MFL Spelling Game

French wordsThis week I made up a game for my children to practice the alphabet. I put lots of individual letters into a bag, and they had to take it in turns to draw a letter out and say its name. If they pronounced it correctly, they kept it; if not, it went back into the bag. The first person to spell a word with the letters they had in front of them was the winner.

I have several sets of scrabble tiles, so I used those, but to save money and time, the children could always write out the letters themselves and put them into a pot in the middle of the table.

My original idea was just to get them to practise the letters, as I’d noticed that although they were really good at chanting the alphabet, they were quite slow at naming the letters when spelling words.

However, the game ending up going beyond this. For starters, it really made them think about all the words they had learnt so far and how to spell them, so it turned into a good vocabulary revision game. They also practiced more than just the letters they pulled out, because they got so into the game that I overheard, “I really hope I get ‘erre’ , “I just need an ‘ixe’, “Please don’t be another ‘té’ etc.

The way I played it was that as soon as a child had made a word, the game stopped, the letters went back into the bag and we started again. The first few winners were ‘et’ and ‘as’ so then we added a rule that the word had to be at least three letters.

However, the game could be easily be adapted for older learners by either giving them a time limit to see who could make the most / longest words, or by giving each letter a Scrabble-type value and allow them to draw a certain number or letters to see who could make the highest-scoring word. Or to add an element of strategy, and to encourage older pupils to make longer words, you could add a rule that once someone has made a word, the other players can draw out one more letter to see if they can make a better one.

Related post: Learning to spell in French

VCOP display

Every classroom in my school has to have a VCOP display. In fact as a supply teacher I’ve been in a lot of classrooms, and every single one of them has had a VCOP display, so I’m assuming it’s something on Ofsted’s ticklist.

Now don’t get me wrong – I like VCOP. I know it has a lot of opponents, but I find it a very useful teaching tool, and like every tool its success depends on how you use it. I’m not a big fan of taking it out of context and treating it as four separate elements that children have to shoehorn into their writing, and to me a VCOP display does that.

My sentence displayThis display is my solution. My children are Deaf and for many of them BSL is their first language. They find English sentence structure difficult, so I have put up this display to demonstrate the structure of a standard English sentence. It would work equally well for EAL and EFL students, and I’m sure it could also be adapted for the MFL classroom, although I haven’t tried that yet.

adjective and subjectI have my Openers at the beginning of the sentence, where they belong, and my Punctuation at the end, also where it belongs. Connectives are underneath punctuation, to show that they are used to join two sentences together. Vocabulary is spread over four panels – Nouns (subject and object), Verbs and Adjectives.

Like everything with teaching, once you’ve done it, you think of a better way to do it, and next time I’ll move the adjective panel to just before the object instead of just before the subject. I think adjectives are probably used more to describe the subject than object, and it means that I could also have a S V A structure (The rose is pink) in the middle of the longer structure. It’s still a work in progress and I do plan to split the subject panel into nouns and pronouns, and the white panel needs an “or number” halfway down. Other than that, I’m quite happy with it so far.

In addition to providing them with a standard structure sentence, it is exposing them to grammatical terms, and already one of the boys in the class has asked what the word “article” means and what it’s for.

So there you have it. Nobody can accuse me of not having a VCOP display in my classroom, but I’ve managed to turn it into something more useful.

V is for…

V is for…Vocabulary.  One of the most important things to help improve your writing is a thesaurus. This isn’t a type of dinosaur, but a book of words. It’s written in alphabetical order, just like a dictionary, but instead of telling you what words mean, it gives you a list of other words that mean the same thing.

Most classrooms have them, but if yours doesn’t, think about asking your parents or carers to buy one for you. You can pick them up quite cheaply in bargain bookshops – sometimes for as little as 99p. It’s not cheating to use these in class (apart from when your teacher tells you that it’s a test)! In fact your teacher will be really happy that you are making an effort to improve your writing.

When using a thesaurus you just need to be careful to choose a word that makes sense. When you look a word up in the thesaurus you will see each word has n or v next to it. This tells you whether the word is a noun (object) or verb (doing word) and will help you decide which words to use.  Have a look at these sentences, each of which have the word ‘help’ in, and see if you can choose an alternative word from the ones below that will make sense.

  1. Can you help me with my homework?
  2. I’ve eaten 20 chocolate biscuits today. I just couldn’t help it.
  3. The charity gave help to the victims of the earthquake.

aid assist resist

Related post: U is for…   W is for…

The Language Show Live 2012 – What I learnt from Helen Myers

Helen Myers gave a run-down of her favourite language learning ICT tools.

