Bons mots

Gill Maynard assesses courses for key stage 3 French

Choosing a new French course is no longer a simple matter of comparing textbooks. Today these are accompanied by a bewildering variety of CDs, workbooks, assessment materials and software, and it is understandable that many hard-pressed heads of department feel overwhelmed by such an embarras de richesses. This survey will show you what is available and help you make the best choice for your school.

A new language course can transform your department's teaching and your pupils' learning. Anyone who has ever tried to teach without a coursebook will testify that producing materials which are varied, attractive and differentiated, and which ensure progression, is a near impossibility over any length of time. A lively, well-structured course enables you to keep your energy for teaching. You can be confident that publishers have done their homework and covered all areas of the national curriculum; in making your choice, you need to look at how they cover it. There are four key areas to consider: presentation; resources; content; and support.

Presentation

Is this a book which your pupils will want to open and be drawn into?

Does the pupil's book look attractive? Is the page layout clear? Are activities clearly indicated? Is effective use made of colour? Too little is dull but too much can be overwhelming. Is there a good balance of text and illustrations? Are they line drawings or photographs? Do they seem authentically French? How much will they appeal to key stage 3 pupils? A panel of pupils can help you answer these questions.

Resources

Will the resources awaken pupils' interest and add variety and authenticity to your lessons?

Is there sufficient recorded material? Are the recordings of good quality? Is the speed of delivery appropriate? How natural do the speakers sound? Do they sound interested in what they are saying? Are pupil workbooks an essential component of the course? They are preferable to easily lost worksheets, often hardly more expensive, and give even weak pupils an attractive record of work. They can also solve the problem of setting homework when textbooks have to be kept in school. On the minus side, you will have to budget for a new set each year, unless you ask pupils to buy them.

What software is available? Does the course have its own website? Will your colleagues feel confident about using the ICT resources and will they reinforce pupils' learning?

Content

Will pupils be clear about what they are learning and involved in a variety of purposeful activities?

Are learning objectives stated clearly in pupil-friendly language at the start of each unit? Is new language presented in a meaningful and structured way? Is there a good balance of listening, speaking, reading and writing tasks?

Are there enough specific activities as opposed to presentation of language? Are these appropriate and varied? Are instructions given in French or English? Are they clear and are examples given? How is grammar presented and how much importance is it given?

Is the material suitable for the full ability range? Are there extension activities for the more able?

Support

Will pupils and teachers have a clear sense of purpose and progression as they work through the course?

Does the course offer scope for pupils to work independently or is it entirely teacher-led? How helpful are explanations and reference sections? Is there consolidation to build confidence? Is regular assessment integral to the course? Are pupils able to measure their progress?

How useful is the teacher's book? Will it help you to plan your lessons? Does it suggest teaching strategies and extension activities?

Does the course come with a ready-made scheme of work? If so, how flexible is it?

Gill Maynard is languages development officer at the Anglo-European School, Essex and teacher of German at Chelmsford County High School

TITLE

Equipe Student's book (1,2,3) each pound;9 Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;30 CDCassette set (1,2,3) each pound;60 Oxford University Press

PRESENTATION

Very attractive, with a clear page layout and good use of muted colour. There is a clear French context from the start, and photographs are used with line drawings to give an authentic feel. The balance of illustrations and text is appropriate and changes as the course progresses. Activities are clearly numbered and labelled with symbols.

RESOURCES

Recordings are clear and lively and good use is made of songs. Differentiated workbooks (pound;2 each) contain reinforcement and extension activities for homework. A new resource Equipe en clair offers support for the least able. Flashcards (pound;80) and OHTs (sets 1,2,3 each pound;60) are available. ICT is a major strength and the website www.oup.comukequipe offers a variety of self-study activities.

