The International School Award

Our school’s journey to gaining the Full Accreditation

The British Council’s International School Award recognises and celebrates schools that have shown a commitment to embedding international awareness and understanding within their curriculum offer. I first heard about the International School Award several years ago and applying for it had always been on my ‘to-do’ list but it wasn’t until 2019, following a fantastic e-Twinning conference in Bratislava, that I began to seriously plan and prepare the Action Plan that would be the first step in our school’s international journey. The International School Award has three levels: Foundation and Intermediate levels (for which you can submit an application at any time of the year) and Accreditation (which has specific deadlines). For schools who have already gained the Full Accreditation, which lasts for 3 years, there is also the Reaccreditation option.

When applying for the Foundation or Intermediate Levels, there is a simple application form to complete, detailing the international activities that your school has been involved in over the course of the previous 12 months. For Foundation Level, this just needs to be one activity with an international focus and may well be something that you are already doing as part of your curriculum (so no need to plan anything new or make more work for yourself). There is also no stipulated number of children who need to be involved, so working with a class or a single year-group is perfectly fine. It’s a great place to start if you’re just beginning to dip your toes into the pool of international work. At Intermediate Level, at least half of the school community needs to be involved in a total of three curriculum-based international activities, one of which must be in collaboration with an international partner or partners (more on how to find them later on).

The International School Award is a brilliant way to develop the global dimension of your school’s curriculum offer.

As a school community, we decided to go straight for the Full Accreditation, as we already had some international activities in place and had a clear plan for further development over the coming year. Accreditation Level involves submitting evidence of seven, curriculum-based activities over the course of a twelve-month period. Three of these activities must involve working with partner schools aboard, one of the activities must include a foreign language element and there should be evidence of elements of cultural exchange. The activities should be spread across the year and involve the majority of pupils in the school. To start with, this all sounded a bit daunting and I was worried that the activities that I had planned might not hit the criteria fully. However, the Full Accreditation involves submitting an Action Plan, which is evaluated by the British Council before you get started on the actual activities, so you can be sure that what you have planned is going to hit the mark. As part of the process, the team at the British Council give lots of feedback on your planned activities to make sure that they meet the necessary criteria and I found this really helpful as we embarked on the process. I must also add that the British Council are incredibly supportive and are just an email away if you have any questions as you begin your International School Award journey, and at any point throughout.

Of course, as a school, we had reckoned without the Covid 19 Pandemic and its associated lockdowns, which meant that lots of the activities that we had planned to undertake as a school didn’t end up happening during the academic year 2019-2020. This wasn’t a problem though and the British Council gave us the option of postponing the submission of our final Impact Evaluation for another year. The Impact Evaluation, which isn’t as scary as it sounds and is nowhere near as time-consuming as the initial Action Plan, is a chance to reflect on your school’s international journey, discuss any inevitable changes that you made to your plans and assess the impact of your work on both pupils and staff. Best-practice examples of all documentation required for any level of accreditation are all freely available on the International School Award area of the British Council’s website.

I’m pleased to report that, after the previously-mentioned twelve-month delay, we were finally awarded the British Council’s International School Award Full Accreditation and it was an absolute honour to collect the certificate and plaque on behalf of our school community at the award ceremony in November 2021.

It was an amazing opportunity to celebrate our success as a school community, as well as the hard work of schools from all around the country.

Below are some helpful tips for getting started on your International School Award journey. Believe me when I say that it is definitely worth the effort and, for us language teachers, it’s a fantastic way of bringing language-learning to life for the children that we teach.

Look at what you are already doing to meet the criteria for your level:

As teachers, we are always so busy and there is no point making more work for ourselves for the sake of it. No matter which level you want to start at, it’s important to look over the current curriculum offer for your school and look for places where you already have an international dimension. This might be a unit of work in another subject-area, such as geography, history or music, or a language-learning unit, like this one on life in Senegal, or this one celebrating the French tradition of le goûter. It’s much easier to build on what you already have, without re-inventing the wheel. Then, you can start looking for ways to expand the international dimension of the curriculum in order to meet all the criteria for your chosen level. Don’t forget that, whilst it is fine to use the odd ‘one-off’ activity as part of your evidence for international activities within your school setting, you shouldn’t rely on these too much. The aim is to really embed international understanding across the curriculum and, to do this, activities need to be a meaningful element of your school’s curriculum offer. I used ‘European Day of Languages’ and our school’s ‘Christmas Around the World Day’ as evidence in our final submission but all the other activities were delivered over time within a range of year groups across the school.

Find your International Partners:

One of the most challenging parts of the process of applying for any level above the Foundation Award can be developing links with partners overseas. Since Brexit, when teachers in the UK lost the right to access the fabulous e-Twinning platform, the process can seem even trickier (although if you have already used e-Twinning to make links with partners abroad there is, of course, no reason why those can’t continue and flourish). For anyone unsure of where to start in the process of connecting with schools in other parts of the world, there are alternatives to e-Twinning, which also work really well.

The British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme is a fantastic place to start if you want to forge links with countries in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Connecting Classrooms provide a whole range of free, online Global Learning Resources, which allow pupils to work alongside their peers in the partner school to examine aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals through a variety of projects. This is really helpful for teachers who want to develop their pupils’ global understanding but don’t have lots of time to create whole units of work themselves. Of course, you could also plan a project independently but, for me personally, the Zero Hunger Project that we have worked on for the past couple of years in Year 5, alongside our partner school in Rwanda, has been very successful. Once a partnership has been established through Connecting Classrooms, then schools may also choose to apply for funding to carry out teacher exchanges, either individually or as a ‘cluster group’ of several schools, depending on the number of teachers involved.

The British Council also offer a really great Schools Partner Finder where teachers from anywhere in the world can register, search for partners and create links with schools all over the globe. Through this tool our school found a partner institution in Chad, with whom Year 4 have exchanged postcards over the course of the year.

Of course, we should never forget the power of personal connections. I have made links with schools abroad through people that I’ve met at weddings, conferences and via online groups. It was through a wonderful colleague in the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook Group that I was able to make contact with a partner in Senegal so that my Year 6 could find out more about the lives of children of their age living in Dakar through letters and video calls. When trying to find prospective partners, it’s also important to consider any parents or staff members who may have contacts in schools abroad and could help to facilitate partnerships. Sometimes it’s that personal link which helps to create and strengthen the collaboration between two schools.

Seek support from other schools in your local area and online:

When we were starting out on our International School Award journey, I really struggled to visualise how a truly embedded international dimension might look in my own school. Although the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms website has some great Case Studies, which demonstrate the sorts of international projects you might undertake with partner schools, there’s nothing better than actually sitting down with someone who’s already been though the process to help clarify how to go about it. I was so lucky to be able to visit the fabulous Lisa Stevens at her school in the West Midlands, as well as the wonderful Hannah Boydon at Mayflower Primary School, who really helped to inspire me with ideas and places to go for support. The brilliant Suzi Bewell is also a great person to follow on Twitter if you are looking for inspiration for international activities, particularly those with a cultural element. The British Council team can put you in touch with schools who have already achieved the International School Award in your local area and it’s well-worth making a visit to find out more about their journey and pick up useful hints and tips.

The British Council also offer lots of regular, free training webinars and workshops to support you in the process. You just need to contact the International School Award team, via the website, to book your place.

Don’t be afraid to adapt as you go:

For those applying for the Full Accreditation, what you put in your initial Action Plan is not necessarily what you will end up having done at the end of the twelve-month process. The school calendar is busy and there are always those unexpected bumps in the road, which may throw you off course slightly (see my Covid reference at the start of this post). Don’t forget, adapting your plans and changing things as you go along is the sign of a reflective practitioner and the flexibility of the school community. If an activity didn’t go to plan, don’t be afraid to say so in your Impact Evaluation and explain how you changed things or rethought the teaching process. It’s fine to substitute in new activities, as long as they meet the criteria set out by the British Council, and you can always submit more than the specified number in case you don’t feel 100% confident that an activity is exactly what the assessors will be looking for.

Gather evidence as you go:

In your submissions for any level of the International School Award, you will always be asked about how you intend to evidence different activities. This may include pictures and videos; posts on your school’s social media feeds; newspaper articles documenting your activities; and staff and pupil voice surveys, to name but a few. Make sure that you collect and organise evidence as you go, particularly things like staff and pupil voice surveys, which are always best done as soon after an activity as possible. I always collate and store any evidence of letter or postcard exchanges as well and they make brilliant displays, which really celebrate the work that your pupils have done and raise the profile of international projects and partnerships across the school. If possible, having an area of the school website dedicated to the international dimension of your school’s curriculum can be a great way of documenting your journey and storing evidence of all your activities.

Good luck to everyone embarking on their International School Award journey in the coming academic year! Just give me a shout if you need any support.

Le 14 juillet

Celebrating the French national holiday

Le 14 juillet (Bastille Day in English) commemorates the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and celebrating this historic event is one of my favourite days in the school calendar. At my school, all of Key Stage Two go off timetable for the day and take part in a carousel of activities, both in and out of the classroom, to introduce them to elements of French culture and give them the opportunity to use their language learning in a “real-life” setting. Below are a range of ideas and resources that might be useful for planning your own 14 juillet celebrations.

Clips to use in the classroom:

This great little clip from the fantastic 1 jour, 1 actu website, explains the origins of La fête nationale française and how it is celebrated today, all in French.

And if you’re looking for a clip in English, this one by Primary Languages Network is a good starting point.

For me, every 14 juillet celebration day begins with an assembly to get the children really excited about the day to come. This year, I showed the clip below on a loop as the children were coming in and they were absolutely transfixed. It was a nice way to open up discussion about what the fireworks might be celebrating and what the music they were hearing was.

French café:

Every year, a couple of weeks before our Bastille Day celebrations, I teach / revise with the children a range of vocabulary items to use in our French café. Year 6 pupils act as servers for the classes as they visit the café and give their food and drink orders in French. For the last couple of years, we’ve been very lucky to have a local accordion player sit and play for us during our café sessions, which has really added to the atmosphere. Approaching the Community Champion at your local supermarkets can be a great way of getting support in terms of supplies.

Our French café, waiting for its first visitors.

Playground pétanque:

This game, particularly associated with the South of France, goes down well every year with the children. Pupils go out onto the playground and use plastic sets, which are widely available in supermarkets and online, to play against each other. This little clip is a great introduction and can be show before the children go out to play to give them some background about the game.

