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15 types of writing task

When most people think of language proficiency they think of speaking and listening - engaging in conversations. In my view, of the four skills writing is the least useful and although social media has created plenty of "real life" opportunities for writing chunks, sentences and short paragraphs, assessment regimes still value writing too highly. At GCSE in England and Wales it is worth 25% of all the marks available. Is this justifiable and does it risk skewing too much what teachers do in lessons? This bias is no doubt partly to do with tradition and the hold which universities still exert on language teaching syllabuses.

To my mind, the main value of incorporating writing in  lessons is to use it to support the development of proficiency in general: doing writing tasks helps build vocabulary knowledge, oral fluency and accuracy and, I daresay, reading and listening skill. Every writing tasks you do helps build those memory links which can lead to the procedural knowledge …
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Empathy: one key to successful teaching

When I reflect on what I have seen and experienced as a language teacher over the years, one of the characteristics of the successful teacher, it seems to me, is the capacity to show empathy. Whatever their personality or chosen methodology, some teachers have a very keen sense of where to pitch the lesson, how to sense the mood of the class, when to divert from the original lesson plan, how to sense when boredom could be setting in - in general, how to relate to the class. I would go as far as to say that this ability trumps (within limits) the methodology employed in the lesson. I would pick out two types of empathy referred to by psychologists and educationalists:

Cognitive empathy 

This is the capacity to understand another's perspective or mental state. In teaching we can say that it refers to the teacher’s ability to marry every level of their teaching (e.g. planning lessons, classroom delivery, feedback provision, target-setting, homework) to their students’ thinking process…

Alice Ayel: French the natural way

Teacher Alice Ayel has a YouTube channel which you may find useful. In each video Alice talks through, at slow speed, a simple 5-6 minute account ("story") illustrated with line drawings and words she creates on a mini-whiteboard. It's like a teacher working with a full size whiteboard from the front of the class or pre-prepared PowerPoint images and words.

The stories are in themselves not terribly interesting, but do offer clear examples of meaningful French, with in-built repetition, suitable for post-beginner students.

How could you use these?

Well, I could see a case for occasional classroom use to support your current topic. You might play the clip on full once, then replay the clip on short sections, asking your own questions along the way. You could employ your full repertoire of question types - true/false, yes/no, either/or, open ended etc. You could then ask the same questions and get pupils to write down single word or full sentence answers. The aim would be…

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

How do you view tech tools?

As digital technology and the internet have developed over the last couple of decades, language teachers and their students have benefitted from all sorts of possibilities: online listening, viewing and reading, interactive websites to practise all the skills, online course books and interactive resources for whiteboard, computer, phone and tablet, all kinds of apps for vocabulary and creative use, not to mention those tools which help you be organised and communicate with classes and parents. It's hard to keep up really. Every teacher will have their own feelings about technology and which bits they find useful.

Now even though I am reaching dinosaur status, I must say I was always quite positive about tech. I persuaded my school to pay for an early computer-based language lab (Keylink), was a user of Fun with Texts (later to evolve into Textivate) embraced sites such as languagesonline.org.uk, Taskmagic and MYLO (a multi-skill interactive site paid for by the DfE then eventually …

Daily Geek Show

I've recently come across this interesting French website called Daily Geek Show which also has, by the way, an associated YouTube channel with interesting videos as well as a Twitter feed worth following (@DailyGeekShow). According to their Facebook page: "Daily Geek Show est un site d'actualités dédié aux plus belles découvertes de l'humanité !" There's certainly a lot of potentially useful authentic reading and listening material for intermediate (GCSE) and advanced level.

Based in Paris, the site features videos, news, features, quizzes and an "insolite" section (weird news stories). Here is a video you could use on poverty with an A-level class (or even a really good GCSE group).


The video goes with an article here.

On the day I checked the Features page covered subjects such as  female Nobel prize winners, cannabis, left-handed people, how artistic endeavour is good for your health and animal cruelty.

The News page featured hurricane Harvey, …

GCSE listening resources on frenchteacher

I just wanted to update existing subscribers and anyone else interested about the many listening exercises available on frenchteacher.net which would work well with GCSE classes (intermediate level).

These are divided into three sections on the Y10-11 page

1.  30 minute listening

These are instant 30 minute listening tasks (including correcting) which can be read aloud or recorded by the teacher. I would recommend reading aloud since this allows you to adjust the speed to the class and also gives you the opportunity to improvise a bit by building in repetition and paraphrase. The tasks are divided into Foundation Tier and Higher Tier, so far 8 Higher passages and 7 Foundation. Topics include volunteering, environment, family, healthy living, horse-riding and holidays.

2.  Audio listening

This is a set of worksheets linked to authentic recordings from the Audio Lingua website. I chose these carefully for their relevance to GCSE, length, interest and clarity. You'll find typical pra…