Sunday 22 March 2015

Active Grammar at Language World

22nd March    Language World

At this year’s ALL Language World conference in Newcastle I presented one of the ‘Major Talks’ with the fabulous Janet Lloyd. Our session was all about Active Grammar. We defined it as:

“The use of movement, physical action, mime or gesture to explore or reinforce  a grammatical point.”

I also asked my Year 6 children for their definitions. Here’s an example:

“Active Grammar is when you actually do the learning by physically getting up and doing it instead of copying down the work. It helps me understand better because I can actually do it and see it.”

Here are the steps in the presentation Janet and I gave…

1)    Janet started with The Split Personality of a Sentence. Audience members kindly volunteered to act this out. First was the punctuation personality. The phrase we used started with a comma and ended with a full stop. Gestures were used to mimic the punctuation marks. The 2nd layer was the pronunciation and intonation layer. The volunteers responsible for this level stood in front of the punctuation level people. They spoke the words of the sentence (one word each). In front of them came the Performance personality layer. These volunteers mimed the phrase. They were each responsible for a word in the phrase and stood directly in front of the person saying that word. Finally there was the Key Grammatical Structures layer. Again, each person in the row was responsible for a word in the phrase and used a mime for the part of speech – based on Catherine Cheater’s word class mimes (hand on head for noun, etc.). Then it was all performed together. We heard the sentence, saw its meaning performed, were reminded of the word classes for each word and also saw where the punctuation came in the phrase. The aim is to help children appreciate the various aspects of a phrase or sentence and how they are linked.

2)    Next I looked at Human Sentences. This involves giving people a large text card each and saying a phrase or sentence. Those with the appropriate card come out to the front and stand in order to create the sentence, This can be at quite a simple level e.g. 'Un chat noir' or more extended e.g. J’ai deux souris noires. In the second example you could give out ‘red herrings’ such as ‘noir’, ‘noire’ and ‘noirs’ (they all sound the same) and see if the right person comes out. It can lead to very useful discussions about adjectival agreement and word order. We then played the Human Negatives Game. Word cards were handed out randomly to the audience members. The words were chosen to be interchangeable so that it was possible to mix and match them to create simple sentences with 3 cards e.g. there were cards with J’ some with il and some with elle. There were cards with habite and some with aime. Finally there were some cards to complete the sentences such as “en Italie” or “les bonbons”. There was also a table at the front with objects or picture cards relating to the sentence (a packet of sweets, an Italian flag, etc). The aim was to find 2 other people with whom you could form a sentence and then collect the appropriate picture/object. The first group to do so would win. However, we also had some “negative people” whose job it was to spoil the fun. They worked in pairs, one with ne and one with a pas card. They had to seek out the verbs. If they found one they had to sandwich it and ‘lock it down’. Once this happened the sentence would be negated and so the group could not collect their object (because now it meant that they did NOT live in Italy, did NOT like sweets, etc) and thus were ‘out’. Warning: this game does get very competitive and lively (especially with language teachers)! We concluded that it is a much more effective way of teaching negatives in French than simply saying “ne and pas sandwich the verb.”

3)    Next Janet led participants through her Active Conjunctions activity, to create some complex sentences. 12 volunteers formed a circle and were each given a card with a simple sentence on it. A selection of conjunctions were available, each in large text on colourful card. These were on the floor in the centre of the circle. The aim was for participants to select an appropriate conjunction and pair up to create a complex sentence. You need to be quick to get the conjunction you need before someone else gets it. The pairs then read out their new, longer sentences.

4)    Next it was my turn to share some further ideas on verbs. The new Programmes of Study for KS2 Languages include “conjugate high-frequency verbs”. This is exactly what I’ve been doing with my Year 6 children but using songs, raps and props. The ‘avoir’ song is to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it” and goes like this:

 J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez…Ils ont!

(clap on ils ont, as it’s the “clap clap” bit),

J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont (clap on “ils ont”)

 J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons

J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons

J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez….ils ont! (clap as before).


The être song is to the tune of ‘The Farmer’s in his Den’ and goes like this:

Je suis, tu est, il est

Je suis, tu est, il est,

Nous sommes, vous êtes

Ils / elles sont.

We then moved on to regular –er verbs. I mentioned the story ‘Par Une Sombre Nuit de Tempête’ and how fabulous it is for exploring the singular forms of present tense –er verbs and the infinitive. See my previous blog posts for more detail on using this story.

