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  • Suzanne Terrasse

What makes a truly great languages' lesson?

Is there a formula for the perfect languages’ lesson?

For many years trainee languages’ teachers have struggled to a fit all ‘4 skills’ (listening, reading, speaking and writing) into a 3-part lesson (starter, body, plenary). I’d like to suggest loosening up ….. a new way!

A safe place

Teaching languages means creating a safe learning space. The environment in the languages’ classroom is crucial. We are asking our students to step out of their comfort zone and communicate in a foreign language in front of their peers. They need to feel safe. How do we do this?

  • Don’t correct their mistakes publicly - instead model correct language. Repeat what they have said, but do it correctly. They will pick it up!

  • Meet and greet at the door, in target language, every lesson. For older classes, use follow-up questions as they are settling. Keep the conversation going.

  • Let them know you are a life-long learner. If you are an native speaker this is even more important. I always had a dictionary on my desk. There is no shame in not knowing the answer. If you don’t know there and then, say you’ll find out, and then find out! If you are a native speaker be open about your own language’ limitations. They need to know that you understand it’s tough.

  • Model a learning heart and pupils will follow.

Do you need a 3 part lesson?

I often start the lesson with a Q+A session. I use whatever we did in the previous lesson, but try to link it to different content, so that they are out of their comfort zone and using language creatively. I keep it real and demand as much as they can give, taking them to the limits of their learning.

This works even with  Year 7; from the end of Term 1 I move to demanding at the very least a response, an opinion and a justification.

  • What do you like doing?

  • I like playing football, it’s great because I love football.

This is so simple, but it introduces subordination and ticks several boxes at KS4. It becomes habitual and soon they can do it with a limited number of tenses and structures.

As they move up the school, I want to see the complex structures and push to get these. I use all kinds of techniques to build confidence, remember they need to feel safe?

Pair-work, games, challenges to get them thinking, playing, expressing ….. they are using language creatively!

The main body of the lesson will be a number of activities designed to introduce new language or consolidate what we have just covered. In every lesson the focus is being creative. In every lesson student work is marked. I look at books as I circulate, commenting, assessing, driving them on!

Often my plenary (if it can be called that!) is a celebration of the learning that has taken place. A student might be invited or volunteer to put up their work on the board for us all to admire! This is an opportunity for deep learning to take place, it’s all in the questioning.

  • So class, X has shared their work with us, what can we admire here?’

  • ‘Is it accurate?’ If it is, can we explain why?

  • Tell a partner.

  • ‘Can we improve it?’ Often as it goes up, the student will spot their own errors and correct them.

  • You need to ask them ‘Why did you do that?’ Why is this better?’ Articulating the thinking process engenders deep learning.

  • It’s so important that this questioning is playful! Have a big smile as you ask ‘Are you sure?’ Ask it even when the answer is correct….. make them really think! Hand over control of the lesson to your students. They will not let you down!

But what about Target Language?

It’s so important but we need a balance for deep learning to take place within an educational setting that is not governed by teaching by immersion. (Post on target language to follow soon)

But what about the four skills? We need them, but over a series of lessons, not every lesson! This is a topic which deserves its own article so stay tuned for that.

So to conclude, students in the MFL classroom need time to play - even (especially) the big ones! Being able to create and express in a new tongue is what makes it exciting and if the languages’ classroom is both safe and vibrant, students will want to learn!

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