Cheese tasting:

French President Charles de Gaulle once asked, “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” This little map shows the incredible variety of cheese that France has to offer and I always like to give the children an opportunity to taste some examples, as well as a rate them.

A brilliant map for showing the variety in French cheeses. How many do the children know already?

Arts and crafts:

The Languages in Primary Schools (LiPS) Facebook group is an incredible source of ideas for everything language-learning and Bastille Day is no exception. Below are a few ideas inspired by resources that have been shared in the group and that I have found to work really well.

Eiffel Tower Construction: Give children a range of building materials (cardboard; cereal boxes; old newspaper; doweling rods; spaghetti and mini marshmallows) and see if they can select and use them to create the tallest Eiffel Tower model possible. A good competitive session, which really gets the children engaged. The videos below might be useful for a bit of background for teachers and younger pupils.

Cocarde-making: worn in the hats of the revolutionaries of Paris, une cocarde of red, white and blue symbolised the revolution and its colours would eventually go on to become those of the French tricolor (before that it has been a blue flag with golden fleurs-de lys, which had been used by the Kings of France since the times of Clovis). This blog post shows you one way to make cocardes, but it is quite challenging (although the results are great). They can equally be created by cutting three different sizes of card circles and sticking crepe or tissue in red, white and blue onto them, before stacking them up one on top of the other and gluing into place.

Ben Heine Art: in a fabulous idea shared by Marie Allirot, the work of Belgian artist Ben Heine acts as the inspiration for the children to create their own works of art. Heine mixes both photography and pencil drawing to stunning effect in his pieces and the children can do the same, reimagining and filling in the missing elements on a range of famous Paris landmarks. These templates, uploaded by Marie, are a great way to explore the work of this incredible artist and could act as a great front for a postcard, with writing in French on the back.

Other ideas, resources and books:

Make your own Paris: these templates from ‘Made by Joel’ can be downloaded, printed and coloured to create a miniature version of Paris in your classroom.

Colour Paris: this giant map of Paris, which can be purchased online, would make a fantastic wall display.

Drive Paris: fancy taking your class on a drive around Paris with a French musical accompaniment? This site allows you to do just that by selecting ‘Paris’ from the right-hand menu.

Paris Guides: Lonely Planet have produced a couple of lovely children’s guides to Paris, one for slightly older readers and the other – a pop-up book – for younger learners.

Le loup qui explorait Paris: everyone’s favourite wolf travels to Paris in this sweet book, written in French.

Bonne fête nationale!

A “Deep Dive” into Primary Languages

What might we expect during an inspection?

In October 2021, the first day back after our half term holiday, we got “the call. ” It wasn’t a shock – like many schools, our inspection was well overdue – but, of course, the nerves started jangling anyway. Languages, in our case French, had already been selected by SLT as a potential Deep Dive subject area well in advance, so I knew that when the inspectors arrived the chances were high that they would be coming to look at my subject area. By the end of the day, I knew what the timetable for my Deep Dive would be, which lessons were going to be observed and what evidence the inspectors would be looking to see. At this point, I must also add in the declaimer that my experience of the Deep Dive is specific to my setting and role as a specialist French teacher in a primary setting. My experience is not necessarily reflective of what has happened, or will happen, in other schools but the aim of this post is to enable other subject leads to consider one possible Deep Dive format and to prepare for the types of questions that may be asked

Initial Call and pre-inspection preparation:

After the initial call with the school’s Head Teacher, all subject leads were informed of the timetable that the inspectors would be following over the coming two days. I was told that the inspector leading on MFL would want to meet with me first thing in the morning of the first day to discuss the way that MFL is taught within the school, followed by just one lesson observation and then work scrutiny. Since five subject areas were included on the list for Deep Dive, there would not be time for multiple lesson observations. This meant there would be a greater emphasis on work scrutiny across all year groups, not just the lesson being taught.

In terms of preparation the night before, I made sure all books were up to date (including all pupil corrections); printed a copy of all Long Term and Short Term Plans for the inspector to have to hand, including my detailed Long Term Plans by Year Group, which demonstrate progression (and chances to revisit learning) over time; made sure my tracking grids were available (although I was never asked to show these); and went through my pre-prepared list of possible Ofsted questions. I made sure that all books from all year groups – except the observed lesson – were ready in the room that we would be meeting in so the inspector could choose books easily and ensured that I had labelled up Pupil Premium and SEND books so he knew which were which and also so I didn’t forget anybody in my slightly stressed state.

Deep Dive Discussion:

I met with the inspector first thing in the morning. He asked a range of questions to get a sense of how MFL was taught across the school. The whole discussion definitely had the feel more of a chat than an interview and the conversation flowed quite naturally from one area to the next. Initially, he was very keen to understand our intent  –  what we wanted the children to be able to do by the time they left us in Year 6. We looked together at the Long Term Plans and spent time looking at how progression was built in and discussing how we ensure that pupils remember knowledge over time. The questions below aren’t word-for-word, but demonstrate the areas covered. I’ve put in the main points of my responses, for reference.

  • What do you want children to be able to do in French at the school? I confirmed that he meant what we wanted them to be able to do by the time they left the school.
    • Feel confident to speak, listen, read and write in French, setting them up for success in further language-learning at secondary school. 
    • Have a good grasp of key, age-appropriate grammatical concepts as well as a good grounding in phonics and a bank of key vocabulary, which is revisited regularly to ensure retention.
    • Have a range of skills as language-learners, not necessarily link to French specifically as some will study a different language at secondary school, such as a knowledge of how to use cognates to understand unknown vocabulary and how to use a bilingual dictionary.
    • Have a good understanding of French culture, and also, importantly, a sense of French as a global language and an appreciation of the diversity of the French-speaking world. We do this through partnerships with link schools in many different countries, including Guadeloupe, Reunion Island, Rwanda, Chad and Senegal, as well as mainland France.
    • Develop a love of language-learning, which sets them firmly on a path to further study.
  • How do you plan for progression across all four years of KS2? I showed him my detailed LTPs and talked him through them.
    • Showed the Cave Languages progression grids and discussed how this breaks down the targets of the Programme of Study (which only show us what children should be able to do by the end of KS2) into smaller steps to show progression. Explained that this is the basis for the way that units are planned and sequenced, allowing children to build systematically on their learning and demonstrate sustained progression.
    • Units are planned and sequenced to ensure that pupils revisit and build on new vocabulary and grammatical concepts throughout their four years.
    • Used an example of Year 3 learning number to 12 in order to be able to say their age, whilst Year 4 learn numbers to 31 in order to be able to talk about their birthdays (as this is what he would be watching in the observed lesson). 
    • Talked through the types of sentence structures I would expect each year group to be able to achieve, giving an example of the use of adjectives.
      • Y3: simple sentences with an adjective describing a masculine noun.
      • Y4: simple sentences with an adjective in agreement with the masculine or feminine noun.
      • Y5: starting to introduce sentences with adjectives which don’t follow the general rule (e.g. grand/petit) and agreement in the plural.
      • Y6: using a range of adjectives both before and after the noun and in the plural in complex sentences.
    • Showed him my plans, with new vocabulary and grammar concepts in red and revisited learning in blue, so he could see that certain concepts were coming around again and again.    
    • Discussed how phonics is embedded right from the start of Year 3 and how by the end of Year 4, children have been exposed to all the possible phonemes of the language, which allows them to begin to decode unfamiliar words with greater accuracy.
  • Talk me through a unit of work and tell me why you are teaching it at that point in the year. Used birthdays as an example as that was what he would be observing in Year 4.
    • This unit of work builds on learning from Year 3, where pupils have already learned numbers to 12.
    • They are now continuing on to 31, to build their knowledge of the number system and enable them to talk about dates and, in the case of this unit, birthdays.  
    • Months of the year are also introduced, building on knowledge of phonemes and graphemes and giving children useful key vocabulary that can be used again in different contexts (for example later in Year 4 to talk about the weather at different points of the year and in Year 5 when talking about when they will be going on holiday to a specific location).
  • Can these units be adapted year on year? I assumed that this was a reference to Covid and whether we were adapting planning to help children through catch-up.
    • Made it very clear that the units of work planned are the vehicles for the language, grammatical concepts and phonics. These have to be adapted year on year to support different cohorts.
    • This is especially true at the moment because there are gaps in children’s knowledge post-Covid. Gave the example of Year 4 who missed work on days of the week due to Covid and will be doing those as part if their weather unit later in the term. This would not have been the case originally, but the planning has been adapted.
  • Did you continue to teach French during the pandemic?
    • Yes. Children had weekly live lessons and those who couldn’t access those because of lack of access to technology at the required times had access to recorded lessons via a private YouTube link.
    • Pupils submitted work via Google Classroom.
  • How do you make sure pupils can revisit their learning?
    • He pointed out that I’d already covered most of this during our discussion on the sequencing of units but wondered if there was anything else to add.
    • I added that pupils revisit previous units through starter activities.
    • Teacher revisit learning with their class using pre-prepared slides and videos and each class has a song of the half term which is played every day in class.
    • French is used during school assemblies, for example of sing the ‘Joyeux Anniversaire’ song on Wednesdays when birthday cards are presented.  
  • How do you assess whether pupils have retained what you have taught them?
    • Assessment for learning throughout lessons. Showed examples of how I jot down observations on post-it notes to stick into books with pictures for speaking and listening tasks, so that there is evidence.
    • Summative end-of-unit assessments at the end of each half term, which show (without any prompts for support) what children can recall in terms of speaking, listening, reading and writing.
    • Explained that this was tracked used grids but he didn’t want to see them. Just took my word for it.  
  • How to you support SEND pupils with their learning?
    • Discussed how starting a new language in KS2 (in our school’s case) is a great leveller and how SEND pupils often find this a big confidence boost.
    • Mentioned that much of what we do in language lessons naturally supports the language-learning of SEND pupils:
      • Images to support learning of new vocabulary.
      • Physical French Phonics used (attaches an image and action to a sound) which helps it to stick.
      • Songs and rhymes used often.
    • Discussed the school’s “no ceilings” approach to task-setting for SEND learners i.e. I don’t give them a specific “easy” task. Showed examples of colour-coded speaking and writing scaffolds which I make for the children, which allow children to create a sentence of the level of complexity that they feel comfortable with.  
    • Discussed the use of glossaries instead of full bilingual dictionaries for some SEND pupils when working on looking up new or unknown vocabulary. 
    • Children all have Knowledge Organisers in their books, which contain all the key vocabulary for a unit and can be referred to, if needed.
    • Mentioned colour-coding words (e.g red for feminine nouns and blue for masculine ones).
    • Pre-teaching of new vocabulary.
    • Pre-asking of questions (i.e., getting them prepared for a question prior to asking it in a whole-class session).
  • And how to you push the more able?
    • Discussed encouraging children to challenge themselves by not using visual aids or prompts (e.g. Knowledge Organisers, displays, the board).
    • Repeated speaking and writing frame idea about colour-coding so pupils can extent their writing, or example by using conjunctions.
    • More able modelling or leading elements of learning.
    • Showed some examples of “no ceilings” listening tasks in books e.g. children can do a simple vrai ou faux ticking activity when listening to a text, or could do that and add in the corrections.
  • How are you looking to develop MFL in the school in the future?
    • Talked about how MFL has traditionally been a subject taught by a specialist in the school and many teachers do not have the confidence and subject knowledge to do this themselves.
    • Explained that I wanted to upskill teachers so that if I wasn’t I for some reason, they could have a good go at teaching a lesson.
    • Referred again to the videos and resources I create for class teachers so that they can revisit learning during the week with their classes, upskilling themselves in the process.
    • Discussed potential for future whole-school CPD in the teaching of MFL.
  • Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to speak about?
    • Mentioned extra-curricular clubs.
    • Cross-curricular events and links e.g. Francophone Art Week; La Semaine de la Francophonie; Bastile Day and Epiphany celebrations.
    • Discussed restarting of school trip to France in 2022 – he wanted to know exactly what they did, which year groups went and how this was helpful to their French learning. 

