Wednesday, 17 February 2010

It gives me great pleasure to vocabulary

In a couple of weeks' time I'm going to be giving two workshops at my local authority's annual PMFL conference. One of them is "Joining in a poem", which is based on the poem "Le retour du printemps" from Unit 17 of the KS2 QCDA scheme of work for French. I prepared that workshop some time ago, and the PowerPoint that I have made can be downloaded from the TalkaboutPrimaryMFL wiki. I'm now working on the second - "Presenting new vocabulary" - which is also one of the sections of the same unit of the KS2 QCDA Scheme of Work.

I didn't feel that the suggested activities in the unit would give me the sort of presentation that I was after and that I am accustomed to give. I always try to cram as many ideas as I can into the time that I have so that delegates have something that they can take away with them to use the next day in their lessons. Personally, I think a conference or workshop has been successful if it has given me ideas that I can take away and use straightaway. (I think that's why I like Twitter so much !) Therefore I set to researching ideas for presenting new vocabulary to students.

Straightaway my perception of "presenting new vocabulary" was challenged. I had always thought that you present the new vocabulary and then you practise it. However, it became clear that when we talk about “presentation” we’re actually talking about the introduction and practice of new lexical items.

So what part does this presentation play in a lesson or as part of the bigger picture ? The presentation of single lexical items is the first step of a longer process leading to our students being able to operate confidently at phrase and sentence level. We need to consider what a pupil needs to know about a word in order to use it successfully. They need to know:

• What it means
Its part of speech
• How it’s pronounced
• How it’s written
• How the word is related to other words

So any presentation activities that we choose to do in our lessons have to enable our students to gather this information, and build their confidence in the oral, aural and written aspects of the vocabulary.
To help me in my quest I tweeted a request for people to tell me their favourite and most successful ways of presenting new vocabulary. Here are some of the replies that I received:

Marie-France Perkins recommends using realia and passing them round while repeating the word. Connected with this is playing pass the parcel, where the student holding the parcel (or bag) when the music stops takes out an object and says the right word. She also suggests using online tools such as Task Magic and Quia to reinforce vocabulary.

Fiona Joyce says that one of her most successful lessons was presenting clothes using toddler clothes. Fiona is also mistress of the MFL Storybird Wiki. Storybird is excellent for creating simple stories which can be used to present vocabulary.

Isabelle Jones uses odd and interesting pictures as a visual stimulus and also sings words to get her students to focus on the pronunciation. (It was Isabelle who suggested I blog this topic !)

Joanna Pickering uses Noughts and Crosses and sorting activities, with a range of activities based on the sorting activities. Jo also favours using songs, either published ones or ones she has made up herself. I also really like Jo's speed reading idea: "I put a text on the board or a list of words, we read it together then the students have to read it aloud, either in pairs or as a whole class. They have to read it against the clock, and if they make a mistake they then have to start again but the stopwatch carries on timing. Each pair of students has a bell and dings the bell if a mistake in pronunciation is made. Great fun, very loud but really effective."

Stephan Rinke, a man after my own heart, like to use the OHP with cut-out pictures to play Kim's game.

Dominic McGladdery commented that "we should only ever introduce 5 items of vocab and then give the kids a dictionary". This reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever been given - when introducing new vocabulary, always bear in mind "The magic number 7, plus or minus two". In other words, though it may be tempting to do, for example, all eleven colours in one lesson, the average learner can only retain seven new items at once. The less able or younger learner can retain seven minus two, the more gifted or experienced learner can retain seven plus two.

Here are some more of the ideas that I have found, in no particular order:

Introduction of new vocabulary:

• Choral repetition with flashcards

• Vary the repetition, saying the word in different ways, or different groups, boys, girls….

• Focus on sound-spelling links, and the relationship between phonemes and graphemes.

• Students give a physical response when they hear a certain word or phoneme – they hold up a card, say a number or do a certain action when they hear a certain word. Students are taking an active role in the process early on and are "developing listening acuity".

• Successful presentation involves Oracy and Literacy. Students need a good model of pronunciation. They need to recreate the sounds accurately if they are to use them effectively and confidently later on. Literacy skills are supported by and reinforce the development of Oracy.

