Primary Languages Conference 2015

I was lucky enough this year to attend the 4th Primary Languages Conference at Statham Lodge. It was a highly successful turnout and there was a great atmosphere in the room. As a secondary teacher, it was also a great feeling knowing that our primary colleagues are just as enthusiastic about language learning as we are. I am currently offering our cluster schools a 5 week taster session of the German language this academic year as we’ll be running one Year 7 band with German. It’s been fantastic and a real eye opener in schools to see all the pupils in my cluster accessing languages on a regular basis and that it’s not being treated as a bolt-on to existing primary schemes.
Janet started us all off with a language song that we could all access, showing us how easy it is to adapt to visual material. I must admit that my primary colleagues were much more au-fait and comfortable with the singing with actions song than I was at first but it just goes to show how important primary languages are in breaking that barrier of embarrassment which I have witnessed during many years of secondary teaching when a new class gets together, they’ve not been used to speaking/singing in a target language before and they look totally out of their comfort zone!
One of the guest speakers was a very inspirational lady, Elaine Minett, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Chicester. She spoke of her involvement in making language learning real and showed how they helped a school develop a programme of language learning within their curriculum. She gave examples of what could be done, showed videos of the children re-enacting a book on stage and other means of a creative approach to incorporating TL as a main thread through primary planning.
The coffee break allowed for us to get to know each other on our tables and network with others in the room as well as perusing the many fantastic teaching aids from Little Linguists and TTS who had sponsored a raffle for some amazing prizes. I was fortunate enough to meet up with some of the other associate language teachers from Warrington as well as a secondary colleague from Crewe who is also looking at developing transition links with her local cluster schools so we exchanged email addresses after some discussion on ways forward.
There was a choice of two seminars for the next session- “Getting to grips with progression” and “Using APPs and technology effectively”. I opted to attend the first workshop. I watched in awe when Sam Snodgrass, a language teaching consultant with the Janet Lloyd network showed the types of activities she expected her year groups to attempt. There were activities she was showing that are taught in the KS3 schemes: prespostions, adjectival endings etc. It was definitely food for thought for me being a secondary practitioner that actually primary language teaching could have and should have a huge impact on how we look at delivering our syllabus on entry into secondary schools. Despite the fact that these pupils may not follow the same language at secondary level, they will be hopefully showing a better understanding of terminology and linguistic skills that we haven’t encountered before and that can only be positive for us going forward.
The second choice to be made was between “Our sparkling language learning” and “MFL Coordinators Ready?”. I was intrigued to see how Joanne Hornby utilised topical primary content to practise the key skills of language learning….and I was not disappointed. Joanne’s extreme love of drama and ability to sing was evident in her workshop and her ideas were fun and creative, in fact, there wouldn’t be a single child who could say they hadn’t enjoyed one of those topic areas. There was a proud little moment for me when I realised one of her video clips of children singing in Spanish was a Year 3 class and I recognised my own son singing away, not a care in the world and I thought “great….what a fantastic way to start off learning a foreign language!”. This type of approach encourages a love of learning that will hopefully grow so that pupils are more eager to develop their skills further when they get to secondary level.
I loved the fact that people were willing to share resources. Both Elaine & Janet made resources available on the Janet Lloyd Network page and the new JLN VLE will undoubtedly prove to be an invaluable tool for collaborative planning and networking amongst both primary and secondary establishments.
The need to keep language learning “real” was probably one of the most powerful message of the day which I sometimes feel gets lost at secondary level. Another was that the need to work together with our primary counterparts is imperative to ensure effective transition and progression in language learning.
I’ll most definitely be there next year, not only as part of my own professional CPD but also because of the infectious passion and enthusiasm I witnessed in that room!


And we’re off……transition…here we come!

