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.

Loto:

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.

Sentence-sorting:

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.

Children can drag and drop the phrases into the ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ groups, justifying their answers to the class as they do so.

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:

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:

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 in 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 heygo.com 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 ClassrooomScreen.com, 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 6 unit on sports and opinions .

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.

L’Échelle:

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.

A Window on ‘La Francophonie’

On découvre le Sénégal

Did you know that there are roughly 300 million French-speakers worldwide, making French the sixth most-spoken language in the world? Interestingly, due to rapid population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, French is now the fastest growing language on the continent. In fact, Africa is now home to roughly two thirds of the global French-speaking population.

So, with this in mind, and La Semaine de la langue française et de la francophonie fast approaching – 13th – 21st March 2021, in case you were wondering – what better time to share ideas and inspiration for a unit of work on one of Africa’s most vibrant and exciting French-speaking nations: Senegal.

Over the past few years, I have been working to create a more globalised curriculum for the children that I teach, celebrating Francophone culture through curriculum weeks, themed days and links with schools from around the French-speaking world, including Guadeloupe, Rwanda and Djibouti (more on how to do this in a future post). This academic year, however, I have made it a target to start adapting my scheme of work to create units which marry together the linguistic and grammatical structures that children need to make the required progress in Key Stage Two with cultural elements, enabling them to discover more about the French-speaking world in a meaningful way. It was watching the fantastic BBC documentary ‘African Renaissance: When Art Meets Power’, fronted by Afua Hirsch, over the summer that inspired me to create this unit of work on Senegal for my Year 6 classes.

Introducing Senegal:

Senegal is continental Africa’s westernmost country. It’s about 1.5 times the size of England and has a population of around 16 million. Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960 but remains part of ‘la Francophonie’. While French is still the official language of Senegal, most people speak Wolof (the Wolof people being the largest ethic group within the country) and many people speak French as a second language, or not at all. In a six-week unit, it is never going to be possible to teach children everything about the focus country. Instead, my aim has been to devise a set of lessons, driven by the subject content of the Languages Programme of Study for Key Stage Two, which would also spark children’s interest in Senegal, hopefully inspiring them to go away and spend time researching the country independently.

For my Year 6, this is a really good revision unit, perfect for the the half term following an extended period of remote learning, which touches on elements covered in previous topics or year groups: the definite and partitive articles; adjective/noun order and agreement; musical instruments; and clothes.

My suggestion for the first in this series of lessons, gives children the opportunity to get a bit of a taste Senegalese culture through a couple of short video montages.

A nice video montage showing a range of scenes from Senegalese life, mostly in Dakar.
Video montage showing clips from different areas of Senegal, accompanied by a nice Afrobeats soundtrack (mostly in English, unfortunately).

Inspired by an idea shared by Suzi Bewell in her Keynote Speech at the recent ALL West of England online conference, I have also created a ‘virtual tour‘ of Dakar, using Genially, to give children the best chance of visualising the city.

The children’s thinking could be guided through prompt questions and class discussion to draw together their first impressions of the country. SEND children and those who find it harder to pick out key information, may benefit from an organiser, like this one.

It might also be interesting at this point to consider anything that the children found surprising and unpick, in a light-touch manner, whether the images they have seen have helped them question what they thought they knew about Senegal or Africa in general.

Once they have watched the clips and taken the virtual tour, the children can begin their own research, this time in French. I’ve included examples of a text that I created in Canva, written at three level of challenge, which children could choose from depending on their confidence levels.

Before tackling a text of any kind, I always encourage children to consider the techniques they will need to use in order to get the gist. It’s great for children to realise that they do not need to rely on a dictionary and can get a good grasp of the meaning of a text by using their knowledge of cognates (and false friends) as well as recalling key vocabulary and grammatical structures from previous units of learning. I also prompt them to read aloud, using their knowledge of letter strings, and colour-code their text as they go, before beginning to look up any unknown words. The aim is to give children the confidence to ‘have a good go’ at decoding an unfamiliar text, using the skills they already have as language-learners.