I then showed a photo of some of my Year 6 children creating a physical verb paradigm (pattern). 9 children were in the photo, each holding a text card. One person was standing on a chair, at the back in the middle. He was the infinitive and held the card “Danser”. Standing in front of him, side-by-side, were children holding “Je porte” and “Nous portons” (the 1st person singular and plural). I had decided to teach the children the correct terminology to make it easier to talk about the parts of the verb. They even got to wear rosettes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd (1er, 2e, 3e) – green rosettes for singular and purple for plural. The child with “Tu danses” is sitting on a chair in front of the one with “Je danse”. Similarly, the one with “Vous dansez” is sitting on a chair in front of the one with the “Nous dansons” card. They are the 2nd person singular and plural (and so they are on the 2nd row). Finally we have the 3rd person singular and plural. I had a boy hold the “il danse” card and kneel on the floor in front of the child on the chair. A girl holding the “Elle danse” card knelt next to him. They had their green rosettes on saying “3e”. Next to them, kneeling in front of the child with the “vous dansez” card were a girl and boy with “Ils dansent” and “elles dansent” respectively. They were the 3rd person plural and had their purple rosettes. This was supposed to look like lines on a page, with the infinitive as the title and the verbs arranged in 2 columns – singular and plural.

It was then time for The ‘Porter’ Song. This is to the tune of the National Anthem and conjugates the verb ‘porter’, adding some items of clothing to create a rhyming song. The song has now been performed by teachers at ililc5 and in Warrington at the DfE training course, as well as by my wonderful Year 6 children (we watched them perform it, in costume, on video).

5)    Janet then took us through her Preposition Picnic activity. This is a super idea for practising prepositions and links beautifully to summer-themed work. 2 “volunteers” (myself and Steven Fawkes) were given a set of picnic ware and cutlery (plates, bowls, glasses, cups, knives, forks and spoons in different colours, sizes and materials). Janet described where each item should be positioned in relation to another e.g. “Place the large red spoon in the white bowl”. Steven and I attempted to recreate this, individually, in a Krypton Factor-cum-Generation Game style scenario. Next, I gave instructions, in French, for Steven to follow to create a similar structure of picnic items.

6)    To finish I shared the Rainbow Rap. This is an idea I picked up on a CILT course in Besançon in 2005 from a French teacher called Hélène Vantier (utterly brilliant!). Fortunately, we had a lovely audience on Friday, with many people happy to join in. Groups of 3 or 4 volunteers worked together to come up with a mini performance based on their given colour. The yellow group had to chant “Nous sommes jaunes, nous sommes jaunes, nous sommes jaunes”, the red group had to chant “Nous sommes rouges, nous sommes rouges, nous sommes rouges”, etc. The groups were asked to think about the sound their colour word made and make their voices and actions fit it. After a few moments to practise, it was time for the performance. The colour groups made up the verses and the rest of the audience joined in the chorus: “Nous sommes un arc-en-ciel, nous sommes un arc-en-ciel, nous sommes un arc-en-ciel”. 


You can see the presentation slides and The Porter Song on the ALL website here.

Friday 6 March 2015

Smoothies, ghosts, campfires and wolves!

It’s been a weird week at work. Exciting, creative but weird. I’d known for some time that there was going to be an ‘electricity’ shut down on 2 days this week (by coincidence the 2 days I teach). The parents had been informed in advance and assured that the communications system would still be up-and-running, the heating functioning etc. They were asked to keep it a secret from the children.

Interestingly, the impetus for the switch off was neither environmental nor relating to history work (although we could exploit both, obviously) but was a whole-school creative writing project. Each year group did different activities. In Year 3 they had lovely vanilla scented candles (it was like teaching at a luxury spa on Monday!) and observed how they burned. They also did some work on fire and then wrote poetry about fire. They also had a fantastic ‘smoothie bike.’ This is a stationary bike with a blender on the back, which is operated by pedalling fast.

Year 5 had a ghostly theme for their creative writing and I arrived at school on Monday morning to find all the year 5 staff dressed up as ghosts. I was asked if I could do a ghost-related story in French with them so, on Thursday (World Book Day) Year 5 and I enjoyed ‘Par Une Sombre Nuit de Tempête.’ We did actions and created sound effects before 3 teams competed to re-form a section of the story from sentence strips.

Year 6 were having an incredibly exciting day. They were spending most of it outdoors, in non-uniform, and had set up an enormous campsite. I went outside to investigate and found 3 enormous bell tents and a campfire, over which they were cooking fish. My French lesson was in the afternoon and I was told I could hold it at the campsite! Fantastic!