This afternoon, I met a lovely bunch of eager primary language specialists and language coordinators at Sankey Valley St James primary school for our very first transition meeting for the cluster primary schools and Penketh High school in Warrington.
Introductions were swift yet extremely informative and I was able to build up a clear picture of language provision within our cluster primary schools. It was lovely too to put faces to names and see who I’ll be working with during the next academic year. Everyone shared a consistent approach to language learning. Target language learning was regular and was mainly conducted by language specialists via the network. Where there were new staff, they were keen to adopt the same approach.
As members of the Janet Lloyd network, nearly all the schools follow the same scheme for learning and therefore we can work closely together, approaching things as a united front. We discussed what we’d expect learners to be able to achieve before reaching secondary education and the importance of transferrable language skills such as being able to use a bi-lingual dictionary correctly, understanding grammar terminology and present tense verb conjugation. This is of particular importance as three languages are being currently taught in the cluster schools yet only two of which are being offered at KS3. After attending the Julie Prince seminar earlier on in the year, the teaching of phonics was discussed and deemed imperative to successful MFL teaching as in secondary this is rarely touched on. We also need to bridge the gap whilst pupils are still in their final primary year. Talk of a languages day at secondary, a second language offered as a taster course, a visit from one of the theatre companies held at the high school and a creation of a languages film showcasing their favourite activities to share on the first day of Year 7 language learning were some of the ideas that were discussed. Perhaps we need a passport type document from each school, just to highlight all this information and to assist us in secondary in placing our newcomers into the correct bands/sets. Let’s use a buddy system for those who have various levels of knowledge of the language as don’t forget, secondary schools can’t always offer the language pupils have done during KS2. Although we have time restrictions in place, we should learn from the creativity of primary and use some of their methods for re-visiting grammar and group activities.
We have our very own section on the brand spanking new Janet Lloyd Network VLE where we’ll be able to drop and share resources and work collaboratively on a transition package which will ensure we’re all on the same pathway to a successful move. It will offer the opportunity to share first hand evidence from the classroom so that colleagues can learn from each other.
The key point is that this should not be an onerous task. Our job is to provide a smooth move into secondary language learning and to build on the foundations laid at primary….so, let’s get started!

An afternoon with Julie Prince

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the Phonics & Literacy in Language Learning course, held by Julie Prince as part of the DfE training programme. What a blast!!
We started off with Phonics and I remember Julie saying she had taught a Year 6 class from scratch despite the class having had French for several years. This grabbed my attention straight away! How do our children learn their own language? It’s only now since having two children of my own and doing phonics with them that I see language patterns and construction in more depth and truly recognise the value of phonics within the national curriculum. I was intrigued with learning about “hearing & identifying sounds, producing sounds, phoneme-grapheme correspondence, decoding, synthesing” for a foreign language and fun ways to approach this within the classroom.
I’ll definitely be working on this with my Year 6 class as they’re all heading off to schools where their current language will carry forward onto the KS3 pathway. The benefits are huge for a KS3 teacher to get pupils in their classes who are already familiar with sound patterns in their target language and half the battle towards accuracy marks in the speaking exams. As a KS3 teacher, I’ll be looking at this in greater detail and seeing how I can adapt the training materials into the other languages we offer, such as the grapheme-phoneme hop board game, sorting activities via hula-hoop Venn diagrams and sorting trees!
During the Literacy session, I was so pleased to hear too that Julie recommended teaching dictionary skills from Year 3 onwards. Language learners need to be confident learners and I’m a firm believer that it’s far too late in KS3 to start to teach learners new activities whereby they are required to speak out/chant/repeat without having experienced this in primary languages. Children need to feel comfortable with it – it’s hard enough starting secondary school with new people without being made to say something in a foreign language in front of an unknown class. We could be seriously jeopardising some of these children’ attitudes towards modern languages by putting them on the spot to carry out such activities. In my opinion, learning to be confident in languages and knowing it’s ok to make mistakes is part of the journey and if that’s instilled into them in KS2, we as KS3 teachers need to ensure there is a gentle transition so that the children can recognise the links being made with prior learning.
I do, however, have my head well and truly on my shoulders and recognise that the constraints of the KS3 curriculum which include both time and content restraints mean that language teaching is very different to teaching at KS2. Teaching at both levels, I enjoy the freedom of creating my own content whilst following the JLN scheme of work at KS2- I’ve taught the children about traditions such as Christmas, carnival etc, based lessons on Valentine’s Day, World Book Day and now planning Easter activities. I love making languages “real”. I have no formal written assessments, no speaking exams, no data collection, analysis and grade reporting and the almost unobtainable end levels of progress that I must meet at secondary level. It’s easy to say, “Well I just don’t have the time” and I agree, we can’t teach phonics and literacy for weeks on end, but we can delve back in and out of it, we can make reference to sound patterns as we go along and we can make links to provide a smoother transition between primary and secondary.
The fun element for me came back into languages during that session with Julie, Janet and all the other determined, hard-working colleagues who were present. Cross-curricular activities make languages more current and the clothing song which involved all of us using pronouns and present tense verb endings correctly to the tune of the national anthem is making me smile right now writing this.
Most schools in my area had, until recently, little to no language links amongst primary and secondary language staff, but thanks to the DfE training, we should be able to bridge that gap and at least liaise with each other. It was both pleasing and reassuring to hear that at the Phonics and Literacy training session, five secondary colleagues were also present. I’m on a mission with Janet to help promote primary and secondary language colleagues to work together…so again, wish me luck!!