Musical Traditions:

Music and the oral tradition are an integral part of life in Senegal. At the heart of this sit les griots, a caste of musicians who hold, protect and pass on the traditional stories and music of the peoples of Senegal. Over the course of a couple of lessons, pupils could be encouraged to discover and learn the names of the traditional instruments that are used in Senegalese music, recapping the conjugation of regular ‘er’ verbs in the present; the masculine and feminine definite article; and bringing in the partitive to create sentences starting ‘Je joue du/de l’/de la…’ or ‘Il/elle joue du/de l’/de la…’

One of the most iconic and important instruments of Senegal is la kora, a traditional, twenty-one stringed instrument, much like a harp. This great little BBC documentary is probably too long for the children but is an interesting insight into the way in which the kora is made and could be useful background research for teachers. The website of award-winning griot Seckou Keita is also full of fantastic information about the traditional instruments used in Senegalese music, as well as the importance of les griots in the musical tradition of Senegal, and West Africa as a whole.

Drums are an important part of Senegalese musical tradition as is the kora, a 21-stringed harp.

Now is also a wonderful opportunity to get children expressing their opinions about particular instruments or musical styles and extending their sentences with reasons. After listening to clips of individual instruments, children could be encouraged to look up adjectives to describe the nature of the sound they produce (e.g. rythmique). These adjectives would then form the basis of more complex sentence-building to create phrases such as: ‘J’aime la musique du djembé parce que c’est rythmique’.

For those children with a strong interest in music, Senegal also has a thriving Hip Hop scene and they may want to spend some time finding out about the stars of the genre, many of whom refer to themselves a ‘modern-day griots‘. Other contemporary musicians, who have become globally recognised names, include Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal and Pape Diouf who are all known for the upbeat Senegalese musical style known as mbalax, which combines traditional instruments with more modern sounds.

Fantastic Fashion:

Dakar Fashion week is an incredible event, bringing together designers from all of the African continent to show off their creations, many of which fuse traditional African styles and fabrics with international ideas. This France 24 report, recorded in both French and English, is a really helpful introduction to Dakar Fashion Week for teachers.

Talking about Fashion Week would be a perfect opportunity for older pupils to revisit clothing vocabulary, along with adjectives of size and colour, with the addition of traditional Senegalese items such as le boubou, a loose-fitting garment worn on special occasions by many men and women in West Africa, and le moussor, a headscarf.

Due to the pandemic, Dakar Fashion Week 2020, which took place in December, had to be moved out of the capital and into a baobab forest just outside of the city. Inspired by Annika Hammerschlag‘s amazing photographs of the event, as reported by BBC World News, my children will be planning and writing a set of descriptions for a selection of the outfits shown, using adjectives of size, length and colour to talk about the garments in detail. Images can be used for free if shown directly to children from the BBC website or, alternatively, Annika is happy to be contacted by teachers who wish purchase any of her images for use within the classroom.

This short clip, also from the BBC, helps to demonstrate the variety and vibrancy of the clothes on show at Dakar Fashion Week 2020 and the unique setting in which it took place.

A great little clip for introducing Dakar Fashion Week 2020, subtitled in English to help with comprehension.

To finish the unit, and before a more formal assessment, the children will have a chance to use Deck Toys to revisit the key language features, following one of two paths to enable all pupils to access the learning at their level.

Senegalese culture is incredibly rich and there are many other aspects which could easily form the basis of a really engaging unit of work including, but not limited to: art and artists (particularly the graffiti art of Dakar and the Dakar Biennale); sport (including the national sport of laamb); animals and their habitats; and traditional tales.

For further reading, the following books and websites are particularly helpful for getting an overview of the history and culture of Senegal:

Senegal: Enchantment of the World. Ruth Bjorklund. Published by Scholastic.

15 contes du Sénégal. Jean Muzi. Published by Flammarion Jeunesse.

Les enfants de l’antilope. Souleymane Mdodj and Zaü. Published by Rue du Monde.

TV5 Monde for a variety of clips on all aspects of life in Senegal (use the search tool in the ‘Culture’ section to bring up a range programming).