CONTENT

Objectives are stated clearly at the start of each double-page spread and each unit ends with a summary of new vocabulary and grammar. Activities are well-balanced and varied, and the stress throughout is on active use of French. Instructions are in straightforward, concise French with effective use of examples. Language is introduced in the context of teenage life in France, and there is a strong cultural content, which includes other Francophone countries. Grammar is explained in French.

SUPPORT

Clear objectives and structured activities in the student's book develop confidence and give a sense of progression. Assessments after every three units are preceded by revision activities. While the ICT materials offer scope for individual learning, the course as a whole includes extended reading materials and stimuli for project work and supports learners over the full ability range. The coursemaster CD-Rom (pound;20) provides an adaptable QCA-style scheme of work.

VERDICT

BEST BUY

Confident, stylish and lively - the combination of depth and breadth and the authentic feel must make this the outstanding French course of its generation.

TITLE

Encore Tricolore nouvelle edition Student's book (1,2,3) each pound;10.25 Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;27.75 CassetteAudio CD pack (1,2,3) each pound;77.25 Nelson Thornes

PRESENTATION

Attractive and colourful, with effective use of boxes. Tasks are clearly numbered and types of activity indicated by symbols. Illustrations are a good mix of line drawings and photographs to add authenticity. There is a clear predominance of text and a relatively small font means that there is a lot on each page.

RESOURCES

Recordings are clear and lively, combining authentic intonation with an appropriate speed for learners. Flashcards for stages 1 and 2 combined (pound;87.50) are on CD-Rom, so images can be printed, copied onto OHTs or used in ICT presentations. The Copymaster and Assessment Pack (pound;65-pound;72 each) provides good consolidation and extension materials and regular assessments.

CONTENT

Each unit opens with a clear statement of objectives and ends with a summary of key vocabulary, phrases and structures; more short-term objectives would have been useful. The emphasis is on productive use of language and there are varied activities at every stage. Instructions are in concise French, with examples. Grammar is explained in English and in detail. The breadth and depth of content could overwhelm weaker students, but will challenge and stimulate the most able.

SUPPORT

Regular assessments give a sense of progression, as does the increasing complexity of French used. There are many opportunities for independent learning, including magazine-style reading sections in the student's book and two student cassettes for individual listening and speaking practice. The teacher's book is exemplary: well set out, with detailed suggestions for presenting and reinforcing new language.

VERDICT

Combines thoroughness and a fundamentally grammatical approach with a wealth of lively and imaginative activities. Breadth and depth of language make it hard to beat for able students.

TITLE

Fusee Student's book (1,2,3) each pound;8.99 Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;24.99 Cassette set (1,2,3) each pound;52.88 Hodder and Stoughton

PRESENTATION

Colourful and appealing, with pages well set out. Activities are numbered and there is some use of symbols for different types. Illustrations are mainly strip cartoons and line drawings. The balance of text and pictures is variable: some simple diagrams take up a disproportionate amount of space, while extension pages are sometimes unrelieved text.

RESOURCES

Recordings are clear, authentic-sounding and appropriate. The cartoon stories introduce new language and students are expected to follow the text in their books. The photocopiable Masters and Assessment Resource (pound;65 each) contains worksheets, vocabulary lists and assessment materials. The course has its own website, www.fusee.co.uk

CONTENT

Objectives are stated clearly at the start of each unit and each double-page spread ends with a summing up box. New language is introduced in strip cartoons, usually with a joke at the end. These are likely to appeal more to weaker students, yet the activities are often rather open-ended. In Book 1, all instructions are at first printed in both French and English, taking up considerable space, and not always helpfully.

SUPPORT

For students, the course offers clear short-term goals, and assessments at differentiated levels after every two units give a sense of progression. However, the stress is on content and phrasebook-type language rather than manipulative skills, and where more open tasks are suggested, there is little support given in terms of structures and vocabulary. The teacher's book is clearly set out and adequate.

VERDICT

The cartoon strips, breezy approach and ICT component could appeal to unwilling language learners. But there may not be enough here for more able students.

