Monday 1 November 2010


Today Grosvenor hosted a group of Modern Languages PGCE students as part of our link with Queen's University, Belfast. As well as my talk on an A-Z of ICT in Modern Languages and Julie's talk on Fun and Games in Modern Languages, the students had the opportunity to talk to some members of our languages department about the realities of teaching and teaching practice, as well as time in the computer lab checking out some of the web 2.0 tools mentioned in the earlier talk.
The feedback was very positive, but equally I feel that I got a lot out of the day. Firstly, upon delivering my talk, I was able to reflect on how much of the web 2.0 stuff is now second nature to me, although there were many tools that I haven't used for a while, and this has inspired me to revisit them. Also, the enthusiasm the students displayed in the hands-on session really was very pleasing; I hope that they get as much out of the websites and tools as I do.
Secondly, both my talk and Julie's reaffirmed just how strong and forward-thinking our department is. And yes, Iam blowing our own trumpet a little here, but it is a joy to work in a department that is so willing to run with new ideas and embrace change.
Lastly, the Q&A session hopefully proved useful to the students.I well remember the feeling as my first teaching practice approached, and it wasn't always a good feeling. The dread, nervous anticipation and excitement all jostled for supremacy. It is always a good thing to stop and take stock as a teacher, and today was a day that I value for allowing me to do just that.

Sunday 31 October 2010


Sometimes it's about the low-tech stuff as much as the whistles and bells of web 2.0 and its associated benefits. Our department are all great fans of mini-whiteboards, and use them for a variety of activities.
  • Put the pupils into groups, each with a mini-whiteboard, then say a sentence in English. The first group to all write it out correctly gets the point. It will amaze you how long it takes them to all have the same thing written on their whiteboards
  • Do the same activity on an individual basis - possibly better for A level pupils
  • Practise verb conjugations, adjectival agreement, whatever grammar point you wish to reinforce
  • For vocabulary practice, say the word in the TL and the pupils need to draw something which represents the word
  • To practise numbers, call out a sum and the pupils write down the answer
  • Use the mini-whiteboards in carousel activities for Hangman or Pictionary
  • If you can afford it, invest in class sets of magnetic letters, and use them with magnetic mini-whiteboards - most of the games above can be played with the magnetic letters

In terms of practicalities, I would do the following:

  • ensure that you have enough mini-whiteboards for at least one between two
  • invest in a class set of whiteboard markers
  • Get board erasers. A cheaper version is to cut up sponges or dishcloths.
  • set ground rules, such as no writing messages to each other, or silly answers. Be firm the first few times, and they will soon learn that one moment's attention from the class is not worth doing exercises from a text book for the rest of the activity
  • Have a box to store the boards in, and get pupils in the habit of collecting and returning them quickly and without fuss

Playing with magnetic letters, my classes and I have evolved a set of rules which work well for us:

  • letters cannot be set out in alphabetical order or in groups of the same letter
  • they can be set out according to colour (apparently this helps the brain?)
  • First 3 individuals/groups to get the answer, win the point (points equal stars for the star chart in my classes)
  • If you win one go, you sit out the next (so winners don't discourage others)

Investing in mini-whiteboards and magnetic letters was one of the best decisions I ever made, and an investment which will stand me in good stead for years to come.

Wednesday 6 October 2010


Someone posted a query this evening on the MFL Resources forum about teaching literature at A level. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth:
I am really interested in this, as our ML dept seems to vary greatly in their approach. I tend to get the pupils to copy chapter notes into the book plus any of their own insight in advance, then spend the double period discussing the chapter in terms of why we have picked things out. I have a workbook of exercises they then do. I also give them a set of mindmap sheets, each with a topic the exam board has listed to cover, and they keep these updated with info as we meet in in the course of the novel, using colours for different types of info eg quotes.

