Let’s take a look at some of the questions I’ve raised in the first three stages of the Lateness Routine but deliberately not answered yet:

  • Aren’t 10 new phrases too many to introduce in a lesson?
  • How is it that pupils may actually come up with part of a new phrase themselves?
  • How and when does this land in pupils’ books?

Aren’t 10 new phrases too many to introduce in one lesson?

Quite a lot depends on the class, of course, but normally I would say yes, ten is too many. The class may well understand them, but not internalise them and so never get to the point of producing them. However, in this particular case where I’ve introduced ten excuses for turning up late to a lesson, six of them would already be well known to the class either exactly as they are written or very similar, so in all of this, the only really new language is 4 phrases. This means, then, that the lesson I have described in my two most recent posts doesn’t take up as much time as it might at first glance appear. Pupils are experiencing how to transfer vocabulary and structures that they have learned in one context to a completely different one, and as this is something many learners find difficult to do on their own at the early stages, it further underlines the value of using classroom language routines.

How is it that pupils may actually come up with part of a new phrase themselves?

A couple of posts ago, I wrote that in suggesting an answer in response to a paraphrase description backed up by mimes and a slow-revealed picture, pupils might come up with ‘J’ai regardé in my locker’ (for J’ai regardé dans mon casier). The clue to why this might happen is in my answer to the last question: quite a bit of this language is already familiar. The very first time they will have come across this verb is early on in the year when at the start of any instructions, I say ‘Regardez et écoutez’, at the same time drawing a straight line in the air from my eye and extending my arm out in front of me, then touching my ear and extending my arm out to the side. I use this for quite a while at the beginning of the year, partly to teach those words but also to give me a couple of seconds to check I’ve got everyone’s attention – there’s no point me giving instructions in any language, English or not, unless I’ve got everyone with me.

But the first time the class will engage with ‘J’ai regardé’ properly (and so potentially to come up with it in answer to my question in this lesson) is in the first lesson back after the October half-term holiday. The lesson I’ve been describing, which I’ve called Stage 3 of the Lateness Routine, usually happens at some point later on in Autumn 2 or in that first half-term after Christmas of Year 7 (assuming that’s the youngest year group in the school). So let’s now go back a bit to that first lesson after October half-term, and hopefully you’ll see how the two lessons – a lesson around classroom interaction and a lesson around content language – work together as part of a long-term plan to teach the perfect tense inductively.

This is what they will see by the end of the lesson (but definitely not at the start!):

With one of those holiday activities being ‘J’ai regardé la télé’, it’s actually not such a big jump for someone to suggest ‘J’ai regardé in my locker’ a couple of months down the line. And when they do, they will have made that wonderful step of beginning to transfer language across contexts for themselves.

Here’s some more detail on that lesson:

The class has had seven or eight weeks in the school, so on two one-hour lessons per week, I make that about 14 hours (you see, I should have been a maths teacher. Some of my MFL colleagues have said that too…). They have probably missed two or three lessons depending on which day they start at the beginning of September, the odd absence here and there and any events in school. And then there are music lessons. And interventions which, well, intervene. So let’s assume they have had roughly twelve hours of French.

Warm-up: Stand up if ….

The first day I see them after October half-term, I ask them about their holidays. At the beginning of the lesson, it doesn’t look as though we’re about to ‘do a lesson on holidays’, there are no objectives written up (as if!), but we start with chit-chat as pupils arrive, seeking to involve more in the discussion as more pupils come in. As soon as most people are there, I bang through the register as quickly as possible, and we get cracking on a warm-up: I project the question ‘Qu’est-ce que tu as fait pendant les vacances ?’ on the screen and say, ‘Lève-toi si pendant les vacances tu es allé au cinéma’.

