One of the greatest challenges in modern foreign language lessons is to get pupils to stop speaking in English and talk to each other in the target language instead. Inspectors have found that even teachers tend to overuse English in those classes, when they could be introducing activities in the subject language. So at Wildern School in Hampshire, staff in the languages department have made a deliberate effort to make talking a more central - and lively - part of their lessons.
Teachers started by establishing that the foreign language would be the primary means of communication in lessons. Teachers have laminated cards that they put up by the board, with the target language country flag on one side and a combination of that flag and the Union Jack on the other.
When it shows the foreign flag, everyone must talk in that language. When it shows both flags, the lesson becomes bilingual - so even though English is allowed, the class is reminded that they should still be trying to use the foreign language wherever possible. A recently qualified teacher says: "It's really tempting just to use English, but the flags remind you to keep trying when it's a bit harder."
Scripted role plays are often used to promote discussion in MFL lessons, but pupils, especially boys, can find them boring and lacking in spontaneity.
So at Wildern School, pupils are encouraged to discuss topics they find interesting and to give natural responses.
The stock cupboards are crammed with props such as wigs and giant microphones, and topics that inspectors overheard the pupils discussing included the meaning of French text message abbreviations and baby sumo wrestling.
The classrooms are set out "cabaret-style", with pupils working in small groups around tables. Lists of words and other materials to help the conversations are provided on the tables and walls.
"It helps to learn vocabulary with the conversational language on the side," one pupil says. "Half the time it doesn't seem like we're learning. We get to argue with the teacher, which is fun."
Time for the discussions is kept short so that pupils focus on the target language. From Year 7 onwards, the pupils are taught phrases that encourage them to express an opinion, such as "I think that is ..."
Although the conversations and debates feel spontaneous, the languages department puts a lot of planning into this aspect of its work and has drawn up a target language policy.
One pupil says he is proud of the fact that he now goes home and talks to his parents in German. "You're used to speaking to people randomly," he says.
What the inspectors said
The inspectors report that "this modern languages department has successfully raised the level of pupils' speaking, improved outcomes in GCSE examinations and motivated boys in particular by making discussions meaningful and relevant to students, by providing the resources and technical support needed, and by ensuring high expectations and a high level of consistency from all teachers".
They add: "The benefits are clear and pupils can often be heard in their modern language lessons using the target language spontaneously and with great enjoyment."
Read the full best practice report at bit.lyVjGoBD
Name: Wildern School
Location: Southampton, Hampshire
Type: 11-16 academy (since 2001)
Pupils: About 1,800.