How do you incorporate the French, Spanish or German-speaking worlds into your lessons? Have you found any resources that you think are invaluable for creating a more globalised MFL Curriculum? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lockdown Learning and Technology

Top websites for remote learning (which I’ll be taking back into the classroom with me).

The last twelve months have been tough for teachers, pupils and their carers alike. We’ve all had to get to grips with brand new ways of teaching and learning with very little training and, often, at pretty short notice.

Providing meaningful remote learning opportunities for pupils, sometimes without even being able to see or hear them, has been a steep learning curve for all educators, and never more so than when it comes to utilising new technology. Social media and loads of fantastic training, such as the brilliant TiLT webinars hosted by @HelenMyers and @joedale (freely available on YouTube), are wonderful resources, but I for one have often felt completely overwhelmed by the quantity of websites and tech tools available and exhausted at the thought of getting my head around how they all work.

When the UK’s latest period of remote learning began in January, I spent several weeks watching what other, incredible, practitioners were doing online and feeling the pressure to make my lessons measure up. Of course, it just isn’t possible to get to grips with all of the wonderful resources out there and trying to do so would be a sure-fire route to burnout. That said, one of the great, and frankly unexpected, positives to come out of our current situation is that I have spent a good deal of time (at my own pace, importantly) discovering a fantastic array of new websites, which have been helpful in trying to recreate, to some extent at least, the engaging, hands-on and interactive activities that I try to make a part of my everyday classroom practice in more ‘normal’ times.

As we begin to look forward to the moment, hopefully not too far from now, that we can be back in the classroom with our pupils, here are a selection of great tech tools that I have found to be big hits with pupils in both pre-recorded and live remote lessons and which I know I will be adapting and taking forward to engage and motive pupils once we are back in school. Because learning, thinking on our feet and making the best of a tricky time is what we teachers are best at, isn’t it?

Word Wall

Word Wall was one of my earliest lockdown discoveries and has been my go-to for simple, quick but quality activities ever since. From pairs to gameshow-style quizzes and the incredibly popular ‘maze chase’ (French Pacman, as one of my pupils calls it), Word Wall allows pupils to practise new vocabulary and grammar constructions in lots of exciting ways through short, focused online games. Unfortunately, only five templates are available for free, after which there is a monthly charge, but pre-made games, shared by other teachers, are available to everybody. Pupils who access and complete the games, generate scores and are put onto a leader board, which is automatically saved and can be reviewed by the teacher for the purposes of assessment. You can even create printable sheets for children who don’t have access to electronic devices. Once back in the classroom, I can see Word Wall working really well for whole-class and team games on the Interactive Whiteboard to revise and consolidate previous learning.

Year 3 activity based on new vocabulary from ‘La chenille qui fait des trous’.

LearningApps:

LearningApps is a great, completely free, resource for creating tons of activities, including matching pair and spelling games, as well as fantastic cloze text listening activities. What really sets this site apart from others of its type, however, is the capacity to include audio in the target language. Children can, for example, listen to text in the target language and match it to its translation in English or an image, as in this example. This would work really well as a listening starter once back the in classroom. Just don’t forget to change the language from English to avoid pronunciation nightmares!

Example of audio matching pairs with English translations.

Through LearningApps, it is also possible to create cloze activities, to which both audio and video can be added, with pupils choosing from a range of words, or typing in their own, to fill in the blanks. I added video to this example by using PhotoSpeak to animate a Bitmoji character, which then read the text aloud for the children who listened and added in the missing words. I have included a short written tutorial on how to do this here (it took me ages to work it all out and hopefully this will simplify it slightly).

Example of cloze activity in which children select correct words from a drop-down list.

I’m a big fan of retrieval grids in the classroom, particularly for starter activities, and LearningApps also allows you to create a virtual version of these to be used in live online lessons. The great thing about these grids is that a video or image can be hidden underneath, to be revealed as each correct answer is given and clicked away by the teacher. The class reward for collectively translating all the phrases, of a variety of difficulty levels, is to watch the newly-revealed clip.

