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Book reviews

You never know quite how a new book will be received, so I am pleased to see the following early reviews on Amazon for my new handbook Becoming an Outstanding Languages Teacher.

“In an increasingly jargon-heavy and initiative-laden educational landscape, Steve Smith's approach is refreshingly straightforward. This book contains a wealth of common-sense advice and well thought-out strategies which actually work in the MFL classroom. It is pleasing that the focus is on learning and that the basics are not neglected - the chapter on "Running a Room" should be required reading for every NQT. Steve's technical knowledge is outstanding and ideas are explained clearly and precisely. Steve's book now accompanies me every time I sit down to plan and I thoroughly recommend it.”

“This has arrived last week and I have started reading it immediately. It is very well written and easy to read. The ideas presented are very useful and explains each task very clearly. I am very ha…
Recent posts

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…

GCSE reading: a Syrian refugee family finds a home in Belgium

This is a text with exercises from

Help yourself if you think it would be useful with your classes. It would suit students aiming for higher tier and could be exploited in a range of ways.

Une famille syrienne réfugiée en Belgique

Le journal DH a rencontré la première citoyenne belge qui héberge des réfugiés dans sa maison, à Schaerbeek en Belgique.

Arrivée il y a deux semaines après un voyage très difficile de deux mois, la famille Mezrab a trouvé refuge chez Marcelle Bennick, une retraité de 73 ans. Elle habite toute seule et elle possède un appartement vide et meublé de 15 m2. Elle raconte : "J’ai pensé que, vu la crise des réfugiés que nous vivons en ce moment, je pourrais héberger une famille de réfugiés. Du coup, ils habitent en bas et moi à l’étage."

Marcelle était la première Belge inscrite sur le listing des citoyens qui acceptent d’héberger des réfugiés. Une première rencontre a été arrangée, un traducteur présent. Marcelle a tout de suite aimé la fam…

A-level knowledge portfolios

A-level MFL teachers will know that cultural knowledge forms an integral part of the specifications and mark schemes. This element is known as AO4 (Assessment Objective 4).

One idea which we have discussed during AQA presentations with teachers is for students to gradually build up, over the course, a portfolio of knowledge points which they could attempt to bring into their speaking test. These could prove to be very useful hooks on which to hang statements and opinions during the oral. I would suggest that there is a good case for learning some of these almost by rote so that, in the heat of the moment, candidates have got something to fall back on and build up points for AO4.

It must be stressed how important this is. Teachers should not be tempted to allow students to talk in generalities about their own lives or about English-speaking culture. AO4 is there, at the DfE's insistence, to make sure the focus is firmly on the culture of the language of study.

With this in mind, I …

Latest additions to frenchteacher

Here are the resources I have added to over the last month.


1. A new article and exercises on the French music industry and streaming in particular. Text, vocabulary to complete, multi-choice comprehension, oral work, gap-fill, written summary and translation into French. The works! Most suitable for Year 2 of the A-level course.

2. I am grateful to Chris Tanner who sent me updated versions of two A-level documents on the site: notes on the political system and the left and right in French politics. These are marked as updated on the A-level page.

3. Video listening. This one is about electronic tags from FR3/Youtube (AQA sub-theme "Comment on traite les criminels"). Vocab to complete and questions in French for oral or written work. As always check the availability of this video.

4. Video listening. Prisons in France. Vocabulary list, true statements to tick, gap-fill. This short video talks about some of the latest facts, figures and issues about Frenc…

AIM revisited - corrections and clarifications

In my new book Becoming and Outstanding Languages Teacher, one of my themes was the idea that there is no need to be too dogmatic about language teaching methodology and that different approaches (within a principled framework) can lead to success for learners. So much depends on generic teacher qualities and the quality with which any approach is delivered. With that in mind, the final chapter featured descriptions of three quite contrasting approaches: AIM (Accelerated Integrated Methodology), TPRS and the bilingual approach developed by Barry Smith and used at Michaela Community School.

For the input for the section of text about AIM I asked Pauline Galea, a well-known advocate for the approach in Canada, if she would write a "case study" for me, which she kindly did and which I included, with some editing, in the final text. I also added my own evaluation from my reading (although, as it happens, there is scant research evidence specifically in support of AIM).

Pauline h…

Knowledge Organisers

Knowledge organisers are a bit of a thing at the moment and their emergence has paralleled the growing influence of the "knowledge based curriculum" favoured particularly in some academies and free schools in England. Here is not the place to go into E.D. Hirsch Jr, cultural literacy and the skills versus knowledge debate, but just to mention first what form knowledge organisers can take.

Teacher Heather Fearn who works with the Inspiration Trust academy chain has summed up the uses of a knowledge organiser as follows:

1.  Curriculum mapping: for the TEACHER Identifying powerful knowledge, planning to build schemas, identifying transferable knowledge and mapping progression in knowledge.

2. For reference: for the PUPIL:  in place of a textbook or a form of summary notes for pupils to reference.

3. A list of revision items: for the PUPIL (and possibly the parents): what the teacher has decided ALL pupils need to know as a minimum at the end of the topic.

(Source here. )

I first…