Skip to main content

Tell stories

Introduction

How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here by the way). Penny makes the point that students tend to prick up their ears when you move away from the work at hand and tell them an anecdote from your own life. This is not surprising since it is part of human nature, isn't it, to be interested in other peoples' personal lives? Ask yourself the question: will students be more interested in the next listening activity from the textbook or something I tell them from my own experience?

Example 1

There are a number of ways you can easily do this, none of which take a great deal of preparation. For example, you could show the class some slides based on a holiday you went on. (You could even plan your photos based on this lesson idea in advance.) You might include pictures showing the journey, places you visited, activities you did, where you stayed, what you bought and what you ate and drank. In this way the typical picture sequence becomes a more engaging basis for listening and associated oral and written work.

A natural follow-up task would be to have pupils write their own accounts and recount them to a partner or the whole class. This too would provide interesting listening input (though of a lower quality in most cases.)

Once you have spoken for a few minutes, scaffolding the task with the pictures, gesture, maybe adding some invented colourful details, tell the story again, this time asking pupils to jot down notes in English or the target language. You can then turn the task into an oral one by asking them to remember as many details as possible from what you said. Students could work in pairs, making statements about what you did, in turn, until one person cannot say any more. (This competitive element adds and extra edge.)

Example 2

A second example would be to talk about your extended family, showing photos of family members. You could include the language of physical description, personality description and hobbies and interests. You can add a twist to this task, as for the one above, by telling pupils in advance that you will make two deliberately false statements. Can they spot them? You can make these as subtle or unsubtle as you like, depending on your class.

Example 3

A third example, for beginners, would be to make a video with your phone about your house or flat. You could put the commentary on "live", or perhaps better (for reasons of sound quality) show the video and add your commentary in class. You could show the short film twice, give your commentary twice, perhaps the second time getting pupils to jot down as many details as they can in the target language: "In the kitchen Miss has..., in the sitting room there is..."

With some classes you might be able to get pupils to make their own videos and commentaries which they could play to a partner and a sample of which you could show to the class. I wouldn't personally bother with a movie making app this (too time consuming); just get pupils to go round their house with permission and press record. If you are into digital sharing I am sure there are other approaches.

Conclusion

Whatever you do, it may be worth bearing in mind, therefore, that a listening lesson is not just about putting on the CD player and doing a comprehension exercise. Nor is it just doing technical exercises such as transcription or dictation, valuable those these tasks are. It can be built into your interactions with pupils in ways which may ultimately be not only more stimulating for all, but more memorable and therefore more effective in creating skilled, confident listeners.

Comments

  1. Very interesting article, thank you. I believe in the power of story telling and emotion in education in general and in language learning in particular. I have written a little fiction for my students to learn French. Maybe you can have a look and let me know what you think. www.frenchgrammartour.com. And I hope you will like it!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

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…

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…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…