Verbs on an iPod

Even dry French grammar is interesting if it is delivered interactively by MP3 and mobile phone, writes Wendy Adeniji

What have iPods, podcasting, relaxation techniques and text messaging got to do with learning French verbs? In an attempt to bring verb tables into the 21st century, a Partners in Excellence (PiE), in North Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute, and East Ayrshire, ran a four-week project to help a group of 15 to 17-year-olds become confident in the present, perfect, imperfect and future tenses of regular and irregular verbs.

Each day the students downloaded a podcast called VerbCast to their computer or MP3 player, and listened to it via these machines, or by burning the data to CD to listen to on a hi-fi.

Each of the 20 episodes lasts around 15 minutes and concentrates on one verb. They use relaxation techniques, music and examples of the verbs in context to allow the students to maximise their learning time and visualise the formation of French verbs.

It is important for pupils to be able to form verbs in order to manipulate and create language for themselves - yet traditional verb tables are dry and difficult to learn. This project seeks to harness new technology to overcome these problems.

In addition to the daily podcast, the students received daily text messages on their mobile phones, which tested their knowledge of the verbs covered. Some students reported that their school friends were intrigued when they received and replied to messages in French at lunchtimes. Replies to the text messages were posted automatically on the PiE Blog website, where the pupils were able to discuss what they had learned and how they had learned it. Every week the students took an online test as a way of self-assessment.

Lesley Roy, a pupil from Kilmarnock Academy, says: "The Verbcast has been extremely helpful. At first I was a bit doubtful about the relaxation techniques, but I am now a firm believer that they get good results - and fast! I have definitely noticed the difference in my knowledge of French verbs when carrying out tasks in my French class."

Lesley's teacher, Shona Stables, says: "I think this is a wonderful project - and what a cool way to learn verbs. I have been very impressed with the written work Lesley has produced over the last few weeks. She has been using more complicated structures and has been able to create language from the basic verbs that she can find for herself in the dictionary.

"This means she can say exactly what she wants to say and is not limited to the helpsheets given out to help the pupils create a piece of writing".

Verbcast has now been released free to the public. Although some of the content of the programmes is specific to the students who were involved in the original project, it will be changed gradually.

There are various ways to access VerbCast. You can subscribe if you have iTunes 4.9 or above - select "Subscribe to Podcast" from the Advanced menu and paste in the following url: iTunes is available from

Mark Pentleton, project co-ordinator at PiE, says: "We wanted to try to get into the students' world and take one of the least interesting parts of learning a language. This series of downloadable audio programmes has allowed the students involved to learn using the same equipment they normally use for fun and enjoyment."

See http:pienews.blogs.compieblog200511pie_features_on.html

Verbcast http:pienews.blogs.compieblog200511pie_features_on.html iTunes

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