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Primary French problem

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by jwteacher, Jan 25, 2016.

  1. jwteacher

    jwteacher New commenter

    I've copied this over from the primary forum on the advice of some of the commenters there. Any specialist insight would be very much appreciated!

    I am an experienced teacher and I teach a year six class in an average primary school - mixed ability, about 30% FSM, some tricky characters but nothing out of the ordinary. My problem is French. Until this year, we had a French teacher who came in every week to teach French to KS2 but she retired in July and now it's taught by class teachers. We use a program called Rigolo. To say my children HATE French lessons would be the understatement of the year. I naively thought that it was the French teacher they didn't like - she was quite old fashioned, very 'chalk and talk' in her approach. But we're now into term two of me teaching them and they're still really resistant to it. They moan and groan when it's timetabled and even the most compliant children behave appallingly! It ends up being a really stressful time for all of us.

    I sat them down today and invited a frank discussion. I told them that French is a non-negotiable lesson but I'm happy to look at ways to make it more engaging for them. I asked them to tell me what they particularly dislike about it - what came out was that there's too much sitting looking at the whiteboard, it's too hard, it's boring, they don't like speaking (French) in front of each other and, most strongly of all, they don't see the relevance of it for them.

    Can anyone think of any ways I can regain their interest? What I'm struggling to get past is that French isn't like history for example where I can send them off to find something out - because they don't currently speak much French, I HAVE to spend at least some time at the front teaching them, don't I? Or can I do it differently?

    Many thanks in advance for any help.
  2. never_expect_anything

    never_expect_anything Occasional commenter

    Oh dear, I do feel for you and hope we can help give you a boost!
    I'm a secondary MFL specialist, but also have primary MFL training & experience, as I used to work in middle schools. I'm sorry to answer your question with a load of questions, but I hope the questions might help you reflect on the options for yourself and also it might help us to guide you more with specific advice...
    1) How much flexibility do you have over content? Do you have to do French? (By which, I'm not suggesting you do another language instead, as I'm guessing that wouldn't really be an option, but could you perhaps do a couple of lessons on French / foreign words used in English, working out the meaning of near-cognates (words that are almost the same in the foreign language as in English) or false friends (words that look like English words but have a different meaning), language learning skills, that sort of thing, to help the students take a break from 'boring' French - as they currently see it - and begin to see MFL as a useful subject?)
    2) Do you have to follow Rigolo? (I don't know it at all - but does that have anything to do with why they think French is boring?) And have you spoken to the other class teachers? Do their classess have the same attitude? (If so, perhaps there needs to be a re-think about how French / MFL is taught in the school in general...)
    3) Could you include more games & songs? (If, as a non-specialist, you don't know many generic games for vocab practice, I'm sure the people on this forum can suggest tonnes...)
    4) Do you have any links with the local secondary school MFL department? Could they offer any advice and/or come in and do some team teaching / training?
    5) What topics / vocabulary have the students already done? (I'm asking because individuals might be able to suggest topic-specific ideas, such as role-playing if they have done food & drink / numbers for prices, or poetry if they have done descriptions of animals...)
  3. funambule

    funambule New commenter

    Great to see that you've copied this over from the Primary forum.

    Can I also suggest that people on this forum take a look at the original post on Primary and the replies and suggestions provided by other posters.
    For once in a very long time we seem to have a useful discussion going which potentially could help both Primary and Secondary. We already know that one of the biggest difficulties for the development of Primary languages is transition to secondary.

    It is a shame that teachers who post about MFL on Primary rarely post here. Maybe Primary teachers feel it is dominated by Secondary- they may well be right. But just now there is very little meaningful discussion on this forum; time we changed that!
    Here is a good opportunity to share our collective expertise by helping this teacher and maybe a lot of others who read this thread.
  4. Geoff Thomas

    Geoff Thomas Star commenter

    So sad to see the constraints. These are primary children who should be exulting in the environment of a new language.

    And they are required to put it into the same mental category as "sums" or "history".