Initial Book Scrutiny:

  • The inspector wanted to see examples of books from each year group. Since there was only a half-term’s worth of work, we look at the units of the four year groups.
  • He was particularly interested to see book examples from Pupil Premium and SEND pupils.
  • I made sure in advance point out that in languages we assess children in speaking, listening, read and writing and so children do not write in their books every lesson and there is no need to do writing for writing’s sake. I also explained that pupils do lots of work on whiteboards so they can amend errors and make changes easily, building confidence.
  • I talked him through the lessons recorded in the books and how they were sequenced, what the children had done and the rationale behind them doing different activities.
  • I made sure to show exactly how there was progression between each year group e.g. Year 3 working on simple, single sentence introductions (je m’appelle; j’habite à…), whilst Year 6 are working towards an extended piece of writing talking about their identity (name, age, birthday, where they live, likes and dislikes, nationality and languages spoken and appearance in terms of hair and eye colours).  
  • Where speaking activities were the main focus of the lesson, I showed him again how I use pictures and post-its to gather evidence of activities covered and learning observed.

Lesson Observation:

  • Children revisited numbers to 31 for the starter and were working on saying and spelling the months of the year in French, using their knowledge of phonics. They then moved on to putting this into a sentence, starting with either c’est le or mon anniversaire est le… and played a couple of games of Trapdoor to practise.
  • SEND pupils were supported with grapheme mats to allow them to access the spelling activities and continued to segment and blend to create the month names. 
  • Rapid-graspers were encouraged to say the moths aloud, without segmenting and blending if possible, and to spell without the use of a grapheme mat or Knowledge Organiser. They were also encouraged to use the longer sentence-starter.
  • The inspector did come around a few times to briefly chat to children and discuss their learning.

Work scrutiny with pupils:

I was asked to choose 6 pupils from the observed class to bring to the discussion. Based on his previous focus, I made sure that Pupil Premium and SEND were represented in the group, and let him know this afterwards. The inspector asked the children a range of questions but it definitely didn’t feel like he was trying to catch them out. If their answers weren’t very detailed he gave some positive prompts which put them on the right track so he could get the evidence he wanted. Below are some of the questions put to the children:

  • What were you learning during your French lesson?
  • Can you tell me something that you learned in the lesson? Then prompted them by saying, can you say June in French? Can you say…in French?
  • How do you know you are doing well in French?
  • Does your Knowledge Organiser help you when you’re learning?
  • Do you enjoy your French learning?
  • What things do you like doing in French?
  • What kinds of things did you learn last year? He did acknowledge to the children that there had been a lockdown and that made it harder to remember things.
  • Would you like to carry on learning French when you leave this school?
  • Would you feel confident to speak to a French person, if you went to France?

Overall feel of the Deep Dive:

Compared to inspections that I had experienced under the previous framework, this Deep Dive inspection felt to me more like a profession dialogue than a scrutiny. Of course, the inspector asked questions to try and get a detailed picture of languages provision in the school, and he was very clear that he wanted to see evidence of all children making progress, but the overall feel was one of CPD, rather than monitoring. There was no expectation of have everything to hand or to make everything perfect. It was about plans for development and improvement, as well as what was already going on. The inspector was also clear to mention that if I felt I’d missed anything, then I should find him and tell him so that it could be added to the portfolio of evidence.

Whilst nobody exactly looks forward to an Ofsted inspection, this was certainly the most positive experience I’ve had of the process and my hope in sharing is that it will help anybody currently in the process of preparing for a possible visit by inspectors to feel just a little more confident in the face of pretty daunting process. You may also find this CPD video, which was filmed for Languagenut, helpful when preparing.

European Day of Languages

Ideas for celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity

European Day of Languages, celebrated every 26th September since 2001, was originally created by the Council of Europe to celebrate the diversity of languages and cultures within the Council’s forty-seven member states, and promote intercultural understanding. At my multilingual, multicultural inner-city primary school, it is a chance to celebrate the many languages spoken by the pupils and staff that make up our school community and an opportunity for children to share their heritages with their classmates. Every year we dedicate a whole day of learning to the celebration of European Day of Languages, starting with an assembly to introduce the day and its importance in our school calendar. There is always such a great energy in the school and it is wonderful to see children so proudly sharing their languages and cultural backgrounds with the school community. Here are a few ideas for activities to mark the occasion.

European Day of Languages is an opportunity to celebrate languages and cultures, within Europe and beyond.

Languages “Taster Sessions”:

Whilst many children learn French, Spanish, or perhaps German, at primary school, European Day of Languages can be a fantastic opportunity to introduce a much broader range of languages to pupils through short “taster sessions”. This could take many forms, from older pupils teaching their community languages to younger classes, to staff members who are able to speak another language introducing it to pupils. In the past, I have also invited parents into school to teach language sessions and read stories in their home language (sadly, not so this year, due to the continued presence of Covid). Over the years we have had teachers and parents lead sessions in a variety of languages, from Hungarian to Filipino, and including Gujarati, Arabic, Greek and Mandarin, which have given children the chance to explore new scripts along with the sounds of the spoken language.

Exploring maps:

In a school where lots of different community languages are spoken, it can be a very powerful activity to have children use atlases to plot their country of origin on a map. This makes a wonderful classroom, or even whole-school display which, with the addition of pictures and flags, gives a fantastic visual representation of the diversity of the school community. It is also the perfect opportunity for children to use atlases, maps and the internet to explore different locations or carry out research on particular countries or regions. I’ve seen this presented beautifully in upper Key Stage 2 as whole-class project books, scrapbooks or folders that are kept in the classroom reading corner as a resource for children to access and discover more about the home countries of the pupils who make up the class.

Data collection and maths links:

Schools which have a large population of EAL pupils may find that European Day of Languages lends itself really well to a little bit of data collection. Whether its finding out which countries children in the class come from, or the languages that they speak, pupils can gather and present data in a variety of ways, from tally charts in Key Stage 1, to bar charts a little further up the school and more complex pie charts by Year 6. These make fantastic displays and are also a great way to get pupils talking to each other about their backgrounds. For schools with more homogenous populations, planning a holiday to a French, Spanish or German-speaking country (depending on the language taught in school), including costing up flights, hotels, transport and meals can make for a great maths session and gets pupils engaging with the culture of their target country in a meaningful way.

Analysing idioms:

Idioms add colour to every language and give language-learners a great insight into specific cultural phenomena and beliefs, but often they are very difficult to translate directly. This means there is lots of fun to be had when comparing and contrasting idioms in different languages. A simple activity which I have done very successfully with upper Key Stage 2 in the past, gives children the opportunity to see a range of idioms, both in their original language and in translation. Pupils then try to match the meaning to the correct idiom, justifying their reasoning to the class. In multilingual classrooms, children who speak the languages represented in the idioms may be able to read them aloud to their peers and make the translation. Pupils might also know other idioms in their home languages and be able to present them, along with their meanings to the class. It’s a wonderful opportunity to dive deeper into the world of idiom in English too, as even monolingual English speakers may not be aware of many idioms themselves and it can lead to lots of rich linguistic discussion.

Borrowed words:

It is really fascinating for pupils to discover how English has “borrowed” words from other languages and explore the reasons behind this. In some instances, for example words like shampoo, pyjamas and bungalow, this can be an excellent opportunity to make children aware of the way in which Britain’s colonial expansion brought new words into the English language. For pupils studying Spanish in class, it is interesting to compare the linguistic similarities to Arabic and explore the impact of the Moorish conquest of Southern Spain. Some years ago, Carla Peach shared an excellent resource for a borrowed words treasure hunt on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook Group (just search for ‘European Day of Languages borrowed words’), which could easily be set up in the school hall or playground. I have used it several times in the past and it always leads to some really interesting discussions and often comparisons with borrowed words in other languages.

Familiar songs, different languages:

This fabulous video popped up on my Facebook feed a couple of years ago and I knew straight away that I needed to use it on European Day of Languages. I always play the song through, without letting the children see the video, asking them to see how many languages they can identify and jot down. Many of the children are thrilled to find that their language is represented within the song and often know the words. We then watch the video and tick off all the languages we correctly identified. There is a usually a little prize for the person who correctly spotted the most.

I’ve also successfully adapted a suggestion by Marian Devons, again on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group, to create a quiz in which children listen to Disney songs in the language of the country the story is set in – ‘A Whole New World’ in Arabic, for example – and try to guess the language. It is a another great conversation-starter in terms of getting children thinking about the languages that the character would communicate in, if they were using their own language. It’s also a good link into exploring stories from other cultures. All credit must go to Marian for sourcing the eight clips in the various different languages.

