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It's taking part that counts

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week:

It's taking part that counts

As I ask different teachers how they introduce new languages to their pupils, some themes are emerging. The first, as I've mentioned before, is that many are ideas and strategies used by early years teachers to introduce pupils to words in English. So we have the labelling, singing games, pictures, key words, circle games and the other things that we know.

All of them work on the same principle, that if the activity is interesting or useful enough to be done little and often, it will result in the unknown becoming familiar. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise then, that what works in one language will also work in another.

The second theme, though, I have found quite surprising. Not so much because it's new or innovative, but because it's not the commonest of themes. I'm talking about fun. Now, while you're welcome to indignantly besiege us with the ways in which you make every curriculum area fun, I have found that, when asked for their top tips, a disproportionate number of the lessons teachers developing languages have made a difference, and go beyond the interesting and engaging, right into "fun" territory.

So I find myself excitedly preparing the same games and activities for the classroom that fill me with dread at family gatherings. Dutch memory, matching pairs - call it what you will. The basic game of laying cards face down and then trying to turn over an object and its French name, or a French word and its English translation, seems to be a winner. It's also repeatable on many occasions, whether the topic of the day is "months", "weather" or "mes objets favorites".

They tray game is another winner. Objects are placed on - yes, a tray - and pupils are given 30 seconds to memorise them. This can be given a bilingual twist if pupils are given a word bank of words with their translations, so they can circle the words relating to the objects they believe to be on the tray. If the objects are selected from the same word bank each time, the translations can be slowly taken away and the entire game slips smoothly from one language into another.

The final clincher for me to prove that fun is the way to go, was "pass the parcel". The music stops, a pupil unwraps a layer and finds a sweet and a question in French to ask their classmates. Whoever replies correctly in French, gets le bonbon. What's under the last layer? An envelope containing the matching pairs game, of course!

I'm sure as I do these, I will see opportunities to transfer both the activity and the enjoyment to other curriculum areas - not just the enjoyment for the pupils, but for me as well. My prediction: as soon as we've made the blindfolds in design and technology, we'll be pinning the comma on the subordinate clause.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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