  He started by sharing a clip from Friends, to illustrate his point:
Simon uses Audioboo to record his pupils speaking, then lets them listen to themselves so that they can improve their pronunciation.  It works a treat!

The University of Newcastle’s computer aided learning resources were shared by Thomas Snell, who showed us the link to a vast archive of  language materials available at www.universed.co.uk.

Blockbusters was enthusiastically championed by Terri Dunne.  She presented an interactive template and a variety of language structures which work with the game, including practising different tenses.  Intensely competitive!

Dominic McGladdery shared some of his favourite classroom activities, which included:

Amanda Salt had flown over from Belfast just to attend this event, and she didn’t disappoint.  Amanda related the details of her school’s annual Spanish immersion weekend for A level students.  During this off-site weekend event, students take part in Dragon’s Den and treasure hunt style activities, and are not allowed to speak English in the presence of their teachers.  Amanda’s school wiki has all of the details …

We were then challenged to alter the way we mark our pupils’ books by Alex Blagona.  Alex was looking for ways to re-engage a group of demotivated year 8 pupils, so he began by asking them what they liked and didn’t like about their lessons.  Alex then adapted his teaching to suit the responses, and at end of each of lesson, asked again for feedback from pupils in their exercise books.  The marking process then became a dialogue between teacher and pupil, personalising the learning and assisting in developing conversations with parents too.  Pupils enjoyed the fact that they felt free to comment and had ownership of learning.

Joe Dale extolled the virtues of the QR code in this presentation so wander on over to have a look.  If you’re not sure what a QR code is, there’s an example below (you need a smart phone to read it), and there’s an explanation here.

Next up was Suzi Bewell, who graciously has blogged her own presentation about using Vocaroo – much better to have it from the person herself!

We then has a very special guest appearance, live from Oldham via Skype – Isabelle Jones told us about some cross curricular work she had done with music and art, resulting in some amazing rap music produced in French by some of her most demotivated boys.  We were all well and truly bowled over. and it was lovely to see Isabelle with us virtually!

Rene Koglbauer has done some lovely work with social media to improve writing, particularly that of boys.  Initially it was a dialogue for marking through email, and expanded to using Facebook in German for writing film reviews.  Pupils and staff commented on posts, and despite initial concerns over safeguarding, it turned into a very successful venture.

Fortunately, Alex Bellars has also posted a link to his presentation, in which he talked about three tools which he uses in the classroom:

  • Class Dojo – real-time behaviour rewards in class – increases engagement
  • Triptico – suite of IWB tools, eg Word Magnets for grouping, class timer, scoreboards, ordering priority of sentences
  • Lingro – turns a webpage into a clickable dictionary resource
During the day, there were also several ‘genius bar’ sessions, where people sat as experts during coffee break on a variety of topics.  As I was hosting one myself I don’t know what went on, but given the calibre of the other speakers I have no doubt they were worth the effort.
If you’d like to see the notes from my own genius bar, you could use the QR code above to take a look (see what I did there!), or check out this post.

Compare and Contrast challenge

I’ve been fascinated today by Brad Patterson’s blog post challenge, where he has challenged people to present two different but connected photos.

It really sparked my curiosity, so here’s my contribution.  I have to admit, I came up with two pairs of photos and couldn’t decide between the two, so I’m going to share both.  If it’s any justification, the two pairs are connected to each other.

Pair One

  • Where do you think is this?
  • How are the images connected?
  • What do you want to know about this place?

Pair Two

  • How are these people connected?
  • Why are their moods different?
  • What are they saying to each other?

But what do YOU love?

It occurs to me that one of the qualities of a successful teacher is that, in the course of their work, they are constantly thinking about other people – their pupils.

Working with trainee teachers, I was always delighted to observe the change in thinking from “what am I teaching” to “what do I want my pupils to learn”, because this shift in perspective usually indicates a much better understanding of what makes good learning and teaching.

So this means that teachers are always involved in the search for activities to engage pupils and are really pleased to find something which their students enjoy doing, because that brings a greater likelihood that they are learning at the same time as having fun.

But then I wondered – what learning activities do teachers like to use because they enjoy them themselves?  To be selfish for a moment – what do you love to do in the classroom?

One of my own personal favourites is Quiz Quiz Trade (you can find an explanation in this post), because it means I can be peripherally involved, do some formative assessment, and the pupils are moving around the room (not stuck to their chairs), and asking as well as answering questions.

To get a broader view, I then asked my Twitter amici “What’s the teaching/learning activity you love to use because you enjoy it?”

Here are some of the answers which I received

  • pass the teddy
  • X&O, hunt the object/flashcard
  • blindfold food tasting and naming
  • write dialogues\scenes and then act them out.
  • fashion show, cafe (even inviting parents in) and songs.
  • anything which takes me out of the picture; e.g. Running Dictation
  • Shoe box decorated as a room (doll’s house furniture), then video with running commentary a la Through the Keyhole.
  • I love the game ‘snatch’ takes forever to make but the kids love it and you can play match up, word and picture bingo with cards
  • “remote-control partner”, with big open space e.g. footie field/sports hall and lots of those little cone thingies
  • Cheat! Makes me completely redundant once I’ve made the cards. I also like post-it mania or headbands as I believe it’s called?
  • Pass the parcel – brilliant with sentence stems – very little time required to set it up.

Now although these are a varied bunch of activities, two things struck me about this collection of responses.

Firstly, although some of them may take a little preparation, the majority then hand control over to the pupils.  To me, this doesn’t indicate laziness on the part of the teachers, or a wish to opt out.  It’s promoting active learning, with the teacher as facilitator and not as holder of all knowledge.

And secondly, there’s the fun element.  The #mfltwitterati all shared activities which are fun for everyone involved, teacher and pupil alike.  Fun, which means engagement, involvement, and perhaps even forgetting that it’s work.  On both sides.

It may be a bit much of a stretch to link this to the quote by Confucius: ”Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, but I do think it’s true that in what can be a tremendously demanding and stressful job, planning things which are fun for everyone involved makes the job a little easier, and much more enjoyable.

With thanks to the following for their comments and contributions: @langwitch, @BonjourMcB, @PaulineSheaff, @bellaale, @IssacGreaves, @misstdunne, @zaragozalass, @amandasalt