None of this is wildly exciting, but I do do some activities such as Random Name Generator (RNG) where they need to talk or write for a minute about whatever topic/character the RNG throws up. You can also do activities such as cutting up a sheet with a lost of events and then placing said events into chronological order, or where you read a statement and they need to write the character it refers to on a mini whiteboard. With Como Agua Para Chocolate, I get the pupils to take a character each and do a MySpace page in Spanish, writing the blog as if they were the character. You can also do group work where one lies on the floor and others draw a body outline round them, then they write all the pertinent information on the shape for that character, quotes in one colour, adjectives in another, facts/events in another. Finally, tools such as Goanimate and Toondoo are useful for showing storylines and character development

Thursday 30 September 2010


Monday past saw the 8th MFL flashmeeting. These flashmeetings are a form of online conference where a group of like-minded MFL teachers from the UK and beyond gather together virtually to discuss the latest in teaching and learning within the field of Modern Languages. Many of us 'know' each other through Twitter, and it is a pleasure for the MFL Twitterati to join togther regularlyand with enthusiasm to talk through issues and ideas, as well as to share best practice. This time, it was my dubious honour to chair the meeting, and it was with an unfamiliar nervousness that I signed in, yet once proceedings were up and running, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. Catch the FM here:

Saturday 25 September 2010

You and Yours

For those who missed it, here is the You and Yours programme on learning languages

Sunday 12 September 2010

It's been too long! Still, a new term and a look anew at stuff going on in the classroom is always worth a post..
This year, our results across the department were pleasing at the top end, but as usual, it is the pupils who failed to make the grade who stick with you on Results Day. Why, as teachers, do we take the blame, if only partially, when we don't then take the credit for the top grades too? Some pupils failed because they didn't work hard enough, but others worked hard, and still didn't pull it off. Time for some new strategies..
And this tied in nicely with two things. Firstly, our trip to Barcelona and Salou with 39 12-15 year olds in June, where the pupils had a ball but many showed a lack of confidence in speaking in Spanish (or Castilian, should I say) And secondly, a lively thread on the yahoo group forum for MFL Resources about the concept of Group Talk, with Greg Horton. People have really seized on Greg's strategies for motivating pupils to talk in the foreign language. There is a video on Teacher Tube at
I have been chatting on the forum as well as with the MFL Twitterati and have decided to give this a go. An intiative that encourages pupils to talk fluently and with confidence in the target language is something that we all surely aspire to; I will keep you posted...

Saturday 3 April 2010


This year, we nearly didn't run our annual A Level Spanish Immersion Weekend, due to various factors, not least a lack of available accommodation and a move to our new school building. However, an unprecedented show of enthusiasm from my beloved Upper Sixth spurred me on, and last Monday and Tuesday saw a group of 24 pupils, 2 staff and 3 past pupils join together to speak Spanish for the 2 day event. Talking in English is punishable by singing in Spanish in front of the group.

As always, the itinerary was built around the series of workshops which the pupils moved around in small groups over the course of the 2 days. This year, we decided to take a different approach to our standard thematic workshops, and each workshop focused on a skill area (listening, speaking, reading, connectives and grammar) I found it much easier to deliver and felt that it allowed for greater differentiation within the groups.

As well as the workshops, pupils watched 2 Spanish DVDs, listened to Spanish songs with activities such as reordering and blank fill, played Spanish board games and competed in teams in a quiz. Their favourite was a Spanish clapping game called Presi Presi, and it was played time and again, to the great enjoyment of all involved.

Another activity which proved very successful was a mix between Dragon's Den and The Apprentice. Pupils worked in the same group as for their workshops, and were given a box each and told to imagine it was any product. They needed to style the box, create a TV advert and a slogan. Pupils worked with enthusisam and creativity for over two hours on this project, and then used the FLIP cameras to record their ads before returning together to view the ads on the data projector.

All in all, the residential seemed to be very successful from a pupil point of view, and all the staff involved left on a real high. A personal moment of pride for me is that the 3 past pupils delivering two of the workshops are only in their second year at uni, and are a constant source of help and support to our department. I thoroughly recommend this immersion experience- once again, it has proved to be one of the highlights of our academic year.

Monday 1 March 2010

Learning from others

I first heard Chris Fuller talk at Joe Dale's Isle of Wight conference 2008, and he inspired me hugely. His enthusiasm for teaching and passion for Spanish was so much in evidence, and led to me incorporating many of his ideas into my own teaching and department. He has kindly uploaded some of his presentations to Slideshare Here is one on creativity and A level, an area where I personally feel it is too easy to get swept along with the whole exam preparation, and forget about the more interesting approaches to language learning.

