Adventures in Revision MFL Style 5 – Vocabulary


Throughout April, I am writing a short blog post per day on Revision and Exam Technique MFL Style to aid students to become more independent, have a range of strategies to encourage, motivate and remind them to revise independently of you their MFL teacher. You can read the other posts here. In this post I am focusing on vocabulary revision.

Vocabulary acquisition takes place throughout the entire language learning journey from the first lesson, and for some, through to the very last. Every single word in the course syllabus vocabulary pages, all 90 or so of them, can’t necessarily be well known and mastered in preparation for the terminal assessments can they?  Plus, don’t forget there will be the inevitable ‘unknown elements’ that exam boards like to throw in to see how students cope, and overcome it.

Vocabulary can be taught in single words or in chunks but regardless of the differing opinions and strategies of how to teach vocabulary, please do teach it to your learners. Success within terminal assessments requires a good working knowledge of a range of vocabulary and good recall of specific language is required in order to answer the question or elements of it, and to gain access to the full range of marks, especially in gapfill cloze test questions and of course aids with the translation tasks.

Strategies for recalling topic based vocabulary ranges from rally robin, vocabulary tests, word association games such as Pictionary and Taboo but the use of a vocabulary book is something I have always encouraged for the weird, wonderful and not obvious words that student can’t alway to remember.

Despite teaching students coping strategies of how to deal with not knowing the exact vocabulary item in the exam / test / life and what to do in these circumstances rather than panic or leave a blank space, there is one very easy and simple strategy that is a brilliant thinking recall game and can be applied in many situations not just for revision and I have to thank Lisa Jane Ashes and our visit to Ghana for this simple yet brilliant idea.

For vocabulary topic based recall, hand the A-Z sheet to students of any age asking them to complete it searching their minds for 26 individual words or as many as they can on the topic. Some will be easier than others, I assure you having done this myself with students, its fun to get involved and test yourself! I have used this with the full range students to recall specific topic vocabulary such as environment, holidays, festivals and traditions to name a few. Students can either work individually, searching their minds for target language vocabulary related to the topic, or in small groups.  We know the benefits of interleaving key vocabulary, structures, grammar to constantly remind students of specific language to use, to know and to have in their linguistic toolkit, be they chunks or single items, complex or simple. We know the importance of repeat low stakes testing and use of this is sheet for this is great, really great for that. Using Lisa’s A-Z sheet is brilliant to help students remember that language, grammar, single words or chunked items are not topic specific and are transferable.

Having spent time individually or in groups completing this, as a timed activity, recall practice, planning for an interesting written piece, for homework or as revision, students have and know these phrases and vocabulary items.  They are showing you what they know and when they have to find something for each letter they are encouraged to think harder, recalling more, widening the range of language by recalling in this way and all in the target language. They can use their completed sheets continually, referring to it to extend current range, learn the unknown items (if completed as a group activity) so all have the range of vocabulary or they can add to it as time goes on.  Equally students can use it individually to test vocabulary they should know on specific topics, grammatical elements, prepositions, complex phrases, weather phrases across three or four tenses whatever you want it to be or what they need to know. It can be used in a variety of ways as its simplicity is very user friendly.  It goes without saying that this revision strategy doesn’t require a dictionary! Do give it a try, be creative with it and let me know how you get on.

The A-Z sheet is available to download should you wish to use it with your classes or encourage students to use it to revise.




Adventures in Exam Technique 5 MFL Style – Translation


If you follow my blog (thank you), have been on Twitter or are part of the fabulous #MFLTwitterati (created by @joedale ) then you will know that I have been releasing a short blog post each day since April 1st on either Revision or Exam Technique MFL Style. They are observations to share with your students so they can help themselves and still improve their exam technique and revise for their forthcoming MFL terminal assessments.  Feel free to read them here. Today I shall focus on Exam Technique specifically the translation task.

Within the reading and writing papers a short translation task is to be completed and depending on exam board and tier, depends on the marks allocated.  I instruct students to ensure the key information is highlighted (which language the text should be translated in to) and to write on alternate lines (as previously discussed) to ensure their completed translation will be readable and clear.  I ask them to read through the piece to translate carefully, slowly even, not rushing where they might make assumptions. I want them to understand as best they can the topic(s) of the text and their brains start to recognise and pull familiar language to the fore.  Some want to translate immediately upon their first read, I ask them to wait and read it through a second time, underlining the tenses and again giving their brains time to recognise the language, understand what is being asked of them, identify the grammatical phrases, time phrases giving an indication of tense etc.  Some students like to write which tense they have to ensure they translate in to put this can make the text unclear. (See below)

On the third time of reading I recommend they start to translate the piece working through each sentence carefully. Having translated a sentence read it through carefully before moving on to the next, checking they have translated it in to the correct language, used the correct tense, used the correct vocabulary not missing personal pronouns or the gender of nouns and that it makes sense! Moving through the sentences, students hopefully do not leave gaps and if something doesn’t make sense they make a logical and educated guess – there is nothing worse than a blank when they could put in a word and perhaps gain a mark.

