Eleanor Mayes Subject: MFL

'Language building: Not just bricks, but mortar too.'

AIM: Develop strategies for improving oral answers in target language (KS4) – pupils’ use of vocabulary and grammatical structures in target language (French)to be more complex and sophisticated. Use of Thinking Skills approaches to language development.

OUTCOME: Teaching strategies to be enhanced to achieve this outcome – relevant to all MFL

Rationale – Project was intended to:

Teaching Plan – How did you carry out the project

Group: Year 11 mixed ability class of 17 pupils. Predicted grades range from F to A*
Topic: Revision for conversation part of GCSE speaking exam
Lessons: 1 single lesson and 1 double lesson

1st lesson
Revise present, past, future and conditional tenses.
Verb shape activity
In pairs, students were given 20 cards. On each card was a verb in either the present, past, future or conditional tense. Each tense had a common shape around it. Students firstly sorted the tenses into shapes and were then required to identify the tense. Students were then asked to identify similarities and differences in the formation of each tense. Students did this discussion and the feedback in English.
Odd one out activity
Individually students were given 8 sets of verbs. They had to decide which verb of each set was the odd one out and why. They were able to refer to the verb shapes from the previous activity for support. Having completed the activity, students then compared answers with a partner before feeding back to the class in English.

2nd lesson
Recap of previous lesson’s tense work using an oht version of the odd one out activity.
Sequencing activity
Students worked with a partner to build sentences in the past, present, future and conditional tenses from cut up cards. They had to answer 4 questions – one for each tense. When they had formed answers to the 4 questions they were given an additional set of cards containing extra details which could be added to their answers.
Reconstruction activity
Students worked in threes. They listened to a French text read to them three times. They had to reassemble the text in French. After each reading, students had a couple of minutes to work on their reassembled texts. The intention of the activity was to model a multi tense paragraph, which they could then use as a basis for their own multi tense answers to questions in the GCSE speaking exam.


My expectations of the project:

I expected that all students would:
gain a better understanding of the main verb tenses needed for GCSE
be able to recognise the different tenses in writing
feel more confident about going into their speaking exam
enjoy their final lessons of French

I expected that some students would:
be able to recognise the different tenses orally
be able to respond to questions using the correct tense

I hoped that some students would:
be able to respond to questions in one tense and then provide supplementary information using another tense appropriately.

What actually happened:

All students responded well to the variety of activities on offer.
All students were able to recognise the different verb tenses during the odd one out and sequencing activities as a result of the verb shape activity.
Some students were able to recognise the different tenses orally during the reconstruction activity.
During follow up speaking work, most were able to recognise the tense used in questions posed to them and were more equipped to answer correctly.
In their speaking exam, some higher attaining students were even confident enough to use a range of tenses when answering questions.

Outcomes -

Students on the whole responded well to the activities. I certainly feel that they seemed more motivated doing pair and group activities of this nature compared with the more traditional cramming tasks I have done with previous year 11 groups when their speaking exams were imminent.
I felt that the time available to us was a little rushed if anything and I would have preferred to do some follow up speaking activities in class. As it was, the above lessons were followed up by after school sessions with volunteers only. Students certainly seemed more confident during their practice speaking sessions after the project than before, but whether this would have been achieved by more traditional cramming is unclear. Weaker students definitely had a better grasp of verb tenses, even if they were still making mistakes. Some higher attaining students took on board the idea of incorporating other tenses into their answers, although this was less widespread. In future, more time should be given over to this than I allowed in this project.

At the end of the project, I gave students a questionnaire to complete. This was probably the most unsuccessful part of the project as the boys are not used to reflecting on their learning in this way and I handed them to the class at 2.55pm! However, out of the 13 students who completed the questionnaire, 11 felt more confident when speaking French as a result of the project and 10 felt that they had made progress in their speaking. I tried to get the students to consider what they had learnt as a result of each activity they had undertaken during the project:

Verb shape activity: "It helped increase my confidence."
"I learnt how they [verb tenses] come together."
Odd one out: "I found it interesting."
Sequencing: "My speaking improved."
"It helped me know my tenses."
Text reconstruction: "The activity helped me develop my skills a lot."

I also asked the students about a more traditional translation lesson we had after the project. Students were very positive in their analysis of this activity, thereby reinforcing the need in my mind for having a balance of activity types prior to the speaking exam.

Translation: "I learnt a lot."
"I learnt much."
"I learnt how to say certain sentences, I learnt a lot."

The best indicator of how successful the project was will be the speaking exam results in August! Although I didn't mark these at the time, I feel that the students were confidently prepared for their exam and that they had a greater understanding of the standard of French that was expected of them. In previous years I can remember the feeling of helplessness when I've asked high attaining students questions in their exam in the past tense and the students have then proceeded to give me the most elaborate answers all in the future tense! Maybe due to the project, I can only recall this happening once with an able student this time!

The focus of the project: students were ready for a thorough re-examination of the mortar of language building (grammar) rather than the bricks (vocabulary).
Motivating students through variety of tasks and group and pair work activities.
Increase in confidence prior to speaking exam.

I could improve the project further by:
The timing of the project – it should be started a little earlier to enable me to do sufficient in class follow up work.
Pupils need to be trained to think about their learning and to express this – the value of the questionnaire responses was lessened due to this. When doing this project again, I would encourage the students to keep a learning log which they would add to at the end of each lesson.
I need more concrete evidence to show pupils’ progress made over the project – when the speaking exam tapes are returned I’ll be able to examine these in more detail.

Next Steps:

The project is very MFL specific, but could be adapted and used for EAL. Certain ideas could also be used in a variety of subjects where detailed spoken answers are needed, and so therefore elements of the project (such as the sequencing and reconstruction activities) could be of use elsewhere.
I have every intention of repeating and refining this project with next year’s year 11 French group, although I will do this earlier in the year, possibly prior to them doing a mock speaking exam. This would also mean that the students’ more thorough knowledge of grammar would benefit their written French too, as well as the receptive skills of reading and listening.

In Conclusion – a personal response to the whole project -

I feel I learnt a great deal during the project. It certainly shook up my normal approach to preparing students for their speaking exams, and made me a lot more inventive and reflective. I think also the timing of the project made the students receptive to the tasks – at a point when their schooling had become very serious and stressful they were being asked to work in pairs, groups and play with cut up bits of paper!

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