I had the lunch hour to think how I was going to adapt my lesson to make full use of this. We have been working on clothes and I was planning to read the story ‘Promenons-nous dans les bois’. I decided to exploit this further and re-create the story with the children. I dashed home and packed 4 enormous hold-alls full of clothes – having raided the wardrobes of every member of the family. I chose anything wacky or bright and especially similar items in different colours (thinking ahead to when we’d be writing about it).

In the lesson my Year 6 class and I went outside and sat near the campfire while I read the story. They then chose 1 or 2 items of clothing each. Next, we all recited the 3 questions from the story, “Loup, y-es tu?, entends-tu? que fais-tu?”. One by one they went into the tent and said e.g. “Je mets mon pantalon” at the same time holding out the appropriate item through the tent flaps (or sticking out a leg in the case of boots). I then took a photo on my ipad. That person would then place their item(s) of clothing in the one of the bags (which were inside the tent) and come out. The next person would enter the tent and the rest of the class would ask the 3 questions again. In the 45-minute lesson we just managed to get everyone in and out of the tent and all the photos taken. I did have the support of a wonderful TA who helped organise everyone.

At the end one person was chosen to be the wolf and to emerge from the tent fully dressed (wearing a wolf mask I had quickly made at lunchtime).
Here’s the photo.

Next steps:

My plan is to turn this into a book using something like Storybird or Storyjumper. As I have so many items of different colours on my camera roll I’d like the children to be able to choose which selection of clothes they would like. They will then be able to write the story but adding their particular items of clothing and colours (with agreement where necessary, of course).

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Conjugating verbs with Year 6

Conjugating Verbs

The new Programmes of Study for Languages at KS2 include the following attainment target:

“understand basic grammar appropriate to the language being studied, including (where relevant): feminine, masculine and neuter forms and the conjugation of high-frequency verbs; key features and patterns of the language; how to apply these, for instance, to build sentences; and how these differ from or are similar to English.”

I have been focussing on verb forms with Year 6 and the storybook ‘Par Une Sombre Nuit de Tempête’ is ideal for this. The book is very repetitive, which makes it easy to spot patterns. It is structured along the lines of ‘repeat what has gone before and add a new element’ – the structure for stories like The Gingerbread Man, The Enormous Turnip, Chicken Licken, etc.

I love this book for so many reasons. Here are a few…

1.    The story is all about actions, which naturally makes the verbs the most important elements.

2.    It is what I call a ‘gold dust’ story. These are stories that have simple enough language for Year 6 but are not too ‘babyish’ for them in terms of content. Books like these are not easy to find.

3.    There are numerous examples of onomatopoeia. Year 6 know about this in English but it is fun to compare examples in English and French. For example, the owl hoots but in French “le hibou hulule”. Year 6 and I decided this is far closer to the noise an owl makes than “twit twoo”. You can also compare “craque” and “creaks”, “claque” and “slams” “cliquette” and “rattles”.

4.    The book is full of infinitives, not a part of the verb encountered so often. It is used in the book to form the immediate future e.g. “je vais hululer” / “I’m going to hoot”.

5.    All the verbs (with just one exception) are regular –er verbs.

6.    The story can easily be adapted by the children to create their own versions. For once, they don’t have to stick to merely changing nouns and adjectives but can change the verbs too. As I have said, the book is full of infinitives and that, of course, is the part of the verb that the children will find in the dictionary.

7.    Each time a new verb is mentioned in the story it is in the infinitive e.g. “Alors, je vais danser”. On the following page we meet the same verb but in a question, using the 2nd person singular, when another object in the spooky house asks why this object is behaving as it does e.g. “Balai, pourquoi danses-tu?” (broom, why are you dancing? – the candle asks the broom). In the reply to this question we get the verb in the 1st person e.g. “Moi, je danse”.

Finally, on the following page, we meet the verb in the 3rd person singular when one object is explaining to another what happens every dark and stormy night and what all the other objects do e.g. “Le balai danse” (“The broom danses” - the candle explains to the fire).


If you think about it, this book couldn’t be more ideal for covering the present tense of –er verbs, even it if it had been written for that specific purpose! It hasn’t, of course. It is actually a translation of the English story “Old Devil Wind” by Bill Martin Jr. The children might actually be familiar with the story, having read it lower down the school in English.


So, we have a book that is full of examples of onomatopoeia and examples of regular –er verbs in the infinitive and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person singular. Given the attainment target mentioned at the start of this post relating to conjugating verbs, this is surely a golden opportunity.