Retrieval grid for practising translating phrases to do with birthdays in French.

If you would like to know more about how LearningApps can be used in the classroom, check out @BotonesSalgado‘s presentation as part of January’s TiLT webinar, in which she demonstrates how she has utilised Learning Apps to create content for GCSE and A Level students (but it can easily be adapted for the primary age group).

Genially:

Over this latest lockdown, I’ve tried to keep my lessons, both live and pre-recorded, as interactive as I can. This has meant that there have been lots of links to different websites for children to follow throughout the course of a lesson. I’ve found Genially a great tool for creating virtual classrooms, in which all the links for a sequence of activities are stored. Children have access to the Genially link in advance, which takes them directly to their classroom for a particular lesson, and are then prompted to click on different objects throughout the course of session. These, in turn, lead them to individual slides or activities, which they carry out independently or together with other members of the class, avoiding the need to store lots of links in Google Classroom.

A ‘Virtual Classroom’ for a Year 5 lesson based on the book ‘Les citrons ne sont pas rouges’, using Genially.

@MarieAllirot is the queen of Genially and has created some wonderful resources, which she kindly shares on Twitter and the Languages in Primary Schools (LIPs) Facebook group, including Bingo and Trapdoor games, which are perfect for both online and in-person learning. She also fronted a wonderful webinar with Joe Dale on gamifiying your classroom using Genially (with lots of great tips for creating Escape Rooms, which my older learners have absolutely loved).

Flippity:

Flippity is a great (free) tool, which allows you to create a huge variety of online resources. I love the flashcards, with in-built audio in the target language, which are wonderful for pre-recorded lesson, as pupils can use them to work on their pronunciation independently at home. Children can also practise their spelling of key words using the ‘practice’ tab (unless you are using images, as I have done in this example) and play matching games to join vocabulary in the target language to its English translation. The randomizer is a fantastic tool for translation, either from the target language to English or visa versa. You might even want to include a ‘tangled translation’ (a mix of English and target language phrases) to avoid any Google Translate issues during virtual lessons.

Flashcards, with audio in French, to practise new vocabulary.

I am a particular fan of Flippity’s manipulatives, which allow children to create their own sentences by choosing and arranging word cards, much as I would have them do in lessons when they are starting to think about sentence structure. Here, I’ve colour-coded the cards according to their function in the sentence (noun, verb…). Word cards give children a greater level of autonomy and choice than, say, a writing frame but also have the advantage of being a low-stakes way of building sentences, particularly for less confident learners, because words can easily be moved around or swapped if errors are identified. I am looking forward to using all three tools in the classroom for whole-class sessions.

Flippity manipulatives for practising agreement in the singular and plural.

Flippity is also home to a whole host of other games, activities and tools, with an endless amount of potential, which work well for online learning and could easily be adapted for whole-class work once back in the classroom. The great thing about the site in general is that, whilst it may seem a little daunting at first, a tutorial is provided with each of the templates to walk you through the process of creating your own resource.

Classroomscreen.com

Classroomscreen was a wonderful little lockdown discovery. It’s a very simple screen, which I share with my pupils during live lessons, and has a range of great tools. These can be added to the screen by clicking on the toolbar at the bottom of the page. My personal favourites are the name picker, which keeps children on their toes during whole-class questioning in live lessons, and the dice, which can be used for quick number revision starters. I’m going to be trying out the noise monitor once we are back in the classroom for some of my chattier groups!

This simple site allows you to display a range of tools, which are really useful in live lessons.

Blooket:

A huge hit with all my live classes during our period of remote learning, Blooket is a great quiz website for generating questions relating to any topic. As a teacher, you create a set of questions, with a range of possible answers, then choose the mode in which to host the game. Children join the game using an automatically generated code, choosing an avatar and name for themselves. They then compete against each other for the gold, silver or bronze positions at the end of the game (the competition gets fierce, especially if the teacher is playing too!) My pupils have adored playing ‘Gold Quest’ especially, but ‘Battle Royale’ and the ‘Racing’ game have also proved popular. I am planning to keep a Blooket game up my sleeve as a treat for whole classes or small groups of hard-working pupils at the end of a unit of work, once we are back in school, but for now it is an incredibly motivating tool to keep children engaged right up until the end of an online lesson.

