Time to talk

21st October 2005 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady looks at a French immersion programme for KS2

Last year, Seaton C of E Junior School in Cumbria organised a Fantastic French Fortnight for their Year 6 children. The school decided to employ two French peripatetic teachers to work with pupils each morning and teach the language in an intensive, but entertaining way. "We wanted to have native French speakers, because at this age children tend to repeat exactly what is said, so we felt the pronunciation had to be accurate," says Year 6 teacher Gill Jepson. "We felt anything less than fluent speech, a sound understanding of the language and a solid awareness of French culture would simply be paying lip service to key stage 2 language teaching - something we wanted to avoid.

"We also wanted the pupils to go into secondary school with the confidence that they could already speak a little French, and hopefully acquire some positive techniques for learning languages."

The school's own teachers were present to support the French teachers throughout these sessions. The children were taught in two classes of 31.

Among the activities were simple games, such as hangman, variations on bingo, including "colour bingo" in which children were given coloured squares and ticked the colours as they were read out, card games and traditional French songs, such as "Un kilometre ... Pied" and "Dimanche Matin".

Interactive whiteboards were used: in one activity, for example, children gave directions on how to get from the school to their house and to a pupil who was standing at the board, on which a map of the area was displayed.

Role-play activities covered a range of real-life situations, such as asking directions and ordering food in a cafe.

The French teachers were from a company called Verbatim Language Training Consultancy, which teaches in adult education and to small groups of children in after-school clubs. The school had allocated pound;1,000 to pay for the programme and for additional resources, including EnglishFrench dictionaries, book marks, stickers, props and maps.

In the afternoons, two of the school's teachers who had some knowledge of French language and culture organised extension work to build on language learned in the morning. Work included a range of cross-curricular activities. Children looked at the geography of France, learned about the major cities, the currency and the country's flag; they did simple mathematical calculations in French and each child wrote their own email to pupils in a French school. Activities on food and greetings informed children about French culture.

"A lot of the children said they were amazed at how much French they were speaking at the end of the programme. They can actually hold a simple conversation," says Gill. "We will definitely look into doing this again next year."

"The progress made in the fortnight was impressive," says Sylvie Jefferson, a French teacher and director of Verbatim Language Training and Consultancy. The best-loved topics were colours, ordering snacks and drinks, and numbers.

A survey also revealed a wish to learn other languages, the two favourites being Spanish and German, with Japanese and Chinese featuring quite heavily, followed by Turkish and Greek.

Teaching tips

* Class teachers and outside practitioners should plan the course collaboratively, following KS2 guidelines. Select resources, including games, songs and books carefully, and make sure they are appropriate for the age range.

* It's better if class teachers stay in the class when the outside practitioners are teaching, as they know the children. They can encourage children to participate and work with different groups to support learning.

* Make the content practical and relevant - relate it to children's holidays and work they will be doing at secondary schools.

* Class teachers should prepare the interactive whiteboard presentations in advance to support the delivery of the programme.

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