Tooth fairy traditions:

Did you know that if a child loses a tooth in Bulgaria, instead of putting it under their pillow, they throw it onto the roof of their house for the raven to take away? I certainly didn’t, until I found this great little website that explains all about the different traditions that surround the loss of a child’s milk teeth. The interactive map shows you very clearly which countries subscribe to the myth of the tooth fairy and which have other traditions (for example, in France, it is a mouse who takes the tooth away). Children can talk about their own traditions as well as researching those of other parts of Europe, using the proforma below to record their findings, and the resulting work always makes an interesting display.

Exploring language links:

This year, I have been inspired by Nathalie Paris‘s wonderful blog post on European Day of Languages to have a go at using this clever interactive map to give children the opportunity to explore the links between different words in English and other European languages. I plan to get the pupils to come up with a variety of words to put into the search box and then spend some time comparing the results as a nice settling activity after lunch.

And finally

A little clip I’m sure the children will love! I’m planning on using it to end my European Day of Languages assembly this year. Have a good one, however you choose to celebrate it!

Designing an Engaging Scheme of Work for KS2

What I’ve learned through trial-and-error

In the first few years of my career as a primary school teacher, and in spite of having a degree in French and Hispanic studies, I didn’t teach a great many language lessons of my own devising. Between specialist teachers and bought-in schemes of work, I never really had to plan my own lessons. So when I returned from my second maternity leave and was asked by my then-Head to take on the role of specialist French teacher, I was incredibly excited but also rather apprehensive, particularly about ensuring that pupils made good progress over the four years of study at Key Stage Two.

When I first started teaching in my role as French specialist, I stuck fairly closely to the scheme that the school was already (on paper at least) using, but it didn’t take me long to realise that it wasn’t really tailored to the needs of our pupils and that some units would need adapting. It also didn’t have the strong phonic grounding that I knew pupils would need if they were to become increasingly independent in their language-learning. So I began augmenting the pre-planned lessons of the scheme with ideas and resources from fantastic sites like Lightbulb Languages, and activities from Sue Cave and Jean Haig’s wonderful Physical French Phonics. I gathered ideas from the fabulous Languages in Primary Schools (LiPS) Facebook Group and found inspiration in brilliant books such as Danièle Bourdais and Sue Finnie’s Games for Teaching Primary French.

By the end of my first term, and after attending a couple of training courses, I was ready to begin planning some units by myself, moving away from the school’s original scheme and weaving together phonics, vocabulary and grammar to build units that engaged pupils but also ensured steady progression over time. I’ve now been working on my scheme of work, on and off, for the past few years, tweaking and adapting as I’ve learned more, been inspired by others and identified areas for development. Below are some of the things that I’ve learned – mostly by making lots of mistakes – as I’ve grown as a languages specialist, increased in confidence and gradually planned an entire scheme of work from Year 3 to Year 6, which caters for the needs of all pupils.

Ensure that you have a clear road map for progression

The Languages Programme of Study for Key Stage Two is, unfortunately, a very short document of just three pages in length, containing thirteen statements which lay out the basics of what pupils should be able to do by the end of the four years of statutory language study at Key Stage Two. These statements, some of which are extremely broad, show us what pupils are expected to be able to do by the end of Year 6, but are not broken down into the smaller steps that learners will need to take in order to be able to demonstrate progression over time.

Luckily, several wonderful practitioners have already done all of the hard work of breaking down the Programme of Study to enable teachers to plan lessons and units of work which allow children to develop their skills and build on their learning year by year. Both Sue Cave and Rachel Hawkes have a range of great documents on their websites, meaning teachers can plan for, assess and record the progress of their pupils over time. When planning my curriculum, I found Sue Cave’s KS2 Progressive Attainment Targets really helpful in ensuring that tasks were set at the correct level and there was a good balance in terms of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

As well as creating an overarching long term plan for all four years of Key Stage Two language study, I have spent the last few months breaking down each year group into a considerably more detailed long term plan, showing progression in vocabulary, grammar and phonics within a particular year group, as well as referencing links to literature, songs and culture. These plans give a really clear overview of my scheme, year group by year group, which is especially helpful if, like me, you are expecting “the call” in the near future and may need to discuss progression in more detail. Examples of both can be viewed below.

The Languages Programme of Study needs to be broken down into smaller steps to ensure progress over time

Make phonics an integral part of your scheme

Getting familiar and confident with phonics in the target language is so important if pupils are to develop accurate pronunciation and intonation, learn how to spell with accuracy and be enabled to decode unfamiliar vocabulary with increasing independence as they move through the school. The Languages Programme of Study also directly references the expectation that pupils will learn to “link the spelling, sound and meaning of words.” The teaching of phonics should be woven through any scheme of work and the incredibly helpful Physical French Phonics and Physical Spanish Phonics offer a wealth of resources and ideas for introducing the phonemes and graphemes of the target language, linking actions to particular sounds in a similar manner to Jolly Phonics. The great thing about both of these books, which come with a CD of resources, is that they introduce all of the key phonemes of the target language through the kinds of vocabulary we would naturally teach to young learners – things like colours, numbers and days of the week – making it very simple to weave through a scheme of work. Sue Cave, co-author of both of the above-mentioned resources, has made a great training video on how to embed phonics within your scheme of work, which is well worth a watch if you are still in the early stages of developing your phonics coverage. Take 10 Phonics is another good resource, which you may already have in school.

Ensure that content drives unit selection (not the other way around)

Sometimes, it can be very tempting to teach a particular unit of work because we can think of lots of great activities related to a topic and we know that the children will enjoy it. I certainly did this a lot initially. Of course, pupil engagement is incredibly important but, for me, units of work should be selected according to the extent to which they allow us as teachers to deliver the age-appropriate vocabulary, grammatical structures and phonics that enable learners to make progress over time. It can take quite a while to consider which vocabulary and grammatical structures need to be included in each year group and I have spent a lot of time over the last few years cross-referencing the lexical units in my scheme with lists of high-frequency words in French, as well as with my progression documents, to ensure that pupils are given multiple opportunities to meet different grammatical concepts at varying levels of complexity. Clare Seccombe has written an excellent blog post on how to select the vocabulary that we teach to ensure that learners are able to communicate effectively in the target language, even from the very early stages of languages acquisition.

Weave culture through your planning

Culture, although not explicitly referenced in the Programme of Study, is still an integral part of language-learning. Children love to find out about the customs and traditions of the country (or countries) where the target language is spoken and I find that units of work based on an aspect of culture generally lead to high levels of engagement with the vocabulary, grammar and phonics being studied. Over the past year, I have been making a concerted effort to find ways in which I can adapt some of my planning to really bring the cultural aspect of language-learning to the fore and have planned several new units which incorporate the key vocabulary, grammatical structures and phonics for a particular year group whilst also allowing pupils to engage with culture in meaningful ways. A unit of work on the tradition of le goûter, for example gave children opportunities to work on giving opinions on particular foods, whilst also learning about this important tea-time tradition, and generated some great spoken and written work in Year 3.

Teaching through culture, such as celebrations of La fête des rois, gives context to language-learning

Don’t forget the wider French and Spanish-speaking worlds

As part of our collective responsibility as educators to decolonise the curriculum, we must ensure that learners understand that French and Spanish are not just spoken on the continent of Europe but also in countries many thousands of miles away from the place where the language first evolved. Having conversations around the reasons for this are also very important, as are nuanced and non-stereotypical images of life in the wider French and Spanish-speaking worlds. From units of work on carnival, to studies of particular countries and comparing the weather in Bogotá and Madrid using live web cams, turning pupils’ eyes out to the world outside of Europe is incredibly important in helping them to appreciate the global reach of the language that they are learning and the great cultural richness and diversity of the French and Spanish-speaking worlds. To help bring this to life even more for young learners, through letters, video calls and collaborative projects, I can definitely recommend using the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms service or its Partner Finder to create links with schools in different parts of the globe.

Moving away from a Euro-centric focus for foreign language learning is an important step towards decolonising the curriculum for MFL

Find somebody to bounce ideas off

One of the things I missed the most when I moved away from being a class teacher was the opportunity to share ideas and work alongside colleagues during the planning process. I have been very lucky to find some incredibly supportive specialist language teachers in my local area, both through chance meetings at training events (a big shout out to you, Angela) and also through the local Primary Languages Hub, which I run in conjunction with the Association for Language Learning. Having colleagues who can help review planning and offer suggestions for improvements is invaluable when you are working in isolation. And if you don’t have a hub for primary language specialists in your local area, there is a wonderful community of incredibly committed and creative practitioners on Facebook in the previously-mentioned Languages in Primary Schools (LiPS) group and lots of inspiration to be found on Twitter amongst the #mlftwitterati community.

Have you planned a scheme of work for languages in your school? What were the biggest challenges for you? As always, I love to hear about your experiences.

Vive l’heure du goûter

Cultural links to a French institution

Over the past year or so, I’ve been reviewing and revising a lot of the scheme of work that I’ve been developing since I started as the MFL specialist at my current school. The scheme has evolved slowly, over time, but there have always been bits here and there that I’ve felt needed a bit of refining and since the children have had so much time learning remotely since the pandemic hit, I’ve had to adapt quite a few units to ensure that anything pupils may have missed when learning from home is revisited before we move on.

Another of my main objectives in tweaking the focus and content of some units, has been to weave more culture, both French and Francophone, through my scheme of work. In my French lessons we have always done lots of “celebration days” or one-off lessons on particular aspects of culture, but I really wanted this to feature more prominently in the overall scheme, with dedicated units allowing children to engage with the French-speaking world in a more tangible and sustained manner. For me, culture is what brings language-learning to life and creates a real buzz amongst learners. It is also a great vehicle through which to introduce new language and grammatical concepts in a relevant and engaging way and I really wanted to find ways to capitalise on this.

I always enjoy building units of work around books, particularly authentic French ones (although I also use translations such as the late, great Eric Carle’s Ours Brun, if the book structure really suits the language content I want the children to work with). Several months ago, I was pleased to rediscover at the back of my bookshelves the gorgeous, and fairly simple, Vive l’heure du goûter by Nathalie Desforges, which I’d brought back from a trip to France and then forgotten about. It introduces young learners to the French institution that is le goûter and I was keen to find a way to exploit its potential with some of my youngest learners through a brand new unit of work.

