Modern foreign languages - Language Leaders

29th June 2012 at 01:00
Paper plates leave pupils hungry for Spanish

Britain's monolingualism is regularly deplored. But some language students are so enthusiastic about their subject that they sign up for an out-of-hours programme to expand their skills and then use them to teach other children.

Working with a colleague, I developed the Routes into Languages East Language Leader Award - a year-long programme for secondary pupils of any age, designed to develop their leadership skills and confidence and enhance their linguistic abilities. Taught over three terms, it culminates in the student leaders teaching a one-hour class, spread over three successive primary school visits. But I never expected it would teach me some valuable lessons as well.

On one visit I accompanied, the enthusiasm of the Year 9 leaders was infectious, and the thought, skill and care with which they had planned their lessons was clear. But what struck me most was the fact that they had created an original teaching idea so good that other teachers would benefit from adopting it.

The notion was simple and open to myriad adaptations and multiple extensions. After teaching the Spanish vocabulary for snack foods and drinks to a Year 45 class, the Year 9 leaders gave each pupil a paper plate. Pupils then had to draw what they wanted to order from the menu on it. Around the edge of the plate they wrote "Para mi..." (literally "For me", but in this instance meaning "I'll have"). When their dinners were ready, they took it in turns to play the waiter - although sadly there were no penguin suits - and carried out cafe conversations, ordering what they had drawn on their plates. It worked extremely well because it was active and engaging, and the plates served as a very effective aide-memoire.

A week later, accompanying a different group of leaders to a Year 6 class, I saw paper plates used very effectively again.

When you mentor trainee teachers, you expect to benefit from new ideas. But I was surprised to see something so inspirational from our 13-year-old language leaders. If only one or two of them opt for language teaching as a career, all the effort we put into the Language Leader Award will have been worth it.

Rachel Hawkes is a TES subject adviser. For more information about the scheme visit www.rachelhawkes.comRPPLangLeadLanguageLeaders.php or

What else?

For a creative approach to teaching drinks vocabulary in Spanish, try charlou56's lesson.

Revise food and drink while practising sentence building with rhawkes' interactive whiteboard dice activity.

In the forums

There is chat about the proposal to make the teaching of MFL compulsory in primary schools in 2014. MFL teachers are broadly in favour but has Michael Gove thought through the implications of his proposal? What do you think?

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