The Language Show Live 2012 – What I learnt from Dr Rachel Hawkes

Rachel Hawkes had some great ideas for motivating pupils to practise their language skills outside of the classroom. My favourite was the Spanglovision contest which her school does in Year 7. Each class has a different song, and in an interactive lesson at school they listen to the song and make-up some actions to help them remember the meaning of the words. They then take the sound file away so that they can practise at home.

There is a big incentive to do the practise at home, because at school they then have a show for the rest of the school to watch. The Y7s perform, and the Y8s upwards vote for their favourite act. They also have a special show for the parents to come and watch.

Although Dr Hawkes teaches in a secondary school, I think this activity would work really well in a primary school. It would fit perfectly into a European week in a primary school, with each class learning a song in a different language – they could then dress up in the colours of that country’s flag for the final show.

A similar idea is Language Beatz: the children get a backing track, and they create their own song based on whatever vocabulary they are currently learning. This would be a great cross-curricular project for music, ICT and MFL in a primary school. When the song is finished, if teachers and pupils want to, they can submit it to a national competition.

To celebrate all languages within a school, why not have a multi-cultural/multi-language recital? Children are invited to sing a song, read a short story, or recite a poem in either the language they are learning at school or their home language. The English translation is shown on a screen behind them for the benefit of people who don’t know that language. I like this idea, and again I can see it working well at primary school level as well. To break up the speaking and singing, there is no reason why you couldn’t also include some traditional dances from different countries.

These first three ideas would make a lovely alternative to an end of year play.

The last of Dr Hawkes’ ideas that I’m going to talk about here is the Language Challenge. The children have a list of challenges to choose from, and they earn points for each one they achieve. When they reach 100 points they receive a reward. The points awarded for each challenge vary according to the difficulty , so pupils can choose to do 2 or 3 hard challenges, or lots of easier ones. This makes it possible for even lower achieving pupils to reach 100 points. In her school the challenges are things such as:

  • updating Facebook status in the target language for 1 month
  • writing an explanation for a grammar rule
  • teaching a younger child
  • producing a website or blog in the target language

Obviously these challenges would be too difficult in a primary school, but there is no reason why some simpler challenges couldn’t be set:

  • answering the register in German every day for half a term
  • writing the date in French  in other subjects
  • borrowing a bilingual book from the classroom and using it to identify the meaning of one word in the target language
  • counting in Italian for games in the playground

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