    Sorry - this doesn't help anybody, but when I look at the way things are done in the UK, I despair.
  5. jwteacher

    jwteacher New commenter

    Thank you for your replies. In answer to your questions, we don't have to follow rigolo and it is quite dull and repetitive in its structure so I would happy to look at other things. I need something that's quite supported (for me!) though because my French is a bit rusty! The other teachers are split over whether French is successful - generally the younger children enjoy it but by year 5 and definitely by year 6 they've gone off it!
    I'm not sure that songs are the way forward with my particular class but games would definitely grab them - can anyone recommend any?
    We don't currently link with the high school but I have thought it might be an idea.
    As for topics, off the top of my head we've done school, families, colours, numbers, hobbies, food and drink - mostly vocabulary stuff. There must be more but I can't think of it now!
    If anyone can point me in the way of anything I can use as a starting point for planning, away from rigolo, I (and my children!) would really appreciate it. Thanks!
  6. VladimirUnmoderated

    VladimirUnmoderated New commenter

    jwteacher, they've put you in a difficult position because really your class should be taught by a specialist in the subject and not a class teacher (no reflection on you intended) with 'rusty' French skills. It doesn't bode well for the teacher in secondary who has to take up the slack and correct possible errors.

    The class sounds awful! I would hate to have to teach that class at secondary with such a poor attitude already ingrained.

    On a practical note, I think you might just have to let this class go, for the sake of your sanity. Do more cultural activities with minimal linguistic input just to get through the year. You shouldn't have been left to teach the subject without proper training in the area. Would an immersion trip for children (classes and activities) be out of the question?

    You say the class is 'timetabled'. Does that mean there are no regular weekly slots for French per se? How many French classes are you teaching per week and how long do they last? Just wondered.
    Vladimir likes this.
  7. ngarubiram

    ngarubiram New commenter

    Have a look at Lightbulb Languages for innovative resources. Also, why not try and always start your French session with a "Bain français" or French immersion whereby you either play a short video clip of a French song related to the topic, or a dialogue. Youtube has tons of videos that always come in handy. May I also suggest Cave Languages from Sue Cave, who has some good resources. Finally I strongly advise that you join the Facebook group" Languages in Primary Schools". I have found it to be so useful, as there's a lot of sharing, whether resources, game ideas, or simpl
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  8. BrightonEarly

    BrightonEarly Occasional commenter

    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  9. Samuel111

    Samuel111 New commenter

    If your class enjoy moving around, songs with actions could work. I remember good songs on a tape/CD called 'Chanterelles', but there must be lots more. Also games such as 'Simon says'. Treasure hunts are good - they have a set of clues on a sheet and have to find the answers around the room. If each answer also has a letter next to it, they can identify the 'mystery' word. Walking dictation for vocab practice - display lists with a set of words around the room. Students work in pairs: one goes to the list and tells their partner what to write. First correct list wins. Flashcards are good for vocabulary, too. Students repeat the word(s) but you can also quickly flip the card to see who spots what it is (and remembers the French) or choose a card and students have to be 'telepathic' and guess what you've chosen. Connect 4 / noughts and crosses are good for team games. You need a grid with the words written in the spaces, but covered up. Students have to say a number of a square and guess which word is hidden. Someone suggested talking to MFL staff in local secondary schools. I'm sure that's a good idea, as they're bound to have a lot more suggestions as well as a vested interest in keen learners. Hope this helps even if it's a bit rushed.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  10. funambule

    funambule New commenter

  11. never_expect_anything

    never_expect_anything Occasional commenter

    I think what you say about Y5-6 is generally true across the board. It used to be the same in MFL at secondary, that they loved it in Y7, and you could get away with doing fun, childish games, but they got bored as they progressed. Now that MFL starts in primary, the problem has just moved down through the years. As they reach Y5/6, they just want to be more grown up, as they get ready for secondary, and as they enter Y7 they don't want to play the games and do the childish songs they already did at primary. But I don't think it's specific to MFL either; I'm sure other subjects have to be taught in a more mature way in Y5-6 than they are lower down the school too. That's part of a teacher's skill - keeping things interesting for learners as they progress - and it's always going to be difficult to make any subject as much 'fun' as they get harder...
  12. never_expect_anything

    never_expect_anything Occasional commenter

    Highly recommend BrightonEarly's website, and languagesonline.