Wednesday 24 February 2010


In a never-ending quest to help my pupils learn their answers to the conversation exam, I have trialled speed dating, whereby half the pupils remain at their desk as questioners, and the other half rotate round the room, answering questions for the duration of a minute, before moving on to their next 'date'. Halfway through the lesson, questioners become answerers, and vice versa.

Pupils had previously been filling in a feedback sheet with all interviewees listed, but after a clever suggestion from one of my Upper Sixth on Monday, today pupils carried their own notebook around with them, and each person questioning them filled it in at the end of the round. They are given a tally of how many questions they were asked, as well as a comment and a score out of 10. I find the pupils are excellent at giving feedback, generous in their praise and constructive in their criticism. We discuss what we should look for: a low tally (as this shows excellent expansion) as well as tenses, opinions, fabby phrases and connectors. I always make time for a quick feedback session at the end of the lesson, where they shout out names for each of the questions I ask e.g. 'Who was good at giving opinions?' The value of the notebook is that pupils now have a record of peer evaluation, as well as hopefully seeing progress over the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Reflecting on sharing

On Monday, I shared my ideas for using ICT in the MFL classroom with a group of PGCE students. On the same day, Ken Royal, a senior editor with Scholastic Professional Media, wrote a post about "Twitter, Twitter ICT Stars" I was extremely flattered, if somewhat gobsmacked, to be included in Ken's list of 5. I follow so many people on Twitter whom I consider to be so much more proficient than me. During the past week, José Picardo also published the collection of blogposts written by my fellow MFL Twitterati (as coined by @simonhowell) at http:// These are colleagues that now form part of my PLN (Personal Learnign Network) and upon whom I now rely at least as much as my own beloved department in school; they are a constant source of support, advice and humour when needed.

Events like those of the past week let me appreciate just how much I have come on since the summer of 2008. The A-Z presentation was fairly easy to produce, as most of it is software I have used either to teach the pupils, or for them to work creatively in Spanish. I was confortable presenting the ideas to the PGCE students, firstly because I use them regularly and secondly because I totally see their value in my own teaching and the pupils' learning. The same for the Box of Tricks blogpost, as Edmodo is a valuable tool in my day-to-day teaching.

I blog this not to blow my own trumpet, but to say that if I have progressed this far over the course of the past 18 months, then it is within the grasp of any enthusiatic teacher. There are so many advantages to harnessing the free technology that is out there, and it is easily accessed through the power of your PLN.

Sunday 21 February 2010

A-Z of ICT in Modern Languages

I have the honour of presenting to the Modern Language PGCE students tomorrow at Queen's University in Belfast. I spoke to the same group last term about the use of games in the modern language classroom, so this time I thought I would go a little more high tech, stealing Alex Blagona's theme from the London Languages Show, and do an A-Z presentation of ICT in the ML classroom.

I have uploaded the presentation to Slideshare

Sunday 24 January 2010

Making the most of your PLN

How much do I love my Personal Learning Network or PLN? Quite a lot, actually, to put it mildly. They are a constant source of friendship and support, as much as my 'real' friends, if not moreso in my teaching career, given that they are facing the same challenges and issues as me, day in, day out. But also, they push my boundaries and move me willingly outside my comfort zone in terms of the practical application of ICT to my teaching and the pupils' learning.
A small yet hopefully hugely benficial example is the idea of using Audacity to record questions and then get pupils to record their answers and upload them to our wiki I read about this on the forum of the MFL Resources yahoo group, and also on Joe Dale's blog This should prove especially beneficial to KS4 pupils studying for their GCSE, but is equally applicable both down and up the school. I particularly like the impact it should have on pronunciation, which should help with the new GCSE.

A final thought on this area is to also bring our new digital voice recorders into the classroom if we can't make it to a computer room. I am going to trial using the fruit machine from to bring up a random series of questions which pupils will then answer in one minute on the DVRs. This will be a long-term plan, and I am interested to see what rewards we reap.
Another idea I picked up from one of my Twitter friends is to condense your life down to 50 words, either orally or as in this tweet, written.

Friday 15 January 2010

BETT 2010

Unfortunately I didn't make it over to BETT so I tuned in via Twitter's live streaming twitcam