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!

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