Here is what I did:


1.    We explored the story in the usual ways. I won’t go into too much detail here as this is not a post on storytelling but essentially I read the story aloud and the class joined in with the repeated parts (adding more and more). You can also get groups of children to act the part of each object, with sound effects and actions. You can give individual children pictures to hold up when they hear it mentioned in the story. I gave Individual children sentence strips to wave when they heard that line. Pairs / small groups can then be given a series of sentences to re-order.

2.    Once we were familiar with the story I gave the children a sheet with quotations from the story, such as:

 “Alors, je vais danser.”

“Balai, pourquoi danses-tu?”

“Le tabouret trépigne. Moi, je danse.”

“Alors, je vais trembloter”

“Bougie, pourquoi tremblotes-tu?”

“Le balai danse. Moi, je tremblote.”


The children were asked to underline the verb(s) in each sentence. We did a few together as examples and they very soon spotted the patterns.

We discussed the fact that “vais” needs to be underlined as well as “danser/trembloter/etc” as they are both verbs.

We also discussed the word classes in the sentence “La fenêtre cliquette furieusement”, noting that “furieusement” should not be underlined as it is an adverb, describing how the window rattles. This was great revision for their English work.

3.    Once we had found and underlined all the verbs I asked the children to look for patterns. I made sure that everyone was crystal-clear on the meanings of “je” and “tu”. We then discussed the endings of the verbs that follow “je” (they all end in -e), those that go with “tu” (they all end in –es), those that go with le/la____ i.e. talking about another object (they all end in –e) and those that follow “vais” (they all end in –er).

4.    I taught the children the term “infinitive”. I explained that it was sort of like the title of the verb and was also the part that they would find in a dictionary. I told them that French has 3 groups of verbs-  those that end –er, those that end –ir and those that end –re, but that we were only focussing on the –er group. (I had deliberately omitted the verb ‘gémir’ from the previous exercises and now I told the children why).

5.    Finally, we made a physical representation of the verb, as it would normally be set out. I used the verb “danser” as our example. Volunteers came out to the front to hold large text cards. The person with the “je danse” card stood up, holding it. The person with the “tu danses” card sat on a chair in front of that person. I chose a boy to hold the card “il danse” and he crouched down in front of the seated child. I chose a girl to hold the card “elle danse” and she crouched next to him. In this way, we had 3 different heights from je to tu to il/elle. I asked the tallest child in the class to come out and hold up the ‘title’ – the infinitive “danser”- standing behind the others.

6.    I had covered up the ending of each verb on the text cards using mini post-it notes. I asked the rest of the class to predict what the hidden ending was in each case. Some knew already whilst others used their worksheet for reference. (It helped that all the verbs had been underlined).

7.    When all the endings had been revealed, I asked the children which part of the verb they thought was normally referred to as the “1st person” – he, you or I? They all said “I”, which was great because it showed that it made logical sense to them. Similarly, ‘you’ seemed to make sense as the 2nd person and then “he/she” referring to a 3rd person.

8.    Finally, we read the phrases aloud, in order, starting with the infinitive (“title”). I set them the challenge of trying to remember the term ‘infinitive’ for next week.

There is still a lot more to do. We are going to work on the plural forms so that we have the whole verb. Once we have the whole thing in physical form (the way it is set out in books) the children will copy it into their French books. (I think their Year 7 teachers in September will be pleased they are familiar with this).

There are some more creative activities too, though. We are going to create some leafy verb branches (a craft activity) and we’ll also be doing a rap/ chant / dance.

I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday 8 January 2015

La Fête des Rois

La Fête des Rois

Epiphany is an important celebration in many European countries and so I decided to share this with my French classes today (our first French lesson of the year).
With Year 3 I shared the traditional song “J’aime la galette” and with Year 5 I shared the well-known story “Roule Galette” (if you don’t know it it’s just like the Gingerbread Man). With both year groups I told the children about La Fête des Rois in France and then everyone got to try a piece of the galette I had made.

I’m sharing the details of what I did as it might be useful to someone who has thought about covering this celebration but hasn’t yet. It is definitely not too late as, apparently, in many countries, the celebrations go on until the start of Lent!

Here is a link to the song “J’aime la galette”. Year 3 picked it up so quickly. I found the best way was for me to sing a line and for them to echo it. There are only 4 lines of words. We then sang the “tralala” bit together. This was just enough in a 30 minute lesson in addition to the explanation of La Fête des Rois, the galette and the fève and then the cutting and serving of the galette at the end.

I also wished the children Bonne Année and wrote this on the board. One child noticed the acute accent on Année and we compared this to the word café, which they already knew. I pointed out that, although it means Happy New Year, there are obviously only 2 words instead of 3 so it can’t mean that exactly. This was an opportunity to point out that things don’t always translate word for word and are said a bit differently another language. I explained that it literally means “good year” and we compared this to other expressions with “bon /bonne” such as “bonjour” and “bon anniversaire”. Once they knew that “bon” meant good I told them they could use it to describe the galette at the end of the lesson “c’est bon”.

