Teaching MFL: Pedagogical approaches that work.

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The’ Interactive Grammar Hub’ in Herr Steele’s classroom.

Modern Languages is one of the great strengths of my school.  You can read about our intensive KS3 curriculum in this issue of Learning Lessons by AST and Director of Leading Edge, Jane Breen.

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Click for Issuu pdf

It describes how we give students four hours a week in one language in Year 7 and 8, leading to GCSE in Year 9, with 70% moving on to AS at KS4 and the remainder taking a second language to GCSE.   We firmly believe that giving solid time to MFL  is key to developing proper speaking skills and our Y9 cohorts have outstripped all records so far.

However, it is not just about the curriculum. The success of the approach is about the pedagogy.  Teacher Alex Steele has written up some of his approaches in this issue of Learning Lessons (also featured on my Bringing AfL Alive in the Classroom post.)

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Packed with pedagogy

Here are some more ideas used by the MFL team at KEGS.  Some of these originate in other schools – we are not claiming ownership. But putting them all together is the key.

Vocabulary Placemats:

Year 9 Boys learning German as 2nd MFL Beginners
Year 9 Boys learning German as 2nd MFL Beginners

This simple idea is borrowed from King John’s in Essex.  Key vocabulary for student-teacher exchanges is written on laminated A3 sheets so that all the micro interactions (asking for a pen, to go to the toilet, complaining about a neighbour!) can be done in the target language. These are yellow in the photographs:

“By no means a complete cure to age-old issue for language teachers of spontaneous pupil talk (they still need constant reminders!) but every little helps. Worth mentioning too, that we built the ‘default use of target language’ into our minimum expected criteria for a KEGS language learner”

French Placemat
French Placemat
German Placemat
German Placemat

Grammar Detectives

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The challenge: Translate this and work out the rules

As confident language learners in their first language, it is easy for Year 9 to approach a task like this with confidence.  Using dictionaries, the grammar hub display and peer instruction, they work out how all the sentence is structured; the tenses, cases and word endings.  Here is the response from one group after 10 minutes or so:

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Is this correct? die kleinen Jungen baut eine komplizierte Modellflugzeug

James Bond Mission

Alex explains the concept:

Building on the code-breaking / discovery learning stuff we’d done before, I did the James Bond mission lesson with Y7 shortly before Christmas and it seemed to work very well (they produced some excellent responses to a collaborative translation challenge in last week of term, which evidenced good understanding ).

The context of the lesson stems from a story we  tell beginner learners about how German verbs work – essentially, that when Germany was unified in 1871 all the verbs came together for a big conference, where they had to decide on a set of rules. The ‘weak’ verbs – not wishing to rock the boat – accepted the rules and just got on with it. The strong verbs (some stronger than others) decided that they would ‘rebel’ in various ways against the rules.

So, having already introduced weak verbs, the premise of this lesson was to discover exactly how certain verbs rebel in the present tense. Groupwork (pre-set by ability to optimise or remove support structures as required) with a dictionary (including verb list in the centre), they had to conjugate the 16 verbs and discover that there is a vowel / phonic change in the ‘du and er/sie/es/man’ forms of the verb. The next stage – after I had claimed that these 16 verbs had divulged (after intense interrogation) that there were 8 even stronger verbs to find – was to use the lists again to hunt out the 8 extra-strong verbs and realise that ‘sein’ (to be) is the strongest and most rebellious of all verbs. Quite dry and dusty stuff in real terms but the James Bond mission slant made it more fun! I did a similar thing with Mission Impossible for my Y9 beginner French group last year to discover the perfect tense.

Look out for more posts about Pedagogy and the philosophy of teaching languages from KEGS.  An inspiring team of teachers.


  1. Your grammar hub is amazing! I would like know if you could post some more pictures of it and if your have made the wall creating your own materials or if you used a commercial products. Thanks and keep up the great work!


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