Some may or may not stand, but there will probably be a sense of uncertainty in the air as to what I want them to do. They’ve all heard the cognate, ‘cinéma’, but they don’t know why I’ve said it or what I’m saying about it. I ‘notice’ that this isn’t completely clear, so going into helpful mode, I go back to the screen and repeat the question, ‘Qu’est-ce que tu as fait pendant les vacances ? Les vacances ? Non ? C’est pas clair ? D’accord, on a fini le collège quel jour, quelle date ? [brushing my hands together on fini as if having finished something]. C’était le … [thinking, looking around for any help] ah oui ! C’était le 25 octobre. [I write 25/10 on the board on the left hand side and point behind me towards the past], le 25 octobre. Et aujourd’hui c’est le … [thinking, looking around for any help, which this time, I might get] ah oui !, aujourd’hui c’est le 4 novembre ! [I write 4/11 on the board to the right hand side and point downwards to communicate ‘today’]. Et aujourd’hui on dit Bonjour, le collège ! [I look strangely happy about it]. Alors, du 25 octobre au 4 novembre [I draw a long double-headed arrow between the two dates] le collège était fermé [I clap my hands together, as though closed doors: they’re already used to hearing ‘fermer’ as applied to a door or window] il n’y avait pas de collège, pas de cours, c’était les VACANCES ! [I write ‘vacances’ along the arrow.] Et c’est passé, présent ou futur ? Passé !’

Usually, there will be enough pupils for whom the Euro cent drops and who won’t be able to help themselves from saying ‘He’s talking about the holidays!’ loudly enough for all to hear (and when I say ‘all’ they don’t always even have to be in the same room), that there’s no need to use the pupil-as-interpreter technique. If, during what ensues, anyone has clearly missed out on getting the context, I only need to repeat the above, patiently of course 😉

‘Alors, qu’est-ce que tu as fait pendant les vacances ? Quelles activités est-ce que tu as faites ?’ [Stressing the activités]. And then it’s back to where we were, Lève-toi si tu es allé au cinéma / lève-toi si tu as dîné dans un restaurant / lève-toi si tu as regardé la télé / lève-toi si tu as rendu visite à tes grands-parents, and so on. All the sentences I use have cognates in them, all backed up with mimes – the idea is that although these are all new phrases, there is nothing in them to trip pupils up in terms of meaning, and pace is kept high with different pupils standing up and sitting down. I might count at various points to see how many did a particular activity, or chuck in some direct questions here and there to show I’m interested in what they did: Lève-toi si tu as regardé un film au cinéma – toi, John, quel film as-tu vu ? repeated for a few pupils; or Lève-toi si tu as nagé dans la piscine [lots of miming will be necessary for nagé] – toi, Rachel,  tu as nagé quelle distance ? 25 mètres ? 100 mètres ? Anything I think they will understand, basically. I don’t use any visual support for this apart from the question and the phrases come in whatever order they come to mind.

At some point, I call a halt to it, it’s a good warm-up, it blows away the cobwebs of English and it starts the lesson energetically, which is a good thing to do particularly on a first lesson back, if a little traumatic for me first thing in the morning and with every year I add to my advancing age.

Before they have a moment to switch off, and now that the context is clear that we are talking about what we did during our holidays, we launch straight into a lesson where I present the nine activities shown above. More often than not, I stop after six and do the remaining three in the next lesson.

Lesson format

What’s the format of the lesson? Exactly the same as for Stage 3 of the Lateness Routine! In other words, there is the use of the slow-reveal technique with the visualiser, paraphrase descriptions with enough cognates to keep everyone with me, given at a speed which is not too slow (I want to go fast enough to prevent them from getting hung up on every – single – word – and to take the sentences as whole units, whilst also understanding the parts), enough of the image for each sentence to give a tiny clue, but not so that they can guess it without listening. At this early stage, they will use ‘Comment dit-on … en français ?’ a lot, and I give them three possible answers for them to choose the right one. We repeat the language with mimes, usually suggested by the class, but certainly with one stamp for J’ai and two for Je suis. We draw an acute accent in the air for –é, (I draw a grave accent so it looks the right way round for them), we dot the –i and it varies from class to class what we do with –u. We use cumulative repetition, race-reading, charades with both pupils looking at the screen, and charades where only the questioner looks at screen (and in both cases, they will need the contextualising question, so that needs to be drilled too). They use à moi and à toi for taking turns, c’est bon / c’est pas bon for responding to answers from their partner and tu triches ! if they need it. After the first six activities, I challenge them to find three categories in the sentences they can see (-é, -i, -u) and they play the concept-checker game where P2, without looking at the screen, has to say the past participle ending that P1 has deliberately bleeped out. After the ninth holiday activity, they are challenged to find not three groups, but two (J’ai, Je suis) and it’s back to the concept-checker game in pairs, where this time it’s the auxiliary verb that gets bleeped out. If you take a look at Stage 3 of the Lateness Routine, you’ll find all the detail there – it’s exactly the same.

