How lockdown turned me into 'the French Joe Wicks'

Primary teacher James Innes became a YouTube star after schools closed in March, thanks to his entertaining approach to French

James Innes

How lockdown turned me into 'the French Joe Wicks'

French is a subject that could easily have fallen by the wayside during lockdown. Launching French with Mr Innes was a way of creatively motivating kids despite the difficulties of home learning.

The aim of the videos is to generate fun French learning, mostly with talking and listening activities that involve plenty of visuals. One reason they took off was because they’re so interactive. As my ideas and editing skills progressed, I moved from a basic five-minute format to 12-minute videos, with plenty of content that encouraged pupils to join in.

Kids get the chance to count along with me while doing some exercise (this led to some people calling me the "French Joe Wicks"!). They can repeat back the vocab in lots of different voices, and I get them to play games.

On Twitter, #frenchwithmrinnes challenges have had a big response. Seeing all the incredible work shared on social media is so heartwarming – it’s awesome to see such enthusiasm for the French language and culture.

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I try to pack lots of fun into the videos. I edit using iMovie, which is brimming with different features and has helped me to create entertaining opening and closing graphics. As time went on, I grew a lot in camera confidence, invested in better technology for my birthday and tried to make the videos as entertaining as possible.

While the clear routine of the lessons provides an engaging format, I change up the content each time. Some of the most popular videos have featured me cooking in my kitchen. There are also lots of humorous features, such as placing my props in amusing positions or giving them voiceovers. Sadly, the dad jokes seem to go over the kids’ heads!

I believe my channel hit 1,000 subscribers in just 11 weeks – it's now at about 1,300 – because of how inclusive it is. The videos have been accessed by learners of all ages. High-school French teachers incorporated them into home learning. Lot of nursery children also enjoy them – the videos have actually been a great way to bond with my nephew, who’s not yet two.

But many of the most positive messages I’ve received are from parents who have children with additional support needs. Traditionally taught French can be quite dry, grammar-heavy and unrelatable. Dyslexic children have been able to access the focus on talking, listening and visuals, while many children with ADHD have loved how engaging the videos are.

Now, as we prepare for the new school year, I'm still releasing two videos a week, moving through the upper primary curriculum proposed by Glasgow City Council. I hope that French with Mr Innes can provide lots of helpful lesson starters when full-time school resumes – and that they can also be useful if we have to return to some form of home learning.

James Innes is a teacher at Dalmarnock Primary School in Glasgow, who tweets @frenchmrinnes. The YouTube channel he started in lockdown, French with Mr Innes, can be viewed here

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James Innes

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