5 key ways to help students thrive at KS3

This month we’re welcoming Tony Weston and José Antonio García Sánchez, Languages leads and authors of ¡Claro! KS3 Spanish. We love to hear what you would add to this list?

  1. Mi clase es tu clase

Whether your languages department has a very clearly defined area in your school building, or if you are lucky enough to teach predominantly in the same classroom, it’s important to try and capture students’ imagination right from the moment they arrive. Corridor displays can give the area a clear identity (large-scale cultural murals work particularly well and are a great long-term investment), and a classroom packed with cultural images stimulates interest and conversations. In our experience, useful target language expressions placed at the students’ eye-line work well (above or to the sides of the whiteboard/ screen at the front) although we tend to avoid putting assessment criteria on the walls.

  1. Getting grammar right

With the new, challenging GCSE specification, in-depth grammar teaching is undoubtedly back on the agenda. How to deliver grammar effectively at Key Stage 3 is always hotly debated, and there is certainly no fool-proof approach. That said, a minimum requirement for this is that schools provide enough hours of language learning on the curriculum (at least four or five hours per fortnight). Teaching tenses in all persons is also important – the days of just teaching the ‘I’ form so students could gain a ‘level 6’ have thankfully long gone. By embedding grammar learning in lessons, highlighting progression and recycling regularly, grammar can become a natural part of the language-learning experience. Finally, although conducting lessons fully in the target language is a laudable goal, explanations of key grammar points in English ensure understanding is strong right from the outset.

  1. Assessment time. Breathe…

This is often the most dreaded aspect of the subject for students… and also for teachers! Recent analysis confirms what many language teachers suspected: language exams are very challenging when compared to those in other subjects. With the government no longer recommending any single approach to Key Stage 3 assessment, many schools are turning towards the new GCSE-grading system and extending it to Key Stage 3. This can be confusing for staff and students, but regardless of what grading system you may be tied to, what is important in language learning is continuous evaluation, with regular, peer-marked listening and reading tasks, and a variety of short writing activities to consolidate learning. Some activities, like photo descriptions, are useful to bring in at Key Stage 3 as they do nod towards the new GCSE, but there is plenty of time to develop exam technique at Key Stage 4, so we avoid overburdening our students with the GCSE format at this stage. Enjoyment comes first!

  1. Skills: a varied diet is best

A consistent balance across the skill areas required for effective language learning can be tricky. Large class sizes, reduced funding for foreign language assistants and other logistical issues mean speaking skills in particular can be hard to monitor. Reading and writing tasks seem to predominate in many classrooms. Thankfully, listening material is more accessible than ever thanks to the Internet, whether via online textbooks and subscription services – like Kerboodle, or via carefully chosen TV adverts, YouTube or news channels. For speaking success, more effective than any activity we may set students is the realisation that as language teachers, we are the most powerful speaking tool there is in the classroom! A dedicated and consistent approach to target language use in the classroom right from the first week of year 7 can bring spectacular results in the long term.

  1. Enjoy yourself, it’s infectious!

Don’t forget that language lessons offer the opportunity to also learn about History, Geography, Art, Literature, Politics, Food… in fact just about anything! Pass on your own interests about the language and culture to your students – knowledge and enthusiasm are infectious! Also, try to keep up-to-date with current trends in the countries that speak the language you teach and forget about using English or American examples of a particular topic – there are countless interesting examples in the language and culture you teach! Bringing these to your students will not only develop their language skills, it will make them more effective independent learners as they pursue their interest in something they enjoyed in class.

What are your top tips for starting your KS3 students on their language journey? Please share them by commenting below or tweeting @OxfordEdMFL using the #ks3languagejourney

About the authors

Tony Weston is a Head of Department as well as author of a wide range of Spanish textbooks and critical guides. His primary interests are raising the engagement and attainment of Spanish students of all abilities, as well as Latin American politics and the Spanish Golden Age. You can find him on Twitter: @tonywestonmfl





José Antonio García Sánchez is a Deputy Head of Department and has also authored Spanish textbooks across all key stages. His interests are Spanish and Latin American art, the role and impact of classroom displays and innovative teaching methods. You can find him on Twitter: @misterjgarcia