Upon completion of their translation of the given text. They are to read their translation carefully hearing the sounds of all they are reading in their heads ensuring that it makes sense against the original text, then read it through again check capital letters, grammar, agreements, accents, punctuation etc.

So many times reading the task you might ask as they do but its to make sure they end their exam paper as well as they have started it! Some students start with the translation task to give it their full attention and thats up to them, so long as they complete all of the questions on the paper they are required to do (there are choices on the writing paper for some exam boards but not all)  giving them their full attention to gain access to the full range of marks, ending with full focus and as well as they started.


Adventures in Revision MFL Style 4 – 9 Questions


Throughout April I’m sharing some MFL and Revision Strategies that will help students to help themselves, that encourage revision when you aren’t there and builds on the work you have done to interleave testing, recall and practice throughout the GCSE whilst also building their confidence and aptitude.  Today I shall be focusing on a strategy that will aid revision for the forthcoming spoken and written exams.

I learned of this simple yet brilliant strategy from @MissKMcD about five years ago at a teachmeet at her school.  Its simple, easy and students only need the questions you have already given them from the speaking booklets (you gifted them nearly two years ago!) and some post it notes.  @MissKMcD shared a fantastic #postitcompetition which she had used with her classes.  It was a recall task ensuring her students knew key terminology and could apply knowledge correctly giving clear and concise explanations. The task for students was to answer 7 of the projected questions on post it notes in 7 minutes. There are 9 questions in total.


Image credit @MissKMcD

Students have many questions in their booklets which they have already prepared, so using the booklets independently or with their peers,  they can select 9 questions from one theme / topic / sub-topic  and prepare answers to the questions in written or spoken form.

If giving a written response students can prepare the 30, 50, 100, 120, 150 word*  responses to the questions (depending in exam board and tier), interlinking the questions they have to develop a longer detailed piece across several post it notes, or focus on a brilliant 30 word piece of interesting and diverse language with precision as well as correct grammatical constructions. Complexity can be built in through practice and good quality feedback (which I am sure you have already given many times in the many months leading up to this stage), so students are acutely aware of what areas to focus on to make improvements and develop their work ensure they maximise their marks in the written paper. Encourage students to be original, different and creative to retain the interest of the reader in the completion of their written work, but also remind them to check their work carefully for errors.  Written answers on a post it note have to be clear and concise so this will encourage students to move quickly having made their point / answered the question.

If giving a spoken response, students must have thinking / preparation time but speak their answers aloud, not to write then read their response. This can be captured using Apple Clips or Quik as mentioned in a previous post here or recorded on devices using the camera to video themselves or their voices. Facetime or Whatsapp calls with their peers can also work, if they have the devices and access to free wireless these are also free and they are likely to already have Whatsapp on their phones but for safeguarding purposes just communicate this with home.  I encourage notes to be made on post it notes as prompts just single words but then remove these to encourage spontaneity and natural responses. Not robotic, rote learned responses. I also ask students to develop 30-60 second oral responses – this does not have to be in answer to once question it could be several.

Upon completion of the questions I would advise students have a break then return to the questions and check their answers contain CORTed / TAILORED or the mnemonic / acronym you expect them to use when constructing good responses regardless of whether it is a written or spoken response. If they are working with peers this can be done as feedback swapping written responses or verbal feedback relating back to the spoken answers.

Students really like this as a revision task in class as it seems like a game but actually is deadly serious preparation! I have issued these topic question grids then printed them on to A4 and set them as homework practice for students to use at home, varying the range of questions and topics each time. They find this format enjoyable, game-like and highly competitive when used in the classroom but also good practice for recalling key language, the range of questions, a reminder of question words, a reminder of key constructions etc.

In MFL students do not have to do 7 questions in 7 minutes as @MissKMcD’s students did they can do three in 7 minutes, then check their responses for accuracy, complexity or against mnemonic criteria. Its up to you to decide or for them but it is excellent revision for the forthcoming spoken and written exams.

Here are some samples of some of the question grids I created and used with students, feel free to download them for use with your students.



Adventures in Exam Technique – MFL Style


Throughout April I’m releasing a short blog post every day with a focus on MFL Revision or Exam Technique.  Today is the turn of Exam Technique, this is the third post – check out post 1 and post 2 here. This post shall focus on the Written paper.

