We've used "Je Suis," a song written by Joe Biswell, a London teacher, as a way into French verbs with success. With our first class, we agreed that it was rude to point with your finger, so we pointed with the whole hand as we sang - "Je suis" (point to yourself), "Tu es" (point to a partner), "Il est" (point to a boy) "Elle est" (point to a girl).
On plurals, we started pointing with two hands. "Nous sommes" - sweeping, inclusive gesture with both arms. "Vous etes" - point with both hands at two or more people - "Ils sont" - point to two boys - "Elles sont" - point to two girls.
The children and teachers of four classes took to it quickly. Joe suggested it might work with more verbs, but we started using the song with just the pronouns. ("Je" - point to self). Soon we had introduced the range of French pronouns. Hands up if you're "il" or "elle" soon told us who understood, and helped the slower learners.
Separating the pronouns and allowing plenty of practice time let us add other verbs without confusing the pupils.
Finally, Year 5 tried the song with several more verbs in one session, where we sang the reflexive verb. I wrote simple sentences with each verb on the board and the pupils could read and understand them. We added questions to prompt each sentence and the children tried asking and answering with a partner. Suddenly, the idea of teaching spoken and written French together seemed a possibility.
John Bald is primary languages consultant at The Learning Trust in Hackney, London. Joe Biswell teaches music and French at Benthall Primary School in Hackney.