    For simple starter/plenary games, you can do things like Samuel111 suggested. The obvious ones being noughts and crosses / connect 4; you can do these on an interactive whiteboard or on a bog-standard whiteboard / flipchart using flashcards or quick sketches and for any topic. Lots of other well-known games lend themselves to use in MFL classrooms. Do you know 'corners' / 'last man standing'? When I taught Y5-6 that was one of their favourites. (I think just because they used it in numeracy or something with another teacher.) It's quick and easy and lends itself to any topic: 4 volunteers stand in a corner each; the teacher (or another student, if you can get them involved) calls out a word (or phrase) in either French or English, and the first one of the 4 to call out the correct translation gets to choose one of the others to sit back down, until there's only one winner left standing in a corner. For numbers, you could try 'onze' (or choose any other number if you want to count higher): everyone in the class stands up; starting from 1, go around the class counting aloud; each person can say a maximum of three numbers; the next person continues with the next sequence of up to three numbers (e.g. "un, deux, trois", "quatre, cinq", "six", "sept, huit, neuf", "dix") until the person who is obliged to say 'onze' is out. This game (and other like it) allows differentiation by those who can't remember the words only choosing to say one number; and Y5-6s tend to like the strategy involved in games like this, trying to work out how many numbers to say to get a particular person out. For topics like hobbies, you can play charades.

    You can also do French versions of playground games, such as 'Le facteur n'est pas passe' (a bit like 'duck, duck, goose') and 'What's the time Mr Wolf?'

    You haven't said what other topics are planned for the rest of the year. You still need to progress and introduce new things, but if the class are already switched off, I think it's worth trying to introduce games like these with familiar vocab as starters / plenaries or to give the class a mid-lesson 'breather' to try and re-invigorate the lessons. You'll soon find which (types of) games the class prefer, then you can modify these for any new topics.

    Finally, could you do a mini-project to consolidate vocab? I'm thinking, things like an end of term 'cafe' lesson: get them to plan a menu (food and drink), design menu cards with prices (numbers), then do roleplay to order. You could use pretend money (print & laminate euro coins & notes), and probably plastic food (from the lower school), but also take in some authentic French food (readily available from any supermarket these days, such as pre-rolled chocolate crepes/brioche and Orangina / fruit sirop to dilute with lemonade and make a 'diabolo') to give an added incentive so that anyone who orders correctly in French also gets something nice to eat...
    tantuuana and BrightonEarly like this.
  13. BrightonEarly

    BrightonEarly Occasional commenter

    Thank you for the positive comment.

    Teachers are advised to praise pupils as often as possible, but it is rare that we praise each other. Have a 'like' on me!

    You also list lots of great ideas for our primary colleagues. My favourite is the corners game.
    never_expect_anything likes this.
  14. ally2900

    ally2900 New commenter

    Hi there

    I’m new here but couldn’t help but reply when I read your post.

    Allow me to offer my 2 pence on this subject…Firstly, we MUST understand a couple of things when it comes to acquiring a second language. A language is something that cannot be taught, only learnt, - It is not like Biology, Maths or History. Secondly, the way languages are ‘taught’ in schools are stressful, impractical and very grammar based, especially in secondary education.

    How many people do you know who can hold a decent conversation with a real native speaker after several years of study at school? I’m guessing not many. And myself, after six years of learning German at school, still couldn’t order a cup of tea in Germany.

    I’m sure you are a great teacher with a lot of experience, but put yourself in your kids shoes. They are bored because they’ve previously received boring input (previous teachers fault) they find it difficult because it’s incomprehensible to them, and they are stressed because they’re having to speak when they are not ready to.

    I don’t know how much say you have when teaching French to your class, BUT if you can structure the lessons the way you want to, then I’d forget everything your previous French teacher did and start a fresh. Start by creating meaningful, interesting and comprehensible input and never ever force your students to speak, or do things such as “repeat after me”. I know it’s not the traditional way of doing things but if you really want your students to engage and fall in love with a language you need to change things up.

    I highly recommend after years of research and practice, trying 2 approaches in your classroom – TPR (Total Physical Response) and TPRS (Total Physical Response Storytelling, or Teaching Proficiency through reading and storytelling) as some like to call it. The beauty of these approaches is, they are enjoyable, fun, cater to the right side of the brain and create a very low-stress environment

    Teachers have been using both approaches in the US primary schools for many years with fantastic results. I have posted a link with Dr James Asher who was the original founder of TPR. When you really start to discover language learning, you will be amazed with what you can do to help your students.

    Link to video:

    Good Luck!
  15. ally2900

    ally2900 New commenter

    Here is also an example of TPR in action.

  16. veverett

    veverett Occasional commenter

  17. Dunteachin

    Dunteachin Star commenter

    @jwteacher All this wonderful advice!
    How are you getting on?

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