Chansons and more
Bridget Patterson reviews a range of teaching resources including a French and German songbook with tape. At a fiver each, these books are a must for all heads of department who want to support and encourage their colleagues. It's not everyone who would think of using "Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer" as the basis for teaching reflexive verbs: "A sept heures je me reveille, sept heures dix et je me l ve" etc. Steven Fawkes in With a Song in My Scheme of Work points out that creative activities should be part of what we do in the classroom.
We all know that pupils remember certain advertising jingles, showing an ability to learn by heart which is singularly absent when it comes to foreign vocabulary or verbs. The premise of this book is that using repetition in an enjoyable way encourages pupils to learn.
Steven Fawkes sets out first to involve his pupils, from an initial response to the song to a stage when they might even innovate themselves. The accompanying tape has a side of German songs and one of French. "Auld Lang Syne" provides the background for the perfect tense with etre, while "Old Macdonald" fits neatly to "Mademoiselle, s'il vous plat une tasse de the". Not all the tunes are adaptations: it is nice to hear "Quand trois poules vont aux champs" still going strong. Each song has an introduction with a rationale and explanation, as well as strategies for exploitation. The book supports this with detailed suggestions for activities in the classroom.
Steven Fawkes's enthusiasm is infectious but lessons based on activities such as these, while very worthwhile, demand considerable preparation - and not every class is going to react as one would hope when their teacher bursts into song.
In Exploring Otherness Barry Jones looks at how learners can experience "otherness" without leaving the classroom. Starting with how we see ourselves, pupils can be encouraged to set up projects such as a class-to-class fax. Pupils can share information about themselves, school day, traditional festivals, anything to encourage them to find out and understand about cultural "otherness".
Many schools, I suspect, are already involved in setting up this kind of activity. It needs time and a member of staff with responsibility for devising such links.
Barry Jones suggests many projects and activities, with an emphasis on earning through involvement. Watching videos or television programmes without sound can provide the basis for discussion about gesture, facial expression and body language. There is a major section about the shoe box project, started in 1993 with the support of the Council of Europe and an innovative way for pupils to exchange information about themselves and their countries. There is scope here for broadening pupils' cultural awareness.
In Listening in a Foreign Language, Karen Turner points out that effective listening involves paying attention, understanding and interpreting. Much can disrupt the comprehension process: an unfamiliar accent, too many unknown words or a complicated sentence structure. Listening cannot therefore be taken for granted and must be actively "taught".
Karen Turner starts with exercises to encourage beginners to differentiate sounds by odd one out: lent, loin, loin, loin. She gives hints on preparing the ground, and grading and differentiating tasks. She admits to liking grid completion for testing comprehension. She also looks at how to assess the difficulties in a listening passage by focusing on the speaker, the content and the actual task.
It is a good idea to suggest the involvement of the language assistants in planning good quality recorded material. This excellent book gives clear, helpful ideas.
The authors of New Contexts for Modern Language Learning have explored working collaboratively with colleagues in other curriculum areas to find resources which can be shared in a cross-curricular approach to language teaching. This is probably not top priority for most hard-pressed language teachers.
Kim Brown and Margot Brown are enthusiastic about the potential in sharing topics and strategies with other departments, particularly English, geography, PSE and media studies. They acknowledge the potential for chaos without considerable preparation and suggest ways to integrate the target language. There are many suggested activities, all, we are assured, developed by a team of teachers in the course of a normal school year. The two advantages of this approach are the increased awareness of teachers of what their colleagues are doing and the broader perspective gained by pupils. An interesting book for discussion.
The authors of Making Effective Use of the Dictionary pinpoint the well-known hazard of choosing the wrong word with examples of sentences such as "je ne suis pas puits" or "je vais a France du 18 caisse 25 juillet." The use of dictionaries and reference materials is not only permitted but required for all pupils except those in Northern Ireland.
Gwen Berwick and Phil Horsfall suggest a variety of games and activities to support pupils in developing dictionary skills. These include how to distinguish symbols and grammatical information from translation, something the teacher may take for granted. They suggest that these particular skills probably need to be taught in English to avoid greater confusion. There are strategies to help students become more self-reliant and know when not to use a dictionary. This strikes a chord when I think of how often I advise not looking up every word, but trying to understand the gist.
There are valuable ideas on how not to waste time in exams when using a dictionary and on choosing the best one, with a reminder of the importance of the school library and a comment that dictionary skills should be included in the scheme of work. And when you've found the right word, how do you record and learn it? The authors address this problem with lots of ideas. An excellent addition to the series.
Bridget Patterson teaches languages at Northgate High School, Ipswich.