I’ve survived a whole term in Primary languages!

It’s a totally different ball game to what I’m used to at secondary and by no means am I through with learning the “primary” way! On a Thursday, my Year 6 classes have made a considerable amount of progress and despite there being 36 faces in each of the classes, we’re doing pretty well ! They all know the introductory song off-by-heart, are confident is responding to general conversation questions and most are eager to learn more and more each week! I say “most”, as for all you teachers out there who are in a challenging environment, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s a mean feat to get “all” totally engaged at all times for a whole hour, especially when there are individual learning challenges to consider, children each week out for extra support in other areas of the curriculum, choir practise and the various other parts of primary school life and routine to consider especially when it is PPA teaching time.
I am quietly confident however, that the majority are actively learning. Considering their first taste of a foreign language was with me in September, I am secretly proud that most pupils are able to use possessive adjectives with family members, they are able to state when someone else’s birthday is, tell me the date each week in the target language, write a dialogue between themselves and a celebrity and independently use online dictionaries to find out vocabulary needed for their Epiphany crowns.
It’s pets next week…so we’ll not only be learning the names for them but also describing them too! I’m tempted to throw in a listening next week by a native speaker and see how they fare…I know some will breeze it, whereas others will struggle so I’ll probably buddy them up, ability-wise and they can work in pairs. Hopefully house points all-round!
I’m also lucky enough to have a Wednesday afternoon primary liaison spot within my secondary timetable and have offered my services to local primary schools within our catchment area. I’m offering a 5 week taster session in German to schools as we offer this as one of our main languages, yet there is only one local primary school that offers German to its pupils. As my main foreign language, I’m keen to promote it to the children and dispel any negativity towards German they may have encountered along the way.
My school this half-term is a one form entry local school and I’m with Year 3 for the whole 5 weeks. They are a super bunch and so eager! Last week started off with greetings and a game of Simon says to learn different ways of stating how you feel. We had a heads down, thumbs up game where the pupils lost their names and became a “feeling”. This week we revisited the greetings theme with sticky faces on our fingers and our own hands had conversations with each other then we had conversations with others around the room. Following the Kagan structure of Stand up, Hand Up, Pair up we ensured that boys spoke to girls and vice versa and pupils broke away from their tables and friendship groups to share dialogues with others that they generally may not have necessarily much to do with on a day to day basis.
I’m there for an hour and a half so naturally, I have to vary the pace and content to keep them entertained! The idea is to promote not kill off enthusiasm!! After their 15 minute afternoon break, I introduce something different. Last week I read them a story about the cheeky gorilla who let all of his friends out of the zoo- Gute Nacht Gorilla. The children listened intently as I read the book and they were surprised at how many words they could understand due to the amount of cognates found in German to their own language. Towards the end of the book, I found I could point to the animals and the pupils would say the German names for them. They laughed when they saw the ten lots of “Gute Nacht” and all without one word of English spoken by me.
This week I found a lovely little You tube clip about the colours which we all sang along to “Welche Farbe ist das?” The pupils loved singing along and picked up the colours really well and as part of the song stated “meine Lieblingsfarbe”, they were then asked during the colour by German colour activity what their favourite colour was and had to state the colour in German.
Next week I’ll be revisiting the greetings vocabulary and colours and tie them back in to the Gute Nacht Gorilla book which has so much to offer visually. I am getting a real buzz off primary languages teaching and love the “Auf Wiedersehen” and the waves that conclude my time with Year 3 and I leave that school a very happy lady!

