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 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).


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 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 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.


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 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.

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.

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!