Vive l’heure du goûter: a lovely, colourful book, perfect for younger learners

A tradition immortalised in oil paint by French artists Jean Metzinger and Léon Perrault, amongst others, le goûter – the afternoon snack that children eat straight after they get out of school at 4pm – is a French institution. As an eighteen-year-old jeune fille au pair in the town of Amiens, I still remember the importance of le goûter in the daily routine of the two little girls that I Iooked after. Turning up at the school gate without their favourite treats was not an option, since they were always hungry when the bell rang for the end of school! A traditional goûter used to be squares of chocolate inside a hunk of baguette, but nowadays it seems to be any sweet treat to keep children going until dinner, which is eaten much later in France than it generally is in the U.K. This lovely little clip explains all about the tradition and its role in the daily life of school children living in France.

Le goûter and its place in French culture.

I find any unit of work which includes an element of food-tasting always goes down well with everybody in the classroom – children and adults alike – and once children have tasted something new they are always keen to tell you whether they liked it or not, so why not do it in French? This little unit introduces the children to the tradition of le goûter, along with a range of vocabulary for these sweet snacks, of which some – for example le pain au chocolat – may already be familiar to them. There is plenty of recognition and pronunciation practice before moving on to a tasting session and an introduction to the opinion phrases j’aime and je n’aime pas. Children then begin to talk about their likes and dislikes, using a speaking frame to extend their phrases with the conjunctions et and mais, before finally creating a concertina book, as described here by the queen of minibooks herself: Clare Seccombe. I’m also hoping for time to take small groups to the kitchen to have a go at following this fantastic French recipe for madeleines (originally shared by Sylvie Bartlett Rawlings on the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group) as an end-of-term treat.

Decoding a recipe in French can give great, practical meaning to language-learning

Below is a downloadable copy of the planning for the unit, which can be adapted to suit the needs of your learners. If you would like copies of any of the resources mentioned in the document, please feel free to get in touch.

Bon appétit!

Decolonising the Primary MFL Curriculum.

Moving beyond diversity

Back in 2012, when I was just a couple of years into my teaching career, I watched ‘Andrew Marr’s History of the World’ on the BBC. The aim of the series was to tell the story of the entirety of human history, starting with the migration of early homo sapiens out of Africa and ending in the present day. What struck me the most about the series was an episode which featured a section on the Haitian Revolution of 1791. It saw enslaved Africans rise up against their French rulers, taking on the colonial might of not just France but also Britain and Spain. By 1804 independence from France had been won (although reparations would still be made to the former colonisers for the “theft” of slaveowner “property” until as recently as 1947), making Haiti the first republic led by black people and effectively signaling the beginning of the end for the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans. I was immediately struck by one question. Why was it I that I had never even heard of the Haitian Revolution, in spite of its profound impact on world history? A little more research soon uncovered other revolts by enslaved Africans in the former British colonies of Jamaica, Grenada and Barbados. Again, I had never heard of them. Clearly, even after studying history to A-Level, and French, and Hispanic Studies as a degree, there were huge gaps is my understanding of the long and complex histories that major European powers had, and continue to have, with their former colonies.

Citadelle Laferrière in Haiti, part of the country’s defense system against possible future French incursions following the Revolution.

The fact that the British education system is very selective when it comes to the history it shares with the young people it claims to educate has been well known by black and minority ethnic (BME) communities for decades. It is the very reason that many such communities have long histories of supplementary schools, which promote an alternative to the version of history taught within the mainstream classroom. For too long, our education system has failed to tackle the thorny issues surrounding colonialism: the violence inflicted on the oppressed peoples of colonised territories, its uncomfortable views on race and the impact it still has in Britain, and many other parts of the globe, today. The murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, seen around the world in the summer of 2020, have reignited debate about the way in which systemic racism, prejudice and lack of representation still affect the lives of minority ethnic groups living in a postcolonial world.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests should be making us think again about representation of BME groups within the school curriculum

Unfortunately, often tokenistic gestures of “diversity” or “multiculturalism” take the place of actual, concrete action to address the underlying issues that lead to lack of representation within the curriculum. The problem with the concept of “diversity” is that it is based on the idea that there is a neutral point from which “others” are “diverse” (with the dominant aspect of this “neutrality” being whiteness). The concept of decolonising the curriculum goes further than simply ensuring that there are more black and brown faces in text books and the resources we create. It asks us to move beyond what we think we know, to question things that we may have assumed were fact and to move away from a Eurocentric view of the world.

So what does a decolonised MFL curriculum actually look like? The honest answer is, I don’t fully know because I have never seen one and I certainly don’t have all the answers.

For me personally, one of the first steps has been to re-examine the curriculum offer for MFL in my school and consider how we could help children to explore French as a global language, not just one spoken in France. This has meant forging links with partner schools in different parts of the Francophone world, not just mainland France, and adjusting planning to create units of work which allow learners to explore the cultures of countries like Rwanda, Guadeloupe and Senegal. It has also meant liaising with SLT to set aside time for a designated Semaine de la Francophonie, during which pupils learn more about the history, art and culture of various Francophone nations, drawing on their history and geography skills, alongside language teaching, in a cross-curricular approach. An ‘Art Week’, during which each year group will learn about and recreate the art of a Francophone artist is another move away from more “obvious” European painters such as Monet and Matisse. Importantly though, these topics and themed weeks don’t just stop at the idea of French being a globally-spoken language, but encourage pupils to explore why this might have come to be. How is it that so many countries, in so many different corners of the globe all have the same official language? Does everybody in these countries speak French or are other languages present in the everyday lives of the populations and why might this be? Naturally, such discussions will draw out challenging issues. Can we talk about Carnival in Guadeloupe without addressing the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, for example?

Guadeloupe is a beautiful island but we must also share with children troubling elements of its past

Whilst, as a primary practitioner, it can seem very difficult to address such topics with young pupils, I am in complete agreement with Lisa Panford and Melina Irvine‘s comment in their recent ALL Language World presentation on decolonising the MFL curriculum, that we need to start our discussions on racism and colonialism as early as possible with primary pupils. This must, of course, be done in an age-appropriate way but it is essential if our children are to move through the education system with an awareness of the causes and current consequences of colonialism.

A decolonised curriculum also requires us to examine seemingly well-known aspects of history from a different perspective. Throughout my high-school history education, I learned about the First and Second World Wars solely through a European lens. I heard about battles in France and Belgium, dictators in Germany and Italy and analysed pictures of white Tommies in trenches. No mention was ever made of the contribution of troops from across the British Empire – as an example, over 1 million Indian soldiers served in World War One and around 2.5 million in World War Two – who fought for Britain and were, at the time, British citizens as a direct result of imperial expansion. The involvement of men from all corners of the globe, coming to fight for the “mother country” is, of course, the reason why we call them “World Wars” but this, to my knowledge, was never made explicit. When we commemorate l’armistice in MFL sessions, can we do so without reference to les tirailleurs sénégalais (West-African soldiers who fought for France) or the contribution of Malagasy troops?

Display of ‘ID cards’ commemorating soldiers from all over the world who fought and died for Britain and France in WW1, created by my Year 3 pupils.

As part of a decolonised curriculum I think it is also important to shine a light on the cultural achievements of former colonies, in spite of the oppressions of their colonial pasts. From Léopold Senghor’s philosophy of négritude in Senegal, to the resident artists of Kigali’s Inema Arts Centre and the Simón Bolívar orchestra of Venezuela, many groups in the global south have successfully reimagined culture for a postcolonial age and this is something that, as teachers, we must help our pupils to discover. In doing so, we enable learners to challenge their own misconceptions about life in countries which they may have – consciously or unconsciously – considered “poor”, “backward”, or “lacking in culture.”

With this in mind, we must also be conscious of the images of people or places that we expose our pupils to, ensuring that we do not fall into the trap of presenting tired tropes, which do not represent the current reality of the country which they claim to depict. When we show children pictures or video clips of Côte d’Ivoire, do we show images of bustling Abidjan with its skyscrapers, alongside the beautiful beaches, rubber plantations and the national football team? The danger of a single narrative is well-documented but it is inevitable, especially when talking about places that we have never visited, that we may fall back onto unhelpful stereotypes ourselves. This is why creating links with partner schools can be so beneficial, not only for the pupils but for teachers too. I will often ask my colleagues in partner institutions questions about a particular unit of work and I hope in the future to be able to do more collaborative planning of units.

Decolonising in terms of MFL, or indeed any area of the curriculum, involves teachers and school leaders reflecting critically on what they think they already know, taking into consideration their own points of reference and bias and being prepared to admit that they do not have all the answers. Ultimately, it is a question of pluralising, creating greater equality and designing a curriculum in which all learners see themselves reflected. We should be aiming to create a curriculum which inspires all learners, enabling every pupil, no matter what their background or the colour of their skin, to achieve the best possible outcomes.

For more information around the subject of decolonising the curriculum and what it is like to grow up black and British, I have found the following really informative.

Aisha Thomas’s 2020 Ted Talk The Importance of Representation in Education

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala.

Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

My Go-To Starter Activities

Fun ways to revisit learning and ensure retention

I can’t be the only teacher to have noticed that Rosenshine’s Principals seem to be everywhere at the moment. Certainly at my own school, we have spent a lot of INSET time focusing on these principals and considering how we are employing them to ensure that pupils are learning in the most effective way possible. Leaving aside debate relating to the danger of these seventeen principals being used by school leaders as a tick-list during formal lesson observations (“we didn’t see any evidence of modelling today, so this lesson wasn’t good enough,”) and the criticism by many educators that, if asked to create a list of tried-and-tested strategies that work well to improve outcomes in the classroom, most experienced and reflective teachers would come up with a selection not dissimilar to Rosenshine’s own, these principals are a helpful tool to get us reflecting on the way that we teach and why.

For me, it is Rosenshine’s comments on revisiting prior learning which are most interesting especially because, I believe, that as MFL teachers this has always been an intrinsic part of our practice. After all, MFL can be considered a fairly hierarchical subject area, with the need to regularly revisit more basic grammatical rules or sentence constructions in order to move children on to increasingly complex ones. That said, with OFSTED’s current focus on “sticky knowledge”, teachers need, more than ever, to be ensuring that pupils have adequate opportunities to revisit and rehearse prior learning in order for it to pass from working into long-term memory and remain there.

Willingham’s Memory Model, as illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli

This, like many principals laid out in pedagogic research, can seem easier said than done. Limited time, the sheer vastness of the primary curriculum, as well as the external forces beyond our control which may act on individual pupils, can make enabling children to effectively remember what we have taught them seem like an up-hill battle. However, with a well designed MFL curriculum, which allows for regular revisiting of key vocabulary and structures through carefully sequenced units (that’s probably a post for another time), as well as regular retrieval activities, all pupils can be enabled to recall more and better over time.

