Where to go on the Web
Click on "Six of the Best" on the Guardian's www.learn.co.uk and you will find GCSE support cards, classified by topic area, which provide links to relevant websites tied into schemes of work. Move to "lessons and tests" and you will discover vocabulary lists and interactive exercises together with a large bank of reading, speaking and writing materials. This is complemented by an extensive grammar section, which is thorough even if it does feel a little like Whitmarsh on line.
It sounds like a hard-pressed teacher's dream come true, and up to a point it is. However, although the designers have the technology, including flash, they do not always use it effectively to liven things up and consolidate learning. Nor have they included any listening activities, a curious omission since this is the most awkward skill to set as homework. Their failure to provide print-friendly exercises is another irritating oversight, especially as some of the interactive exercises do not work in Netscape 4. Nevertheless, the site is crammed with useful materials, which provide welcome support for independent learning in the run-up to exams.
While learn.co.uk has been developed for higher-tier candidates, bonjour.org.uk is not as technically sophisticated and covers less ground, but for colour and pedagogical flair it is a real gem. Reading passages include profiles of Southpark characters and football heroes, and pupils can click on difficult vocabulary for an instant translation. For a bit of fun, they can read the lines Bart Simpson wrote out as a punishment or practise form-filling in the matchmaking zone.
There are GCSE oral questions with model answers and if pupils cannot find the expression they need, they can turn to a virtual tutor for help. The lessons for younger pupils are also worth trying out for revision of the basics and they are imaginatively structured to progress from vocabulary recognition to active use. It comes as no surprise to learn that bonjour web master Stephane Derone is a practising teacher, so where does he find the time? The answer lies in the creative approach to staffing taken by Howard school in Rainham, Kent. Mr Derone's job description encompasses a little bit of teaching, covering classes when heads of department conduct appraisals, and expanding resources for modern languages.
"We developed the site because we couldn't find what we wanted elsewhere," he explains. "This is a boys' school and we have our fair share of challenging pupils. They respond well to working on the computer and forget they are doing French."
The experiment has proved so successful, his teaching commitments may be further reduced next year to allow him to extend the website to include other areas of the curriculum. He would also like to introduce listening activities and develop materials in other languages.
The box contains a photocopiable list that will help GCSE pupils with revision.
Alison Thomas is a former languages teacher.
* BBC GCSE Bitesize Revision Languages: French, German, Spanish Levels: Foundation and higher Skills: Reading, writing, speaking (German only) Description: Arranged under skill and topic headings, each activity takes the form of a sample question with a detailed breakdown of how to tackle it. This is followed by a self-marked test.
Verdict: Thorough. Lots of sound advice on revision and exam technique.
www.bbc.co.ukeducationgcsebitesize For listening practice, try some of the BBC's other sites, which contain audio andor video clips backed up by transcripts, translations, glossaries of vocabulary and interactive exercises.Levels: Foundation: The Talk series (French, Spanish, Italian)Foundationhigher: the French Experience and Deutsch Plus OnlineHigher: German Online Supplements www.bbc.co.ukeducationlanguagesfrenchtalk www.bbc.co.ukeducationlanguagesspanishtalk www.bbc.co.ukeducationlanguagesitaliantalk www.bbc.co.ukeducationlanguagesfrenchexperiencewww.bbc.co.ukeducationl anguagesgermandplushttp:www.bbc.co.ukeducationlanguagesgermansupplem ents.shtml
Languages: French Levels: Higher Skills: Reading, writing, speaking Description: An extensive collection of vocabulary lists, texts and interactive exercises. Some of the role-plays are a little confusing and your teacher will need to mark some of your work as your answers will differ from the models given.
Verdict: Enough to keep you busy for hours. Navigation not clear.
Languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian (limited) Levels: Devised for Scottish pupils.
Standard Grade and Higher are the nearest equivalents to GCSE.
Skills: In theory all, but the site is under revision and some material has disappeared.
Description: The "revision club" has reading passages with interactive exercises, the "learn a language" section includes grammar tutorials followed by pop-up exercises. The best resources are the tutorials for the oral exam, which offer a variety of model answers to sample questions. For example, replies to "O se trouve ton coll ge" range from the simple "Mon ecole est a Glasgow" to a detailed description of the area with opinions.
Verdict: A little stodgy but worth a visit. The links need urgent attention.
* Really Useful French and German
Languages: French and German Levels: Foundation and higher Skills: All and a section on coursework Description: A horrendously cluttered home page links to a wide range of resources including 60 interactive GCSE revision exercises in the form of crosswords, gap-filling exercises, written tests and multiple choice. Another area provides listening activities for different levels of ability together with tapescripts, vocabulary and exercises.
Verdict: Offers lots of variety and lives up to its name.
www.reallyusefulfrench.co.uk (Links into reallyusefulgerman) * Bonjour.org.uk
Languages: French Levels: Foundation Skills: Reading, writing, speaking Description: Read about Pokemon or goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, fill in a form to find your ideal partner, mug up model answers for your oral exam. The key stage 3 tutorials are useful for revision of basic vocabulary and there is a link to www.language-student.com which contains dialogues with sound, vocabulary lists and tests.
Verdict: Bright, colourful, fun. Some problems in Netscape.
* French for all at ALL levels
Languages: French Levels: Foundation and higher Skills: All Description: Contains a huge stock of revision exercises including GCSE past papers from SEG. The wealth of listening material is particularly valuable as this is lacking on many other sites.
There is also a comprehensive grammar section with exercises. Beware that some sections do not work well in Netscape.
Verdict: Good for exam practice http:web.ukonline.co.uk canonave
Languages: more than 70 Levels: Foundation Skills: Reading, speaking Description: As its name suggests, this site is for travellers abroad and covers topics such as shopping, dining, and travel.
The format consists of lists of vocabulary and phrases in English and the target language followed by quizzes. You can click on each expression for pronunciation, although sound quality is poor.
Verdict: Unimaginative but useful for revision of basic vocabulary www.travlang.comlanguages
* Learn Spanish
Languages: Spanish Levels: Foundation Skills: Reading, speaking Description: Designed to tempt you to buy the host company's premium services and CDs, but there is lots of material for free. Similar to Travlang but much better. The sound quality is excellent and each vocabulary list is followed by a range of interactive exercises. There is a grammar section withquizzes and an online translator for that elusive expression you couldn't find elsewhere (but do translate back to make sure that the rendering makes sense).
Verdict: Covers everything from clothes and sport to insects and internal organs!
* Feline And Felinx
Languages: French, German, Spanish Levels: Foundation and higher Skills: Reading, writing Description: Free samples of the company's online materials, which can be bought for pound;30 per school. Texts, graded for level of difficulty, are taken from authentic sources and come with interactive exercises.
Verdict: Limited unless you subscribe, but a useful supplementary resource www.modlangs.co.uk