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Review: Ici on parle français

I've been sent three spiral-bound books of resources from MLG Publishing for review. These resource-packed, photocopiable books have been recently published and are written by Susan Thomas with Hilary McColl, illustrated by Heather Clarke. All entitled Ici on parle français and with the general theme of generating spontaneous talk, each book has a different emphasis:

1. Classroom talk for real purpsoes
2. Grammar and communication games
3. Primary version

So let's look at each in turn.

1. Classroom talk for real purposes (£25)

After a general introduction about the value of spontaneous talk in the classroom and the difficulty of achieving it, the book is divided into three parts: 1) an introduction about the resources, engaging learners, using language for real purposes, teaching and planning; 2) 32 tasks which emphasise pupil language and 3) 20 tasks which focus more on teacher input, plus ideas for games and activities.

The introduction stresses the importance of speaking which goes beyond controlled exercises - "using real language for a real purpose". The writers emphasise the importance of using the target language in everyday situations, while recognising how counter-productive this can sometimes be. It's clear that Susan and Hilary write from long experience and, indeed, these resources are a development of ones written many years ago. They describe carefully how to exploit visuals, mix up oral and aural skills, consolidate work and use games or game-like activities. They put forward a 5 stage lesson planning model: agree a starting point (in English), model, rehearse, use and review.

The 32 tasks which follow feature key language and notes, accompanied by an A4 page of mini-flashcards. The pictures are an aid to simple exchanges in the target language, although the authors are happy for some discussion to be in English. Topics covered include greetings (including a finger puppet resource for cutting out), giving reasons for being late, asking for what you need, giving opinions, talking about body and health, weather, classroom items, colours and ICT.

The more teacher language-focused resources focus on instructions, behaviour, school and school subjects, for example. The book ends with descriptions of simple games teachers can use such as charades, dominoes, picture bingo, Simon Says and Snakes and Ladders. There are handy templates for teachers to use with some of these.

2. Grammar and communication games (£20)

This book features grammar games and overlaps to some extent with the previous book in its choice of games. the 10 units which follow, each one with mini-flashcards or templates, include: grammar terms, punctuation, 'grammar grids' to complete, dominoes to practise articles with classroom items, adjectives and possessives, present tense and verb tenses (present and perfect). there are handy cut-outs for spinners, dice, dominoes and board game templates.

3. Primary version (£15)

This book works on the same principles as the other two, but at a simpler level. each unit has key language (translated into English), loads of mini-flashcards and cut-out templates for dice and spinners.

Worth noting are the clarity of the layout and visuals (no gimmicks, some colour - Heather Clarke did a great job) and the sheer abundance of accurate resources. What is at first view a little tricky to fathom is how exactly you would integrate these resources into your scheme of work. I can't imagine teachers using the books in any sort of sequence, partly since there is only a semblance of grading and careful selection of grammatical and lexical material. On the other hand, I can imagine primary and Y7 teachers making copious use of the the mini-flashcards, phrase lists, cut-outs, templates and game ideas. You'd do well to keep a set of these books in a departmental library to supplement the KS3 or primary scheme of work.

Teachers looking to get their pupils to use French more spontaneously should find these resources very useful. Whether the activities actually develop genuinely spontaneous talk (i.e. beyond pre-learned formulae) is a moot point. Such linguistic creativity takes a good deal of time to develop and many pupils never get there. The interaction (teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil) they promote, however, is bound to help with the process.

I have to say that these chunky, spiral-bound, photocopiable books are outstanding value and have a very good shelf life. Secondary teachers would buy the first two books for £45 combined. The experience and enthusiasm of the writers shine through and pupils and teachers would see instant gains from the tasks.

The books can be found here at MLG Publishing. I thoroughly recommend them as a highly practical add-on resource.


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