MFL: From Primary to Secondary – Bridging the gap

Is there truly a “gap” between primary and secondary language learners or is this a term that is no longer required?
In my primary observations, I’ve seen fantastic language teaching which has got me thinking about provision at entry level to secondary schools. Until now, there has been little dialogue between primary and secondary schools in this area regarding language learning, despite some of our local primary school children having accessed a language for most of their primary life! We simply don’t know what primary schools do and they don’t know what we do either. It’s not a criticism of either party, it’s just how it’s been due to external influences which have been beyond our control and the dialogues just haven’t taken place.
Why have we shied away before perhaps from forming any official partnership with each other based on modern language learning? Aside from the general manic daily life that a teacher lives, the constant need for assessments and data analysis, we haven’t seen the need to liaise. From a secondary teacher’s point of view when some pupils are coming to us knowing a great deal, some with basic understanding and some with barely any access to languages, we have felt the need to “start afresh”.
Well, now it’s time to get together and liaise. Primary schools are now responsible for providing the foundations of language learning and secondary schools have to effectively build upon the foundations laid at KS2. We need to know what each other is doing, we need to know each other’s expectations and we need to know that we’re both singing from the same hymn sheet.
I’m fortunate enough this year to have primary liaison time built into my secondary timetable. As a school that offers German as one of its languages, my mission is to deliver 5 week taster sessions to our many local primaries who currently offer a different language. I want to show the pupils that their skills are transferable to other languages. I’ll be using a beautifully illustrated book, sourced by Janet Lloyd, called Gute Nacht Gorilla and will be biting the bullet and working out how to teach effectively with story in languages and taking that skill back to KS3.
Fortunately in our area and due to the DfE bid win, all primary schools will have access to the JLN scheme for free which will include lesson plans, written resources as well as podcasts and sound files generated by native speakers. Upskilling classes are available to all and local seminars are taking place to ensure cohesion in our language planning which in turn, will bring primary & secondary language colleagues together under one roof.
In the long term, this will hopefully ensure that all primary schools will continue to use the same content and we can create a transition package to be accessed in the summer term of Year 6 and carried forward to secondary during the first half of autumn term. The intention is that the Summer term plus scheme will be generated through dialogue and shared ideas of KS2 and KS3 colleagues and will lead in to my department’s existing MFL toolbox used in the Autumn Y7 term. Let’s ensure all pupils are confident in discussing basic grammatical structures, can use a bi-lingual dictionary with ease and feel that language has a purpose.
Bridging the so-called “gap” is straightforward. That we’re keen to work with each other is the first step overcome. We’re not expecting to un-do years of great work done at KS2 or KS3 nor march in to primaries and tell them how it’s to be done. We can provide them with the tools to identify that language skills are transferable, we can show how languages will take you further and open many doors to you in the future. It may seem like a huge cliché but all of our pupils need to know that there’s a bigger world out there waiting to be explored!

From Primary to Secondary : Auf die Plätze, fertig, los!!!


Nestled away in a little cul-de-sac not far from my high school, lies Sankey Valley St James’ Primary school. They’ve been offering German to their pupils for a long time now and do an extremely good job too. Barbara is a native German speaker and was already in action on my arrival.
Year 3 were all eagerly taking part in a starter activity whereby name cards were being passed around by pupils on their tables to German music in the background. As soon as the music stopped, the pupil holding the card had to say “Ich heisse…” and the name stated. The pupils at my table were holding onto these cards with dear life hoping the music would stop at them!
A numbers song followed shortly afterwards- basic target language and actions were used to prepare the children – Hört zu cupping the ear etc. Starting off as tiny seeds, the aim was to become a flower by the time you reached the number 12 and all of them loved it!
Asking someone’s age was demonstrated by stating the question whilst drawing a question mark in the air..and the children repeated, themselves drawing the air question mark whilst copying the question. Barbara repeated it at different pitches and in various tones and the children were allowed to copy. Number cards were handed out on each table to push the children into thinking about all numbers from 1-12 rather than just using numbers 7 & 8, had they been asked their individual ages. They each had to pick a card and 2 children from each table were chosen to say how old they were. As their confidence grew, Barbara no longer asked the question but placed the onus on the individual pupils to ask each other the question and choose who would give the answer.
There was no-one in Year 3 who didn’t want to answer, in fact, there was near a brawl as to who was going to say something in German.
Year 6 pupils were unfazed by Barbara’s greetings and immediate questions fired at individuals. Wie heisst du?, Wie alt bist du?, Wo wohnst du? They answered correctly and in full sentences, used to this starter and then we went straight into likes & dislikes based on the fruit words they had learned the previous lesson. The pupils knew words for strawberry, blueberry, pear and their pronunciation was spot on! They were asked to match likes and dislike questions with their answers and most pupils were aware of looking for correlating words and patterns in the language. Connectives “und” and “aber” were slipped in and pupils were extending sentences within minutes. Negation was looked at “nicht” and “keine” readily identified by pupils. My partner had a super accent, mimicking that of Barbara and was so confident speaking to me in German, that I have high hope for these next generation of language learners!
The final observation for me that day was Year 4 who were learning about school items. 8 items in total were used and actions for the vocabulary were loved by the eager children. There was a class versus teacher game and then Splat, the first child, out of two, to touch the picture that Barbara mentioned. Barabara told the children about the 3 “the” words in German and wrote them on 3 bits of card. 3 children held these cards and the others had to say where each of the school items belonged to. They recognised that 2 of the words ended in –stift so it belonged to the same group. With the header..”In der Schule, brauche ich….”, she then showed the pupils how to change “the” to “a” and follow the pattern. Naturally, there was no mention of the definite and indefinite article and accusative case, but it was quite clearly there and the pupils knew how the pattern changed and with visual prompts, how to say a full sentence.
I observed a high level of engagement and eagerness in language learning at Sankey Valley St James’ with extremely effective, well thought out lessons. I saw the children wanting to speak and take part which can only benefit us in secondary schools as they arrive with more knowledge. The “awkwardness” of commencing language learning in Year 7 can perhaps be overcome if pupils are allowed to access foreign languages efficiently in primary schools. So far, from what I’ve seen, they’re well on their way in Warrington!!