Key lesson

The lesson described above is a key lesson in the year for me (and especially for the class). Whenever I have started in a new school, I’ve done it as soon as possible with every class that by that point should already have started on the perfect tense to find out what they know and to know what gaps need filling. It’s key because as a lesson format, it works very well for helping pupils to remember whole sentences accurately in a clear, past tense context; it raises pupils’ awareness of salient grammatical features, namely that there is an auxiliary verb; that in fact there is more than one and it’s important which one you use; that there are three different verb endings; that –é is –é and not –è. We will refer back to this lesson repeatedly during the year, and Stage 3 of The Lateness Routine is one of those occasions: here, we find J’ai regardé, J’ai fini, J’ai dormi, Je suis allé, Je suis sorti which all occur amongst the lateness excuses. (The very first time they came across Je suis sorti was in Stage 1 when it was one of the three excuses they chose between). The other verbs amongst these excuses with which they will already be familiar are J’ai perdu and  J’ai oublié. In pair-work games and competitions, J’ai perdu is introduced early on as a cry of misery when their partner crows J’ai gagné ! J’ai oublié is one of the coping phrases they may well need in any whole-class situation where they attempt to answer a question or they are asked directly and they have forgotten the answer or what they were going to say. Je suis resté and J’ai rendu visite à mes grands-parents are also worth mentioning here: Neither figures in the Lateness Routine, but they are deliberate choices on my part as both cause problems. Resté is a false friend, so it’s good to get in first and make a big deal of what it really means; and the confusion of Visiter and Rendre visite is a common error, so again, worth getting in first before pupils can make those mistakes.

So how and when does this end up in their books?

When? After we’ve done all that has been described so far, which means that it may well not be in the same lesson. It is not at all unusual for pupils to come in and go out and not get their books out during the lesson. But when they do, this is what they stick in their books:

And if this is just too much (it happens, but not often), there is always this:

Downloadable version:

They are the same symbols that I used and the end result will look the same as the visual I used in the lesson. The instructions are in the target language, as is my practice, and as long as enough time is reserved within the lesson for going through them and demonstrating what to do without rushing, they don’t usually cause any difficulty at all. I know some teachers are wary of giving target language instructions for tasks, especially homework tasks, for completely understandable reasons, the main ones being they want to make sure pupils are able to understand them (that’s everyone) and they don’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say they couldn’t (that’s for our more, shall we say, awkward customers!). There are others, too, such as the time it takes to do this properly within the lesson and the difficulty some parents have to support their children at home if they can’t understand the task. I think these are all very valid positions, and I’d be happy to share how I try to address them another time. Suffice to say, I too want everyone to understand what they’ve got to do, and I don’t want any of those excuses from them either! For me, the three most important things here are:

  • The language used in the instructions: How, precisely, is it built up over time?
  • The time given to setting up the task: Scheduling the setting of the task the beginning of the lesson means I’m less likely to run out of time or have to rush it through. It also means pupils have the time to ask their usually very valid questions.
  • Demonstrations: Just giving it to them on a piece of paper isn’t likely to be successful, they need to be walked through it all.

In this case, the task is pretty straightforward and the processes they go through are the same as those used in the lesson, so it’s very easy for me to see who has got it and who has not. This is a particularly important piece of work because when we come up to the third stage of the Lateness Routine two or three months later, (it doesn’t have to be that long, but for me it often is), and we’re ready to start unpicking the formation of the perfect tense, we’ll refer back to it.

The task I use for getting those lateness excuses in their books looks a little different. Here it is:

Clearly, if you’ve been following the sequence up to this point, there’s a stage missing here. How do you get from larking about with some phrases which are already in the perfect tense to this, where pupils are presented with some infinitives and they have to make the links? Aha! I feel another song coming on….

Next time: Infinitives, past participles, endings, verbs, auxiliaries, dictionaries and nut-free chocolate.