WWW or the wonderful world of Wordle

April 30, 2010


The image above is a Wordle of the importance statement of the MFL  programme of study.  It is a word cloud created by a free online application at www.wordle.net/  which randomizes text and displays the words according to the frequency of the words used (the more frequent the word, the bigger the word).  It has tremendous potential for use in the classroom in terms of developing language learning and thinking skills:

  1. As a starter – to introduce new vocabulary or topic.    At a simple level pupils can be given a wordle of vocabulary or text  from a new topic area and they can work individually/ in pairs/groups to identify which words they know, which ones they can guess (cognates) and which ones they need to use dictionary skills to work out.  At advanced level learners can be give a wordle of a text which they use as a starting point for a discussion trying  to predict the context.
  2. To apply their knowledge about  language to categorise the words in the wordle.  e.g. nouns/verbs/adjectives or to classify nouns by gender.
  3. As a plenary/tool for AfL – e.g. a wordle created of TL and English words which pupils have to match up or a wordle in the TL in which they demonstrate their knowledge about language  or phonics or their ability to use language creatively.
  4. To demonstrate understanding of phonics by classifying words by their phonemes/letter strings.
  5. As a revision aid – a summary of a particular topic or context or as an aide-memoire.
  6. To help pupils develop presentation and spontaneous speaking skills.
  7. To show the results of a class survey or poll or as a display.
  8. To promote creativity – pupils are challenged to create sentences/stories etc from words on a wordle.
  9. As a tool in a listening exercise – pupils cross out the words they can identify in a spoken text.
  10. To encourage self reflection (PLTS – reflective learners) and to  improve written work – the frequency count in a wordle will highlight words that can get over used e.g. “intéressant” or “lustig”.  A  wordle can also make it easier for pupils to spot their own mistakes (e.g. in the incorrect use of accents) as it breaks up the normal order of words, thus making it less likely that they will simply gloss over their mistakes.

These are just some of the few ways in which a wordle can be used and they are dead simple to create as you can see here:

View more presentations from lizfotheringham.

The power of song

April 21, 2010

In the workshops I have been doing in phase 3 of the new secondary curriculum support programme for the Association for Language Learning I have included a session on using songs because they can be such powerful aids to language learning.  Indeed at a recent meeting for Links into Languages trainers we were asked to think back to our early language learning experience and to share that with those around us.  Although I can’t claim to recall my very first lesson I do remember that my first year of learning French, somewhere around the age of nine or ten (yes there WAS some primary language teaching going on in the sixties), was spent using magazines published by Mary Glasgow called “Bonjour”, a title which of course still exists to this day.  Although I can’t remember whether the accompanying tapes were reel to reel or cassette such is the power of song that to this day some forty plus years later I can still visualise the classroom in which those lessons took place and can recall the words of one of the songs we learnt:  “Un elephant qui se balançait sur une toile d’araignée…” 

So, if nothing else songs are a great aid to memory – helping through rhythm, music and repetition to fix sounds, words, phrases even whole grammatical structures in the mind.   I’m sure I’m not the only teacher to get a brief rendition of “Quelle est la date de ton anniversaire?”  from the “Kilo de chansons” collection in response to a date related question!

It’s also worth noting that whilst consideration of VAK learning preferences (all the rage some years back with the backing of the then DfES), current resources in support of the SEAL agenda on the National strategies site has a questionnaire based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  According to his theory musical intelligence is one of the nine forms of “intelligence” which individuals have in different combinations and strengths, so let’s make sure we remember and include those “music smart” pupils when we are planning learning and teaching.

Chinese Festivals – 清明节 Qīnɡmínɡjié

April 7, 2010

Whilst Chinese New Year and the Mid Autumn festival are perhaps the best known Chinese Festivals , there are many other festivals which can be exploited to deepen pupils’ understanding of Chinese language and culture.  One is 清明节 Qīnɡmínɡjié which, unlike Chinese New Year, follows the solar calendar and falls on or around April 5th – 15 days after the Spring equinox.  

Qingming in Singapore

Burning paper money

 It is an occasion for the Chinese to remember and honour their ancestors by visiting the cemetery to tend the graves, hence the popular title of “Tomb Sweeping Day”, although Qīnɡmínɡ literally means “Clear bright” .   Offerings of food are made to the dead and paper money is burnt to honour them.    Qīnɡmínɡ is also a time to celebrate the advent of Spring with the rebirth of nature, so it is the start of the planting season and a time to engage in outdoor activities, such as  kite flying.

Looking at kites is a good way to develop pupils’ linguistic skills in Chinese within a cultural context.  On the Mandarin page are some slides I’ve used both with my KS3 club and my Year 12s to:

  • look at high frequency structures and vocabulary such as numbers, colours and 有 yǒu
  • develop speaking skills by comparing kites
  • develop comprehension skills by looking for clues as to meaning
  • develop thinking skills: categorising, analysing (odd one out)
  • engage in team work and group work
  • be creative – create own design for a kite and to describe it
  • understand more about characters and  how words are formed in Chinese.

The one word that really caught the imagination of the year 12s was the Chinese for owl:  猫头鹰  māotóuyīng “Cat head eagle”!   Love it!

猫头鹰 māotóuyīng AKA Cat head eagle!

Best online resources for learning Chinese #2 BBC languages

April 4, 2010

The BBC has great resources for learning a whole range of languages accessible from their home page for languages .   The materials for learning Chinese are no exception and include their 10 part introduction to Mandarin:  Real Chinese

This consists of a slide show with key language, cultural tips, notes on pronunciation and grammar and video clips for each of 10 topics which are essentially practical in nature and ideal preparation for any trip to China.  I’ll be heading off to China for 10 days in July with some of my Year 12s so I have used some of the video clips both to introduce a topic such as “ordering” drinks” and also as comprehension practice.  They have also found the cultural insights from the video clips fascinating.

Although the vocabulary in  “useful phrases” section of each topic of Real Chinese is in pinyin rather than in characters, there is a mini guide introducing characters which provides a succinct introduction to this fascinating subject.  In the games section of the site you can learn how to write some characters and practise writing some yourself.

In addition to Real Chinese  there is also the Quick fix page with essential phrases which can be printed out to accompany downloadable sound files.

The video clips from Real Chinese are also available in the BBC’s Learning Zone Broadband Class Clips library where you can search for short clips by level (Primary or Secondary) and by key word. This  library is particularly useful for finding video material on cultural background as each clip is tagged with key words and suggestions as to how it could be used in class.

A tour in Beijing  for example teaches some simple vocabulary for directions whilst at the same time introducing some of the key landmarks in Beijing.