I’m not saying that I have all the answers, by any stretch of the imagination. I am regularly discouraged by how little some of my pupils seem to remember – especially given the stop-start nature of the past year’s learning – but I know that dedicating ten minutes or so at the start of every lesson to recapping, not just learning from the current unit of work but also elements of previously-taught units, makes a big difference for the children that I teach. Making these Starter Activities fast-paced, fun (and often, competitive) keeps motivation high and tends to start the lesson off on a good footing. In my teacher planner, I have a list of go-to Starter Activities that I can pick from if I’m feeling a bit uninspired when planning a unit of work, or if I feel that children need to go back and revisit a particular learning point from a previous lesson or unit and I want a tried-and-tested activity that I know will do the job. So, here, in no particular order, are my top ten starter activities to encourage recall.

Retrieval Grids:

Although I had seen these before, I was really inspired by Catriona Egan in the Autumn Edition of Languages Today Magazine to start using these grids regularly. They are a great way for pupils of all ability levels to revisit prior vocabulary and grammatical constructions, with simpler phrases assigned a lower points value than more complex ones. I give children about five minutes to work on translating as many phrases as they can, either independently or in mixed-ability pairs (simpler translations are from the target language to English and more complex ones from English to the target language) and then we feed back as a class, checking and correcting the translations. We then work out who has managed to gain the highest score. Many children find the competitive element very motivating and the fact that phrases vary in difficulty means that all children can access the task. This Genially example reveals the answers under each phrase when the mouse is hovered over the box, saving time on copying up translations on the board.

This example of a retrieval grid for sports, made using Genially, reveals answers when the mouse is hovered over the square.

The Learning Apps site can also be used to create similar grids, with the option to hide an image or clip underneath the phrase pieces, as a motivational tool.

The clip (Le cercle de la vie) hidden beneath this grid links into the children’s learning about animals.


A classic for good reason, bingo can be adapted to suit any age and stage of language learning. It works well with phonics when focusing on phoneme/grapheme correspondence, for single units of vocabulary and more complex phrases, or even revisiting conjugation. For a quick, no-prep starter children can draw grids on their own mini whiteboards, or you may want to create your own individual boards with key vocabulary on and laminate them for future use. Loto en ligne, where pupils have a strip of paper with a variety of items on it and can only cut off those at the top or bottom as they hear them, is another variant and is great for hearing words or chunks of language more than once. Competitive, but with an element of chance which appeals to all learners, this game is a sure-fire hit every time I use it.

This interactive version of bingo, generously shared by @MarieAlirot, is great if children are working on devices and can be used in conjunction with ‘Wheel of Names’ to pick individual phrases.


I love using sentence-sorting to get children thinking about whether or not a phrase or sentence makes sense and discussing why it does, or doesn’t. I find it particularly useful for tricky points of grammar, which can be easily forgotten if not revisited often. Sentence-sorting can be done physically, using strips of paper or laminated cards but, to save time, I find the Word Wall ‘Group Sort’ template very helpful in that it allows me to create a range of sentences quickly and easily, without the need for printing or laminating. Children, working in pairs, divide their boards up into the correct number of sections and physically copy the words or phrases into the correct area. Pupils can then come up individually to drag and drop the phrases into the correct group and each pair gets a point for every one they get right. The great thing about this short, focused activity is that it draws out a lot of great discussion between pupils and with the class as a whole, allowing the teacher to quickly assess who has, and hasn’t, fully grasped a concept.

Hexagon Puzzles:

A recent discovery, which I have found incredibly helpful for revisiting vocabulary from previous topics, Hexagon Puzzles ask children to move from one side of a grid to the other, earning points from challenges that they encounter along the way. These can be in the form of vocabulary tasks, translations, sentence corrections or conjugation activities (the example below is aimed at Year 3 so doesn’t involve any verb work) but the aim for the children is to gain as many points as possible by doing it. Working in pairs is a really helpful way to tackle these grids as children can use their combined knowledge on the harder tasks and the output is often better than if the children work alone.

This example was adapted from one found on TES, created by We Teach Spanish

1 pen, 1 dice:

Or, in the current times: 2 pens, 2 dice. Children are given a short text, either on a piece of paper or on the screen and must work together to translate it. One of the pair starts, translating sentence by sentence (either from the target language to English or visa versa). Whilst they translate, their partner rolls the dice repeatedly until they get a six. Once the six is rolled, they take over, translating as much as they can until their partner throws a six and it is time to swap again. The aim is to be the person in the pair who translates the most words correctly. After the children have had about five minutes on the task, the whole class works together to feed back their translations, checking and correcting as they go. This is a great way to practise a range of structures and vocabulary and can be made simpler for younger learners through a target language to English translation, or more complex through translation from English into the target language.


Trapdoor is a brilliant activity, useful at many stages of the language-learning process. I like to use it as a fun way to scaffold speaking as children begin to form longer sentences and it can later be recycled as a writing frame to support less confident learners when putting pen to paper. Most recently, I have been re-using Trapdoor grids as starter activities, bringing back vocabulary and sentence-structures from previous units. Every pupil writes a sentence secretly on a whiteboard, choosing a phrase from each individual section. I like to colour code the sections in red, amber and green and children go as far as they feel confident, some creating longer sentences than others. In pairs, person A selects a word or phrase from the first section of the laminated trapdoor grid that they share and, if correct can move on the second and so on. The only rule is that if they choose the wrong item of vocabulary, they must start over again at the beginning, re-reading the phrase from the start. The example below was made using Canva, my new favourite tool for creating resources.

Trapdoor game based on a Year 3 unit on Ours Brun.

Flippity Sentence-Builders:

I feel like I talk about Flippity a lot, but I really find it such a versatile tool and, now I’ve got to grips with it, so easy and quick for preparing activities. The randomiser is a great tool for a quick revision starter and allows children to translate sentences from the target language into English, or the other way round. Creating a ‘tangled translation’, as in the example below, allows children to choose which way round they want to to this, allowing for SEND pupils and rapid-graspers alike to access the activity at their own level. Numbers above the different parts of the sentence, indicate to learners the simpler constructions and what they can add to extend and add detail to their sentence, in the same way as the colour-coding on the Trapdoor grids (unfortuantely Flippity doesn’t let you choose the colours of each separate section). The randomiser is also great for getting learners to think about whether sentences make sense and allowing opportunities for children to edit their work appropriately. For anyone using Genially regularly in lessons, the randomiser can also be embedded into your slides, keeping all your activities in one place.

Backwards Jenga:

Definitely one to save until we are in more “normal” times, this is a really fun activity that I am looking forward to using again (hopefully very soon) and gets all the children talking. It is particularly useful for revising a range of questions and rehearsed responses. Each team is given a load of Jenga blocks, which they must divide up between themselves. All the blocks have numbers written on them, from 1 to 6. On the board, or a sheet of paper on the table, a list of numbered questions is displayed. Children go round in a circle, choosing a block from their selection and answering the corresponding question. If they answer correctly, they can place the block into the middle of the table, working as a team to create a tower. If they successfully build the tower and finish the activity, they can play a game of real Jenga, as a reward. This game is great for teacher assessment: a tower taking a long time to construct might indicate an issue with remembering the correct vocabulary and one being built very quickly might indicate a team who are very confident with the language required (or, on the other hand, one not answering the questions properly).

Revision Ladders:

I’ve mentioned these in a previous post on resources to support the learning of SEND learners in the primary MFL classroom, but this ladder activity, the inspiration for which came from @MissMeyMFL, can be used as a nice starter to get children really thinking about the key language and structures that they have already learned. Children work in pairs, starting with a counter each at the bottom of the ladder. Each has a separate translation sheet with the vocabulary on one side in English and the other in the target language.

Sentences increase in complexity as the pupils move up the ladder.

Pupil A reads out a sentence, either in English or the target language, and their partner must translate it back to them verbally. If correct, as decided by checking on the sheet, they may move up a rung on the ladder. They then swap and the second pupil listens and translates the word or phrase read to them by their partner, from a separate and containing different words and sentences. The structures increase in difficulty as the children move up and any mistakes see them drop down to the bottom on the ladder again. Beware though, it can get very competitive!


Dictation is a really fantastic activity for revising previously-learned structures. In French it is particularly useful for recapping silent letter rules and agreement, which is not always obvious when spoken, and is also a really nice cultural link to the ubiquitous dictée taken by French children at least weekly. The teacher reads a phrase several times, and children have to jot down what they hear on their mini whiteboard. The teacher then reveals the written phrase on the board and pupils can award themselves a mark for every word they spell correctly. I am very mean and only give the children half marks if they are missing accents, and it is wonderful opportunity to consider why accents are so important and how they actually change the sound of the word, something which is not always obvious to monolingual English speakers. I also deduct marks for missing apostrophes in words (the word aujoud’hui is a great one for this). The lovely thing about this activity is that errors can be quickly identified and discussed and children find the awarding of points very motivating. It certainly gets children thinking more carefully about the accuracy of their writing, which can only be a good thing. It also requires very minimal prep.

For further ideas on Retreival Practice, I am currently really enjoying reading ‘Retrieval Practice: Resource Guide’, by Kate Jones, which offers lots of great (non subject-specific) activities, easily adaptable to the primary MFL classroom.

Bringing the World Into Your Classroom.

Using international projects and partnerships to bring MFL learning to life

When I was about six, I was given an illustrated children’s atlas full of colourful maps and amazing pictures of people and places in far-flung corners of the globe. Sadly, I don’t remember who gave it to me, but I do know that it became one of my most treasured possessions. I vividly recall sitting on the bed, in the room that I shared with my younger sister, poring over the images: two children in traditional Indonesian dress, a vast prairie in North America, a bustling market in India. I suppose, if I was to pinpoint it, that was the moment that my eyes were really opened to the vastness of the world outside of my own experience. After all, up until that point in my life the longest journey I’d ever made was our annual summer trip from the Midlands to the (mostly) sunny Suffolk coast. That atlas was the first of many other books, over the years, to became a passport to other landscapes, climates, languages and experiences and filled me with a longing to travel and explore all that the world had to offer. It’s a feeling that’s never left and it’s why I still have that atlas, thirty years later, even though it is incredibly dog-eared and so out-of-date it includes a map Yugoslavia.

