Sticky Grammar!

It’s been a great day at The Schools Network (formerly Specialist Schools & Academies Trust) MFL Conference today at University of Warwick, “What’s Next For Languages?”.  Thank you very much to everyone who came along to my session “Sticky Grammar: Making Grammar Teaching Really Work For All Pupils”.

I love the challenge of teaching through the medium of the target language, and it keeps me on my toes, particularly when it’s not completely straightforward (which is most of the time).  One of my main concerns early on in my teaching was this: by the time I got to GCSE myself, I knew my grammar pretty well – it was the first year GCSEs came out (many moons ago, now) and, as in most cases when a new initiative is rolled out, no-one had really been told what they were supposed to be doing, and so, while they were waiting, many teachers taught as they always had.  So my French grammar base ended up pretty sound.  I couldn’t say much, but I knew a fair bit.  And I was taught in English.  Now, I firmly believe that teaching through the target language is definitely the way forward, but somewhere in the back of my mind, often creeping to the front, was the fear that however wonderful a time pupils had in the target language, however spontaneous they became, however fluently they could speak and however instinctively they could understand by the end of it all… how accurate would they become in terms of their grammar?  Would my pupils know as much grammar as I did by the same point?

So this was the challenge I set myself.  But it would all take place in the target language, and it would have to be suitable for a mixed-ability class, because for most of my career, that’s how my classes have been, like it or not. (And actually, I prefer it, but that’s another post another day).  And it would have to be sticky – i.e., it’s no good if 3 weeks down the line they can’t remember much about it or don’t know how to transfer the grammar from the context in which they learned it to another one.  It has to stick.

The background to today’s presentation is that I had a Year 10 (very) mixed-ability class in a comprehensive school, learning French in 3 x 40 minute lessons per week, and they were studying a unit in which they were working towards writing a letter of complaint because a Christmas present that had been given them was faulty in some way.  The rest was up to them.  I saw this as an opportunity to teach preceding direct objects in the perfect tense with agreements for number and gender, and also indirect object pronouns.  As you do.

This presentation is a journey from the beginning, when the vocabulary is presented, right through to how you get pupils to use the grammar items correctly and communicatively before they are given any rules.  In fact, they are never given the rules, they have to work them out, and leading them towards finding them and testing their hypotheses is all part of the pedagogical fun.

At some point soon I will post a description of the various activities – those who were not there today will probably not get much from this post or the attachments without one – but for now, here’s a slightly extended version of the handout and the powerpoint I used.  Have fun.  And Happy Christmas.

SSAT Sticky Grammar Handout

SSAT Sticky Grammar

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