Modern foreign languages - It's good to go mad

6th July 2012 at 01:00
Are you a crazy entertainer or a beleaguered lion tamer?

Years ago, when I started teaching, a PGCE lecturer told me that there were only two types of teachers: entertainers and lion tamers. He also advised me not to smile until Easter while in my probationary year. I soon realised that I needed to be a bit of a policeman, but I secretly harboured the desire to hear pupils say of me: "He's nuts. He's crazy. He's a ledge (legend)".

These days the pupils have easy access to a zip-zap virtual world and the demands of foreign language learning can seem tedious, demanding and unreal. To survive, we need to harness the new technology - and have our zany moments.

After far too many years spent hammering the French words for common pets into the heads of my pupils, I decided on a change of approach. I had kept a bag of my children's soft toys: chien (dog), chat (cat), cheval (horse), chameau (camel), chouette (owl) and chevre (goat). The cuddly toys were funny. They were tactile. The pupils guessed which one I was holding in a bag and won it. I threw cochon d'inde (guinea pig) and chauve-souris (bat) into the follow-up PowerPoint. They still remember them all. They had a pattern to ease their memory. They invented some new weird pets. They were having fun.

Below are two more creative exploits:

Pass the bomb. Form groups of about 10. Each pupil has three lives. Buy a few pretend plastic ticking bombs cheaply off the internet. Once set, these bombs make an exploding noise at random intervals. Give the pupils a vocabulary category or a sentence to complete orally. The pupils pass the bomb around. They cannot pass it on unless they have added a new word or phrase. If the bomb goes off in their possession they lose a life. Pupils become ingenious under pressure and revise or embed language effectively.

The strange visitor. The teacher is working on personal description with the class. Suddenly a strange person enters, bizarrely dressed (a disguised member of staff). The visitor asks strange questions in the foreign language, steals a number of items and leaves. The pupils in groups have to prepare a report in their foreign language. What was the person like? What did they say? What did they take? Groups report back. The visitor returns to unveil their identity.

Teachers, like pupils, can be driven mad by repetitive and rigid learning conditions. My recommendation? Take Allen Ginsberg's advice and "Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness".

David Clark has led foreign language departments for more than 30 years. He now teaches French, German and Latin part-time in Derbyshire


For a colourful narrative introduction to animal vocabulary, in French, try rubiales' La Petite Poule Rouge (The Little Red Hen) interactive storybook.

Bring some mystery to the German classroom with taz444's Cluedo question.


Debate continues on the proposed changes to MFL teaching in primary on the TES Resources MFL forum.

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