Outstanding Teaching and Learning in MFL

Today I had the opportunity to attend a How to be an Outstanding MFL teacher course , and luckily I can breathe a sigh of relief (as can most of the twitterati) that I do know what makes up an outstanding MFL lesson. The difficult bit is to make sure it happens in the classroom.

I guess the first step HAS to be in the planning. I’ve always been taught to look at the big picture in my planning. What do pupils need to know by the end of the SoW? What do they need to know by the end of the lesson? The key is to have a way of measuring what they’ve learnt.

Progress in other words. And, we need to consider progress in all 4 skills wherever possible whilst taking into account NC levels or using examination criteria. Therefore we need to think about how we plan for progress. Consider the following questions: what am I going to teach today? How will I teach it? What are pupils going to learn? How will pupils know if and when they’ve learnt it?

This leads us to the idea of learning objectives, learning outcomes and success criteria. I know that each school will have their own rules on how rigidly you are to set objectives, but deep down I feel that it is not always appropriate to tell a class what the objective of the lesson is in very specific terms as that might be the point of the whole lesson. For example, I don’t want to tell my class in the objective that adjectives are either masculine or feminine and how to change them, I’d rather them figure out the rules for themselves. If you really have to set an objective then it could be a vague one such as ‘to learn how adjectives (describing words) work in Spanish/French’. Don’t forget to keep the objectives in pupil speak.

Pupil engagement is another key area to consider in an outstanding lesson. Activities that promote active learning, independent thinking, cooperation and collaboration are all useful tools to consider, whilst keeping in mind the use of target language and differentiation. Some Web 2.0 tools can foster these skills in a modern way, for example: padlet, popplet, wordle, and linoit. Considering Bloom’s when using different activities and tools and can also ensure they help develop the area of engagement that you are looking at.

Tarsia puzzles have also had a mention today, with the useful guide from Clare Seccombe and the different activities you could do with them. Just look here for more information. In addition cooperative learning structures such such as Kagan have been mentioned along with thinking skills. Filminute.com is a useful site for 1 minute video clips that could be used to make pupils think about what happened next so developing prediction skills, describe what they see or a sequencing of events activity, utilising opinion vocabulary or future or past tenses. See Loop 2011. You could also use music to enhance their learning, maybe by using the German site alextv.de, looking at vocabulary, tenses, rhymes and meaning. Or even run a song contest à la The Voice, X Factor or Pop Idol.

Differentiation is another key element that we discussed. An exemplar collaborative task was shown with the idea of there being one shared task that everyone has to do, and a variety of further options to enhance the learning of the pupils. Using colour coding to differentiate activities is another idea, so pupils know which colour activity they need to work on. This could work well with mixed ability classes, say at GCSE where you could have A* pupils and D grade pupils all in one class.

Although worksheets are often useful we were reminded that over reliance on worksheets will not bode well (unless you have made each bit yourself, in which case I would argue differently), there are plenty of activities that can be done to encourage pupils to engage with the work on it, for example, play Trash or Treasure, cut up sentence for a card sort activity, or use the cards to rank in a diamond shape for order of importance.

Two of my favourite things to talk about came up today: ICT (QR codes for example) and using target language. Nice to know I’m on the right track with my teaching! I’ve blogged plenty about different technological tools, so I’ll focus on target language here. Using language for a real purpose, with unscripted elements will make pupils think. Remember, it’s okay for some pupils to struggle with words, it helps them think things through and trying to find a way to overcome it. Examples of games to use could be: 20 Questions, What is the Question, Answer in a set amount of words, Odd One Out, Find Someone Who, making paper chains of sentences, or describing a picture. Of course, when considering target language, pronunciation is essential so looking at phonics or focusing on key sounds will be useful as well.

Finally, the last thing to consider is assessment for learning. Here are some ideas: a progress wall where pupils place a post it in a section of the wall, mind map some things they have learnt this lesson, tracking levels, giving verbal feedback via a sound file, complete a learning pyramid, taking before and after snapshots, or using Pose Pause Pounce Pounce questioning techniques.

In summary, consider engagement, progression, new technologies, use of target language, clear learning objectives and outcomes, differentiation and assessment for learning.

Remember, that as full of energy as MFL teachers have to be, turn that energy towards the kids and get them to do as much as they can themselves!


  1. Hi, I have a question relating to objectives. I agree that sometimes too much can be given away so vague is best, but what about lessons when you have taught a grammar point, looked at vocab and you now need to do some listening practice, reading practice etc. Any suggestions / ideas for the phrasing of objectives that allow progress to be shown and measured. Struggling at the moment!! Thanks. Lisa

  2. “luckily I can breathe a sigh of relief (as can most of the twitterati) that I do know what makes up an outstanding MFL lesson”………………………..Can you summarise what that is in a soundbite form for someone considering a PGCE MFL?

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