I had made one galette per class (6 in total). I found a nut-free version on a French website and there is a link to it here. I explained to the children that it would traditionally be made with frangipane (containing almonds) but they were thrilled to discover that their version was made with chocolate instead! It was actually very simple to make. I used Jus-Roll puff pastry and used a dish as a template to cut each sheet into a circle. (I found a dish that was the same diameter as the width of each rectangular sheet). The chocolate filling is then fairly simple to make (melted butter, melted chocolate, sugar and eggs). Spreading it was trickier! I found that it was better to make the filling first and let it cool down and thicken while I did the pastry (otherwise it was too runny). Even so, I need to use a flan dish rather than a baking sheet.

As for the fève…. I hadn’t been able to buy any proper ones in time so I used a traditional dried bean. This was very small and wouldn’t be a choking hazard and would also be edible if accidentally swallowed. Having done this now with 6 classes I have to say it was only semi-successful. Only 2 classes found the fève. I suspect that it had started to cook and soften a little and was too hard to spot in the other galettes. I’ll use porcelain figures next year. Alternatively, you could use a jelly bean but remember to insert it after cooking the galette, not before (as I stupidly did with my first attempt!!).

You can decorate the top of the galette with any pattern. I did some with a lattice-work pattern but then my daughter remembered we had a crown-shaped cookie cutter, which we used to make imprints in the top.
I presented each galette with a crown on the top. Whoever found the fève got to wear the crown. I found some at Hobbycraft that were thick foam with gold glitter and which were fully adjustable. They are sturdy enough that we'll be able to use them again next year.

The story I shared with Year 5 was “Roule Galette”. It is a traditional tale, which we compared to The Gingerbread Man. A few children remembered the story as it had been read to them in Year 3 or 4 (it is part of the Catherine Cheater scheme of work for Y3). However, I wanted them to participate in the telling of the story. First of all I took the song that the galette sings in the story and gave a different line of the song to different groups of children. There were 5 groups and the lines were as follows…

Group 1 “Je suis la galette, la galette”

Group 2 “Je suis faite avec le blé…”

Group 3 “…ramassé dans le grenier”

Group 4 “On m’a mise a refroidir”

Group 5 “mais, j’ai mieux aimé courir.”

Some lines are harder than others so I differentiated it where possible. We also added actions. The actions we did were…

Je suis = point to yourself

la galette = draw circle in air

le blé = hold up imaginary piece of wheat

ramassé = mime gathering with your arms

le grenier = hands over your head in a roof shape

refroidir = shiver and rub arms

mais = wave index finger in air (one sharp movement as if saying no)

courir = running action

The last line of the song we all said together “Attrape-moi, sit u peux” but we said it with attitude (as one boy described as a ‘nah nah ne nah nah’ voice) as I thought the galette was portrayed in the story in that manner.

Once we had practised saying these various lines, with me ‘conducting’ the groups, it was time to read the story. I read it aloud, cutting out little bits here and there and translating occasionally so they followed it. I got the children to guess as many words as possible, such as ‘forêt’ and it was surprising how many words they knew from other contexts. Each time the galette met a different animal I read it out but didn’t show the picture and then got the children to tell me which animal it was. They remembered ‘lapin’ and ‘renard’ from our woodland animals theme last term.

One of the great things about this story is that it is very repetitive and each time the galette meets an animal he sings his song, at which point I got the children to say their lines and do their actions in their groups. This broke it up nicely so that they didn’t have to listen for too long before they were doing something. By the time we reached the end they knew the song / rhyme pretty well.

There are many things you can pick out of this story. For example, I pointed out that the fox managed to trick the galette by using flattery and that that happens quite often in stories. We then compared it to some of Aesop’s Fables such as the Fox and the Crow.

The funniest part (or the “ewww” moment, depending on your point of view) is at the beginning of the story when the little old woman has no flour. The little old man sends her up to the attic to sweep the floor and find some grains of wheat to make into flour…which she does!   I was quick to reassure the children that I had not used that method to make the galette they were about to try!!

I would definitely recommend this story. I would also recommend the nut-free galette recipe I used. Out of 166 children only 4 didn’t like it! Success!

My funniest moment of the day was in my first Year 5 lesson this morning when I had just told the children that I had made them a cake. One boy put up his hand and asked, “Madame Prince, is it edible?” J