Modern Foreign Languages - By the book

13th July 2012 at 01:00
Don't bin textbooks - they can complement innovation

When the revised key stage 3 programme of study for modern foreign languages was launched in 2008, it did not seem too different from its previous version. But it contained no defined list of linguistic content or topics to cover. Many departments decided to update their schemes of work, and the lack of defined topics at KS3, seen as an opportunity by some, was seen as a threat by others, who felt under pressure to design new modules from scratch and throw out the textbooks.

But instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, why not use textbooks to complement innovative new work? The textbook will provide the overall structure, while opportunities for consolidation and extension will be given to pupils by dipping into new contexts.

Many pupils start secondary school having learned some language at primary, so it's important to check that the topics in the textbook are not repeated in exactly the same way. For instance, colours and adjectival agreement in French could be revisited by describing Impressionist paintings, rather than in a traditional "learn 10 colours" textbook-based lesson.

All textbook-based schemes of work usually cover topics such as food, parts of the body, festivals or the environment and can be greatly enhanced by cross-curricular links with practical subjects like art, music, dance, drama and food technology. In some secondary schools, these links will lead to developing Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) lessons to enable pupils to be taught another subject through the medium of a foreign language.

With a lot of teaching time taken up by controlled assessment at KS4, it is important to use and extend at KS3 all the opportunities provided by textbooks to find out about the culture of countries where the target language is spoken. The use of authentic materials, websites and objects brought back from holidays can engage pupils and encourage them to reflect on their cultural identity.

Whenever possible, links with the real world will also complement the traditional "let's write a letter to a pen pal" textbook scenario, either through a real pen-pal scheme or through Skype links with schools abroad. This will also consolidate the understanding of key words and structures taught via the textbook.

Now we are free from content, it is time to learn how to fly.

Isabelle Jones teaches French and Spanish and is head of languages at the Radclyffe School in Oldham. She speaks at language events and blogs at Find out more about CLIL at bit.lyLfsDVU


Try LinkedUp CLIL projects to put language in context.

Explore cross-curricular ideas to engage pupils. Child soldiers and Fairtrade are topics with plenty of scope for language learning.

Find all links and resources at


Have you got the hang of CLIL? Share your experience on the TES MFL forum.


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