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Modern Foreign Languages - Doing it for themselves

Set your pupils on the path to becoming independent learners

Set your pupils on the path to becoming independent learners

Ask any teacher what makes a good student and the word "independent" will come up a lot. We want linguists who are able to consolidate and extend their knowledge to ensure that they get the maximum benefit from our teaching. While a lot of pupils do this through homework, many find it hard to develop without their teacher's input.

Personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) have been important for a long time and the idea is simple: you teach pupils to think for themselves. If we refer to the updated Bloom's Taxonomy, the focus is on getting pupils to remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate and create.

So can thinking skills be developed through languages? Independent learners need to be able to use bilingual dictionaries, glossaries and textbooks. PLTS activities, easily adapted for languages, help to develop their ability to research and process information.

An "odd one out" activity can be a great way into a lesson. Words or phrases can be "odd" for all sorts of reasons, linked with grammar, meaning or similarity to English. Ultimately, any reason is valid if the pupils can justify their choice.

Venn diagrams, made with two or three overlapping circles, can be used for categorising exercises to decide if a statement is positive, negative or conveys no opinion at all.

Diamond ranking is another effective way to introduce and practise comparatives, spot grammatical patterns and explore in a bit more depth the vocabulary linked with more "grown-up" topics such as social issues.

Expressing opinions is central to the new GCSE specification and PLTS activities will help pupils to develop a wide range of ways of expressing and justifying their opinions.

Life graphs can also encourage pupils to carry out a deeper analysis of language - for example, by reading between the lines to identify the feelings of specific characters.

Likewise, with mysteries, the stimulus provides clues such as a description of a person's lifestyle. Pupils have to make a decision about a question such as "Will Francois end up with health problems?" and justify it using the information provided.

Developing pupils' PLTS will make them more reflective, more creative and more able to evaluate what supports their learning in the most effective way, thus putting them on the path to becoming truly independent learners.

Isabelle Jones is head of languages at the Radclyffe School in Oldham and teaches French and Spanish. She speaks at language events and blogs at

What else?

For more on PLTS, see Isabelle's activities on Diigo and her MFL wiki on the TES website.

Develop on-the-spot thinking with rhawkes' "Talk for a Minute" starter game.

Alternatively, rosaespanola shares an "odd one out" starter that encourages pupils to develop PLTS by explaining their choices in the target language.


Take a look at a debate on the TES MFL forum about effective independent learning techniques. Teachers are sharing some of their tried and tested techniques.

For all links and resources visit

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