• Knowledge about Language (KAL) – awareness of rules and patterns in language, and imitating pronunciation of words.

• Language Learning Strategies (LLS) - Children have opportunities to think about the best way for them to learn a new language and employ a range of strategies to help them to do this.

• LLS – use mental associations to help remember words

• This introduction can be a mixture of whole-class, small group and pair work.

• Visual aids include real objects, puppets, DVDs, IWB, flashcards and gesture.

• Present new words gradually, 4-8 at a time.

• Present the easiest and most useful words or cognates first, or words of the same gender.

• Suggested steps for presenting new vocabulary: Listen and respond physically; respond verbally as a class; respond verbally individually; listen to the word incorporated in a phrase or sentence; introduce the written word.

Practice / Reinforcement


• Use flashcards to practise the vocabulary, gradually building up from closed to more open questions: "¿Es un gato?" Students answer Yes or No; ¿Es un gato o un perro? Students give the correct answer; ¿Eso, qué es? Students give the correct answer

• Sing a song containing the words

• Show the pictures on the board, where each picture has a number (a PowerPoint slide is ideal for this). First ask "C'est quel numéro le chat ?" so that students have to recognise the word and identify it by its number. Then move on to "Qu'est-ce que c'est le numéro cinq ?"

• Games: Simon says, Bingo, True-False, Slaps, Pictionary (stop after each stroke drawn to make it more difficult)

• Finger writing in the air

• Mime the words

• Flashpast (there's an example here using colours)

• To practise and embed gender: tap your head for masculine, click your fingers for feminine.

• Clap out the number of syllables or the pattern of the word. Students say the right word.

• Odd one out, using pictures or words.

• "Répétez si c’est vrai". Make it competitive by giving points to yourself when the students get it wrong and to the students if they all get it right.

• Kim’s game

• Use flashcards to play "C'est quelle carte ?" with a twist, students vs teacher. Give them the choice of two cards. If they’re right they get a point. If they're wrong, you do. You can also keep score of the points by playing “Pull the teeth”. Draw two mouths on the board with teeth in. If the students are correct they get to "pull a tooth" from the teacher’s mouth. This could also be played as a team game.

• Guessing games – say a word that begins with a certain letter / that rhymes with.... / that has 3 syllables

• In my basket I have…

• Listening games – tick, touch or show a picture to demonstrate understanding

• Follow-me cards

• Number fans

In groups or pairs:

• Use small cards to play pelmanism

• Put words and pictures in order against the clock

• LLS - practise new language with a friend

• Dominoes

• Battleships

• Hangman


• Work through activities on the school blog

• Online flashcards and games, such as

Introducing the written word:

• Labelling a work sheet


• Shape puzzles to match up the vocabulary. More information here. These can also be used to find out new vocabulary. In matching up the vocabulary that they already know, students discover more and are able to fill in an information-gap style worksheet.

• Match up cards which have halves of words

• Crosswords

• Give pairs of students a set of pictures and a set of letters. Say the word, and they have to find the picture and spell out the word with the letters.

• Put cards with words on the board. Call out the English word and they have to find and copy the correct TL word. This is good for use with mini-whiteboards.

So those are all the ideas that I have so far. I would be really interested to hear any other ideas that you have.

Here is the presentation that I have on March 9th to Primary MFL teachers in Sunderland.


  1. Blimey...I can't remember all that!

  2. What a fab list! It reminds me of a document my friend made when we were on our PGCE - it gives a variety of ways to practice/introduce language and always comes in handy when I am stuck for a good idea! I will pop it up on my blog for you - it wont let me link to it here.

  3. Thanks very much for the comment, Sam, and for your ideas too !

    Here is Sam's blog link to copy and paste:

  4. Thank you for all your great ideas! I did the "répétez si c'est vrai" activity with my 8 years old pupils when teaching clothes and they loved it! Another game is the memory game. You need to have a set of memory cards and each time students get 2 similar cards, they need to say what it is in the target language otherwise they don't get the pair.