Puzzle it out

May 16, 2012

I’ve been experimenting this week with Jigsaw planet – a whizzy free web application that creates an online jigsaw in a matter of seconds out of any image you have uploaded.  You can make the puzzle as easy or hard as you like by choosing anything between 4 and 300 pieces, by varying the shape from a simple square to a normal “jigsaw” like piece or even something more complex, and by choosing to rotate the pieces or not.  There are a number of features of this tool which are particularly useful when it comes to your students completing them:

  • You can click to see a pop up smaller version of the completed image
  • A “ghost” image of the completed puzzle can be shown behind the pieces
  • There is an audible “click” each time a piece is joined to another one correctly
  • Once pieces have been joined together they can be moved “as one piece
  • It’s perfect for using with an interactive whiteboard, so great for motivating pupils and promoting pupil engagement
  • The time taken to complete a puzzle is recorded so it makes for fun team games

I first tried it with my lunch time Chinese club – a 24 piece puzzle with 4 characters on it, each with a different coloured background.  I’ve got some keen little year 7 boys who often turn up ahead of the main group so it’s useful to have something they can be getting on with whilst we wait for the others to arrive.  Once they had completed the puzzle they had to say which character was the odd one out and why (focus on radicals).  I did a similar activity with year 13s;  their puzzle was of 4 items of clothing, the odd one out being the item which takes a different measure word.

I’ve been thinking of other uses for this application and so far I have thought of:

  • Puzzle made of objectives for lesson – pupils predict and work out what these are
  • Puzzle made up of a Wordle, which in turn represents a text – pupils predict what the text is about.  Here’s an example I’ve made from the Auβenseiter song
  • Puzzle is of a series of images – pupils use the language of speculation (I think, it could be, maybe it’s….) whilst completing the puzzle and the completed image is the stimulus for a Group talk activity.
  • The puzzle is an image, which  is a stimulus to developing intercultural understanding or for discussing something culturally specific to the target language country with pupils
  • The puzzle image is a text which makes completing it a reading task
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What is happiness?

May 10, 2012

“Was ist Glück?” was the question that was asked of various members of the public by the  German rock group Silbermond.  Their  responses are featured in the video that accompanies the group’s latest hit single Himmel auf;  a video that is a wonderful example of an authentic resource that can be exploited in so many ways.

  • It’s a good example of something that is currently popular so provides a good insight into the contemporary music scene in Germany.
  • At a visual and concrete level without the sound the video can be paused for pupils to describe what they see – the weather, the landscape, the people, where they are, what they are doing (Wie sieht er/sie aus?  Was macht er/sie? etc) Depending on the level of the pupils this could then lead on to a discussion as to whether the images are “eher positiv oder negativ” and reasons for that.
  • The video could also be used to introduce the language of feelings:  glücklich, traurig, einsam, nervös, Angst haben etc
  • It could be used to link to the wider curriculum such as RE, PSHE and citizenship with particular reference to values and what is important in life.  Pupils could for example be given cards with words like “Familie”, “Freunde”, “Geld”, “Gesundheit” etc to rank according to what is important for them in their lives and to give a reason (…weil…..)  They could then be shown images of other people e.g. from other (poorer)parts of the world and asked to imagine how they feel and why they say that…  Activities such as this are good for developing pupils skills in being able to empathize with others, a key skill in developing intercultural understanding.
  • To introduce a specific grammar point, such as “wenn” clauses, e.g.  Glück ist, wenn die Sonne scheint/wenn man mit Freunden ist, wenn man auf Urlaub ist etc
  • As a springboard for reflection and creativity.  Pupils could write their own examples of what “Glück ist…”  These could simply be a noun, adjective + noun or a more extended sentence with a “wenn clause”, depending on their ability.  They could be challenged to speculate on who the people are, what they do, what their background is and to either write or talk about them.
  • The sound track could be used for developing listening skills, perhaps with pupils picking out specific bits of information, such as the numbers in the first verse, or filling in the blanks in a clozed version of the lyrics; there is a version of the lyrics here (looks like someone has done a transcription so can’t guarantee that it’s error free!)

In addition to the “official” video there is another version of the song uploaded onto Youtube with images that match the lyrics.  This gives a good impression of the other other side of the coin – “wenn man kein Glück hat…” and would be a good aid to understanding the song itself. Comments on Youtube on the official version on the song are additional sources of authentic text on this theme, as is the video that Silbermond have uploaded onto their website of videos people have made of themselves saying what “Glück” is.  Pupils at AS/A2 level could work on this independently and report back on which statements they most agree/disagree with.

The possibilities of “Glück” are endless…….

Viel Glück dabei!


Intercultural understanding – Mother’s Day

May 5, 2012

One of the recommendations of the 2011 Ofsted Languages specific report Achievement and Challenge was that secondary schools should “make more use of authentic materials to help develop students’ language skills and their intercultural understanding” (p 8. Modern Languages – Achievement and Challenge 2007 – 2010, Ofsted,  January 2011).  This means that we need to think actively about how we can embed the intercultural dimension of language learning into our schemes of learning.

With Mothering  Sunday in the UK falling on the 4th Sunday in Lent (usually in March) it’s easy to overlook the fact that most other countries observe this at a different time in the year.  In many countries Mother’s day is observed in May; first Sunday in Spain and Portugal, 2nd Sunday in Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and the final Sunday in France, although if Pentecost falls on this Sunday, then Mother’s day is pushed back to the first Sunday in June, which happens to be the case in 2012.

Looking at Mother’s day in the target language country can be exploited in a number of ways:

  • It fits in very nicely with the topic of shopping so pupils could look at internet sites in the target language promoting Mother’s day gifts, such as this one in German and this one in French.
  • A simple starter would be to cut and paste the descriptions and images of a number of gifts from such a site and get the pupils to order the pictures in price order.
  • Grammar points such as direct and indirect objects and/or pronouns, and the dative and accusative cases in German can be introduced.
  • It is a good opportunity to help students to develop their reading skills and language learning strategies by exposing them to some authentic materials. Simple texts about Mother’s day in the target language country and the UK can be found through an online search – try looking through search engines specifically geared towards children (such as die blinde Kuh in German) – which can be used to make comparisons about the TL country and their home country, perhaps in the form of a venn diagram.
  • Pupils could look at instructions in the target language for making a Mother’s day gift – could be used to introduce the imperative.  There are ideas in French on the Tête à modeler site or on this German site.
  • There are any number of  songs (and accompanying videos) on this theme on Youtube which can be exploited either as texts or for pronunciation practice.