Teachers tell Alison Thomas how the internet and online resources introduce students to authentic foreign languages - and add to their motivation
The humdrum surroundings of a classroom in the Thomas Lord Audley School in Colchester are forgotten as all eyes turn to the screen. Today Year 8 is touring the Osbournes' house (www.mtv.frmtv.frjhtmlevttheosbournesMaStarter.html) and everyone listens intently to French teacher Stephane Derone's commentary as he takes them from room to room.
Later, when they are learning the language of daily routine, they will return to this site to find out how Ozzy and his family spend their day. "I get up, I have breakfast, I leave home. The conventional approach is to practise this with flashcards or OHTs but it's not very exciting," he says.
"Here you have real people talking about real life. Pupils can relate to that."
The MTV website is just one of many he uses to add sparkle to his lessons and compensate for the shortcomings of course books. "Take Metro for example, it does not have a single picture of Paris and all the language is made up," he says. "If we never expose pupils to the real thing, they don't get a feel for the people and the culture and that's what brings language alive."
Nothing reflects reality more starkly than the French police website at http:188.8.131.52 which he discovered thanks to Tim Watts of Crown Hills Community College, Leicester. This is where pictures are posted of missing persons and wanted criminals, accompanied by a pen portrait and a resume of the circumstances. Again the content inspires interest, so much so that one of Tim Watts' pupils wanted to know how she could find out if one particular individual had ever been traced.
But is the language on authentic sites accessible to key stage 3-4 pupils? Stephane Derone believes we often underestimate what they can cope with when they genuinely want to understand. In a recent lesson based on a television advertisement he flagged up the text, which the class went through together, starting by identifying everything they knew before moving on to cognates and words they could guess from the context. The limited range of essential vocabulary that remained was tackled with dictionaries and a little extra teacher help.
The internet is not the only feature of ICT he turns to advantage as subscribers to his award-winning Linguascope website will know. This contains, among other things, a huge variety of interactive activities and while most teachers have discovered the motivational impact these can have, many lack the confidence to produce their own. This is a pity, he says, as it does not require extensive expertise.
Someone who would agree is James Whelan, head of modern languages at the Wirral Grammar School for Girls. Inspired by two days' training from Claire Dugard of CILT, the National Centre for Languages, he and his colleagues have produced a wide range of materials, some of which required nothing more sophisticated than Microsoft Word.
One of these is an electronic worksheet on the future tense in German with multiplechoice drop-down boxes to focus attention on the auxiliary and the infinitive, coloured red for extra emphasis. Not content with his own impression that the combination of interactivity and colour-coding helps reinforce learning, he sounded out customer opinion via a questionnaire and received an overwhelmingly positive response.
"Everyone is familiar with Word but lots of people don't realise how many useful features it offers," he says. "For example, you can deconstruct a text which students put back together again by dragging and dropping the words into place. Another good technique is to insert hidden comments, which reveal themselves when you hover over them with the mouse."
If Word has spiced up his worksheets, PowerPoint has added drama to his whole-class teaching. Once again he stresses simplicity, and to illustrate his point calls up the presentation that precedes his future tense work sheet. A series of five slides leads from a distillation of the grammar with sample sentences to a gap-fill exercise. The background is rich blue, the auxiliary is highlighted in red, the infinitive in yellow. And that is all there is to it.
"It is much more dramatic than an OHT. You can flip back and forth to recap or print out slides for students to work on in class or take home," he says. "It also makes you think very carefully about your teaching. There is no room for complex sentences or longwinded explanations. You have to strip everything down to the basics, think it through logically and get the sequencing of your activities right."
Once he has designed a template he adapts it for different levels and purposes. His Year 7 presentation on hobbies features the same rich blue background and colour-coded text with the addition of vivid pictures such as a quintessential German market square bordered by FachwerkhAuser (traditional houses) and a still of a newsreader on DW-TV. "Clipart has everything you might need but it's worth going to Google images for an authentic flavour," he says.
"This presentation took around half an hour to prepare and works really well with all abilities. You can play games, jump back and forth between slides, show text or hide it at the click of a mouse. You would need six hands to do the same thing with flashcards and this is much more appealing."
* Next week's Subject Focus is on languages
Wirral Grammar School for Girls website contains sample resources including those mentioned here and a step-by-step guide to using Word to create electronic worksheets
training courses by CILT, the National Centre for Languages
www.linguascope.com features a wide range of materials (French, German, Spanish, Italian) and a list of software for creating your own. Annual subscription pound;25, three-year subscription pound;50
www.actden.com offers an online tutorial in PowerPoint for beginners
http:groups.yahoo.comgroupmflresources designed by practising teachers, new resources arrive almost weekly in French, German, Spanish, Italian
http:users.skynet.bebdpedagogimage animated images that could add a professional touch to PowerPoint presentations
www.picsearch.com pictures galore on every subject