Subscription ones

  • Linguascope: I’ve tried this one myself, and personally I don’t like it, but I know that other MFL teachers love it. What I didn’t realise, that I learnt from Helen Myers, is that once you have paid your subscription, you can use their images in your own resources within the school.
  • Task Magic: I’ve never used this, but it looked quite versatile for creating games – and unlike some MFL software which is biased towards learning vocabulary and set phrases, this one can be used for practising grammar, such as conjugating verbs, as well.
  • Vocab Express: this looked like a good way to help pupils learn vocabulary. There are pictures and audio to go with the written words to aid memorisation. While they are revising, pupils can group the words in any way that makes sense to them, which I think is a great idea. It has automated tests for blocks of words, which means you can set vocab tests to be done in individual learning time and free up lesson time which would have been spent of tests teaching instead.
  • Euro Talk: not much was said about this one, and after looking at the Euro Talk website I still can’t work out how useful it would be. If anyone has used this, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Free Ones

  • Mylo: I’ve tried this since the show. You can just go to the website and start playing, or sign up for an account to earn points that you can spend on styling your avatar.  I tried a few activities and found it…how shall I put this?….boring. I thought the graphics were odd at best and extremely confusing at worst (a cube wearing 3D glasses and holding a tub of popcorn to represent “brother”). It’s possibly useful for reading and listening activities, but over the Language Show weekend I saw ICT used in so many new and exciting ways that I was underwhelmed by this one. Having said that – it is free so you have nothing to lose by trying it yourself.
  • Quizlet: I’ve tried this since the show as well. This has a few different types of activity, from flashcards to race against the clock games.  I liked the variety and I can imagine younger children would enjoy some of the games. My only criticism would be that there are no visuals, and I think for some children (and adults!) having a picture alongside the word is an important part of learning new words.
  • MS Office, Windows Movie Maker and Audacity combination: The end product of using a combination of these three tools was a really professional looking video which could be used for introducing or revising vocabulary. It looked quite a time-consuming process, and over on the iPad stand the demonstrator showed how children could create a really similar end product on their own in about 30 minutes. However, if you don’t have an iPad and you do have time to invest then this process would definitely be worth looking into. It involved creating a PowerPoint presentation for the words and pictures, and then combining these pictures and music to make a video. The one they showed had vocabulary for clothing, but they suggested it could also be used for songs, poems, raps, recording news items and modelling conversations.

To see how their school is using ICT in language learning pay a visit to

Have you used any of these suggestions in our own classroom? If so what do you think of them? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

For language teaching and tuition from beginner to GCSE, visit my website

Related posts: The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from Rachel Hawkes
The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from Isabelle Jones
The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from everyone else
Le Mur Parlant

Languages at 5 – what’s all the fuss about?

The government suggest that children should start learning languages at the age of five, and suddenly in true British fashion we are throwing up our hands in horror. We are criticising the government for suggesting such a ridiculous idea. We are throwing up every obstacle we can think of, dismissing as irrelevant the fact that other countries teach their children English from a young age, and focusing firmly on the negative.

One of the poorest excuses for not learning a language I have heard in the last 24 hours is: “It’s different for us. We’re an island so we are more cut off from the rest of Europe.” Maybe you forgot, but we are connected to mainland Europe by train lines now. It’s quicker for someone in London to get to a non-English speaking city, than for someone in Frankfurt to get to a non-German speaking city.

“What’s the point in teaching our children a foreign language when they haven’t got a wide English vocabulary yet, and they are still struggling with the complexities of our own grammar?” The point is that at this age language skills come more easily to them. When they are still mispronouncing some words in their own language they are not afraid to have a go at pronouncing foreign words.

In the last couple of years I have taught a variety of languages to Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 children. They have sung French songs in a presentation for new parents, German ones in school assemblies, and Latin carols in Christmas plays. In fact last Christmas one 5 year old girl I had been teaching was so confident that she sang a solo in Latin!

I’ve told them stories in a number of different languages, and they have taken great delight in joining in with repeated phrases. They have learnt not to get hung up about understanding every single word as long as they understand the important parts.

These children have been praised for their abilities and they now see having knowledge of a foreign language as something to be proud of, not something to be scared of.

Nobody is suggesting that we suddenly expose a five year old to the difficulties of German cases, so let’s do something really radical. Let’s put all our language prejudices aside and examine the positive side of teaching languages to children at a younger age.

One of the main frustrations in learning a new language is not being able to express yourself in that language as easily as you can in your own, and this is what causes a lot of learners to lose heart and give up. The older you are when you begin to learn a second language, the greater the chasm between your ability in your own language and in the one you are learning. By beginning to give children the tools they need to learn a second language, we are closing that gap. At this young age children are happy to be learning just words and short phrases, so there is no need for teachers to worry that they don’t have enough knowledge.

Starting teaching languages at 5 lays foundations for more in-depth language learning in KS2. The children already have 2 years of vocabulary behind them so by the time they start to learn some grammar they have enough words at their disposal to build useful sentences with.

What about the fact that they struggle with grammar in their own language? People are assuming that teaching grammar in MFL lessons, and grammar in literacy lessons have to be mutually exclusive, but this does not have to be the case. Grammar is grammar in any language. Nouns are still nouns, verbs are still verbs, and (in European languages) sentences still have to begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop. A sentence in any language needs a verb to make it make sense, and adding a connective will make it more interesting. Instead of being scared of teaching languages to primary school children we should embrace it as a means to reinforce their learning in English. It can even be used as an aid to expanding their English vocabulary. For example: “French only has one word for small – how many can you think of in English? Let’s use a thesaurus to find some more.”

Why then stop at reinforcing English? I have taught children to tell the time in French the week after they did it in their maths lesson, thus consolidating what they have learnt. The children were happy to do it again because it was in a different language, and those children who had struggled to tell the time when it was taught in English had a second chance to pick it up.

We already have several generations who are terrified by the thought of speaking another language. Don’t we owe it to our children to let them be the ones to whom it is second nature?