Maps are a way to explore the world without even leaving your classroom.

It’s this joy of discovering more about the world, its cultures and its languages that, as Languages and International Dimension Lead at my inner-city primary school, I want to encourage and develop in the children that I teach. I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in a school of great variety and diversity, which is full of children with very different experiences of the world. Some pupils were born in the UK and have not yet had the opportunity to travel abroad, whilst others come from further afield and may have lived in several different countries (and learned to speak multiple languages) before arriving with us. But the one unifying characteristic that I have found amongst all of these children is their fascination with the cultures and traditions of other countries. This is evident in language lessons; during our celebrations of various aspects of Francophone culture; and on our themed days dedicated to the languages and cultures represented within our own school community, most notably European Day of Languages.

When I first began teaching primary French, about four years ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could incorporate elements of culture into my scheme of work to really enthuse pupils, give context to language-learning and bring it to life for pupils. We celebrated la fête des rois and le 14 juillet; sang songs in French at Christmas; and learned all about the tradition of le poisson d’avril. However, by the end of this first year, I was beginning to feel very strongly that in order for the pupils to forge a real connection to the curriculum content, we really needed to find a partner school in France. I was also very aware that we were spending a lot of time talking about la Métropole, with only very minimal references to the roughly 200 million French-speakers who live in other Francophone nations. And so began the process of connecting with teachers and students in many parts of la francophonie and developing projects to grow and build on children’s understanding of life in the French-speaking world.

Do we need to extend our thinking beyond French traditions to include those of the Francophone world?

At the time, e-Twinning was an incredible resource for creating links with schools all over Europe (and beyond) and this was how we made the initial contact with our now well-established partner schools in Guadeloupe and in the Maine-et-Loire department in France. Like so many educators in the UK, I was heartbroken to hear that the Erasmus programme, and with it e-Twinning, would not form part of the UK’s Brexit deal and would become inaccessible to British teachers on the 1st January 2021. I had used e-Twinning for a variety of projects, not just with our French partner schools but also for more general collaborations, such as a Year 2 Christmas tree decoration exchange with over 14 different schools around Europe. Apart from the amazing capacity to connect easily with teachers and work together on any number of projects through the e-Twinning platform, the loss of Erasmus also meant the loss of funding for teacher and pupil mobility, which had previously allowed practitioners to visit and learn from colleagues around Europe and for pupils themselves to also visit their partner schools (not to mention great e-Twinning conferences like the one that I was lucky enough to attend in Bratislava in 2019). The government’s new Turing Scheme, currently open for applications until the 7th May 2021, promises to fill the void left by Erasmus and provide “international opportunities in education and training across the world.” Currently running for one academic year only, it’s a great time for schools who already have partners abroad to apply for funding for pupil visits, although it will only cover the cost of outward travel. Let’s hope that it is a success and continues to run after next academic year.

The Turing Scheme will allow pupils to visit their friends in partner schools around the world

The British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme is another fantastic way to forge links with countries in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Our school’s link with our partners in Rwanda was created this way and the team at the British Council are incredibly supportive in helping you get started and develop your partnership. Connecting Classrooms provide a whole range of free, online Global Learning Resources, which allow pupils to work alongside their peers in the partner school to examine aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals through a variety of projects. This is really helpful for teachers who want to develop their pupils’ global understanding but don’t perhaps have the time to create whole units of work themselves. Of course, you could also plan a project independently but, for me personally, the Zero Hunger Project that we are currently working on in Year 5, alongside our friends in Rwanda, has been working really well, with some minor adjustments. Once a partnership has been established though Connecting Classrooms, then schools may apply for funding to carry out teacher exchanges, either individually or as a ‘cluster group’ of several schools, depending on the number of teachers involved.

Connecting Classrooms can link schools in the UK with those in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East

The British Council also offer a really great Schools Partner Finder where teachers from anywhere in the world can register, search for partners and create links with schools all over the globe. Through this tool our school has found, and is currently working with, schools in Djibouti and Chad on two very simple projects based on the beautiful picture book Under the Same Sky, which gets pupils thinking about the similarities that connect them to children who live many thousands of miles away in completely different countries.

Of course, we should never forget the power of personal connections. I have made links with schools abroad through people that I’ve met at weddings, conferences and through online groups. Most recently, I was contacted by a wonderful colleague in the Languages in Primary Schools Facebook Group who was able to put me in touch with a partner in Senegal so that my Year 6, who are currently working through a unit based on the country, could find out more about the lives of children of their age living in Dakar. Incidentally, for those interested in finding out more about school life in Senegal, live school tours are also available through and come highly recommended. When trying to find prospective partners, it’s also important not to forget to consider any parents or staff members who may have contacts in schools abroad and could help to facilitate partnerships. Sometimes it’s that personal link which helps to create and strengthen the collaboration between two schools.

And don’t forget, any links, projects and exchanges between your school and a partner school in another country may qualify you for the British Council’s International School Award, which recognises a school’s efforts in bringing an international dimension into their curriculum and embedding it within the wider culture of the school.

How do you celebrate the rich culture of the French, Spanish or German-speaking worlds? Do you have partners in other countries and if so, how did you find them? As always, it’s great to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Engaging, Enriching, Inclusive.

Ensuring a primary MFL curriculum which delivers for SEND pupils

This weekend, I had the great pleasure of presenting a session at the Association for Language Learning‘s annual Language World conference. Things were a little different this year in that we were all meeting virtually but there were, as always, so many inspiring presentations by incredible MFL practitioners from all sectors. Here’s a run-down of my workshop on ensuring an inclusive primary MFL curriculum, along with a link to the accompanying slides.

“Starting again” on a level playing field:

We know that we have a statutory duty to modify our programmes of study to ensure that all children can access a broad and balanced curriculum. However, this can sometimes feel easier said than done, especially for primary MFL specialists teaching several classes, perhaps in more than one school, for a relatively short time over the course of a working week. And, of course, the needs of SEND pupils are as diverse and complex as the children themselves and two learners with the same diagnosis will still have different strengths and weaknesses. However, one of the fantastic things about introducing another language to SEND pupils at KS2 is that it is an opportunity for them to experience a subject in which there is no history of “failure”. I use this word not in a derogatory sense, but because a lot of children with SEND, especially as they get higher up the school, will be very aware that they are not “top of the class” or may feel that they are not “clever” like some other pupils. Rather, the word failure is used to represent the narrative that, sadly, a lot of SEND pupils may have internalised over the course of their time in education. So, for many, MFL lessons in Year 3 are a chance to “start again” on a level playing field: a big confidence booster. And, of course, just because a child has a specific learning need does not mean that they cannot find great enjoyment and success when learning another language, given the right support.

Getting the basics right:

  • Make sure all pupils feel relaxed and safe. Language-learning involves taking risks so pupils need to feel confident to make mistakes without being judged. Expecting pupils to be supportive of each other means that all learners can express themselves without the fear of being laughed at. This is really important, especially as pupils get older and may start to feel more self-conscious and place greater significance on the opinions of their peers.
  • Greet the class in the target language and finish sessions with a goodbye. This signals the start and end of the lesson for all children, particularly important for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  • Monitor noise levels to ensure a calm atmosphere for pupils with ASD, who may become overwhelmed by an excess of sound (admittedly very tricky during games and paired or group activities). This helpful little noise monitor from, can help the class to keep an eye on their noise levels and there are lots of other great tools there as well, which you may want to explore.
  • This may sound very obvious, but make sure that pupils have all the equipment that they need ready at the start of the lesson, with an equipment list if necessary. This can help those with Attention Deficit Disorders, who may find organisation a challenge.
  • Ensure that the interactive whiteboard background (and, if necessary, print-outs) are an off-white colour for those with dyslexia.
  • Enlarge resources for those with visual impairments, if needed.
A noise-level monitor is very useful for creating a calm environment for all pupils, but especially those with ASD.

Differentiation is responsive teaching:

When we are talking about enabling children with SEND to access learning during lessons, we are actually talking largely about differentiation.

Differentiation is responsive teaching.

Carol Ann Tomlinson

We all know that differentiation is key to ensuring all children make progress during lessons, but what does this actually look like? Differentiation is a huge term which encompasses so much of what we do as practitioners but I think it is really helpful to break down the concept into three areas – differentiation by content, differentiation by process and differentiation by output – and explore what each of these might look like in context.

Differentiation by content:

Content is the knowledge, concepts and skills that students need to learn, based on the curriculum. However, the way that children gain access to that content is necessarily very different and in the case of SEND learners there will need to be a range of support in place to allow them to engage with, and ultimately retain, that content. So, what might this look like in practice?

Visual supports and multisensory approaches:

The great news is that many of the practices that we automatically adopt as teachers of MFL naturally support SEND pupils to access the linguistic content of lessons and the use of visual clues is just one example of this. Using gestures, mime, or even a signing system such as Makaton to support understanding of key vocabulary in the target language is particularly useful for SEND children.

The same can be said for the use of images to support vocabulary learning. This might take the form of flashcards; mini cards for games like pairs; or pictures next to key words on wall displays. The use of visual stimuli to embed new vocabulary and aid recall is helpful for all children but particularly those with SEND – and let’s not forget children new to English, for whom it removes the process of translation. One important point to remember when using visuals to support learning is to make sure that images are simple and can be clearly understood by SEND pupils (no distractions or chances to misinterpret meaning) and to keep the images consistent across all support materials. Try not to show one image to represent ‘a hat’ on your board slides and then another on your flashcards, for example.

Sue Cave and Jean Haig’s brilliant Physical French Phonics, along with Physical Spanish Phonics created with Jenny Bell, attaches an image and action to each phoneme and also introduces the matching graphemes. It’s a multimodal approach for learning phonics, particularly useful for some children with SEND. Often, if a child is struggling with segmenting a particular word, I find it is only necessary to make the action to give them the clue that they need to correctly pronounce the phoneme or read the grapheme.

Multisensory approaches are very important for many children, including some with SEND, and lots of pupils learn best by doing. Bringing a multisensory element to learning can help embed key language by acting as a ‘hook’ on which to hang new vocabulary and constructions. Children expressing opinions on different fruits from the book La surprise de Handa can do this more effectively if they have actually tasted the foods that they are talking about, for example.