Multiple-choice questions for a Blooket quiz.

Deck.toys:

Deck.toys is essentially a game in which pupils work their way through successive activities to try and be the first across the finish line (check out some of the amazing Deck Gallery examples, created by teachers much more creative than I am, for inspiration). I have yet to fully exploit Deck.toy’s potential but it has been used successfully as an end-of-unit tool to revise key vocabulary and structures before moving on to a new half term of learning in some of my live lessons just before the February holidays. I could see it being used for a very motivating final revision lesson before a more formal assessment, once we are back in class, particularly as there is great potential for differentiation, with the possibility of creating more than one route through the game, allowing for easier or more challenging questions.

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Pupils follow the trail, completing activities as they go to revise key vocabulary and structures .

Pupils can revise key vocabulary through flashcards, read aloud in the target language and translated into English on the back of the card, much like Flippity. Then, they practise this vocabulary using the built-in games and activities. In this example, I’ve included a few flashcard sets, building up from simple phrases to longer chunks of text, giving children time to practise each vocabulary set with a couple of activities before moving on to the next, more difficult, one.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it took me a while to get me head around Deck.toys and I am still not very quick (or good) at creating them but they are well worth the effort as one game can last more or less a whole session, if enough activities are included, and I’ve found many children to be very motived by the competitive element.

Which tech tools or websites have you been using successfully for remote learning? Do you think you will continue to use any of them in the classroom once we are back to face-to-face teaching? Let me know what new skills you’ve acquired since beginning teaching online.

It’s Carnival Time!

Celebrating Carnival in the French and Spanish-speaking world.

As I write this, my first ever blog post, the UK is currently in its third national lockdown as a result of the Covid Pandemic. It is the start of February, Christmas seems a lifetime ago and the warmer days of spring are still a few weeks away. I am spending most of my working week teaching from behind a screen and not going much further than the local park with my two little ones. So what better time to fly away to warmer climes (if only in our imagination) and introduce our pupils to the joyful and colourful tradition of carnival!

Le carnaval in French, or el carnaval in Spanish (not forgetting carnavales, as many Spanish-speaking Central and South Americans refer to the several days of partying), is a festival which occurs before the start of the period of Lent and culminates on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It’s a time for fun and excess, before the more sober weeks leading up to Easter when, traditionally, many people gave up foods like meat, butter and fat, as well as alcohol. Carnival is a byword for parades, street parties, music and dancing. What’s not to love? 

Whilst the Portuguese-speaking country of Brazil hosts arguably the most famous Carnival, in Rio de Jeneiro, the festival is celebrated by Francophones and Hispanohablantes the world over, with a particularly strong tradition in South America and the Caribbean. So, for those of us teaching MFL, carnival time is a wonderful opportunity to bring together language and culture in a rich and meaningful way for our pupils, even drawing in some cross-curricular elements along the way.

Here I’ve pulled together a bank of resources, both French and Spanish, which could be used to present and explore the celebration of Carnival. I’ve tried to include lots of clips and links to sites here, which would also be suitable for the remote-learning situation in which we currently find ourselves.

Explaining the origins of Carnival:

This clip gives a great three-minute overview of Carnival, from its origins in Ancient Egypt to its current place in the cultural calendar of many countries around the world.

This, very interesting article, is a great place for teachers to get up to speed on the traditions of Carnival the Caribbean, in particular thinking about how this European tradition has combined with the customs of freed slaves of African origin to create the amazing festival we know today. It’s up to you how far you delve into the history of slavery and emancipation in the region, but it is certainly key to the evolution of Carnival on these islands, and in South America too.

These fabulously colourful National Geographic documents explain a little about the different Carnival traditions in various parts of the world, including Mexico.