Having read the exam rubric, instructions and questions very carefully, selecting the questions they are choosing to answer (not missing questions out choosing the ones they are going to answer as there are choices!), then highlighting the important details of each question. I remind students before starting their written answer to reread the question identifying and reminding themselves of the key elements they need to include to gain access to the full marks. I advise them to plan, even listing short notes in English to help them with key phrases they want to use or ideas to share in the piece, however some choose not to, preferring to launch straight in.  There is one thing I absolutely insist on and that is students must write on alternate lines when producing written pieces.  I ask them to add a little mark so they know which lines to write on so that in times of heightened pressure such as during the exam, they remember.

The reason why I want them to do this is so that they can easily add elements, correct their work if they identify errors because there is space to do this without making a mess of several lines of their written work.  It is something that I ask year 7 through to year 13 to do so their written work is always clear and readable so much so that it is second nature for them.  In exam situations we know that not all students consider the readability of their written work and because they can read it, possibly assume that an examiner or teacher can.  It isn’t revolutionary asking students to write on alternate lines but in my experience students take greater pride in their written work, feel they can and have time to check through their work for errors or omissions, finding it much easier with the additional space and should they wish to, and have time to, add additional language to their work. Using this method avoids pages littered with arrows, letters or notes leading to additional partial sentences.  A visualisation is shown below.

This is a very simple idea which helps students with their written exam technique immensely but there are still teachers out there that haven’t considered this.  If you haven’t yet, in the time students have left, suggest this to them as an strategy to employ or trial it with your classes to see the difference in their written work. Viel Glück!

Adventures in Revision MFL Style – Speaking


This is the third post in a series throughout April on MFL revision strategies and exam technique. Post 1 and Post 2 on revision are available here, should you wish to read them. This post shall be focusing on the oral assessment.

Students are very nervous in the terminal oral assessment not least because it’s a peculiar setting, sitting in an office where an imposing microphone sits scarily in between you and the teacher and, of course, they want to do well. That said, time flies as each of the three tasks are completed with students (hopefully) remembering to use the many mnemonics and acronyms (worked on throughout their five years of secondary schooling) to maximise marks gained but we don’t want to leave it until their final oral to practice, really practice 1:1 do we?

One strategy I’d like to remind everyone of that prepares students brilliantly, not only in lessons and throughout revision time but also whilst at home or can be completed using digital devices (through Whatsapp or Facetime) with their peers is ‘Rally Robin’.  Instead of the teacher asking the question and waiting for students to respond, this Kagan Cooperative learning strategy can be used by students in pairs or small groups.  Once a question is posed, students must have thinking time then say aloud, sharing with one another, key topic vocabulary, interesting or complex structures to build sentences or grammatical structures using CORTed or TAILORED to build great quality responses.  Sharing in this way allows students to be given reminders of some of the vocabulary, grammatical structures, connectives, comparatives or superlative phrases could be used. Following this students can then build sentences and take it in turns to develop interesting longer sentences and responses adding to, building their own or their peers responses or challenging a response already given.  I ask students to build answers that are a minimum of 30 seconds to one minute using the aforementioned CORTed or TAILORED. See rally robin being used here in Willows School in Cardiff.

Using rally robin in this way gives the students additional opportunities to revisit their spoken language and practice spontaneity as they won’t be reading any prepared response. With a hundred or so questions in booklets (you will have provided and they have completed to practice responding to questions) rally robin will improve recall, sentence structures, depth and range of vocabulary, grammatical structures and oral response but also spontaneity and of course confidence.   Its simple, so simple in fact that it is often overlooked as an MFL revision strategy, which is a shame.

Some students in the final run up to oral exams tend to want to repeatedly write, highlight or reread answers but for revision for their oral assessment, which sees real improvement and development actually practising with peers orally outside of lessons needs to happen!  Rally robin is perfect for this! Students learn so much from practising with their peers in this way improving recall of key language, vocabulary and structures as they would in the speaking exam, which of course will help them on the day.  In addition the boost to confidence and transferability of language, grammar, complex or certainly interesting phrases etc – which can’t be a bad thing at this stage!  Just remind students that in rally robin they are not reading from the questions and answers they have worked hard to write out and prepare, no in these final stages they need to increase their confidence by actually speaking so I don’t let them write anything. This isn’t a new strategy but it is a good one and many of my students have enjoyed using it.

Encouraging students to include key details (using mnemonics) key linguistic structures, impressive starter sentences or complex phrases takes practice and with the Easter holidays fast approaching (for some of you they have already started I know!) there is no time like the present to encourage students to use ‘rally robin’ to ensure spoken revision takes place.

