Follow the pattern

31st January 2003 at 00:00
Elaine Johnson looks at how strategies from key stage 2 literacy can be carried through to KS3 language teaching

I feel enthusiastic about the key stage 3 framework for languages, but I meet many colleagues who fear that the National Literacy Strategy is too prescriptive and therefore undermines creativity. As a teacher of French and also of English to speakers of other languages I have kept a foot in both camps, and believe that an opportunity for English and languages teachers to work more closely together is too good to miss.

We share a passion for language and literature. Grammar is no longer a dirty word. Thanks to the literacy strategy, teachers are encouraged to teach grammar explicitly. Our pupils can't become creative and successful language learners unless we teach them how to identify and manipulate patterns in language.

For word-level literacy at KS2, children are used to working in a stimulating classroom environment where key words are displayed on noticeboards, "language trees" and "washing lines". For word-level French at KS3, it's good reinforcement to order the display of key words around the room according to language function. Posters with examples of connectives, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions written in the target language make an effective aide-memoire.

In Brighton and Hove MFL pilot schools, Year 7 list new vocabulary on pages headed "link words", "question words", "adverbs", and so on, in a move away from teaching vocabulary in discrete topic areas. Students see the function of each word in a sentence.

Starter activities are another valuable lesson component for MFL. Our pupils respond positively to the use of mini-whiteboards in starter or warm-up activities. For example, language games using mini-whiteboards, playing cards, and dice are used to practise French or Spanish sounds.

The pilot has highlighted the need to explicitly teach pupils the relationship between sounds and spelling when learning a foreign language.

The various strategies used in primary schools to teach English phonology can be adapted for MFL at KS3.

KS2 pupils come to KS3 familiar with a range of strategies suitable for languagelearning. I have used the following spelling strategies.


Pupils sound out new words and break them into syllables

Pupils identify cognates

Pupils construct fridge magnets displaying new words.

Group or paired spelling competitions motivate some children and are good for practising use of dictionaries.

Most pupils enjoy creative display work. In one lesson I adapted from Year 7 English on the theme "Myself", students made collages, including words in the target languages, among photographs, pictures and textures such as fur.

In sentence-level work, students are often enthusiastic about composing a song in German, French or Spanish, and they can be motivated to learn mundane role-plays by setting target language phrases to music. When I tried this with a Year 7 French class, each student got involved, performing a sentence on the topic of family and pets.

Coloured card continues to be effective for practising:

adjectival agreements with gender and plurals

changes in word order

present and past tenses. Verb stems on red card, for example, can be matched with the appropriate verb ending on blue card.

At text level, pre-reading, shared reading and post-reading activities make foreign language texts more accessible. The use of "big books", which is well established at KS2, can be adapted by displaying a FrenchGerman text on the overhead projector or interactive whiteboard to focus the whole class on the text. Small groups of pupils can take turns reading aloud from the same book. Before reading the text, pupils predict the content by using contextual clues, such as the title and illustrations.

Asking comprehension questions in the target language is an opportunity to revise question forms and pupils use the present tense to describe people, places, and events.

I encourage them to compile a reading log at the back of their exercise books, noting the title and key words. They also record, in the target language, their thoughts and feelings about the text.

Elaine Johnson is MFL consultant for Brighton and Hove

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