Assessment on the go – a webinar brought to you by the ALL London branch!

May 18, 2015

ALL red logoAre you at a loose end the evening of May 19th?  If so why not join a free webinar organised by the London branch of the Association for Language Learning…

Rachel Smith will be talking about ‘Assessment on the go’ and will be looking at online formative assessment tools such as: Nearpod: Socrative: and Zaption:

Registration and more details are available here:




All things German

October 2, 2014

German flagI have just started listening to the excellent series by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, about Germany:  Memories of a Nation ahead of the exhibition of the same name that opens at the Museum on October 16th.  This should be compulsory listening for all teachers and students of German as he offers a fascinating insight into elements of German history over 600 years through artefacts and places associated with the German speaking world.  In the opening episode he points out how fragmented this is and how if Goethe had travelled in the 1770s from Strasbourg in the west to Königsberg in the east he could have passed, via a somewhat circuitous route, through 50 different German states!

Despite this fragmentation he talks about the number of memories common to those living in modern day Germany and how monuments such the Holocaust memorial serve as a reminder of the past.  As it happens  ‘Remember’ is the theme of this year’s national Poetry day. A Google search on ‘Erinnerung’ and ‘Gedicht’ throws up the following site with a large number of poems on the theme of remembering and memory.

The theme of ‘Remember’ is particularly apposite given this year’s anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, so perhaps taking a look at the Argonnerwaldlied might be worth doing to compare a German perspective of life on the front with that of the ‘war poets’ in English literature.  More specifically there is a collection of poems related to that period gathered together on this site, including a poem about the famous Christmas day truce, Die Kriegsweihnachtslegende by Ludwig Winder.  The Christmas truce is also the theme of a pack of resources put together by the British Council under the title Football remembers which includes ‘Truce’ vocabulary in four languages including French and German.  There are plenty of ideas for cross-curricular work and is worth checking out.



ALL June Event

June 13, 2014

For the June Event this year we (the committee of the London branch of ALL) wanted to put on a session that would attract teachers of less widely taught languages. My session, Enrich your Curriculum, takes Chinese as a case study and illustrates how teaching strategies with which teachers of mainstream languages will be familiar, can be applied to the less widely taught languages. This includes strategies for speaking, developing thinking skills and independence, and there is even an example of ‘great literature’……

The early bird catches the worm…..

June 8, 2014

ALL red logo….but time is running out to register for the early bird rate for the June Event organised London branch of the Association of Language Learning.  This takes place next Saturday June 14th at SOAS (School of Oriental and African studies), starting at 9.55 a.m.

The speakers include Rene Koglbauer (ALL President elect), Tim Crapper, Colin Christie and yours truly!  For ALL members the charge is only £10 if you register by tomorrow (Monday 9th June)  and £25 for non-members.  For student members of ALL it’s free.  The early bird rate assists with planning for catering purposes, so we do encourage you to register early.  The easiest way to register is via Eventbrite.  You are welcome to turn up on the day, but it will cost an extra £5.

So, don’t miss out – book NOW!

Eurovision – it’s that time of the year again….

May 8, 2014

Eurovision image










It’s that time of the year again for the ‘Boom bang a bang’ jamboree that is the Eurovision song contest!  It is an event that lends itself to exploitation in the classroom in a number of ways, so here are a few ideas:

  •  Pupils could consider what constitutes ‘Europe’ and think about the differences between the geographical (or indeed historical) concept of Europe compared to membership of the European Union and the European broadcasting union.  Pupils could be given a list of countries in the language they are learning and match them to the English (or simply work out what the English is)/plot where the countries are on a map and/or create a venn diagram showing how the various countries relate to the different concepts of ‘Europe’.
  • Pupils could practise their reading skills and using numbers in the target language by doing a quiz on Eurovision facts and figures.   The example in this presentation is in French but could be easily adapted to other languages.
  • Pupils could listen to short extracts from some of the songs and have a Group Talk type discussion about the songs/music/video they like and why.  The Eurovision site has links to all the songs, including videos.

Those are ideas for activities that could be used year after year at Eurovision song contest time.  Then of course, there are the songs themselves.  Increasingly there are fewer and fewer entries where the  contestants are singing in their own language (or at least in the languages most commonly taught in the UK classroom).  A cursory glance through this year’s songs reveal that the Belgian, German, Austrian and Swiss entries are all sung in English.