Of course you could just get students to ask questions and give their spontaneous answers but rally robin is so much more fun than that!

Please do check out for more information about rally robin or just google it.


Image credit and

Adventures in Exam Technique – The Reading Paper


Here is the second post in a series about Exam Technique in MFL exams. It’s very simple and easy to share with students reminding them of simple strategies that will help them in the forthcoming exams.  In this post I shall be focusing on the reading paper.

Depending on which tier and which exam board, students may have to produce more answers than they have total marks for their reading paper therefore this strategy, like the one shared in the first post here, is about maximising time and gaining as many marks as possible!

When tackling the reading paper, I always advise students to read the title and the question with the rubric then to skip the block of text, in order to read through the sub-questions, as these provide key details for exactly what needs to be found from the text.  It also serves as a reminder of the number answers and details they have to give to access all of the marks. Having read the sub-questions students have specific additional language, anchors I call them, as they provide robust signs and support for what to seek from the text. Of course there are red herrings, negatives, double negatives, tenses and insinuation  –  the usual linguistic gymnastics to contend with but with the sub-questions clear in their mind it is hoped they will seek them out successfully.

Armed with their (black) pen or highlighter I expect that upon finding an answer in the text that they underline or highlight it indicating where the answer is putting the letter, number or numeral of the sub-question alongside.  We know some answers appear in the text in order signposting to students where to look. Of course this is not always the case. This method also aids checking whether its in the final few moments or as they complete each question.

Always wanting students to achieve well, this exam technique boosts confidence and allow students to see that they can understand the question, the text and find answers. It is a simple strategy that anyone can use and when used consistently and repeatedly aids reading longer detailed texts mining it for specific details. Below are a few visual examples of the technique in action.

I’m sure many of you do this already with your MFLers but in case you don’t, it might be something to consider with year 9 and 10 students. It really has aided performance in the reading paper for all students, regardless of tiers – boosting their confidence, most notably when interacting with the text and manipulating it in this way. It has given them an opportunity to ‘attack it, break it down and pull it apart’, (their words not mine!) despite it being a literary text or a ‘solid’ question they know how and have the confidence to break it down, make it malleable and how to make it work for them.


Adventures in Revision MFL Style -Mnemonics and Apple Clips


In the short time left for students before MFL exams, revision strategies are key. This is one in a series of short blog posts that you can use to help your MFL students to help themselves in the remaining time.

Mnemonics are a wonderful thing – there are so many that are effective and useful having significant and dramatic impact when used.  I have favoured CORTed and TAILORED  for many years following a fabulous former second in department who heard and shared this idea from a networking event within the county. We started immediately making sure students created spoken and written pieces using these but also as a checking mechanism to look for errors, missing elements and developing linguistic ability.

There are many mnemonics used to aid students in classrooms to develop their spoken and written work as well as to remember to communicate key elements to maximise marks for each assessment namely the oral assessment but also written and translation tasks.

For those of you that haven’t yet completed the oral assessments remind students to harness the technology (that they hold so dear) and use their mobile phones or tablets as a revision aid by recording their spoken work.  In preparation for completing the photo card task we have reminded and hopefully drilled in to students the need to remember the mnemonic PALMS or PALMW perhaps even APPLE WOOD  seen below or one of your own creation:


Image credit Clara Hooper @hooperclara.


Image credit Stuart J Bridge. @stuartjbridge

All brilliant I’m sure you will agree, but how can students check that they are covering all of the aspects required? One way is to practice their spoken work with another language buddy and hope they give kind, specific and helpful developmental feedback and not allow themselves to get too distracted! However this is not always possible so harnessing the power of technology you could advise students to download the free Apple Clips app here to record themselves practicing the photo cards, role plays or the answers to questions, you have undoubtedly provided them through the GCSE course and in revision resource packs.  It is a brilliant app which is easy to use and once they have recorded themselves or just their voices if they’d prefer. They can then play it back checking their oral work against the mnemonics you expect them to use. This provides instant checking for the student to use when you, their wonderful MFL teacher, isn’t there to give feedback on their oral output. During playback students can listen out for key elements using the mnemonic as a checklist they can also hear their pronunciation, accent and speed, as well as how many times they utter ‘er’ or ‘um’ or pause for long periods of time which might provide an opportunity for them to find a more international alternative and practice their spontaneity to avoid longer gaps of silence as they think.

Thanks to @musicmind for originally opening my mind the brilliant Apple Clips app!

For Android devices Quik app is supposed to be excellent and is free!

My earlier post from April 1st on Adventures in Revision for MFL and another on MFL Exam Technique.