MFL: From Primary to Secondary…an observer’s standpoint.


I have been fortunate enough, this week alone, to visit two fantastic primary schools and see two exceptional primary language practitioners in action.

Wednesday 17th September

First stop was with Joanne Hornby at Barrow Hall school with Year 6 Spanish.
What fantastic sounds I heard…most in their second year of Spanish learning had already mimicked Joanne’s astounding Spanish accent, answering the register with ease, not batting an eyelid that they’d have to speak next, as is so often observed in first time language learners at high school.
They started their lesson with a greetings song and then the volume button was used! Joanne demonstrated with the volume control and they sang the song but weren’t allowed to sing aloud the parts where the button was turned down. Then it was over to the children who confidently came up and became the volume control ..that’s where the fun began!
Pupils knew to raise voices at the end of posing a question, reinforced by Joanne raising her arm in the air whilst demonstrating them. “Tengo” was mirrored by a tango stance and they were constantly asked to be a language detective with one child stating that one of the words was feminine! New questions were shown and the children had to use their prior knowledge to work out what they meant, a task completed successfully on both occasions. The countdown clock was used to give an edge to question & answer partner work and Spanish names were used for each partner.
Pupils knew how to use the bi-lingual dictionary, a skill we teach in Year 7 as many children have never come across them in previous years. Cross-curricular links and further dictionary skills were made via Roald Dahl’s book titles in Spanish and the children had to recognise words and use the dictionaries to find out the English book titles. Pictures of the Spanish books were shown and the children were commenting on how front covers differed in Spanish compared with their English counterparts.
Having almost non-existent Spanish knowledge, this lesson re-inforced the huge importance of language learning prior to attending secondary school and shows the patterns that exist which can be applied to new languages that primary children may pick up in later life.

French flag

Thursday 18th September
Today’s treat was an action-packed, whistle-stop tour of French, including Reception, Year 3 & Year 6 pupils with EmilieWoodroffe, a native French speaker, at Culcheth Community primary school.
Year 3
A lovely song to get them started after break. Singing their hearts out to a greetings song to the tune of London’s burning in French is an easy one to master…and they did just that!
They looked at the geographical location of France, its surrounding neighbours and local produce, all sourced from a child-friendly map, shown on the whiteboard. Pupils were introduced to French names and looked for similarities in pronunciation and spelling, sounding out French phonics. Eager faces and hands going up were the norm.
They got me as soon as I walked in….lots of little faces lost in school uniforms. Emilie sat in a rocking chair, the children on the carpet gazing at her, not knowing what to expect in their second week of big school! Emilie asked them if they knew any French and a little girl shared her knowledge of French colours she’d been taught at nursery….and she knew a lot of them!! Others then joined in with little snippets. She then taught them a little French song to introduce Hello and they all joined in, waving at her, copying her actions.
They then were asked to sit in a circle..a mean feat in itself for those of you working with large groups of four and five year olds. Emilie introduced a puppet and the children were asked to say hello to the puppet. To reinforce the new vocabulary, they passed the puppet around the circle to music, when the music stopped they wished the puppet “Bonjour”, then the next time round they had to decide if the puppet was a boy or a girl and wish it “Bonjour Madame/Bonjour Monsieur”.
Year 6
This was a full-on lesson…their previous knowledge ensured a prompt start to greetings and general conversational questions. A physical warm up conducted in French, demonstrated by Emilie ensured they were all up and participating, followed by a game of tennis, whereby the questions were batted out and a speedy whole class response was expected in return! When it came to the introduction of school subjects, they knew of cognates, pronunciation rules, grammatical terminology and ways to decipher meanings. Lots of little activities, Splat game, conversations, repetition were all consolidated by tweeting about likes and dislikes of school subjects using connectives to add fluency to their work.
I love the calm atmosphere of the primary schools I have visited so far, the enthusiasm of the children and most of all, the fact that they’re learning a foreign language at an age where they have no inhibitions. We’re on our way to join our European counterparts …thank goodness for that!!