Supporting listening:

I’m going to focus now on some of the areas of language learning that I have found SEND learners to struggle with and introduce some simple ideas for how to support that content, starting with listening. Listening activities can be tricky for SEND pupils for a number of reasons, including processing speed or difficulty processing auditory information. Many of my classes love the challenge of filling in the gaps during a cloze listening activity, but for my SEND pupils I would always try to scaffold them by providing a list of possible words along with image supports. My rapid graspers would, of course, just fill in the words as they heard them.

A year 4 cloze activity on the weather.
A key, including images, to support SEND learners to fill in the correct missing words.

Getting to grips with reading:

Decoding unfamiliar texts with the use of a bilingual dictionary is another area where I find some SEND learners really struggle. This may have multiple root causes, one of the main ones being that the concept of alphabetical order is not sufficiently embedded, so working with a full bilingual dictionary is, at least initially, very tricky. This can also be a real issue for new arrivals in the English-speaking classroom whose first language does not use the Latin alphabet. For these pupils, I prefer to use a glossary sheet, including images where appropriate, which allows children to work on translating a text in a much less intimidating manner. I often also provide simplified texts for SEND learners.   

Glossaries are less threatening than bilingual dictionaries for some SEND learners.

Scaffolding speaking and listening:

Let’s now have a little think about speaking and how that moves our children on towards writing. As in English lessons, children should be exposed to lots of ‘Talk for Writing’ before actually putting pen to paper.

Games like Trapdoor, the idea for which I got many years ago from Clare Seccombe’s fabulous Lightbulb Languages website, gives children a chance to rehearse the same phrases again and again and can be recycled as a writing frame later on. Below is an example from a Year 4 unit of work. The content focus here for everyone is noun and adjective order, along with expressing opinions. As a rule, I tend to favour supporting activities with speaking or writing frames which don’t impose limits on any pupils. Here I’ve colour-coded the game so pupils can then build their sentences to be as simple or as complex as they wish, red being the simplest sentence construction, moving on to orange and then green. This often means that SEND pupils, who may be used to being assigned separate tasks, have the freedom to create sentences which are as complex as those children who are perceived as more able, hopefully boosting their confidence in the process.  

This speaking frame, which allows all children to access the content in the form of noun/adjective order and expressing opinions, is colour-coded so that pupils can build sentences that are a simple or complex as they feel confident to create.

Here’s another example of a speaking/writing frame for Year 5 on family, following a slightly different model (this one was, again, inspired by suggestions made by Clare Seccombe at the ALL Primary Languages Conference back in October 2020). All pupils are accessing the content, which is the use of singular and plural, but they can choose how far they want to extend their sentences, from talking about the number of brothers and sisters they have, to moving on to names and even ages, which are not part of the frame and would be added independently.

Support frames which use arrows can be helpful in directing pupils when building sentences verbally and in writing.

Supporting grammar concepts for SEND learners:

Grammar is now a major focus of the National Curriculum for English in primary schools, which is very helpful when it comes to MFL lessons. That said, some SEND pupils may still struggle with the differences in grammatical structures between English and the target language. The concept of masculine and feminine nouns can be tricky for many pupils, particularly those who are monolingual English-speakers (although some EAL pupils may have an advantage here). Colour-coding masculine and feminine nouns so that children can differentiate them at a glance, for example, can be very helpful.  

Word-order is another tricky area and children should be given opportunities to physically manipulate sentences where word orders are different from English, for example when considering adjective/noun order. Colour-coding word cards according to their function in the sentence (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) helps pupils to recognise the role of an individual word within a sentence and being able to move them from one place to another allows for a low-stakes approach to sentence-building. Word cards give pupils more freedom than, say, a speaking or frame and this also means that they are more likely to make mistakes, which can then be identified and discussed, ultimately leading to deeper learning.

These colour-coded word cards can be arranged and rearranged to create sentences.

Knowledge Organisers:

The term Knowledge Organiser seems to be one the buzz phrases in education at the moment but, from my experience, teachers have been using some form of these for years. Knowledge organisers can be a good reference point for children struggling to recall key vocabulary or structures in that they hold all the language from a particular unit on one side of A4. They are especially useful for retrieval practice, which will be mentioned a bit later, or during lessons as a memory prompt.  The key is training learners to use them effectively in order to ensure they don’t just become pretty sheets in their books with no practical function.

A Knowledge Organiser for a Year 5 unit on family and where we live.

Differentiation by Process:

So, we’ve thought about how we might scaffold the content for SEND learners, but how can we ensure that they process the content as effectively as possible to ensure that it sticks? This is where differentiation by process comes in.

Helping SEND pupils to process learning:

  • The way in which we group pupils can have a big impact on the extent to which they are able to process new content. Mixed-ability pairings have been proven to have a powerful and positive effect on the learning of SEND pupils. That is not to say that the children have to be working in mixed-ability pairs all the time but it is certainly something to keep in mind.
  • We all know that songs and rhymes can be powerful tools for enabling all children, particularly SEND learners, to process and retain key vocabulary. How many of us have introduced a song in a lesson and had a pupil tell us that they already know it because they’ve been taught it by an older sibling at the school? Those earworms really work!
  • Often, children with SEND process information at slightly slower speeds. Therefore, it’s important to give children sufficient thinking time when we ask questions. To try and alleviate the stress that targeted questioning might create for SEND pupils, pre-asking a question can be really helpful. This essentially involves prepping a child for the question you are going to ask them at a later point in the lesson. You can then help them construct the answer or leave them to work on it alone or with a partner, depending on their needs.
  • Linked to this (and this can be tricky if you don’t have a class of your own, but there are ways around it) pre-teaching vocabulary can help SEND learners get a head-start on a lesson or topic. This could be in the form of interactive flashcards like these, created using Flippity, which children might work on independently during morning registration or ‘settling time’ straight after lunch. Being exposed to new concepts prior to the lesson can give SEND learners a sense of increased confidence going into a session.
  • Allow children plenty of partner talk time during lessons after asking a question. I like to set more open-ended discussion activities, like working out a grammatical rule from a set of example sentences or finding the correct and incorrect sentences from a group of examples and giving reasons for these choices. This gives children a chance to discuss together and process learning on a much deeper level.  
Giving time for paired talk plays an essential role in allowing all learners to process learning.

Differentiation by Product:

So, we have supported the content delivery for our SEND learners and made sure that they have been given opportunities to process their learning through the effective use of questioning, groupings and paired talk time. Now we need to think about what the output is going to be, both in terms of individual activities and also at the end of a unit.

Retrieval Grids:

As I’ve already mentioned, I like to try and keep activities open-ended so that children can extend themselves as they feel confident. This is an example of a retrieval grid, the idea for which I got from Catriona Egan in a recent addition of Languages Today magazine. The aim of the activity is for children to translate as many boxes as they can within a given time period. The boxes are colour-coded depending on their difficulty and points awarded accordingly for correct translations. All children are enabled to produce something from the activity but the output will vary from pupil to pupil. Again, SEND pupils do not just have to stick to the simpler, red, translations but can push themselves to have a go at more complex phrases.

Retrieval Grids are great for recapping prior learning at the start of a session and can be colour-coded according to the difficulty of the translation/questions within them.


This idea was inspired by Miss Mey MFL, and simplified for primary language learners. Pupils work in pairs, placing a counter each at the bottom of the ladder. Pupil A then uses their sheet to read the first, and easiest, sentence aloud for Pupil B to translate. A can then check the translation carefully using the answer on their sheet. If B is correct, then they can move their counter up one rung of the ladder. Pupils then swap and it’s B’s turn to quiz A. For each correct answer, the player can move their counter one space up the ladder. If incorrect, they drop back down to the bottom. What works well here is that the activity is essentially self-differentiating, as children may reach a point at which the content is too complex and then drop back down to recap the language and structures at their level. Again, all pupils are engaged in the same activity.

Sentences build in complexity as pupils move further up the ladder.

Translation and Dictée Pyramids:

As you’ve probably realised by now, I prefer to have one resource which works for all learners and this Translation Pyramid activity, based on an original idea by Gianfranco Conti and for which credit must go to @simograv, is no exception. This can be adapted in various different ways but here we start at the top, translating the phrases as they advance in difficulty. This one is French to English but it could be the other way around. The final outcome will be different depending on ability level but all children will be engaged in the same activity.

Sentences build in complexity, allowing all children to translate sentences to different levels of complexity

This could also be turned into a listening activity, where pupils note down the phrases that they hear, gradually becoming more complex as they work down the pyramid. The great thing about these activities is that they don’t impose limits on SEND pupils and allow them to ‘have a go’ at even quite complex language structures.

Adding sound files turns the activity in a dictation.

Building independence in writing:

As I’ve already shown, before we start writing I always make sure there are plenty of opportunities to practice vocabulary and structures many times orally in a variety of ways. However, even with extensive preparation, for some SEND learners putting pen to paper can be daunting in English, let alone another language. Of course, we can support the process with knowledge organisers and writing frames, as previously discussed, but I also want my learners to be able to assess their own work and evaluate the complexity of language that they have managed to produce. Using attainment statements from the Cave Languages website, I create little self-assessment tickets, which the children can annotate with ticks or smiley faces once they have managed to include a particular element. I always try to include elements of the previous year (or years’) learning so children can create output at their level, but it also shows SEND children how to up-level their writing, if they want to have a go at doing so.

Self-assessment tickets allow the children to evaluate their own work in relation to their targets. These can be differentiated for the various abilities within the classroom.

Revisit, revisit, revisit:

A very wise colleague once told me that children are not slow learners but quick forgetters. For some SEND pupils in particular, making knowledge stick can seem like an uphill battle. The key is to revisit prior learning as much as possible, in small chunks. Starter activities work well for this but may need to be adapted depending on the needs of the SEND pupils in your classes, who might favour small group or paired work over whole-class revision sessions where they speak in front of a large group. Revision grids, spinner or dice games as well as a new favourite ‘l’élimination’ (where children compete to answer questions correctly and knock competitors off one of four spaces on the board before the timer runs out) are fun but also keep key language coming back round again and again, ensuring retention over time.

Ultimately though, developing an MFL classroom which supports SEND children and allows them to flourish is all about knowing your pupils and their needs. What works for one won’t work for everyone but it is essential that we take the time to find out how best to support individual pupils, liaising with class teachers and SEND Coordinators as necessary. And, of course, anything which we do in the classroom to support SEND learners will also have a positive impact on the learning of the whole class.  

How do you engage your SEND learners during MFL lessons? If you’ve been inspired by any of these ideas, or have some great ones of your own, feel free to share in the comments.