TITLE

Un deux trois Student's book (1,2,3) each pound;9.25 Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;22.50 Cassette set (1,2,3) each pound;51 Longman

PRESENTATION

Garish colour and large cartoon-style illustrations give the book a primary feel. Activities are clearly numbered, but there are relatively few to a page. Books 2 and 3 have more text, but pictures still predominate, giving a distinctly juvenile appearance.

RESOURCES

Recordings score for clarity, authenticity and appropriate speed, but tend to be over-lively. Not all teachers will appreciate excitable bursts of music before each question. Pupil activity books (pound;11 for 10, cassette pound;10.75) are attractive and offer a variety of consolidation and extension tasks as well as crosswords and wordsearches. Book 3 has workbooks at 2 levels.

CONTENT

Objectives at the start of each unit are stated mainly in terms of topic content, but it is not always clear where one topic ends and another begins. Activities are generally appropriate, although the level of difficulty varies considerably, and straightforward tasks matching pictures and text may be followed by complicated grids for pairwork dialogues. The approach is firmly topic-based, with virtually no grammar.

SUPPORT

Definitely a teacher-led course and, despite regular assessments, the lack of any structured linguistic progression is unlikely to build up student confidence. The teacher's book is clearly set out and gives some advice on presenting new language, but is uninspiring.

VERDICT

Style and presentation could appeal initially to less able students, but the dated topic-based approach and lack of coherent structure make it hard to recommend.

TITLE

Voyage Student's book (1) pound;10 Teacher's book (1) pound;23 Audio CD Pack pound;50 Nelson Thornes

PRESENTATION

This new course is attractively presented, with good use of muted colour, although more would have been helpful to highlight information boxes. Pages generally are clearly set out to achieve the right balance of text and illustrations. Cartoons look authentically French, and the full page photos on the Objectives page at the start of each unit are excellent. My Year 7 tester liked the appearance of this book best.

RESOURCES

Recordings are somewhat disappointing, with delivery often either slow and stilted or too rapid. However, the individual study audio CD which comes with each student's book is a welcome development. Flashcards and OHTs are on CD-Rom (pound;65). The Copymaster and Assessment CD-Rom (pound;55) likewise enables you to adapt and edit. A website is being developed.

CONTENT

Each unit opens with a full page headed "Your objectives", setting out four or five clear and achievable targets. New language is presented with the same clarity and practised through straightforward, well-structured activities. Instructions are given initially in both French and English. Grammar explanations are clear and helpful while "Guide langue" boxes explain other aspects of French which often cause confusion. The emphasis is on structures as much as vocabulary.

SUPPORT

The clear objectives and focus on structures ensure a sense of progression; the underlying message is that mastering the language is within any student's capabilities. Straightforward English explanations in the student's book together with the individual CD encourage independent learning and build up confidence. The teacher's book displays the same clarity and suggests practical teaching strategies at each stage.

VERDICT

A sensible first book, suitable for all abilities, which effectively demystifies language learning through its logical, structured approach.

TITLE

Formule X Student's book (1,2,3 goldplatinum) each pound;8.99pound;9.99 Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;20.99 Cassette set (1,2,3) each pound;66.96 Collins

PRESENTATION

At first sight bright and attractive, but some pages have too much text and too little space between activities. Illustrations are mostly line drawings but there are some photos, including rather too many of English pupils in uniform. Numbering is clear, but symbols are only used for listening, and some reference grammar boxes are confusingly numbered as activities.

RESOURCES

Recorded language is characterised by rapid delivery which is too fast to be a model for pronunciation. Flashcards for Books 1 and 2 (pound;61.99 each) and a Copymasters and Assessment Pack (pound;36.99) are available, as is a scheme of work. Pupil workbooks (pound;1.99 each) are at differentiated levels from book 2 onwards.