For more advanced French learners, this ‘1 jour 1 question’ clip gives a brief explanation of the origins of Carnival (in very rapid French, it must be added), from its roots in the Ancient World to its various current forms.

What does Carnival look like?

Here is another great website, which has some wonderful images that could be used as a lesson resource, and explains all about the origins and traditions of France’s largest and most important carnival: Le Carnaval de Nice. Famous in France, and around the world, this Carnival boasts ‘flower battles’, when over 100,00 flowers are thrown from floats moving down the famous Promenade des Anglais, and the Carnival King, Triboulet, who is burned on the last night of the festivities.

This sweet video, narrated by an index finger (stay with me), explains all about the tradition of Carnival in Spain. It’s all in Spanish so might need some translation for younger learners.

Another brilliant site for some vibrant images is this one, which shows Carnival celebrations in the Canary Islands, Spain. The costumes on display, particularly those of the carnival queens, are absolutely magnificent! Did you know that carnival festivities in the Canary Islands end with the burying of a giant sardine? If you want to find out more, then this is the place.

This great, but fairly long clip, shows the energy and excitement of the Carnaval de Saint-Anne on the island of Guadeloupe. Here is wonderful opportunity to bring in some geography links, giving children time to work with atlases or Google Earth to find this tiny French-speaking island. It’s also interesting to discuss why this island is actually officially part of France. At the start of the clip, children might be able to spot the character of Vaval, le roi du carnaval (the King of the Carnival), whose effigy is burned on the last night of the festivities.

It seems unlikely that the small mining town of El Callao in the East of Venezuela could host the country’s largest Carnival party, but it does! Here, the processions are led by the incredible madamas, ladies dressed in traditional African headscarves and wearing colourful clothes. Due to the town’s mining history, it is melting pot of cultures and its people have drawn inspiration from Africa, Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean to create a UNESCO-recognised celebration like no other, all set to the sound of calypso.

Children might be interested to find out about Mardi Gras as it is celebrated in New Orleans, in the Southern USA, which used to belong to France. The tradition of eating ‘King Cake’, which children may be able to link to their learning about la galette des rois, in French, or the Spanish roscón de reyes, will be of particular interest and this catchy little song, which explains what is hidden inside, is sure to be a hit.

When we think of Carnival we usually think of sunshine and samba, but don’t forget that Carnival is also celebrated in much colder climes. Le Carnaval de Québec, in French speaking Canada, is the third largest Carnival celebration in the world. This clip is good for teachers who want to know more about the festivities, whilst this high-energy montage is perfect for young learners and shows all the fun (and sometimes dangerous-looking) activities that take place there.

What sorts of activities could children do?

Samba, a high-energy dance style combining complex drum beats, brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans, with Portuguese language lyrics, is the dance of carnival. Originating in Brazil but exported all over the world, this is music to dance to! Anyone who’s watched Strictly Come Dancing will know that samba moves are notoriously hard to pull off but perhaps the children might like to try their hand at this simplified version.

For musically-minded pupils, who want to find out more about the samba style, this lovely clip about Jonas, a samba band drummer from Rio, could be of interest. Narrated in Portuguese, with some English, children learning Spanish might be surprised to hear words that they understand, due to the close relationship between the two languages.

The ELIMU Carnival Band, a UK-based group, have created some fantastic plans and resources for D&T projects based around Carnival, from masks to lanterns and musical instruments. My favourite is a wonderful set of lessons on creating carnival headdresses, which I have used very successfully in the past.

Some variation of doughnuts (les beignets) are a staple of carnival cuisine everywhere from mainland France to the Southern USA and all over the Caribbean. This delicious recipe for carnival doughnuts comes from the French-speaking island of Martinique and includes the spices cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, as well as lime, for a tropical hit. Making these tasty treats does involve using hot oil, however, so children will need to be closely supervised at all times.  

And finally, This great little site, all in French, is full of craft ideas, recipes and information about the tradition of Carnival in France.

Do you have any go-to resources for teaching Carnival to young learners? Or did you take inspiration from any of these? Let me know how you use them.

Bon carnaval! Feliz carnaval!