Give me more of your lip

7th September 2007 at 01:00

Rote learning and memorising lists of verbs are out fluent talking is in, with the Michel Thomas language method. It works by boosting pupils' confidence, says Martin Cosgrove

It was when I caught a fairly low ability, demotivated boy in a Year 8 Spanish group eating a bar of chocolate in the classroom that I realised the Michel Thomas method really does work wonders.

"No es posible comerlo ahora," (It's not possible to eat it now), I told him. He looked at me, nodded that he understood my comment and promptly replied with: "Lo siento, pero tengo hambre." (I'm sorry, but I'm hungry.) Never before have I been able to have this kind of relevant interaction with a pupil in the target language and after only a few weeks of trying out a new course. It almost floored me.

I am looking forward to more fluent exchanges although not on the subject of forbidden food when I try out the same course this year with a Year 7 and two Year 8 groups, all of middle ability. The course Es Posible! (It's possible!) is based on the methods of a language teacher called Michel Thomas. He believed that relaxed listening, rather than rote learning and copying, was the most natural and therefore, the most successful, way to learn a language.

Now his original audio courses, used in business and adult education for many years, have been turned into a pack for use with key stage 3 pupils by Paul Howard, a modern languages teacher, of Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Blackburn. (Paul's teaching of the course was praised in the recent Dearing languages review). A French course: "C'est possible!" will be released next May.

It consists of two phases, which would take about one and a half school years to get through, in two hours of lessons a week. By the end of the course, pupils should be able to use all tenses of the language comfortably and have absorbed a significant amount of vocabulary and all without formal memorisation, verb tables, or the use of confusing grammatical terminology.

After only three weeks of experimenting with the course at the end of last term, I saw good results. Pupils remembered far more words and key structures and were able to manipulate sentences with much more independence. Their spellings became more accurate, as did their spoken fluency and pronunciation.

This method seems to work particularly well with many lower-ability pupils or children with special educational needs. For example, a boy in the Year 8 group who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, who always had a good memory for the language, has found that since using this method, his progress has really accelerated, as has his confidence.

He is easily able to construct complete (and often complex) sentences from memory, when speaking and writing. His support assistant, who has been with him since primary school, is amazed by the results, not just of this particular child, but of the class as a whole

Martin Cosgrove teaches Spanish at Gateacre Community Comprehensive School in Liverpool

Teaching tips

The Es Posible! teaching pack, published by Hodder Education (www.hoddereducation.co.uk, price pound;600) comprises two parts:

Phase One, broken down into 30 modules.

Phase Two, in 20 modules.

Each module includes an input script, which allows the teacher to teach that section of the course as it is taught by Michel Thomas in the original.

A PowerPoint presentation accompanies each module, as does a written worksheet and a listening comprehension exercise. There are interactive whiteboard game templates supplied as well as pupil resource CDs that contain revision presentations, interactive games and exercises for each module.

At first I tried to use the "no-hands-up" approach, encouraging one person at a time to answer. But, after experimenting, I found it easier to keep pupils motivated in a large group (between 25 and 30) by asking them to raise their hands, but allowing some thinking time. Paul Howard also suggests collecting in written worksheets, simply highlighting any mistakes, and handing them back for the pupil to correct.

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