Big is beautiful

9th May 2003 at 01:00
A KS3 project created a resource to share with Year 6 pupils. Elaine Johnson explains

When Laure Plasseraud took four members of her Year 7 French group from Hove Park Languages College to visit local Somerhill Junior School, it was the key stage 3 students who conducted the lesson with Year 6, using French big books they had made themselves.

Hove Park introduces new vocabulary to its cluster of primary schools each week through a drip-feed approach. At Somerhill, pupils already learn French in assembly, and Year 6 teacher Katy Bullock takes the register in Spanish.

The big book is a familiar format for storytelling, and in KS2 literacy it's used to model features of non-fiction writing, such as recounting, spelling and report writing. It's used across the primary curriculum, especially in RE, geography and science. In languages, the big book can be used at KS3:

* to enable pupils to read with the teacher, as the print is easily visible

* to focus the pupils and get the whole class's attention

* to build on the KS2 literacy strategy

* for modelling KS3 modern foreign languages framework objectives

* for story telling, to develop pupils' listening skills

* for choral repetition and pronunciation practice

* to make reading aloud in the target language a collaborative activity.

There can be pitfalls in using French, German or Spanish texts with KS3 pupils: authentic texts are written for native speakers; book illustrations are usually designed for very young children and can be too childish for our learners; and the language used is sometimes too difficult for non-native speakers. At Hove Park, groups of Year 7 gifted and talented pupils meet once a fortnight to make big books in French, German, and Spanish. Each page has a different topic, including food, sport, pets, and countries.

Students Edward Lome, Luke Giles, Megan Stenner, and Shauna Clarke presented a French big book to Somerhill's Year 6 by taking turns to read aloud and present vocabulary from each topic. They themselves gained useful practice in using French to ask questions and give instructions. After the lesson, Edward, Luke and Megan confessed to feeling nervous at first but said they were now more confident about speaking in public. As Shauna remarked, they might have been less nervous if the primary pupils had been "a few years younger and shorter, like Year 5 - or maybe Year 3".

However, the activity certainly helped to reduce Somerhill pupils' anxiety about learning a foreign language. They all agreed that the pictures had provided useful visual support. Year 7 pupils' interactive teaching style, with mime and choral repetition, had also boosted their confidence. Peer teaching showed itself to be a powerful and motivating tool.

Katy Bullock says: "The visual stimulus of the book helped the children match the words to the objects. The Year 7 pupils' pointing to the pictures gave the children confidence to say the French words."

What did the primary children gain from the experience? In her plenary session, Katy Bullock asked her class "What have you learned that you did not know when you came to school this morning?" They gave mature and reflective responses. Finn McNally: "Most of the French words have le or la." Chloe: "It was quite challenging having to pronounce words differently. There were a lot of different sounds but the pictures kind of jogged our memory." Sidi El-Alami: "I feel confident now. I thought it was going to be harder pronouncing the accents, they are so different in French." Tiago: "The people from Hove Park told us what the words mean. The pictures helped and some words were easy because I know Portuguese."

Somerhill will receive a follow-up big-book lesson in French this term.

French, German and Spanish teachers at Hove Park Language College intend to use the big books as a resource at KS3 as well. For their KS3 framework objectives, teachers will annotate pages during modelling activities by highlighting items such as connectives, adjectives and verb endings.

Blank big books and laminated pagestemplates can be ordered from TTS. Tel: 0800-318686 Fax: 0800 137525 Elaine Johnson is a former head of languages and is MFL consultant for Brighton amp; Hove. Email:

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