CONTENT

Learning objectives are stated in English at the start of each double-page spread, but too often they are purely descriptive or too numerous. Activities are reasonably varied, but tend to be either mechanical and rather contrived or too open and lacking in structure. By book 3, the easier "gold" version relies heavily on translation. Grammar boxes give explanations in a mixture of French and English, but in tending to focus on snippets they can confuse rather than enlighten.

SUPPORT

Definitely a teacher-led course, although there are extended reading passages from the start. Student support is limited: the purpose of individual activities is frequently unclear and examples and key phrases are not always given. There is little sense of an underlying logic to the language, and students are required to memorise rather than understand. The teacher's book is clearly set out but lacks overall coherence.

VERDICT

Dated in approach, and the lack of focus and structure do not give any clear sense of progression.

TITLE

Camarades Student's book (1 and 2, priced pound;8.50, and book 3 (orangeturquoise) at pound;9.50) Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;25 Cassette pack (1 and 2, priced pound;57.15, and book 3, priced pound;61.75) Nelson Thornes

PRESENTATION

Generally attractive and colourful, although some pages are rather cluttered. Tasks are clearly numbered and signalled as listening, speaking etc, but it is not always clear where instructions end and activities begin. Illustrations are mainly cartoon-style with occasional photographs, but these are too small to add any authentic atmosphere.

RESOURCES

Recordings use French teenagers: good in theory, but in practice they often sound stilted and unnatural reading aloud and some vital words are not emphasised enough. Flashcards (pound;46.50) are available and the teacher's resource file (pound;57.75) contains OHT masters, differentiated worksheets, vocabulary lists and materials for four assessment tests.

CONTENT

The course shows its age: it does not state clear objectives and all headings and instructions are in French. Book 1 now has "Objectifs" for "Communication" and "Grammaire" on each double-page spread, but the language is unlikely to be understood by most learners. There are no explicit grammar explanations. Activities are generally sound and varied, but there is little support for more open tasks.

SUPPORT

Assessment tests after every two units measure student progress, but the book offers no specific revision material to prepare for these. There is some scope for independent reading and dictionary work, but target language instructions could limit access. The teacher's book is clearly set out, with some useful practical suggestions.

VERDICT

Lively, but lacks clarity and a sense of overall purpose.

TITLE

Metro Student's book (1,2 vertrouge,3 vertrouge) each pound;9.50 Teacher's book (1,2,3) each pound;25.99 CDCassette set (1,2,3) each pound;64.99pound;54.50 Heinemann PRESENTATION

Attractive, with good use of colour, although some pages are too full. Activities are clearly labelled and signalled. Illustrations are mainly line drawings, with a lot of traditional picture stimuli to practise vocabulary. Some pages are rather text heavy, and the double page of vocabulary at the end of each module could be daunting. Language is only rarely introduced in a recognisably French context.

RESOURCES

Recordings are clear and use mainly French teenage speakers quite successfully. Pupil workbooks (pound;17.99 for eight) offer reinforcement and extension activities, although the presentation is dull. A Resource and Assessment File (pound;59.99) contains worksheets and module tests. For Books 1 and 2, there are flashcards (pound;66.99 per set) and colour OHTs (pound;55.50 per set). ICT Activity Packs (pound;57.50) are available.

CONTENT

Each double-page spread has a clear statement in English of the topic to be covered, but this focuses on subject content rather than on language objectives. There are plenty of activities to practise new language, but little support is given for more open tasks. Instructions are in clear concise French, usually with examples, and English translations are often given in the "vert" versions of books 2 and 3. Grammar is explained briefly on the page and in detail in the reference section.

SUPPORT

Mini-tests and end of module revision pages and assessments measure pupil progress. There is some scope for independent learning, particularly using ICT. However, there is little sense overall that students are being led to produce more extended and complex language, and even by the end of book 3 rouge, single word answers or answering questions on a text are the main activities.

VERDICT

Despite many attractive features, essentially a topic-based course offering limited linguistic progression, which is unlikely to stimulate more able students.

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