Thankfully France has bucked the trend with a cracking  upbeat number from the group Twin Twin entitled Moustache.   On the Eurovision site you can see the wonderfully retro looking video which the group has created;  this takes the form of a game show in which the contestant really wants to win a moustache!  It has already proved to be a bit controversial with the accusation that the group has plaigerised the song Papaoutai by Stromae

On the face of it the desire for a moustache might seem very bizarre but actually the song is satirising modern values which puts material things above some of the more simple things in life.  So some ideas to exploit the song and its accompanying video:

  • Comprehension work on the lyrics – what words do pupils already know, what can they work out from the context and other clues etc.  The lyrics are actually fairly straightforward and can be found on the Eurovision site here.
  • Using the lyrics to do some  grammar work, especially the use of the present tense.
  • Taking screenshots of the video to describe appearance – there are some pretty wacky hairstyles!
  • Using the lyrics to get pupils to think about their values in life and what other simple things someone might wish for, such as  love, friends, happiness or health.  Pupils could be given a list of things to rank in order of importance and say why.  They could also be shown pictures of people in different situations;  they have to imagine what these people would say that they would wish for.

Finally, for pupils learning Spanish there is Ruth Lorenzo’s Dancing in the Rain which uses a mix of Spanish and English – the lyrics can be found in a link from here.


Greg Horton Special Mk III – Group Talk

December 1, 2013

Group Talk phrasesThe London Branch of the Association for Language Learning hosted another Greg Horton Special yesterday, inviting Greg to speak about his inspirational and award winning project for getting pupils to use the target language spontaneously and in an authentic way – Group Talk.

Following his previous visit about 18 months ago I got together with our lovely Hanban teacher and put together the following presentation to teach pupils the key phrases for introducing the first stage of Group Talk to the my Year 12 learners.  They responded incredibly well and with great enthusiasm;  they were able to see how the core phrases could be used across a range of topics.

To begin with we gave them the following sheet of these core Group Talk phrases laminated for reference on the desk, but as they grew more familiar with them the support became less necessary.  What is particularly gratifying is the fact that they will now come out with some of the core phrases at an appropriate moment during the normal course of a lesson.  For example, I might make a statement about something and they comment with 真的吗?! (really?!) or 我不同意 (I don’t agree) off their own bat.

Water, water everywhere….

October 2, 2013


Water, water everywhere is the theme of this year’s National Poetry day, an annual “nationwide celebration of poetry for everyone everywhere”.  It falls on the first Thursday in October which this year just happens to coincide with Germany’s National day, or Tag der deutschen Einheit, on October 3rd.

When I was learning German (many moons ago!) both my grandmothers, a maths and art teacher respectively, took great delight in showing me what German they knew by reciting a German poem – Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine.  I’m sure that the reason that they could remember it word perfect years after first coming across the poem was due to the repetition of sounds, rhymes and rhythms. They may even have heard and learnt the words set to music.  If so that too would have helped to fix the words in their mind.

The story of the Lorelei luring the fishermen to their death on the Rhine whilst combing her golden hair fits perfectly with the theme for this year’s National poetry day, so if you are tempted to give it a go here are a couple of videos that could be used to introduce it to students.  The first is a spoken version of the poem showing the text with the music of the song version in the background:

The second version the song version without text but is of a boat trip on the Rhine:

Of course is the weather is not so good on National Poetry day maybe a rain inspired poem might fit the bill rather better?

Having got into the theme of water poetry I had a look for French as well.

For younger and beginner learners of French how about this poem entitled La Mer by Paul Fort?  Paul Eluard’s poem Poisson is also quite accessible.  A wider collection of water themed or inspired poems can be found here as well as this anthology put together by a class  from Grenoble.  Finally I found some examples of water inspired poems written by French school children.

With the requirement for pupils to be exposed to  literary texts under the new national curriculum there’s no time like an occasion such as National Poetry Day to get started…

Celebrating National days – 国庆节快乐!

October 1, 2013

Today (October 1st) is China’s National Day, marking the founding of the People’s Republic of China.  It will be the start of a week long holiday, the so-called Golden week, when many Chinese go travelling.  The BBC learning zone broadband has an excellent short  introduction to National Day in China and customs associated with it. It’s perfect for showing to beginners as it includes basic greetings.

Talking this video clip as a starting point there are many ways in which the theme of National day could be exploited by linking it to the following contexts:

  • Significant dates, both for and individual and a communities (historical events, birthdays etc)
  • The significance of national identity – flags and anthems
  • Customs and traditions, such as dance
  • Travel and holidays – Golden week is a time when many Chinese go on holiday
  • Food – family get-togethers and meals

For more advanced learners the Confucius Institute online has a couple of dialogues discussing National day and they could even look at the words of the National anthem.

Beyond the text book

April 23, 2013

Looking forward to meeting teachers at Anglia Ruskin University today for the event organised by Routes into Languages and OCR.

We shall be looking at ways of addressing some of the issues identified by Ofsted as being in need of improvement in the report Achievement and Challenge, and developing pupils’ language skills that do not rely on the use of the text book.

A .pdf copy of my presentation is also available here.

Lesson plans

March 3, 2013

The following articles I wrote for Teach Secondary magazine have recently been published on their website:

KS3: Understanding grammar and parts of speech

KS3: Discussing Halloween

KS4: Improving speaking skills

KS4: Conversation

KS4: Olympic values